Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

31 December 2015

A Reflection On 2015

I know that for many people, 2015 has been a terrible, tragic year.  I feel their pain, not in the least because at least one devastating event touched my life, if only tangentially.



Still, this year has been a very good year for me---the best since my surgery, and possibly before that--in many ways.  Cycling has had much to do with that.



Of course, riding to and from museums and cafes, along rivers, canals and boulevards, and through new experiences as well as memories, in Montreal and Paris can make just about anybody's year.  What really made those events, and much else in my life, special this year is an observation my friend Jay made while we had lunch in the City of Light: "You seem very settled as a woman now."  


The last time we'd met before then, I was in the early stages of my gender transition.  I was still acting and dressing in ways I was "supposed" to.  To be more precise, I was trying to show that I wasn't a man. (That, after I'd spent so much of my life trying to prove the exact opposite!)  At that point in my life, I really wondered whether I could or wanted to continue cycling. For one thing, I knew that I couldn't continue to ride in the way in which I'd been accustomed.  More important, though, I still believed that my transition meant "killing", if you will, the man named Nick I had lived as.  For that reason, I also wondered whether I would continue teaching although most people don't think of it as a particularly "masculine" occupation.




Since then, I have come to realized that cycling and teaching, as well as writing and even my taste in foods, are not part of one gender or another; they are part of my identity.  In other words, they intertwine with other things to make me who I am.  When anything is so integral to your life, you don't dispose or efface it; it changes with you or you change it as you are changing yourself.  So, perhaps, the way you execute or express them changes.  



In my case, pedaling up a hill or writing an essay or poem is no longer a conquest or even a goal met; it is an accomplishment, on whatever scale. Sometimes I still think about how Nick would have seen all of this--he wouldn't have approved, I'm sure--but I feel compassion for him.  After all, he couldn't have understood that he was, even then, becoming me.   Yes, she was becoming her mother!



It's fun, really. And the cycling has gotten better. That's what 2015 means to me right now.


30 December 2015

How Important Is The Bicycle To Women's History?

In a post I wrote three years ago, I relayed one of the most striking insights Susan B. Anthony offered:
   
    "Let me tell you what I think of bicycling.  It has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.  It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance."

Yesterday, I came across this:


     "Advertisements, magazines and posters promoted the image of the New Woman, just as other forms of mass media would later exhibit images of the flapper, the housewife, the wartime worker, and the androgynous feminist.  The bicycle was the symbol of the New Woman's freedom outside the home, as she raced off with her friends--men or women--down city streets and into the countryside."


Obviously, that didn't come from Ms. Anthony.  It did, however, come from a source that's intersting, if not as much so as, and for different reasons from, the godmother of feminism as we know it.





The second quote is the only mention of the bicycle in The Social Sex:  A History of Female Friendships, by Marilyn Yalom with Theresa Donovan Brown.  Dr. Yalom is a former Professor of French and senior scholar at the Clayman Institute of Gender Research at Stanford University. Ms. Donovan Brown is a former speechwriter and ran a financial communications firm.


I strongly suspect that Dr. Yalom supplied most of the information and Ms. Donovan Brown did most of the writing.  After all, the section on women's friendships and the salons of 17th Century France contains ideas and insights that only someone who read the sources in the original could have gleaned.  And the prose flows freely--like, well, a good speech.


Therein lies both the book's strengths and flaws.  While Donovan Brown's prose flows freely, it often lacks depth.  While Yalom's research provides the reader with glimpses into the nature of the relationships described in the book, and shines a light onto documents that might otherwise have been lost, those documents (letters, stories, essays and novels) come almost entirely from women (and, in a few cases, men) from, or with connections to, the upper classes.  That, perhaps, is not Dr. Yalom's fault, as most women who weren't part of those classes were illiterate until the 19th Century and rarely went to college before World War II.


Still, the book is an engaging and, at times, interesting read.  It won't turn you into a scholar or an expert, but it's a good starting point for anyone who wants to read more about relationships or women's history.  Finally, there is something to be said for any piece of writing that reminds readers of the importance of the bicycle in changing women's lives, however brief and fleeting that reminder might be.


29 December 2015

An Autobahn For Bicycles In The Ruhr

Whenever I've ridden the Five Boro Bike Tour, the best parts were (for me, anyway), the sections on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and the lower deck of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.  That ride is the only occasion on which cycling is allowed on those roadways.  The views of New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty, Manhattan skyline and Brooklyn's brownstone neighborhoods are most enjoyable.  But what makes it exhilarating is taking over, if only for a couple of hours, roadways on which motorized vehicles with four or more wheels hold a monopoly the rest of the time.

I am sure that along the way, someone probably thought, "Hmm...Wouldn't it be great to have a highway like this only for cyclists?"

Turns out, for about the past decade or so, municipalities and other jurisdictions in Europe have been working on the idea.  Short bicycle highways of 5 to 20 kilometers have been built in the Netherlands and Denmark (where else?) and the city of London is looking at the idea of building one. 

Fans hail the smooth new velo routes as the answer to urban traffic jams and air pollution, and a way to safely get nine-to-five
The new Ruhr Valley bicycle "autobahn".



Now Germany has opened its first stretch of its first bicycle "autobahn".  Five kilometers long, it will eventually be part of a planned 100-kilometer bikeway that will connect the cities of Duisberg, Hamm and Bochum--and four universities--in the Ruhr Valley.

In the meantime, Frankfurt--Germany's banking center--is planning a 30-kilometer route south to Darmstadt.  Munich is working on a 15-kilometer thoroughfare to its northern suburbs and Nuremberg is launching a feasibility study for a path that will connect to four other cities in the eastern part of the country.  Earlier this month, Berlin's city administration gave the green-light to conducting a feasibility study for a bike highway connecting the city center with the leafy suburb of Zehlendorf.

One way in which the newly-opened Ruhr roadway could serve as a model for future projects is that it's built along a disused railway, something found in abundance in declining industrial areas like the Ruhr.  On the other hand, the Berlin project points to an obstacle that too often bedevils such plans:  Who will pay for it?

The German capital is, almost paradoxically, the poorest of the country's major cities. So there is objection to the project, and others like it, especially among conservatives.  One problem is that, as in many other countries, the federal (or national) government builds and maintains motor-, rail- and water-ways, while cycling and pedestrian facilities are the responsibility of local governments.  If those localities are heavily endebted, as Berlin is, other funding schemes must be proposed.  The conservative CDU party has suggested placing billboards along the way:  something almost no cyclist, and very few other citizens, support.


Similar roadblocks detour or stop bicycle lane construction here in the US, and the same sorts of people (conservatives, mainly) oppose--or, at least, don't want to pay for--it.

If such obstacles can be overcome, it may one day be possible to ride from New York to San Francisco without stopping for a traffic light--without a speed limit, of course!

28 December 2015

My Christmas Lights Tour

Perhaps your city has a Christmas Lights Tour.  If it doesn't, and you've never heard of the concept, give you a brief description.  You buy a ticket, get into a bus or van that takes you past the most beautifully or ostentatiously decorated houses.

And trust me, the stereotype about the most over-decorated houses belonging to Italian-Americans is mostly true.  As you can tell from my last name, my heritage (most of it, anyway) comes from the "boot".  That makes me an authority on such things.  Really!  Oh, and my family's house would have been part of one of those tours, had anybody come up with the idea of running them back then.


I don't think I will ever put so much time and effort into stringing lights and putting up props that will be taken down a couple of weeks later.  Also, even if I were to become rich, I wouldn't want to pay the electric bills the owners of those houses run up.  But I can look at them---from my Brooks saddle.


You see where this is going:  I did a "lights" tour on my bike.  I didn't stray very far from my place.  But I put in a couple of hours of riding to see these:





First, I pedaled to 2179 25th Avenue in Astoria.  I first discovered this place during the first Christmas season I spent, six years ago, in my current place.  




I am alwas amazed at how the owner of the house manages to turn the front into a collection of little Christmas dioramas.









Wherever I start, and in whichever direction I go, every "panel" seems more wonderful and elaborate than the last.  















Hey, you can even watch the umpteenth rerun of "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer"!:









I would say that the owner of this house certainly gives the neighborhood a gift every Christmas:






From this place, I rode to "thirty by thirty":  the corner of 30th Street and 30th Road:






The four-colored lights look simple. But I like the way they're arranged.  From the front, they give this house an almost-Asian look:






Finally, back to my block.  Interesting, isn't it, how two adjoining row houses can have such different styles of decorating:




27 December 2015

Reflective Tape--Or Ruban Conspicuitif?

As a college instructor in New York, I teach, and have taught, many students whose first language is not English.  Some were and are wonderful writers and spoke the language very well, if with an accent.  Others, however, couldn't read much more than a telephone directory in the language of a country and city to which they try so hard to adapt.

Perhaps the most interesting of the non-native speakers I've encountered are the ones who can make themselves understood most of the time, but express what they are trying to say in ways no native speaker ever would.  As often as not, they are thinking in their native languages, which they translate literally, sometimes with the aid of electronic devices.  Sometimes this results in their using words that actually exist in the English language but you would rarely, if ever, hear in conversation.

I came across such a word in, of all places, an eBay listing for "conspicuity" tape.  Most of us in the English-speaking world would refer to it as "reflective" tape.  


"Conspicuity" Tapes


The seller is in China.  Now, I am not familiar with any of that country's languages, but I am guessing that whatever character they have in Mandarin or Cantonese or Fujian for what the seller was trying to say would translate, at least literally, into "conspicuity."  Now, perhaps you are more educated or literate than I am, but I feel confident that it's not a word you use very often.  I can't recall ever having used it at all.

To be fair, the word "reflective" can also mean "contemplative", and the word's literal translation into the seller's native language might reflect (no pun intended) that meaning more closely.  Also, to be fair,the seller did use the words "reflective," "safety" and "warning" in the listing title.  I guess he or she was trying to cover all bases, as the words "tape," "film" and "sticker" are also included.  

That last part  also interesting (at least to me) because I know that adhesive tapes--like hadlebar wraps as well as first-aid tapes--are referred to as "rubans adhesifs"--adhesive bands--in French.  On the other hand, the Velox "rim tape" you use on your Mavic rims is a "fond de jante"--rim base, or foundation.

Should I ask the seller of "conspicuity" tape whether he or she has "rim tape"?  

26 December 2015

Bikes On Boxing Day

They play cricket, rugby and football.  They drink tea and like their beer.  They use the metric system and words taken from French with their original spellings.  

What countries am I talking about?  Ireland, New Zealand, Austrailia, South Africa, Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados, Guyana, Nigeria, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales-- and England.

What else do they have in common?  As you've probably discerned, they all speak English and are, or were, part of the United Kingdom.

You've also probably noticed an exception.  That would be the good ol' you-ess-of-ay.  We spell it "color"; they spell it "colour".  (George Bernard Shaw once quipped that England and America are two countries separated by a common language.)  Their meters are  3.2808 feet.  (Shakespeare's was iambic pentameter.)  And while deluded young Yanks play a game in which they gallop terribly against each other's bodies and call it "football", what all of those other countries, with the exception of Canada,  call "football"--soccer to the Yanks--will always be America's sport of the future, as more than one wag put it.

And, oh yeah, most of us in the USA drink coffee and concoctions of chemicals and fake foam they call "beer".  Some drink tea and artisanal or microbrewed beer but are the majority only in certain precincts of Boston, Brooklyn, Portland, San Franciso, Seattle and a few other cities in the US.



And today, the day after Christmas, is the day the after-Christmas sales start.  But in all of those other countries--including Canada--it's Boxing Day.  The holiday is said to have begun centuries ago when wealthy people gave gifts (hence the "box" in "boxing") or money, as well as the day off, for being of service on Christmas Day.  It grew to include tradespeople, artisans and workers receiving said gifts from customers or employers.  Perhaps it could be said that such gifts were the original Christmas bonuses.

And, of course, brick-and-mortar, as well as online, retailers--including bike shops--hold sales.  

On this day, I find myself thinking about the British annd French people who  have been donating bicycles and supplies, as well "wellie" boots, ponchos and other items of clothing to refugees living in the squalid "Jungle Camp" just outside Calais, the French city closest to England.  Somehow I think that what they (some of whom participated in a bicycle ride for the residents) are doing is entirely in the spirit of this day.

(Note:  The article I've linked is followed by some of the most uniformy hateful comments I've ever seen.0

25 December 2015

Happy Christmas!




Happy Christmas!  

Feliz Navidad!

Joyeux Noel!

Buon Natale!  

Krismasi Njema! (That's about as much Swahili as I know.)

Vesele Vanoce! (Czech)

Frohe Wahnachten!

Nedeleg Laouen! (Guess what language this is!)

Krismisaya Shubkhaamnaa!

Sheng Dan Kuai Le! (I don't have the characters for this!)

And the best to everyone.  Thank you for reading.


(I took the photo in this post on my cell phone while I was riding down Alexander Avenue in the South Bronx, NY.)




24 December 2015

Tonight, St. Nick Might Have Another Chance To Use Rudolph As A "Blinky"

I am a heartless b***h.  Una puta.  Une putaine.

At least, some of my students are saying such things about me.  I can understand: After all, they just got their grades. 

But animal-rights activists might also be saying such things about me after what I said about Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.  Actually, they should direct their ire toward that guy with a white beard in the red costume.  After all, he's the one using a poor, innocent rangifer tarandus  as a Planet Bike Superflash--and further endangering him by putting him at the front instead of the rear, where he belongs.

Well, Ain't, I mean Saint, Nick might get a chance to perpetuate his misdeed tonight:




Even if he imposes unfair burdens on his beasts, I don't want him to crash into the Empire State Building--which, believe it or not, is in that fog, somewhere behind the "cross" on the RFK Bridge.
 

23 December 2015

This Santa Claus Is A Rider

People of, ahem, a certain age remember Gene Autry as "The Singing Cowboy."  People of my generation know him best for singing "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer."

He brought pleasure to many of us.  I can't comment on how much he actually knew about riding herd where the buffaloes roam. However much he knew, I hope it was more than Sylvester Stallone, a.k.a. Rambo, knows about soldiering.

On the other hand, I can say, with some certainty, that he didn't know much about road safety or optics.  After all, a red headlight is illegal in most places.  It also isn't very effective--or, at least, not as effective as a white or yellow light--for seeing ahead.

To be fair, it's not Autry's fault for miseducating, if inadvertently, a couple of generations of young people.  The guilty party is actually Johnny Marks, who wrote the song.


I got to thinking about all of this after reading a news story about a "Santa" who delivers Christmas trees on his bicycle:


On Clarendon Street in Boston, en route to Copley Square


He seems to have been born for the job in more ways than one:  His real name is Jimmy Rider, and he hauls balsam firs  in a custom-made trailer through Boston-area streets at this time of year. 

"Every person is happy to get a tree," says Rider, who operates his side business "EverGreen Delivery" out of Ricky's Flower Market in Somerville, Massachusetts.  But, as with stand-up comedy, it's not just about the material:  The delivery matters.  "He does it with such enthusiasm, whether it's snowing or raining, or early in the morning."  says proprietor Ricky DiGiovanni, who supplies the trees.   "He'll even do it late in the evening.  He gets the job done, and he does it with a smile.

During the rest of the year, Rider's main business is delivering goods from farmer's markets and restaurants on his bike.  Somehow I imagine he brings good cheer all year round--and that he knows enough not to use a red light in front.
 

22 December 2015

It's Here: The Randall's Island Connector!

OK, I won't be sarcastic. Or snarky. I'll even try to dispense with irony. (Actually, if you're trying, it isn't irony anyway.)  I'll be appreciative, maybe even polite and respectful, too. 

But, I must admit, I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop.

You see, something I never thought would happen in my lifetime came to pass.  No, I'm not talking about $200-a-month apartments on the Upper East Side.  Or a sale at Sotheby's.  Or that Congress will pass legislation banning the production of any new movie with "Ocean's" in the title--or any sequel or remake. Or that gender theorists will stop using any form of the word "performative".

So what is this epochal event to which I'm referring?


 

 

The bicycle/pedestrian bridge from Randall's Island, a.k.a the Randall's Island Connector (catchy, isn't it?) to the Bronx has just opened.   I used to joke that it's been under construction ever since the island (and the rest of North America) split off from Pangaea.  All right, that's an exaggeration.  But it did seem to take longer to build than Stonehenge or the Great Wall of China. 


 



So, of course, I just had to cross it, just to be sure that I wasn't having a flashback from something I don't remember taking.

It spans the Bronx Kill between the island and 132nd Street, just a couple of blocks east of where the RFK Bridge bike/pedestrian lane enters the Bronx.  What makes this new bridge better is that it's flat, lets pedestrians and cyclists off in a less-trafficked area than the RFK Bridge does and has much better sight lines.

 
 


Interestingly, it has a grade-level railroad crossing on the Bronx side. If the bridge is ever shut down for a passing train, it could take a while to open:  The bridge enters, and the train tracks cut through, an industrial area and trains can be more than a 100 cars long.  Just as interestingly, the bridge runs underneath an Amtrak trestle.  The effect is enigmatic:  like being in an open-air (at the sides) tunnel.



I wonder whether the RFK Bridge lane will be kept open.  Even though it has a rather steep ramp with sharp turns and is rather squalid, it's better to have it as an option if, indeed, one has to wait an hour for a train to pass through the Bronx side of the new bridge.  Plus, this is one bike lane that purely and simply makes sense, a trait not shared by many other bike and pedestrian lanes.

I know, I said I wouldn't be sarcastic. Or snarky.  Oh, well.  I tried.

21 December 2015

So Winter Starts...Now?

The Winter Solistice will come at 11:48 pm--just twelve minutes before midnight--in this part of the world.   As I'm not a Druid, I'm not going to engage in some ritual or another unless I'm at Stonehenge--which doesn't seem likely.  It's hard to think of the coming of winter when the early-morning low temperature was higher than the typical high temperature for this day, and is still climbing well after sunset.

What's even stranger is that weather forecasters say the weather will continue to get warmer all the way until Christmas Eve, when the high temperature is projected to pass the old record (17C, or 63F) for the date by about 5C, or 8F.  Christmas Day is predicted to be almost as warm.

That leads me to wonder whether we'll have an exceptionally mild winter--or whether we'll have this spell of warm weather before temperatures plunge and we have a major snowstorm some time after New Year's Day.

In other words, will my winter rides look like this:



or this?:

t0030.jpg (5025 bytes)

20 December 2015

Gambling With Cyclists' Lives: Cara Cox Lost Hers

Here in New York City, those of us who ride often complain about the conditions of bike lanes and streets, and about the seeming hostility or cluelessness of some drivers.  While we all have our stories about the perils of the street, my experiences of cycling in other parts of the US have shown me that, poorly-conceived bike lanes notwithstanding, we have it a little better than riders in other parts of the country.

Other municipalities and states, I believe, actually are more hazardous than the Big Apple.  One reason, I think, is that much of the nation, particularly in parts of the South and West, are more automobile-centric than this city.  Cyclists are still seen  as anomalies in many places. As a result, drivers don't know what to do when they see us.  Some even feel resentment and hostility toward us for being on "their" roadway.


One city with such conditions, it seems, is Las Vegas.  I was there once, nearly three decades ago, and from what I understand, the city's permanent population has exploded and, as a result, traffic is much denser than it was back then.  So it's not surprising that I've been hearing and reading that 'Vegas has a "problem" with bike-car collisions and that it has a large number of fatlities in proportion to its population.



Cara Cox
Cara Cox








The latest such casualty is Cara Cox, who was struck by a 74-year-old motorist more than two months ago.  She lay in a coma until her death the other day.  Ms. Cox thus became the ninth cyclist to be killed by a motorist in the Las Vegas area this year. A month before  her accident, 500 cyclists particpated in a safety awareness rally and ride in nearby Summerlin.  The eighth cyclist to be killed, Matthew Hunt, brought them together. "[M]atthew did everything right," according to his brother, Jason. "At this point, it's up to the drivers to pay attention," he added.

That some don't is the reason someone like Alan Snel can say, "Every bicyclist I know can share a story about a motorist endangering their safety."  Mr. Snel is a self-described "cyclist who pays the bills as a newspaper writer/reporter" who has written about Ms. Cara, Mr. Hunt and others who died after being struck by cars victims--as well as other stories about cycling in the area--for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.  He also writes a blog, Bicycle Stories, where I learned about Ms. Cara's tragic death.

"For the life of me, I can't understand how society accepts killed cyclists," he writes, "as just part of the regular carnage out there on the roads."

I couldn't have said it any better.  I hope that the day comes when there will be no need to say it at all.

19 December 2015

Who Is Santa Claus? The Bike Lady!


Friends, neighbors and co-workers who don't ride bikes refer to me--sometimes affectionately, other times derisively--as "The Bike Lady".

Of course, I don't mind the title at all.  But they should know who the real Bike Lady is.

She's a single mother who lives with her two kids near Columbus, Ohio.  Since 2008, she and her donors have been providing bikes, helmets and locks to the Holiday Wishes program of the Franklin County Children Services, and to other protective services that help abused, neglected and abandoned children. 

Last year, Kate Koch expanded her reach beyond her home turf and into the Tri State (Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana) region, which encompasses Cincinnati and Louisville.  Many of the kids who receive  the bikes probably never imagined they'd get anything at all, let alone a two- or three-wheeler, for Christmas.  Even with all of the electronic toys now available, getting a new bike at Christmas is still a dream for many boys and girls. And, were it not for Kate Koch, a.k.a. Bike Lady, it would be nothing more than a dream.




Her organization--called Bike Lady--accepts donations of bikes as well as money, which is used to buy bikes, helmets and locks at wholesale cost.  Of course, Bike Lady--Ms. Koch as well as the organization--are at work all year on the project so that the Bike Lady can be Santa.

18 December 2015

When A Cassette Becomes A Nutcracker

It's one of two pieces of Christmas music to which I could listen all year long. Handel's Messiah is the other.

You might have guessed the other:  The Nutcracker. I know, it's a ballet, and one really should go to a theatre or concert hall for a performance.  It is quite the spectacle.  I realize, however, it's not always possible to attend a staging.  Lucky for us, the music is very, very listenable. 

That the music, by itself, is so thrilling is not a surprise when you realize who wrote it:  Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Marius Pepita choreographed the original production of the ballet, which is based on a story written by E.T.A. Hoffmann  and adapted by Alexandre Dumas, who is probably best known as the author of The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers. 

"That's all really nice," you might be thinking, "but why is she writing about it in this blog?"

Well, on this date in 1892, The Nutcracker premiered in the Imperial Marinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia (not Florida!).  Since then, it has been performed in ways that even Tchiakovsky himself, with his fertile imagination, probably never envisioned.  Here is one of the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies:



Can you believe it was actually played on bicycle parts?  Cables and spokes were plucked for the stringed instrument sections, a disc brake hit simulates a triangle and percussion sections are really gears shifting, braking, shoes being clipped into pedals and other sounds familiar to those of us who ride.

San Francisco-based composer Flip Baber created this piece for Specialized, who wanted a Christmas music made only from bike sounds.  It became the company's musical Christmas card in 2006.

17 December 2015

The Wright Day For A Couple Of Bike Mechanics

You probably know what happened on this date in 1903:  the Wright Brothers made the first controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

It's often said, inaccurately, that the flight the Brothers made that day was the "first" flight.  Actually, people had flown for centuries before that in gliders, hot-air balloons and other airborne vehicles.  But those flights were wholly dependent on the speed and direction of the wind; they had no other power source and therefore could be kept up only for very limited amounts of time.  Other would-be inventors tried to make airplanes or gliders with wings that flapped or could otherwise be made to propel or steer them.  Needless to say, they proved unsuccessful.



The real innovations in the Wright Brothers' plane were that its wings were fixed,  it was powered by something other than the wind and that controls (which the Brothers invented) regulated the course of the flight. 

That control--known as the three-axis control-- may have been the most important innovation of all:  It's still used on all fixed-wing aircraft, from crop dusters to the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus A 380. It's the reason that every one of those planes can keep their equilibrium, a.k.a. balance, throughout a flight.  If an aircraft can't be balanced, it can't fly.

Now...Think of another vehicle that can't move forward unless it's balanced.

Since you're reading this blog, the bicycle is probably the first such vehicle that came to  mind.  So, it should come as no surprise that the Brothers were bicycle mechanics and, later, manufacturers.  They studied motion and balance using bicycles in their homemade wind tunnel. Knowing this shatters the common misperception that when Shimano and other bicycle parts manufacturers, as well as bicycle makers, were making "aerodynamic" equipment, they were following the lead of the aerospace industries.  In fact, as we have seen, the Wright Brothers and other inventors were studying the aerodynamics of the bicycle eight decades before Shimano or other companies paid heed.



So...The next time you see an aerodynamic bike or part, you can thank (or blame) Orville and Wilbur Wright.

16 December 2015

Riding Cyclo-Cross Because They Had No Other Choice

From New York City, you can ride north for three days or so (or drive about five hours) and come to Lake George, often called "The Queen of American Lakes". 

There's another lake in the area:  Placid.  Most of you know that the town named for the lake hosted the Winter Olympics, most famously in 1980, when an underdog US Hockey Team beat the mighty Soviet squad.  (Many people mistakenly think that the upset occurred in the championship game because the meme "The US beat the Soviet Union for the Gold Medal" has been repeated so many times.  The Yanks' victory over the Soviets actually came in the semi-finals.)  Lake Placid was also the site of the third Winter Olympiad, in 1932.

Even when there aren't Olympics Games in session, a trip to the lakes and the town--and to surrounding Warren County--is worthwhile.  Located in the Adirondacks, the area offers some of the most beautiful fall foliage anywhere as well as all sorts of stunning mountain and lake vistas, as well as many opportunities for hiking, cycling, skiing, canoeing and other outdoor activities. 

There was a time, though, when nearly all of the economic activity in Warren County related to farming (especially dairy) and logging.  Hardly any of the county's municipalities, including Lake George, Queensbury (the present county seat) and even Glens Falls were barely hamlets, and none of the few roads were paved.  During the spring rains, riders of high-wheelers sometimes found themselves slogging through mud that came up to the hubs of their tall front wheels.

Can you imagine cyclo-cross on a high-wheeler?  I imagine riding under the conditions I've described were difficult enough on a bike with two wheels of equal size.  That might be the reason why, in the days of the first American Bike Boom, a Glens Falls boy named Harry D. Elkes became a World Champion.


 


In 1964, Howard Mason wrote about Elkes and his upstate New York milieu.  Mason could recall the first bicycle he ever saw--a high-wheeler--some seventy-five years earlier.  He also mentioned a cycle industry that flourished in the area in spite of the sparse population and the fact that, for much of the year, cycling was all but impossible, given the road conditions and the bicycles available at that time, not to mention the spring rains I've mentioned and the heavy snows that fall from October through April.  It was particularly interesting to read about one dealer who, even decades after the Bike Boom died out, wanted no part of the auto business "because of the service after a sale".  Cars, and tires especially, were not very reliable in those days.

You can read more about the world of cycling in the 1890's in Warren County on the county Historical Site's website.  "Such were the so-called 'good old days' of the '90's," Mason wrote.  "You may have them."

15 December 2015

When I Was A Night Messenger (Sort Of)

As I've mentioned in other posts, I was a bicycle messenger in Manhattan for a year. 

I was so, so young then.  I can say that now:  Many more years have passed since I made my last delivery than I had spent in this world before I made it.  Sometimes I wonder, though, if I've really made any progress since then or whether I've simply found jobs and other situations in which my quirks and flaws work for me, or are simply overlooked.

Perhaps the real reason I can say now that I was so young when I did it is that, really, I couldn't do anything else at that time in my life.  Rarely could I spend more than a couple of minutes with another person, or doing nearly anything else besides riding my bike without feeling anger or sadness or both.  In the space of not much more than a year, two people who were very, very dear to me had died--one suddenly, the other mercifully--and another committed suicide.  The only sort of job I could work was one in which I had only momentary interactions with people who could have told me that I was "wasting" my life by doing what I was doing or that, really, it was all I could do, all I could ever do.  I could satisfy people only for moments, episodically, and I simply had to do a job in which I would be remunerated for doing so.

Those--even more than my physical changes--are reasons why I couldn't do that job today, although sometimes I wish I could.  I understand now how it would be too easy for me to continue with a job in which I give and receive momentary satisfactions and rewards, not think about the future and not have to think about whether or not I was at my best because, really, there was no better or worst, only getting that next package, that next document, that next slice of pizza (Yes, I delivered a couple of those!) to the whoever needed it within the next fifteen minutes--and to never, ever think about it again, or at least until someone else--or even the same person--ordered such a delivery later in the day, the following day, the following week. 

In short, there was no future.  And there was no past because, really, no one else cared about anything else, as long as he (most of our customers were men) got a timely delivery. It didn't matter that I was a creative genius who had not been recognized or that I was stupid enough to believe I was one and angry enough to feel that others less deserving (which included just about everybody else) were being recognized and rewarded in ways I wasn't.

If I would have changed anything about my job, I would have wanted to work at night.   There was something I liked about navigating the city's byways in the dark--or by streetlights, anyway, and the shadows they and the nightlights of small offices and furnished rooms cast.  Of course, had I worked at night, I probably would have been making even more of those runs to then-seedy parts of the city (or to more gilded places with their own written codes of omerta) with envelopes and small packages, all the while pretending (or telling myself) I had no idea of what was in them.

There's nothing new about that aspect of being a bicycle messenger, a job that's been around for almost as long as the bicycle itself.  Back in the days of the first Bike Boom in the US (roughly from the mid-1880s until the first years of the 20th Century), night messengers delivered telegrams for telegraph offices.  They also, not surprisingly, ran side errands, such as fetching cigarettes and delivering "notes". I put quotation marks around that word because nightclubs, brothels and other establishments that operated after, say, 10pm sent and received them. So they were "notes" in the same sense as some of those envelopes I found myself delivering to the same addresses over and over again.



Those messengers were, as often as not, pre-teen boys.   In those days, kids were put to work practically the day after they learned how to walk.  But for jobs like those of night messenger and chimney-sweeper, the boys were often recruited out of orphanages or "reform" schools.  In other words, they were the ones "nobody would miss".

Jacob Riis documented them, as well as other children, women and immigrants who worked in squalid and dangerous conditions, in How The Other Half Lives.    His eloquent writing and starkly, beautifully poignant photographs helped people to learn about the conditions in which people like the messenger boys lived and worked.  They also were instrumental in passing legislation such as the New York law--among the first of its kind--prohibiting people under the age of 21 from working as messengers after 10 pm.

A few times I made deliveries after that hour, or before the break of dawn. Somehow I don't imagine they were co-op sales agreements or copies of professionals' credentials.  I know, though, that even though I was old enough to work those hours, I was still very, very young.

14 December 2015

A May Ride In December?

I was riding in shorts and a short-sleeved top.

No, I didn't start my holiday visit to my parents in Florida early.  (Actually, in their part of Florida, there is no guarantee I'd have such weather at this time of year.)  Rather, I took a ride which I've ridden (and written about) a number of times:  to Point Lookout and back.





The temperature reached 20C (68F).  For some perspective, the old record for this date was 16C (62F), which was surpassed before 11 am.

Interestingly, it didn't feel as warm as I'd expected.  Some of that had to do with the wind, which, coming from the southeast, I pedaled into most of my way out. Also, riding by the sea, where local water temperatures are around 10C (50C) makes the air seem cooler.  For perspective, in early August, the water temperature reaches 23-24C (72-75F) and in early March falls to 3-5C (37-40F). 

On such a pleasant Sunday, I wasn't surprised to see more people than one would normally expect to see at the beaches.  They weren't swimming, but I noticed that some people weren't wearing much more than I was.  Also, a pretty fair number of young men (mostly) clad in wetsuits rode the waves.

I don't mean to boast when I say that even though I was pedaling into winds of 8 to 12KPH (14 to 20 MPH) most of the way out, I was pedaling rather effortlessly in my big chainring and on the sixth and seventh gears of my nine-speed cassette.  Am I starting to regain some of my old strength?  Or was it because I just felt so good to be on my bike on such a beautiful day?  I would be happy to accept either explanation, or no explanation at all.




Everything was so lovely that even seeing brown and yellow stems and leaves didn't seem so discordant with the spring-like warmth. 



Nor did the almost-winter light or the shortness of the day.



And I was riding Arielle.  Even a name like that is enough to make me feel as if I'm flying.  But, she's a great ride and, of course, the wind into which I rode on my way out pushed at my back and carried me home.

I really should have been grading papers.  Oh, well.