Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

30 April 2014

Bike Season Budding Under Cherry Blossoms

Today's rain felt more like it was driven from November than something that fell from a late April sky.  And the temeperature reached only 8C (45F).

But the cold gray dampness might have made the cherry blossoms, which finally began to bloom during the past few days, all the more vibrant.  Their fresh pink flowers are always a sign, at least for me, that it really is spring.  And that, of course, usually means a nice atmosphere as well as backdrop for cycling.

And wouldn't you know it?  I came across this:




From Elm City Commuter



And this:

In an eBay listing





I hope that, in spite of the fact that I've done so much less cycling this year than I'd done by this time in other years, this cycle season, and I, are about to bloom.



Que votre route soit couverte de petales de fleurs de cerisier.

29 April 2014

If You Find It, Is It Still Abandoned?

Believe it or not, there was actually a time in my life when I wanted to be an archaeologist.  Of course, all I knew about the profession came from watching National Geographic shows; shortly thereafter, a similarly naive longing to be an oceanographer or marine biologist was fueled by seeing Jacques Cousteau's adventures on television.

As for the archaeology fantasy:  I had visions of finding people, animals and artifacts frozen in a particular moment when a storm or avalanche struck, smoke choked, a tide engulfed or an advancing glacier encased, them.

What if I were to find a bicycle abandoned or forgotten in a particular moment?  Would I find it in the remains of an ancient house, dump or street?  In an alley, perhaps?

 

28 April 2014

Monkey, Longhorn Or Ape Hanger

One of my favorite non-bike blogs is Old Picture of the Day.  Sometimes the images are worth looking at purely for aesthetic reasons; almost all of the others are interesting in some aspect of life, past or present, they reveal.

In each post, a (usually brief) comment accompanies the photo.  Those are worth reading because they convey "PJM"'s deep appreciation--and, sometimes, personal connections--to the photographs he collects and displays.

His post today included this photo, along with a reminisce about his own childhood bike, which was very similar to the one in the picture:



One thing I found interesting about the responses he got to his post is how they described the handlebars.  I have heard to bars like the ones in the photo referred to as "Longhorn" bars (even though I grew up in Brooklyn and New Jersey!)  and the bars on bikes like the Schwinn Sting Ray and Raleigh Chopper (the ones with "banana seats")as "Ape Hangers".  But one commenter heard them referred to as "monkey" bars".  What's really funny, to me, is that some of the adults I knew during the  '70's "Bike Boom" referred to the those funny-looking dropped handlebars on those newfangled ten-speeds as "monkey bars"--meaning, I presume, that only a monkey could ride them.

 

26 April 2014

Joined At The Lugs?

Before you know it, Spring will come...

Oh, right, it is Spring now.  I guess it's a month late:  We've got March winds, but it's April.  I guess we'll get the showers in May and the flowers in June.

And what about the weddings?  Will they be in July?

Not that I'm planning on having one.  For now, I'm still living by Carrie Bradshaw's maxim, "Friends don't let friends get married."  Sometimes people give the best advice before they break it!  

Anyway, I not only don't plan on getting married, I haven't been invited to a wedding.  Not that I'm complaining.

But if I have to go to a ceremony, I wouldn't mind being summoned to it by this:

From Kristen Archer




Apparently, the bride-to-be designed this invitation herself.  She even had a bicycle-themed bridal shower!

I can think of one couple in particular for whom the invitation would have been most appropriate:


They are, of course, Harriet Fell and the much-missed Sheldon Brown.

25 April 2014

If You Can't Do Iditarod

Last month's running of Iditarod was said to be one of the most difficult and dangerous in the history of the annual race, maninly because a key section of the race was all but snowless.  So, instead of sliding along white trails, competitors rumbled and bumped along rocks and dry earth.

That was not a problem for Dan Burton of Saratoga Springs, Utah.  You see, he didn't compete in Iditarod.  However, made another journey that some of his famly members and friends thought was even more Idit-iotic than the race in Alaska.

In February, he became the first person to ride a bicyle from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole.  Although large chunks of the continent's coastal ice shelf are breaking off and floating and melting away, Burton did not have to contend with rocky ground.  However, he had to pull himself out of a crevasse and be careful of all sorts of other hazards not easily seen in the ice and snow.

Dan Burton with his bike.


One thing that makes his journey truly remarkable is that he did it solo:  No team backed him up.  When his wheel needed repair, he fixed it by himself.  And he pulled all of his supplies--including the freeze-dried meals he cooked--in a sled behind his bike.

Speaking of meals:  Most of the time, he cooked in his tent, as it was more fuel-efficient.  And, yes, he slept in that tent every night of his trip.

In all, he says he covered 730 miles in 51 days of cycling, although he's not completely sure because he lost his GPS. Thirteen miles a day may not sound like much,  but it's quite a feat when one considers that he spent much of his time pedaling into headwinds and rode through temperatures of minus 30 degrees.  That's a bit worse than the coldest morning commute I ever had.



Let's hope the climate doesn't change so suddenly or dramatically that Burton is the only one to cycle across Antarctica to the South Pole.  I think he's happy with the distinction of being the first.


24 April 2014

Naked Bike Ride In Portsmouth

I have cycled up several Alpine and Pyrennean peaks, as well as mountains in Vermont, Pennsylvania, California, Nevada and upstate New York.  And I am not boasting when I say that I've done other things most people wouldn't try.  As a result, some people say that I have courage.

If I do, it has its limits.  You see, there's something I'm not quite ready to do yet:  a naked bike ride.





Naked bike rides are held all over the world.  However, one place I think I'd like to take such a ride is Portsmouth, England, which will host one on 24 May.

Portsmouth is on the south coast of England and is the only island city of the UK.  According to some surveys, it has the largest percentage of LGBT people of any city in the country.  And it's also considered, perhaps not coincidentally, as one of Albion's centers of environmental and "green" movements.







That last fact has a lot to do with the ride:  Its organizers want to call attention to unsustainable fossil fuel use as well as other practices that are ruinous to our planet.

I love the idea although I'm not sure, exactly, of what a naked bike ride has to do with environmentalism.  Maybe it has to do with riding in our natural state.  Then again, the riders paint their bodies and wear things we don't bring with us into this world. 

Anyway, I wish all the folks in Portsmouth a good ride!


N.B.:  The photos in this post are from last year's Naked Ride in Portsmouth.

23 April 2014

Embarking With A Koala

If you've been following this (or my other) blog for a while, you've probably noticed that I like to tell stories about myself.  You've also probably noticed that I like to tell stories about other people, and times and places other than my own, especially if those stories have been untold or forgotten.

That is one reason why I've written posts about (or in which I mention)  Beryl Berton, Nancy Burghart, Sue Novara, Rebecca Twigg, Jeannie Longo, Paola Pezzo and other prominent female cyclists.

And, yes, this post will be about another. But it will also touch upon a topic--a nation and culture, really--I've never mentioned:  Australia.  This omission does not come from any sort of bias; it has mainly to do with the fact that I've never been anywhere near the world's smallest continent or sixth-largest country, depending on how you look at it.

Nearly everything I know about it comes from reading and chance encounters with Australians in other parts of the world, including my own home town.  One of the few things I know is that the Aussie population--about a tenth of that of the US, even though the two countries are roughly the same size--includes a disproportionate number of long-distance cyclists.  That's not so surprising when you consider Australians' affinity for sports and outdoor activities and the fact that so much of the country is undeveloped.



One of those riders was someone named Billie Samuels.  I have been trying to find some information on her, to no avail. I guess I have to look in actual book (I think I can still do that) of Australian cycling history.

I learned of her only through stumbling over the photos I've included here.  Whoever she is, I want to know more because, hey, how could you not want to learn about someone who starts a ride from Sydney to Melbourne with a koala mascot on her handlebars?



(The photos in this post come from Vintage Everyday.

22 April 2014

Opening



We've all taken one of those rides in which we can feel our whole bodies loosening up and everything within us opening and expanding.  At least, I hope you've taken at least one such ride in your life.





I did, yesterday.  It was one of those clear, breezy and mild spring days that so many of us dream about during the short days and long months of winter.  And, naturally, I took another ride to Point Lookout.



It seemed as if the sea and sky were stretching even further than I ever imagined they could.  But something else happened that I don't recall having experienced before

.

i could almost feel my bike--Arielle--stretching her wings, as it were, and taking in the air and light.  The day seemed to liberate her as much as it did me.

  
It used to be (and perhaps it still is) that the highest compliment someone could pay a bike is that it felt like an extension of his or her body while riding it.  I felt something even better:  Arielle was an extension of me and seemed to be experiencing the same sensations I had.



And, as always, she looked great.





By the way, I want to make another plug for Ely Rodriguez's Ruth Works bags.  I think the Brevet bag you see on the handlebar is becoming my favorite bag of all time.

21 April 2014

Out Of Shape

Be careful of whose bike you fix...

All right.  So nobody told me that when I was working in bike shops.  But I could have said something like that yesterday.

You see, I went for a ride with the friend on whose Brompton I worked.  Of course, he rode said Brompton and showed me that while my mechanic's skills are still mostly intact, I am really out of shape.

My excuse is, of course, that I did so little riding this winter because of all of the ice we've had on the streets.  I suppose I could have gotten myself a trainer or rollers or something.  I actually used to ride rollers during the winter.  But I found that it's harder to keep myself motivated while riding indoors than it is when I'm in the open air.

Still, even with how few kilometers or miles or whatever I've ridden this year, it's still a shock to me that my condition is as it is.  I guess one reason why I didn't realize it until yesterday is that all--i.e., what little--riding I've done this year has been solo.  This is the first ride I've taken with anyone else.  


We weren't in Kansas. From 21 Bikes.



 The thing that really shocked me, though, is that he was riding faster than I was--and he smokes.   Mind you, he's not a chain-smoker.  But we did stop once so he could light up.  Of course, there was a time when racing cyclists were advised to smoke, as it supposedly "opened up the lungs". But I don't think anyone has made that argument during my lifetime. 

And, to top everything off, I deviated from my new eating habits when we stopped at a Korean barbecue restaurant.  I mean, the food was good.  And I tell myself that yesterday was a holiday, which is a time to let loose, at least a little.  Still...

Oh well. At least we rode--about 65 kilometers, after Easter service at the church where we met.  

 

19 April 2014

Working On A Friend's Brompton

Last night I did something I've never done before.  No, I didn't drive a Tesla (or any car at all) or buy a carbon fiber seat post rack.  And I didn't sleep with a Republican or an astrologer. (I've done both before, but not last night.)  And I didn't eat Jell-O.

What I did was something I never got to do when I was working in bike shops:  work on a Brompton.



You see, bike in my days of working at Michael's BIcycle Company and Highland Park Cyclery, Bromptons weren't yet being made.  And, by the time I was employed at Emey's and Open Road. the bikes were still all but unknown in the US.

I had promised a friend I would help him with his annual maintenance of his steed, which he purchased second-hand several years ago.  I knew that Bromptons had some proprietary parts and, of course the folding mechanisms (which I didn't have to work on).  But, really, it's not much different--at least mechanically--from other bikes. The front hub still had the same cups, cones and bearings; so does the headset.  And the Sturmey Archer 8-speed hub is like other multigear hubs I've maintained and adjusted.

The thing I found most different about the Brompton is its cabling. It takes the same sorts of gear and brake cables as other bikes, but there is a lot less room for error in cutting the cables and housings to the proper lenghts.  Also, the cables have to be routed in a particular way.  Otherwise, they would bind and prevent the bike from folding--or get caught in the folding mechanisms.

But, other than that, there was nothing particularly difficult or unusual about working on the bike.  Were I to get a folding bike, it's the one I'd want.

By the way, my friend's Brompton is finished in "Celeste" (a.k.a. Bianchi) green.

18 April 2014

Brazed-On Amnesia

When I first became serious about cycling--around the time that the early '70's Bike Boom was gathering steam--almost no bikes available in the US had brazed-on bosses for water bottle cages or shift levers/cable guides, let alone for racks. Most bikes didn't even have fitments for brake cables:  Most high--performance bikes of the time, like my Peugeot PX-10, had their rear brake cables clamped to the top tube.

Even the custom bike builders of the time didn't braze such fittings onto their frames.  All of the guidebooks of the time told us that brazing weakened the metal at the point at which it was brazed and therefore risked cracking or breakage.

A few years later, when I was working in a bike shop, I did see a couple of brazed-on shift lever bosses that broke off their frames.  But those were on cheaper bikes built from thin-walled tubing.   

Of course, at that time, I --like most novitiate American cyclists--did not know about the French constructeurs or British custom builders, who had been brazing bits onto their frames at least since the 1920's.  Actually, some of those builders--most notably Rene Herse--actually made racks, water bottle cages and such an integral part of the frames they built.

And, apparently, some not-so-elite pre-Bike Boom bikes had brazed-on bits, like this circa 1964 Schwinn Varsity I saw parked around the corner from my apartment:





Those levers, like the derailleurs on the bike, were made by Huret for Schwinn.  Those levers--like so many other French parts of the time--had style, if not engineering.  (Installing or removing cables--which you did often if you had a Huret Allvit derailleur like the one on the bike in the photo--was a project unto itself.)  As for the brazed-on bosses:  I think Schwinn was able to do them because the tubing on the frame was thicker than that of most other ten-speeds.

A couple of years later, the Varsity--as well as the Continental and Super Sport--would come equipped with massive stem-mounted shift levers.  And their top-of the line bike, the hand-made Paramount, would offer nary a brazed-on fitting.

17 April 2014

A Late Spring, But I'll Take It

Yesterday's ice melted; I got out for a while.  Though still cold for this time of year--and windy--it was a rather lovely day.

One thing I've noticed, though, is that everything seems to be budding and blooming later than it has in other years.  I'm not complaining, though, especially after seeing this tree:




or this patch near it:






16 April 2014

On The Rack: Titanium

In the wee hours of this morning, we had snow flurries and freezing rain.  I wasn't awake, so I know about them because of the weather report and the glaze I saw on the windshields of parked cars this morning.

There were also some ice patches on the street.  So I decided to delay going for a ride until the temperature warmed and the glaze melted.  In the meantime, I did a bit of web surfing and came across this:




Now, those of you familiar with Tubus racks won't find this image remarkable.  And it isn't, really, except for one thing:  the rack is made of titanium.  Someone's selling it, slightly used, for $200.

I've never owned or used a Tubus rack, but the ones I've seen look to be very well-made (though, I must say, I like Nitto's finishing and overall workmanship a bit more).  Still, I'm not sure of how I feel about a titanium rack.  I'm sure it's strong.  But titanium is flexier than steel tubes or thick aluminum alloy rods or tubes.  So, even though I believe a Tubus titanium rack won't break, I have to wonder whether it might shimmy more than an alloy or steel rack from Tubus, Nitto or even, say, Blackburn.

The original Carradice Bagman supports were offered in titanium for a couple of years. But they seem to have been discontinued before Carradice completely redesigned the Bagman supports a couple of years ago.  Apparently, some people reported their bags--especially the larger ones like the Nelson Longflap and Camper--bounced and swayed.  To be fair, the clamps on the original Bagman supports--both in the steel and titanium versions--weren't the strongest, so that could have been a source of some problems.

Anyway, I said earlier that I'm not sure how I'd feel about having a titanium rack.  Even if swaying and flexing weren't issues, I have to wonder what benefit such a rack offers, aside from weight savings.   How much of a difference would 50 to 100 grams off the rack would make if you're carrying 30 to 40 kilos with it--and you're riding wider, heavier tires than you'd ride on an unloaded bike.

Given what I've said, I'd still take a rack made of titanium that mounts on the seat stays and rear dropouts over one from carbon-fiber and designed to attach to the seat post.

15 April 2014

Environmentalism And Cycling

 
From Chronicles of the Voyager



My birth as a "serious" cyclist--that is to say, my interest in 
riding "long distances" (i.e., beyond my neighborhood) and better bikes--coincided, more or less, with the early '70's "Bike Boom".

Although some professors and other professionals rode their bikes to work, and there was a small but growing number of adult cyclists (with whom I rode), for anyone to continue pedaling when he or she was old enough to have a driver's license was still considered a bit geeky, vaguely counter-cultural and even subversive.

Then, there was a lot of talk about the environmental benefits of cycling.  Back then, scientists were saying that the world's oil, coal, natural gas and other fuels weren't going to last forever If we were lucky, they'd last another century, maybe two.  That was, of course, if we didn't make ourselves extinct with all of the pollution from burning those fuels.

Ironically, the first energy crisis that followed the Middle East Oil Embargo of 1973-74 all but put an end to the bike boom.  Sure, some of us continued to ride bikes, and even buy new ones.  But in spite of al of the attempts to link cycling with environmentalism. most people bought bikes for recreation or simply because it was fashionable to do so.  Once the price of petroleum spiked in the US (though it was still nowhere near what most Europeans or the Japanese paid), unemployment skyrocketed. A commuter or some other cyclist who uses his or her bike to help him or herself earn a living might buy a new bike, if it's necessary, and continue to buy parts and accessories or use the services of their local bike mechanics.  But those with no such commitment aren't going to spend their money, especially if they've lost their jobs.

As history progressed (which is just a somewhat pompously academic way of saying "as time moved on"), some new cyclists came into the fold and some of us continued to ride, although we might have morphed into different kinds of cyclists from the ones we were in the beginning.  

One thing I couldn't help to notice, however, is that by the 1980's, any mention of environmentalism or even energy conservation had disappeared from discussions about cycling.  Such a state of affairs continued into the '90's and even the early part of this century.  One reason is that the cost of gasoline fell in relation to the overall cost of living.  Another, I think, is that cycling increasingly became the province of upper-middle- to high-income men and was increasingly seen as part of a "lifestyle" in much the same way as buying an SUV was.

Over the past few years, I am noticing that talk of the environment has returned to discussions about cycling.  I hear it in my conversations with cyclists and read it in bicycle-related publications, even in mainstream media coverage about cycling.

One reason is, of course, that gasoline has become more expensive (though, once again, is still not nearly as expensive as it is in Europe or Japan).  That makes some people more aware of the finite-ness of our resources.  Also, I think more cyclists have seen their favorite riding places turned into malls, condominium developments or despoiled in other ways. Finally, I think another reason is that there are more female cyclists.  Perhaps I am thinking in terms of gender stereotypes, but it seems to me that places with strong environmental movements tend to be places in which women play a greater role in policy- and other decision-making processes.





14 April 2014

Shifting Is For Sissies ;-)

Today I did a ride I haven't done in a while:  Point Lookout.  It's also the longest ride--at 105 km--I've done so far this year.



I felt better than I thought I would, considering how much riding I've missed due to the long winter full of days of ice-glazed streets.  The ride out there was harder, which is actually a good thing.  It meant that I felt better in the second half of my ride than I did in my first.  It also meant that I was riding into the wind during the stretch from Forest Park to Rockaway Beach, and I had the same wind at my back on the way home.



And what a wind it was!  The National Weather Service said it would blow at 30-40 KPH with gusts to 60.  It certainly felt that way, coming and going.



Those ripples are not the normal tides of Jamaica Bay:  The water is being ruffled, like a bird's feathers, from the wind.

Actually, riding into the wind wasn't the most difficult part of the ride.  On my way back, after crossing the bridge from Atlantic Beach to Far Rockaway, I pedaled up to the  boardwalk.  After a few blocks, I had to exit and cycle the middle of the Rockaway Peninsula:  the wind off the ocean blew so strongly that I was having trouble remaining upright.  And I wasn't sure of how far, or how long, I could ride in a "track lean":



And, yes, I rode on Tosca.  As I pedaled into the gusts, I told myself, "Shifting is for sissies..."  ;-)


13 April 2014

A Message Like No Other

When you cycle in an urban area, you see more graffiti than the average person.  More important, you see it at closer range than someone riding a bus or cab, or driving by.

Even while seeing so closely, you don't remember a lot of it.  After all, so much of it, frankly, looks alike.  But every once in a while you see "tags" that stand out for their use of color, artistry or simply their overall size.  And, sometimes, you see a graffito that's a true work of art.  I am fortunate in having lived, for years, not very far from Five Pointz--whose days are. lamentably, numbered.

But this piece--on the side of a Barrow Street building, just west of Hudson Street in Greenwich Village, is like no other I've seen:




12 April 2014

Mounted

On my way home today, I passed a mounted police officer.  That got me to wondering how many horseback riders are cyclists, and vice-versa.

Of course, you can't do both at the same time. But I'm sure some have tried.  This may be the closest anyone has come to combining both activities:

From Woot!

11 April 2014

Myths About Women And Cycling

Given my life experiences, it would surprise few people to know that I think about some of the differences between female and male cyclists, and the experiences each of us has.

I have also become more aware of just how male-centered the cycling world--in everything from the social contexts of rides to equipment design to the attitudes of some bike shop employees.  Also, I am shocked at how much of that male-centeredness--as well as some out-and-out misogyny--I helped to perpetrate.

So I guess it's not surprising that some old myths about women and cycling still persist.  I was aware of some, and learned of a few others from this infographic that recently came my way:


From Biking Toronto

10 April 2014

Two Writers And Their Bikes

I've assigned my students to read a group of poems from a diverse cross-section of poets classical and modern.  Those poems form a sort of cycle of the seasons.

Yesterday they read Neutral Tones by Thomas Hardy.

I read somewhere that he was an enthusisastic cyclist until late in his long life.  Somehow that doesn't surprise me:




Now doesn't he look so completely English with that bike?



On the subject of writer/cyclists, here's a photo of Arthur Conan Doyle and his wife on an early tandem in 1892:


Both photos came from Flavorwire.

09 April 2014

Something I Feared




I was looking through an old notebook (the paper kind) recently.  Some of the things I found, I was happy to see again.  Other things were depressing; still others, interesting.  Then there was this:

Bicycling a County Road on the Plains

My feet turn slow circles.

Twenty-six teeth behind me
I spin like this wind
                      skipping beyond birds

my reflection in silver rims
              pedalling

                       this wind
                                I once feared.

                                      

                                       21 jan 97

08 April 2014

Abandoned In The Big City

About a year ago, I wrote about the "pretzels" that can be found along the streets of New York.  They're not sold from hot dog carts or in delis.  Instead, they're the twisted wheels--and, sometimes, bikes--one finds parked along the Big Apple's byways.








Then there are those bikes that, even if they don't become twisted wrecks, are relegated to lives of rust and misery.  I'm referring to the bikes that are abandoned, or that seem to have been.



I always find myself wondering how they got that way. Did their owners lose their keys or forget the combinations to their locks?  Did some sudden emergency take them away from New York, never to return?  Perhaps they witnessed some terrible crime and had to enter the Witness Protection Program.




Or, could it be that they simply forgot they owned their bicycles?  I don't understand how one can do that, but I also understand it's a possibility.




Anyway, I've found out I'm not the only one who's pondered such questions.  None other than Joe Schumacher, a photographer, has had similar thoughts, which led to a series of photos on a website.

07 April 2014

Yearning For A New Journey

I am itching to go to France, to Europe, again.  Actually, I really want to do what I did as recently as 2001, just before 9/11:  Buy the cheapest round-trip ticket to Paris I can find, bring my bike with me and decide where I’m going to ride once I get there.

The first time I did that, I didn’t come back for a long, long time.  (Actually, I bought an open-ended round-trip ticket to London.  Are such things still available?) I rode through the English countryside to Dover and took the ferry to Calais, from which I rode through Belgium, the Netherlands and back into France, where I stayed for as long as I could.  Other times, I pedaled to Italy, Spain, Germany, Switzerland or the Netherlands and back. 



When I took such trips—even the first, my first outside North America—I never felt like a tourist.  Even though my French—or, for that matter, English-- wasn’t nearly as good as I thought it was after the classes I took, I felt (with much justification, I believe) I was experiencing the countries, the cultures and all of the architecture and art I’d seen in books and classrooms in ways that those who followed trails emblazoned with American Express signs never could.

On the other hand, when I went to Prague three years ago, I knew I was a tourist.  It didn’t have anything to do with the way people treated me; for that matter, it didn’t even have to do with the fact that I knew nothing of the Czech language.  Many residents of Prague speak German—of which I know a little-- nearly as well as they speak their own language, which is not a surprise when you consider that the area’s history.  And I found it surprisingly easy to find people who spoke English, or even French.  But I stayed in a hotel and rented a bike which while, enjoyable enough to ride, was nothing like the ones I brought with me on previous trips.  In contrast, in all of my other trips, I usually stayed in hostels.  Sometimes I’d camp, and once in a while I’d stay in a pension or inexpensive hotel if the other options weren’t available or I was too tired or lost to find them—or I simply wanted to treat myself.

During the first years of my gender transition, I wasn’t thinking about taking a trip like the ones I took every other year or so.  Then, for a few years, I told myself I didn’t want to take such trips—or so I told myself—because I saw them as part of my life as a male being, which I was leaving in my past.  I also figured that I couldn’t take such trips, which I usually did alone, because I believed that travelling solo as a woman would not be safe.

But I realize that other women have taken bike or other trips by themselves.  More important, I think I still have the same ability to function on my own that I had when I was younger, and male. If anything, I can function better on my own, in part because I have a better sense of when I need to ask for help, or when I want to do things with other people.

Now I see two barriers to doing a trip like the ones I did in my youth.  One is cost.  The past few years have been more difficult for me, financially, than those years of my 20’s, 30’s and early 40’s.   Even if my income were keeping pace with the kind of money I made in those days—or if I came upon the serendipities that sometimes came my way—it would be harder to take such a trip because it’s much more expensive.  Back in the day, my biggest expense was the plane fare:  Once I got to Europe, I could live cheaply and relatively well, even when exchange rates weren’t so favorable to the dollar.  But, since the introduction of the Euro, everything has gotten much more expensive.  Europeans I know say as much.

The other is that I wasn’t in the kind of physical condition I was in those days.  Some people have told me it’s to be expected, simply because my age.  Also, more than a decade of taking hormones and my surgery left me with less physical strength and endurance than I had in those days.  Plus, as much as I love cycling, I don’t do as much of it as I did in those days. That, of course, may have something to do with my physical changes.

Still, I would love to take the sort of trip I used to take, and to experience it as the person I am now.  Some might say that’s an unrealistic hope.  But, until someone can show me that it’s empirically impossible, I’ll continue to hold out such a hope—and to do what I can to prepare for such a trip.


06 April 2014

Into The Season, Late: Into The Wind

In this part of the world, winter has been longer, colder and grayer than in recent years past.

That means, among other things, that the transition to Spring has been later--by about a month--than it normally is.  So, we've been getting the proverbial March winds in April.

Under normal circumstances, riding in it would be invigorating, even bracing. But since I've done less cycling than I normally do, riding into the wind has been arduous.






 But at least we had blue skies and sunshine yesterday.  Life is good, cycling is great.

05 April 2014

Quelle Coincidence!

Wouldn't you know it?  The other day I wrote, among other things, about aluminum frames of the recent and distant past.  So, on my way out of work last night, what should I chance to see but this?:




It is, of course, one of the most iconic aluminum frames of all:  the Vitus 979, from France.



Vitus aluminum frames were somewhat-more-refined versions of what is commonly regarded as the first modern aluminum frame:  the ALAN, from Italy.  (Alan is short for "alluminio anodizzato," Italian for "anodized aluminum.) 

While the ALAN consisted of aluminum alloy tubes bolted and bonded into thicker aluminum lugs, Vitus skipped the bolting and simply glued the frame together.  Company engineers claimed--with justification, I believe--that the bonding material Vitus used was stronger than what was found in Alan frames.  Whatever the case, I have never heard of either frame coming apart at the joints.

The ALAN was introduced in 1972; the Vitus came seven years later.  While the Italian frame gained a small if loyal following among time trialists and others who wanted to build the lightest possible bike, its French counterpart was ridden by club cyclists as well as racers.  Also, being one of the most expensive frames available at the time, it had a certain amount of snob appeal in the '80's, when it reached its peak of popularity.

Like the ALAN, the Vitus was often kitted out with the lightest or most "trick" componentry available.  For the ALAN, that meant Campagnolo Super Record gear with titanium bits.  On the other hand, Vituses were often seen with Mavic hubs and GEL-280 rims (Mavic had yet to produce a pre-built wheelset), Stronglight 106 cranks with the company's titanium bottom bracket, CLB or Speidel brakes and Huret Jubilee derailleurs.  



The Vitus set-up I described is what Jeannie Longo, whom many regard as the greatest female racer of all time, rode to victory in the Tour de France Feminin and her first Olympic win.  

The example I saw parked on the street looks like a model from around that time.  When new, the top and down tubes were anodized in a magenta-ish shade of pink, while the seat tube had more of a purplish hue.  Anodizing, especially in brighter and bolder colors, tends to fade over time; the bike in the photos doesn't have much of its original tint left.

When I see bikes like that--or a classic steel frame--I always wonder whether it's being ridden by the original owner, or whether it was inherited.  (A young man I met on the Staten Island Ferry about a year ago told me his father raced the Simoncini he was riding.)  In the case of the Vitus, or an Alan, I also wonder how much it was ridden over the years.  You see, those frames had aluminum tubes in the same diameter as Reynolds, Columbus or other steel tubes including the ones Vitus were still making at the time they produced their aluminum frames. That made for a very light, though flexy bike.  (On the other hand, it also made for a very comfortable ride over long distances and hours.)  Those factors probably explain why Longo and other female--as well as smaller male--racers rode them.

In 1992, Vitus superceded the 979 with a new model, the 992.  It featured ovoid aluminum tubes in an attempt to make the bike stiffer without resorting to large-diameter tubing, as Klein and Cannondale were employing.  Even so, the 992 was never as popular as the 979, in part because it came along just as titanium frames were becoming popular. And, of course, within a few years carbon--which Vitus helped to re-introduce during the 1980's--would take much of the market share enjoyed by tituanium and Vitus aluminum frames.

Still, whoever rides the bike I saw last night is enjoying an interesting bit of cycling history.  Somehow it's nice to know that Vitus is still making aluminum and carbon frames though, apparently, it's discontinued its maganese-molybdenum steel tubing.  However, I couldn't find information on whether or not the frames were still being made in France.  After all, Look and Time, the most venerable French carbon-fiber bikes, are now being manufactured in Asia.

04 April 2014

A Year In Martin Luther King Jr.'s Life

I know it's Spring.  And it's time to ride. But I think there's something else that bears mentioning.

On this date in 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assasinated in Memphis.  I was a child at the time and, until that day, knew nothing about him. However, I think I understood, for the first time, what the word "tragedy" means and that it isn't the same as mere sadness or grief.

He was cut down one year to the day after making what might have been the most important speech of his life--and one of the most important in American history.

Before an audience of 3000 in New York's Riverside Memorial Church, the greatest leader this country has ever had declared, "My conscience leaves me no other choice."  Then he described the terrible effects of the Vietnam War on this country's poor as well as Vietnamese peasants.  Thus, he concluded, he could not continue to fight for civil rights and address the myriad injustices--all of which had to do with race, class and gender--that existed (and still exist) in the United States without opposing the war his country was waging in the former French Indochina.

Here is a video of that speech: