Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

31 October 2015

What Are You Wearing For Your Halloween Ride?

Tomorrow the New York City Marathon will wind its way through the Big Apple's five boroughs.  Knowing that, the pub crawls that will snake their way through various Gotham neighborhoods--as well as cities all over North America--today seem oddly appropriate.




Hmm...I wonder how many people will make the rounds of bars today and round the turns of tomorrow's run.




The first time I heard about Halloween pub crawls, it occured to me that it's what people do when they don't want to grow up but are too old for "Trick or Treat."







Most of those becostumed kids who knock on doors are in cities or relatively compact suburbs or towns.  And, of course, all of those pub crawls are in urban enclaves of young professionals.




So what does one do when separated from his or her nearest neighbors by miles of prairie or mountains or soybean fields or whatever?  Do kids in such places go Trick or Treating?  (I'm guessing there aren't many young professionals in such places,and whatever twenty- and thirty-somethings are living in them have other things to do!)  If so, how?




Well...I have a hard time imagining their parents driving them from one potential shakedown site to the next.  Could it be that they're riding from house to house on bicycles?




Why not?  I've seen racer-wannabes in team kit who looked more ridiculous than anything I've shown in this post.




Happy Halloween.



30 October 2015

Autumn Twilight In New York

Is the spectacle of day turning into evening the most autumnal part of the day?  Or is Fall the twilight of the seasons?



During my short but exhilirating late-day ride today, the time of day seemed to mirror, perfectly, the time of year.  Day was turning to dusk; leaves were falling and spreading a shawl of deepening hues across the aging, wizening ground just as the setting sun cast its glow across the deepening cold of the river and sky.





Some have said that cycling sharpens our awareness of our surroundings.  I agree that it does, in part because it opens our internal vistas in much the same way skies and trees open before us.



On my way back, I stopped in Queensbridge Park.  The bike path along Vernon Boulevard, which wends its way along the Queens side of the East River, detours into the park and brings cyclists, runners, skateboarders and dog-walkers within the shadow of the bridge for which the park is named.  The park is named for the bridge.  But, while people use the name in reference to the park (and a nearby housing project and subway station that share the name), they never use it to refer to the bridge, which is more widely known as the Queensborough or 59th Street Bridge.



Anyway, the park--about two kilometers from my apartment--is wonderful and interesting in all sorts of ways. One, of course, is the views of the river, harbor, skyline and, of course the bridge--especially when the lights are turned on.  Another is the way that it seems to stand, almost defiantly, against its surroundings.  




As I mentioned, there is the housing project across Vernon Boulevard from its eastern side.  There are also small factories and warehouses.  The bridge looms over park's southern side. But to the north is a Con Ed power plant:




During the summer, the leaves on the trees at least partially obscure those smokestacks, depending on the spot from which you're viewing.  Now, of course, the trees offer no such cover.  However, they seem to be as inseparable in this autumnal vista as this season and time of day.

29 October 2015

A Crusader's Bike Lane

Some people have streets named after them.

For the longest time, I hoped to have a bridge named after me.  That dream began during my childhood when, from the roof of the building where my family lived, I watched workers pull cables and link girders that would become the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.

Sometimes I'd still like to have such a span named after me.  But now, if I were going to have anything named after me, I wouldn't mind a bike lane.  Not too many people have that, at least not yet.

One member of that club is a heroine of mine.  If you weren't living in New York during the 1990s, you probably haven't heard of her:  Julie (J.A.) Lobbia.



Every day, clad in bike gear, she'd roll her wheels into her office, where she'd change into one of the vintage dresses she found in flea markets.  At her desk, she'd write the stories she found while pedaling all over New York City, from the streets of Bed-Stuy to the avenues of Astoria, from East New York to the Upper West Side.

One of her rides uncovered a path of arson that predated the wave of gentrification that spilled over Williamsburg and other parts of Brooklyn. On other rides, she found everything from eviction notices to shards from construction sites led her to her stories.



But she was not a mere reporter or even just a researcher; she was a crusading journalist in the tradition of Jacob Riis, one of her idols.   She was also a kind of Sister of Mercy, if you will:  When an X-ray technician lost his job and home, she got him mattresses, pillows and blankets.  One day, she saw an eviction notice on a Chinese-speaking neighbor's door.  She spent a workday having it translated and later left a note under the door, in Chinese, explaining what that neighbor should do.

At least one of my commenters has said that cyclists have a stronger sense of justice than most people.  In my own unbiased view ;-), said commenters are right.  J.A. Lobbia was proof. 

In 2001, at the age of 43, she died of ovarian cancer. She asked to be buried in her favorite dress and bike shoes.

The sign in the photo stands at the intersection of Sixth Avenue and 33rd Street, just a block east of Penn Station and Madison Square Garden.

28 October 2015

The Most Famous, If Not The Better, Mousetrap

You might be riding rattraps.  If you're of (ahem) a certain age and rode them, you may also have ridden with a mousetrap.

No, I'm not assuming that you are, or have ever been, an exterminator.  Instead, I am talking about a type of bicycle component and a style of a certain bike accessory.


Rattraps, of course, are what are commonly called "cage" pedals.  On such pedals, the metal (aluminum or steel) plates have serrated edges on both sides, the better to grip the sole of your shoe.  (I actually rode a pair barefoot. I think I can still see the marks.)  Those cages usually don't have the "quill" common on traditional-style racing pedals.  And, because the cages have the same serrated surfaces on both sides, they can be ridden with or without toeclips.


Examples of "rattrap" pedals include the MKS Sylvan and the Lyotard 460D:

MKS Sylvan
Lyotard 460D.  They were usually silver, but for a time were also available in blue, red or black.


Many different companies make, and have made versions of the "mousetrap".  Some claim to be better versions of the most famous (if not original) one:  The Pletscher Model C.





I bought one for $2.75, new, at Michaels's Bicycle Co. on Route 35 in Hazlet, NJ.  That  rack ended up on about three or four bikes I owned during my youth.  It was actually good for a light load, but would sway a lot when used with panniers. (I don't think most panniers made today would fit.)  Some people didn't like the Pletscher rack because the clamp that held it to the bike chewed up the paint on the seat stays (and, on some bikes, the seat stays themselves).  I think, though, that many people forgot to use the "T" bar that attached to the brake bolt and had two holes for the rack clamp screws.  Also, it helped to cover the stays with tape or a piece cut from an inner tube.



The "mousetrap" clamp on top was good for a baseball glove, a pair of shoes or sandwiches--if you didn't mind eating things in shapes you never saw before.  It also held a soccer ball or basketball firmly.  However, when I tried to carry books in it, they ended up all over the street.  (Ironically, many shops and catalogues sold the Pletscher or its near-facsimiles as "book racks".)  And, when I got my Pletscher, bungees hadn't been invented--or, at least, they weren't available in any place I shopped.  (When I first found them, they were called "sandows".)  So, if we wanted to carry things on the platform that wouldn't fit into the mousetrap, we used string, rope, duct tape and almost anything else you can imagine.

Even if you are young, you have probably seen hundreds of Pletscher racks, or imitations of them.  They have been attached to just about every kind of bike you can imagine:  I have even seen them attached to the struts of "banana" seats.  And--perhaps not surprisingly, given their ubiquity and low cost--people have actually used them as front racks, with varying results.




I wonder what, if anything, the rider of that bike carries on the rack. Whatever it is, it would have to be bound pretty tightly, or it would slide off the rack and into the path of the front wheel. I guess that's one way of making yourself a cold Panini, if that's what you want.

If seeing the on the front, slanted like the right side of an accent circonflexe isn't enough for you, look at how the rack is attached to the fork crown:





We didn't have zip-ties back when I bought my Pletscher rack for $2.75, new, at Michael's.

 

27 October 2015

Drillium Jewelry

You might say that I came of age (as a cyclist, anyway) in the late 1970s:  the heyday of drillium.

It seemed that, for a time, everyone was trying to drill as many small holes into whatever bike parts they could.  Even parts that were already ethereally light did not escape the probing and boring of high-speed steel bits.

Some drillium parts were rather lovely; others were just insane.  This, I believe, is beyond either category:

Uploaded to Pinterest by Henrik Jakobsson




I would like to meet the person who gave this Campagnolo Nuovo Record "the treatment".  Did he or she have a regular job (or was this part of that job)?  A family?  I can only imagine how much time that person spent on this project.

And I have to wonder whether that person did the same thing to the bike that this derailleur was hung on.  Or was it ever installed on a bike?

All right, I'll stop the snide rhetorical questions and admit that I actually like it.  No, I take that back:  I love it.  It's over-the-top in its minimalism. (Is that a contradiction?)  I would even say it's jewelry, of a sort.

26 October 2015

Same Color, Different Fade

I like the color of your crank.

I heard that compliment while I was parking my LeTour.  Of course, I didn't put the bike together as I did so that people could admire it:  I intended it as a beast of burden that could be parked in urban combat zones.

The person making the comment added, "I've always liked gunmetal grey. It looks good with the color of your bike."

The funny thing is that I hadn't noticed what color my crank is until that person pointed it out.  Or, more precisely, I thought of it as black because that's what color it was when I installed it on the bike.



Believe it or not, the crank and guard were almost exactly the same.  In fact, it almost looked as if the guard was of one piece with the crank and the chainring was bolted to it. Of course, the guard and the ring are bolted to the arms of the crank "spider".

The LeTour is almost always parked on the street; I very rarely bring it inside.  (In fact, I even left it parked in front of Terminal B at LaGuardia for five days while I was in Montreal.)  I have long known that anodizing faded, especially after repeated exposure to the elements. But I never saw two parts in the same color, attached to each other, fade at such markedly different rates.  Or, to be more precise, I never saw one part fade so much and the other so little.

Now, to be fair, the crank is a no-name cheapie.  So far, it's served me well on two different bikes.  But it didn't cost me much less than the guard, on the other hand, was made by BBG.  I know little about how anodizing is done, but I suspect whatever materials BBG uses (in Oregon) in the process are better than the ones used by the (probably Chinese) crank-maker. And, being a smaller operation, BBG probably takes more time to do whatever it does.  Whether that makes a difference in fading (or lack thereof), I don't know.

The chainring is, by the way, a US-made Rocket Ring.  It's very good, better than most inexpensive single-speed rings I've seen.  Being silver, it has not faded.

25 October 2015

When It's Harder To Get Out Of Bed Than It Is To Get On My Bike

Now, I hope that, having seen the title, you're not sending me copies of self-help books or the names and numbers of therapists, hypnotists or clergy members.  My reluctance to get out of bed this morning had nothing to do with depression or anxiety.  It just looked particularly gloomy and Max and Marlee were curled up with me.

Mind you, I didn't have any reluctance about riding today.  I have bikes with fenders on them.  I also have a rain jacket.  And it wasn't cold, at least for this time of year, or blustery.  It just that everything looked so heavy and gray.  Somehow the colors of the leaves made everything seem even more so.

In some years, in late October and early November, I experience surges of sadness that have to do with three deaths--one a slow decline, another a sudden demise and the third a suicide--that happened at this time of year.  But--for me, anyway--such sadness is not the same as depression.  It might make me a little slower to get out of bed, but it doesn't derail my life.

Anyway, I'll confess something:  I thought about doing the Tour de Bronx today.  I really don't enjoy big organized rides, but every once in a while I'll do one to, I guess, show solidarity with other cyclists.  I've done the TdB a couple of times--the longer version, of course--and enjoyed it.  Everybody, it seems, does the Five Boro Bike Tour, but most who ride it never see any of the Bronx besides the few blocks of it that are part of the ride.   I always liked that the TdB took riders through neighborhoods and to sites that those unfamiliar with the Bronx would not expect to see there.



But I got up after the check-in time for the ride.  Now, if you think I was looking for an excuse not to do the ride...well, maybe subconsciously, I was.  Subconsciously, I tell you.

I did a ride of my own.  It's one I've done before.  It wasn't as hard as getting out of bed.

24 October 2015

From Macbeth To Il Campione Del Mondo

I swear, I was looking for films to show my Lit class.  Really, I was trying to decide between Roman Polanski's or Orson Welles' version of Macbeth.  And I was browsing all of the other film and television adaption of the Bard's classic when...

The YouTube browser took me to videos of The Third Ear and other progressive-rock bands.  From Renaissance's Prologue, it led me through recordings of vocal pieces used in videos.  I swear, it's true.

And then browser took me to this:



Honest, I wasn't looking for bike videos.  But I couldn't stop looking at it.

You've seen a million Bianchis before.  If you are of a certain age, you remember when they all came in some version of the color ("Celeste") you see on Fausto's bike.  Something about this video makes it seem as arresting as it was the first time you saw it.

And the bike...Why, it has--gasp--cottered cranks.  And exposed bolts on the stem.  Everything's so low-tech.

But what a thing of beauty!  And Fausto himself, even when he was wearing a plain white polo shirt, just reeked style. Check out 0:43 into the video.  Those people look like they actually know him; they're not just props or backdrops. 

As for the bike--Check out 2:15 to 2:22.  If only today's integrated headsets looked like that! 

Now I'm going back to work.  I swear, I didn't look for that video.  I was brought to it.

23 October 2015

Sign Of The Times

Today I walked by my "go-to" takeout (and, sometimes, eat-in) Chinese restaurant.  Fatima hasn't changed much, at least in food (fortunately), decor (such as it is) or personnel (again, fortunately) since I first started patronizing it.  The changes, it seems, are taking place on the outside.




No, they haven't changed their sign, either.  Rather, I am talking about this:





Now, if you live in any large (or, possibly, not-so-large) city, you wouldn't think this scene is remarkable:  Three electric bikes (or scooters) parked outside a Chinese restaurant.  It's no more unusual than what I saw at the Chinese restaurant across the street, which I go to when Fatima is closed:





These days, electric bikes and scooters are found by most restaurants that offer take-out or delivery service.  The most notable exceptions seem to be pizzerias because it's difficult to those wide pizza boxes on an "e-bike".  Also, traditional delivery bikes, like the ones made by Worksman, usually have front carrying boxes big enough for pizzas--and wide baskets or Porteur-style racks can be fitted to other kinds of bicycles. It seems that similar boxes, baskets and racks can't be fitted on, or simply not available for two-wheeled vehicles with electric motors.


Compare the first two photos I posted to a couple from the early days of this blog:







Four years ago, most restaurants--like the Bel Aire Diner, where I took the above images--had ragtag fleets of the sorts of bikes one could lock up without fear:  everything from old three-speeds, bike-boom era ten- and twelve-speeds and mountain bikes from the '80's and '90's.  





Of the bikes parked in front of restaurants, typically, at least one was a "donor" bike, cannibalized for parts that might or not fit on the "receptor" bikes.  But somehow those delivery men (Yes, almost all of them are male), who probably knew no more about bike mechanics than I did the day before I opened the pages of Anybody's Bike Book, would find a way to make the brakes from an old Peugeot ten-speed or Raleigh three-speed "work" on a mountain bike--or fit mountain bike wheels and tires on those old Raleighs and Peugeots.


Some might scoff or gasp in horror at such "Frankenbikes".  But they at least showed attempts--some successful, or at least admirable--of solving problems with the materials at hand and the limited knowledge most of those delivery men had.


I sometimes see e-bikes similarly cannibalized for other e-bikes.  I'll admit I know almost nothing about e-bikes, but I still believe it's safe to assume there isn't nearly as much variation in e-bikes as there is in pedal-powered bikes.  If there isn't, I wonder what "Franken e-bikes" (Doesn't have quite the same ring as "Frankenbikes", does it?) will look like.


Probably the most interesting and disturbing thing about this phenomenon of electric two-wheelers is that they constitute, at least in this city, a kind of modern-day Prohibition.  No, their riders aren't bringing bootleg gin to clubs (though I wouldn't doubt they're toting other kinds of contraband). Rather, the explosion in the number of such bikes--and the shops that service and sell them--continues even though e-bikes are still illegal here in New York City.  


That, ironically, might be a reason why couriers in Manhattan still ride bicycles, most often the fixed-gear variety.  Messengers have, shall we say, a bit of a PR problem and the police target them.  Even though some messengers take pride in their "outlaw" attitude, they don't want something that subjects them to more scrutiny than they already get.


Also, e-bikes aren't as maneuverable in city traffic, or as easy to park along city streets, as regular bicycles.  Thus, whatever advantage in speed e-bikes and scooters might have is negated, especially in heavily congested areas like the Financial District of Manhattan.  


It will be interesting, to say the least, to see whether a proposal to allow electric bikes for businesses will ever pass in the City Council. (It's been introduced several times.)  I suspect that the Council's vote will not have any influence on whether large numbers of bike messengers abandon their "fixies" for e-bikes.

22 October 2015

If Brooks Really Wants To Do Fashion Accessories

I love Brooks saddles--at least, certain models.  (I don't think anyone can love all of the saddles that any company makes!)  I like their bar wrap, and their traditional seat bags look nice, too.   

However, sometimes it seems that they're turning into a fashion-accessory company.  I mean, it's one thing to offer stylish saddlebags, panniers and other luggage that attaches to bikes.  I even think it's fine that they're offering backpacks and messenger bags:  They look nice, but I doubt I'll ever buy them because I hardly ever use such bags anymore.

But I have to wonder when Brooks England (the name of the company) offers ladies' and gents' "cycling jackets" that look--and are priced--more like trench coats or safari jackets from Brooks Brothers.  How many cyclists are going to buy something like that?  

Then again, BE might be trying to develop non-cycling customers.  After all, we tend not to replace our Brooks Professionals or B17s very often!  

If Brooks England really wants to become the world's first bicycle fashion house, it should consider offering things like these:


From Voochee

What's more of a "gents'" accessory than cufflinks?  (I had four pairs of cufflinks, all of which were gifts.  I never wore any of them. Perhaps that's proof I was never a "gent".)  

The part of me that still loves the Sex Pistols wants to see those cufflinks made from the dirtiest, greasiest chains and used on the most pristine white shirts.  That's the sort of thing that, perhaps, a guy would wear if he'd just won the Lotto jackpot and was going to tell his boss what he really thought of the job and company.

Now, here's something Brooks could make for the ladies:


Blossom Bicycle Chain Necklace
From Chainspirations

To make this "blossom" pendant, individual chain links were disassembled and the parts cleaned and anodized.  It's offered in a number of different main and accent colors, and with several different lengths of chain.

We've all seen bracelets made from lengths of bicycle chain.  For a time, it seemed as if every bike shop employee wore them.  Here's an interesting take on them:

Bicycle Jewelry Chain Link Bracelet Recycled Bicycle Jewelry Sports Bikes
From Winterwomandesigns


From a meter or two away, it looks like butterflies.  And butterflies rank right up there with cats and dolphins for my favorite animal motifs.

Somehow, I think it's tasteful enough even for John Boultbee--or a woman or girl in his life, anyway.

21 October 2015

The "Back To The Future" Bike?

Today is "Back To The Future" Day.

In Back To The Future:  Part II--released in 1989-- Marty McFly (played by Michael J. Fox) travels to 21 October 2015 to save his children, who had yet to be born in the original Back To The Future, which was set and released in 1985.

Today, there are countless articles all over the Internet and print media that are scorecards of which predictions for this date came true, and which ones didn't.  This post won't be one of them. 

However, I want to mention something that everyone who saw any of the BTTF series recalls:  the DeLorean motorcar that was turned into a time-travel machine.



Because DeLorean's company went bankrupt, production of those automobiles ceased two years before the film's release.   About 9000 DMC-12s (the only model DeLorean ever produced) were made; as of 2007, about 6500 were believed to still exist.

A decade after the original BTTF, a Texas-based British industrialist named Steve Wynne started a separate company using the DeLorean name. It assembles new cars from New Old Stock (NOS) DeLorean parts in addition to Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) and reproduction parts on a "made to order" basis, using existing Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) plates.

That wasn't Wynne's only homage to DeLorean.  Three years ago, he teamed up with Marc Moore, a DeLorean owner and passionate cyclist, to design a bicycle. 

Since potential buyers of such a bike are DeLorean car owners, or anyone who liked their aesthetic, it comes as no surprise that the frames were made of stainless steel--by Sarto Antonio in Plangia, Italy--and had black components and accessories hung on them.

And so the DeLorean Bike was conceived.  I don't know how many--or whether any at all--were ever made, besides prototypes.  The DeLorean Bike website seems not to have been updated in some time, and for ordering (not that I plan on doing so), it simply says to call or e-mailing them for pricing or other information.




I'm wondering what's inside that thing on the down tube.  A Tesla coil, perhaps?
 

20 October 2015

Sneaking Off To The Boardwalk In The Fall

The weather warmed up a bit today, but it was still pretty blustery.  Still, this day felt very October-like, in contrast to the last three days,  which felt more like Thanksgiving weekend.  Not that I mind cool or chilly weather; it just seemed to follow me from Canada after the mild weather this part of the world was experiencing as I embarked.

Anyway, this afternoon I had some time to sneak out for a Coney Island ride, and to return home via the path that passes under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge--about 65 kilometers all told.




One sign that it's really Fall is that the boardwalk was not full of the strollers, sunbathers and such one sees even on weekdays for a few weeks after Labor Day.  But, more important, the light and air take on different hues and feels around the time of the Equinox.




Is it my imagination, but has the Parachute Jump taken on the color of fallen leaves?  A few weeks ago, it seemed more like a reddish-orange.  Hmm...Could I be imposing my ideas of the season on things I see?  Is life imitating the season?




Whatever, Tosca seemed to be enjoying it as much as I did.  Even though I didn't have a lower gear to shift into when I was pedaling into the wind, I didn't feel as if I had been straining.  In fact, riding today seemed like a shorter version of my ride the other day, albeit with different scenery.  Maybe it has something to do with the way I respond to the light and air of this time of year.




On the Coney Island Boardwalk, this sign has a way of popping up where you've never seen it before, after you haven't seen it for a long time.  

I would have expected to see it during the height of the summer season.  As a matter of fact, a couple of times when I rode on the boardwalk during the summer, police officers motioned for me to get off my bike.  But today there were no cops in sight.

Still, I didn't ride along the boarwalk:  I had just a bit more than enough time to ride to Coney and back.  But it was plenty.

19 October 2015

There's Nothing Like The First

Whenever I ride my Mercians, I find that I've actually ridden faster than I thought I was riding and, even when riding on rough stretches or climbing into the wind, I don't feel beat-up or worn-down at the end.  This is particulary true of Arielle, my Mercian Audax.




It's a bike meant for longer rides, hence the model name.  With such a purpose in mind, the bike is  designed with a somewhat longer wheelbase and slightly shallower angles than a dedicated racing bike.  On the other hand, its geometry is tighter than that of a full-load touring bike or even many randonneur bikes.   It also has, according to my specification, a shorter top tube than is typically found on touring (and even some racing) frames in Arielle's size (56 cm center-to-center) to accomodate the rather long legs and short torso I have for a person of my height.




When I was ordering Arielle--the first Mercian I bought--I was going to specify 16mm diameter seat stays.  At the time, Mercian was still offering 12mm on some models, including the Audax.  Hal Ruzal at Bicycle Habitat talked me into going with the 12mm, in part because that's what he has on one of his Mercians, which is very similar to Arielle. 




I'm glad he did.  Tosca, my Mercian fixed-gear, has 16mm stays.  It feels stiffer, but that may have to do with the geometry of the bike rather than the stay diameter.   Arielle, however, never felt flexy or noodly to me.  Yet those 12mm stays, I believe, absorb more road shock than the thicker stays, which--I'm guessing--is the reason why I never feel "beat up" after riding her.  

I also am glad Hal--and the folks at Mercian--convinced me to buy an Audax rather than one of the other models.  I didn't want a full-on touring bike:  If I ever do another multi-day tour, it will probably be with a light load.  On the other hand, I didn't want another racing-specific bike:  I'd owned and ridden a number of those and felt as if I were past being even a "wannabe", let alone an actual racer.

On this bike, I can ride fast when I want to, but--more important to me at this point in my life--I can simply enjoy the ride.  It has never felt like a "compromise":  It's simply a bike that fits well and feels good. 

Because Arielle fits and rides so well, specifying my next two custom Mercians--Tosca, my fixed-gear and Helene, one of my Miss Mercians--easy.  Tosca's geometry is just a bit tighter; Helene's dimensions were tweaked to allow wider tires and fenders. 

Vera, my other Miss Mercian, is the only one of my Mercians that wasn't custom-built for me:  I bought it second-hand.  So, while its fit is a bit different from that of the others (the imaginary top tube length is 15mm longer than on Arielle or Helene and 10 mm longer than on Tosca, and the chain stays are about 15 mm longer than the ones on Helene), my experience with my other Mercians served as a good guideline in helping me choose the right stem length and such.  Overall, it has the cushiest ride of my "Mercs" and, not surprisingly, Tosca has the stiffest and most responsive. 

All of them feel great, but, as the saying goes, there's nothing like the first.  And mine (at least in terms of my Mercians) is Arielle.

18 October 2015

Coming Home To Another Fall Ride

Last week, during my trip to Montreal, I wrote about (among other things) the autumn light and air.  Well, today had a particularly autumnal feel--at least in part because the weather was colder than it's been in six months or so. When I was talking to my mother a little while ago, I joked that I brought the cold, and the season, back with me because I knew I wouldn't have any trouble getting them through US Customs!

Anyway, on a day so typical of this season, thoughts turn to foliage and red barns and such.  Well, the leaves are starting to turn brightly in local parks and fallen leaves stream along the curbs.  But there aren't a whole lot of red barns in this city.  However, in some neighborhoods--including my own--there are houses that provide a rather nice backdrop for the blaze of colors.




But I also figured that if I went a little north of the city, the colors would be even brighter and there would be an even better stage for them.  And Arielle, my Mercian Audax, was just begging to be ridden.  And I wanted to ride her.   The bike I rented in Montreal was actually pretty nice, but it still makes me appreciate Arielle--and my other Mercians--even more than I had before.




So, after pumping her tires and filling a water bottle, we were off to--you guessed it--Connecticut.


It was just past noon when I started riding, and I knew that it's starting to get dark around 6pm now.  Still, I figured, it would give me enough time to ride there, take in some autumn light and air in the Nutmeg State, and get home before dark.  Although I have lights, there are a couple of parts of the route I prefer not to ride in the dark.




I was riding against of the wind most of the way back--which meant, of course, that I was riding with it most of the way back.  The funny thing was that I didn't feel I was pedaling particularly hard on the way up, in spite of the wind that, at times, gusted to 35 KPH.  And I didn't think I was pedaling particularly fast on the way back.  Yet I made it back before sunset.


Really, I can't ask for more of a Sunday afternoon ride in the middle of October.  




When I got home, I felt invigorated, as I do after a good ride, but not tired.  I often feel that way after long rides on my Mercians, but especially Arielle.  Tomorrow, or some other time in the near future, I'll write about a possible reason.


17 October 2015

Las Bicimaquinas de Guatemala


Tourists ride "pedi cabs" and "bicycle taxis" in cities all over the world. People spin pedals in boats that are shaped like Disney characters and almost everything else imaginable.  Pizzas are delivered in contraptions that are part-bike, part-cart.  And cyclist Bryan Allen pedaled a gossamer across the English Channel in 1979.




It seems that pedal power has been used to propel humans and objects across time and space ever in just about every way imaginable. (Cycling to Mars, anyone?)  So, it's a bit surprising that more people haven't thought about other ways of using the energy people generate when they spin their feet.  

An organization called Maya Pedal has been doing just that.  Founded in 1997 as a collaboration between Guatemalan bicycle mechanic Carlos Marroquin and Canadian organization, Maya Pedal has created several "bicimaquinas" fashioned from various combinations of used bicycles and parts, wood, concrete and metal.  Each machine is handcrafted, unique and costs about $40. 



One example is this bicycle mill, fitted to a hand-powered  grinding mill or corn thresher. It can grind three pounds of any type of grain--typically yellow maize (corn), soybeans or coffee--per minute. 




Another bicimaquina looks like a stationary bicycle with a blender above its front wheel.  Actually, that's what it is. But, attached to the wheel is a rotor that substitutes for the electric motor found in the blenders most Americans use.  The faster you pedal, the faster the mixer blade--which can attain speeds of 6400 RPM--spins.

Other Bicimaquinas include  water pumps, coffee depulpers, generators, washing machines and even juicers nut shellers.  That last has proved a real boon to a women's cooperative that makes peanut butter near Sololá .  "Shelling the peanuts used to be the most labor intensive part of the business," says Maya Pedal coordinator Johanna Mesa Montuba.  "Now they just load them up in the machine and it takes a quarter of the time."  And the juicers, she says, are convenient because the women can take them to soccer games and other public events, where they can sell fresh juice.

bicimaquinas3

Bicimaquinas have become popular in the Guatemalan countryside because they are cheap and easy to maintain:  no small consideration in remote areas where supplies are difficult to find and bring in.  And, if someone can't pay the full price of the machine up front, Maya Pedal will allow that person to purchase it in installments.  This is a real help to those, especially women, who want to start their own small businesses but have little or no money.

Really, what better way is there to use old bikes and parts? And to think that  I used to be so proud of myself for building "parts bin bikes"!

16 October 2015

Some Recommendations For When You're In Montreal

This is how I said "au revoir" to Montreal









or, perhaps how the city said "au revoir" to me.




I discovered Le Cafe des Chats while walking down rue St. Denis, trying to delay getting on the bus to the airport for as long as I could. It was raining but still agreeably mild; I found myself wishing I had a bike.  I know, I could have taken a pair of Bixi's wheels, but I didn't want to deal with the terminals.  




Cats are, to me, the most agreeable rainy-day companions. The ones who inhabit Le Cafe were rescued from local shelters. Management has a list of ground rules, which include not picking up the cats or disturbing their sleep. But, other than those sensible guidelines, the cafe has no restrictions; they'll let you come in and take a look, but if you want to sit down, they'll ask you to buy something eat or drink.  I ordered--naturally--a "Meow-cacino".

If Le Cafe des Chats was a great way to leave Montreal, the Auberge Manoir Ville Marie made me feel very welcome and at-home from the moment I arrived.  





It's a few minutes from the center of downtown, in a working-class French-speaking neighborhood that may be showing early signs of gentrification.  One nice thing about its location is that it's very quiet: It's the sort of neighborhood in which most people are in bed by eleven or midnight because they're going to work in the morning. The ones I encountered were friendly and helpful when I asked for directions or was carrying my bags from the bus. 




The hotel itself isn't merely self-consciously charming; it feels like a very, very human space.  Much of that has to do with the proprietess, Shahrzad, who is also one of the most truly stylish people I have met in a long time. You can feel her enthusiasm for life; she talked excitedly about some of the artists who have stayed there--and whose exhibits she attended.  I mentioned that I write and was happy that I could talk (however superficially, I later thought) about Rumi and other Persian poets.

She carved this most welcoming of spaces out of an old post office building. Some work is still being done on the sidewalk in front of it, but inside, you'll can bask in the glow of your day's adventures and get a good nights' sleep.

(P.S.  The hotel's staff let me keep the bike I rented in a storeroom.)

Another establishment I highly recommend is Velo Urbain.  One thing I found very interesting is that the shop repairs and sells used bikes; they don't sell new bikes, but all of their rentals--including mine--are new.  As the owner, Phillipe, explained to me, there are "moins des problemes" in doing so.  




He and I spoke--and, before I arrived, exchanged e-mails--in French.  However, one of his employees, Thomas, is thoroughly bilingual in English and French.  Both are very helpful; in fact, Thomas realized, in fitting the bike to me, that I have rather long legs for my height and moved me to a larger-size frame than the one he'd normally recommend for a person of my height.




Even if the Norco I rode weren't brand-new, it still would have been better than most other rented bikes.  The icing on the cake was this:  $50 CAD for three full days.  (At current exchange rates, that's a bit less than $40 USD.) They ask only that you leave some form of ID (I left my New York State non-drivers' ID, issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles) and that if you're renting for a full day, weekend or week, that you return the bike before they close (7pm; they open at 11 am).  You don't need a reservation; you can just show up and ask to rent.

Velo Urbain is located on la rue Papineau, near l'Avenue Mont-Royal.  What that means, of course, is that if you want to challenge yourself right away, you turn left on the Avenue and start riding up the Mont.  Or, if you want to ease yourself into riding, you can explore the neighborhood around the avenue, which abounds with cafes, restaurants and stores of just about every type imaginable.