Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

30 June 2016

An Adventure To The Familiar

Perhaps you've done something like what I am about to describe.

I packed lunch-- salsa I made myself, with some excellent locally-made tortilla chips--into the front bag on Vera, my green Mercian mixte.  With no particular destination or route in mind, I started riding. 

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The first few kilometers--along Sunnyside and Woodside streets, under the #7 train, into Corona and Flushing Meadow Park--were all familiar.  They could have taken me to some of the rides I do regularly:  the Rockaways, the South Shore, the North Shore.  But once I exited the park, I turned onto unfamiliar streets in a familiar (more or less) neighborhood.

I knew more or less the direction in which I was riding. But I didn't know, exactly, what I was riding into.  Mind you, I wasn't worried:  I wasn't beyond the reach of civilization or even in a place where I didn't understand the language.  But the rows of houses, surrounded by their patches of lawn and hedges, aren't the best of navigational aids.

No matter.  I kept on riding.  A turn here, another turn there.  Turn around where the road ends, then turn again.  Cross under a highway.  Spot a sign for a pond hidden by trees.  Do I take the path through the park on the left?  Or...are those old railroad tracks on the right?

Before I knew it, I had diagonally traversed Queens and was somewhere in Nassau County.  Mid-island, as they'd call it: somewhere between the North and South Shores.  More suburban developments, except now the lawns are bigger.  Some even have flower gardens. Then I found myself in a downtown area of one of those towns and noticed a sign for "Tulip Bakery".  OK, I guess that works:  cute cookies and pastries in the window, cute name on the sign.  

After running out of bakeries and cafes and boutiques, the street provided another stream of houses with lawns.  And its name:  Tulip Lane.  All right.  That bakery wasn't trying to be so cute after all.  Tip toe through the tulips.  Ride along Tulip Lane.  I continued:  It was longer than I expected, through a couple of places with "Franklin" in their names:  Franklin Square.  Franklin Lake.  Franklin something or other.  Then the Rockvilles.    Under another set of railroad tracks, and across still another.  Faces lightening and darkening and lightening again.  Still on Tulip Lane.

After crossing a state route, it stopped being Tulip Lane.  I didn't notice until much later, when I noticed I was riding on Long Beach Road.  I really had no idea of how far I'd ridden; I had just a vague notion that I'd been riding mostly south and east since I got on my bike.  The suburban houses had turned into garages, boat repair shops, a fishery and a tatoo parlor.  They didn't look like anything I ever saw in Long Beach before, on previous rides.



But the bridge at the end of them took me right into the heart of the town.  Over the bay, to the ocean.  I really enjoyed my lunch--and the unfamiliar ride to a completely familiar place.

29 June 2016

Waffles And Mud

If you are a cyclocross racer living in Belgium, today is your day.

Now, you might be thiking that if I could write that previous sentence, I must have waaay too much time on my hands.  Well, that is a matter of debate, I guess.  But l swear, I wasn't web-surfing when I came up with the information that allowed me to come up with such a statement.

You see, this morning, I turned on a local community-radio station. The host of one of those crazy programs one finds on such stations mentioned that today is International Mud Day.  I didn't catch his name, but I did hear him add, a few minutes later, that today is Waffle Iron Day.

Thus, in writing the opening sentence of this post, I have performed a creative act and a public service.  Just imagine:  If those two bits of information hadn't found my way, perhaps no one ever would have connected them.  The world would be this much (she holds her forefinger and thumb a hair's breadth apart) poorer.

(How's that for grandiosity?)

Anyway, I found out tht neither holiday was created by, well, people with too much time on their hands and possibly-legal (or not) intoxicating substances.  Turns out, Mud Day originated in Nepal, in an attempt to enrich the lives of orphans by getting them to spend more time outdoors. 


It's therapy!  Really!  From Cyclocross magazine


Someone noticed that kids' attitudes and moods improved after spending time wallowing around in the mud.  Like so many things "primitive" people in places like Nepal have observed for centuries, Western science has discovered this fact and confirmed it with empirical data.  Actually, even some beauticians have beaten those scientists to their discovery: Why do you think salons offer mud treatments for the face and other areas of skin?

As for waffle irons:  A while back, I read that waffles evolved, if you will, from the making of communion wafers. In those days, they were made individually by pressing the batter between--you guessed it--two heated irons.  Patterns, and sometimes even images, were engraved into the irons, so the wafers came out embossed with with grid patterns (like most current waffles) or, perhaps, the seal of a particular saint or church.



Wouldn't you love to see this first thing in the morning?


Later, someone got the idea of adding wine, beer and other things with yeast to leaven the batter and make it rise. Then , people discovered that those patterns--especially the grid--trapped air inside, making a treat that's crispy on the outside but fluffy on the inside.

Anyway...I'm sure that plenty of cyclo-cross riders have consumed waffles before and after (and during:  they fit well in jersey pockets!) races or training ride. I've carried waffles with me on all sorts of rides--except when I was in Belgium because, there, they could be found in just about any store or stand.

So...Happy Mud Day and Happy Waffle Iron Day.  Belgium and the world should celebrate!

28 June 2016

A Developing Picture: The East Coast Greenway

A decade ago, you could say that the photos you took during your vacation were "being developed", and everybody would know what you ment.

I thought about that one day when a student reported seeing a "One Hour Photo" sign and asked me to explain it.  Until then, it hadn't occured to me that a generation of young people is accustomed to instantly sending or uploading images from cameras and "smart phones" to computers--or other smart phones.  Those pictures do not have to be "processed", at least not by human hands.

When I was in high school, I learned how to develop and print photos in a darkroom.  For those of you who have never experienced the joys of such work, I will describe it, briefly.

A darkroom can be, really, just about any space that's big enoug for your equipment, has access to running water and, as the name indicates, can be sealed against light.  Even the slightest leakage of light--except for special blue light in the last stages of printing--can ruin the film on which the photos were shot or the photographic paper on which they were to be printed. So, all of the memories and imaginings you stored on rolls of film could be obliterated by the flick of a switch or the opening of a door.

(Old joke:  Dick and Jane  are in the darkroom.  Let's see what develops.)

First, the film immersing it in a tank of chemicals that converts or releases the substances in the film that store pieces (pixels, if you will) of the image.  The image emerges, if you will, but you can't see it because the film is in a tank and you are working in the dark.  But, later, when you print the film, you can see lines and shapes forming on the blank paper when it's immersed in another chemical bath after the image is projected onto the paper, which is photosensitive.  As the print is washing, you can turn on a "safelight" and see it emerge.  Lines appear and merge with each other, forming shapes of hair, noses, leaves, petals, wheels or whatever you photographed.




Yesterday, when I rode to Connecticut (again!), I felt as if I were watching a picture emerge from a blank slate, or paper, if you will.  Perhaps it's funny that I should use such a metaphor for a ride in which I didn't take any photos.  I'll explain.

Just over a year ago, on another Connecticut ride, I saw signs for something I'd never, up to that moment, heard of:  the East Coast Greenway.  When completed, it will allow non-motorized travel from Calais, Maine (at the border with New Brunswick, Canada) to Key West, Florida. It will include paths and trails through wooded areas and parkland (like the stretch through Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx), designated bike lanes that parallel main roads and quiet residential streets. . The first ECG symbols I saw stood at the end of the PBP trail, at the city line, and along residential Mount Tom Road in Pelham Manor.




On yesterday's ride, I saw some new ECG signs--or, at least, ones I hadn't noticed before.  I spotted them on my way back, just after I crossed the line back into New York State.  They led me along a series of narrow but lightly-trafficked streets that wound through a series of old churches and stone houses in Port Chester and Rye on the way to Playland.

I welcomed the "detour", if you will, as it was pleasant and relaxing--and took me away from Boston Post Road, one of the area's main streets, for a few miles.  Then, a couple of towns south, I picked up another (shorter) series of ECG signs in Mamaroneck, near the harbor and found myself pedaling down a series of suburban streets lined with houses and small sores down to New Rochelle.

And, after navigating the intersection of the New Rochelle DIner and the Home Depot, I picked up the first stretch of ECG I rode last year, from Mount Tom Road all the way (about ten kilometers) to the Hutchinson River Parkway Bridge.  From there, I zigged, zagged and wound through Bronx streets to the Randall's Island Connector.

It's not yet possible to ride a single unified greenway from the city to Connecticut, let alone to Maine or Florida.  But it's fun, in its own way, to see segments of the Greenway emerging like the lines on a developing photograph.  Perhaps one day soon, those lines will connect,  and the picture--the Greenway--will be complete.

27 June 2016

My Bike Went To Puerto Rico. But My Soccer Ball Didn't.

This morning in my local post office, one of the clerks was chatting with a customer.

"So, are you following the Copa America?"


The customer shook his head.  "In Puerto Rico, no soccer.  Just beisbol."


It had never occured to me before.  Soccer--or what the rest of the world calls "football"--has never been very popular in Puerto Rico or, for that matter, the Dominican Republic or Cuba.  Or Haiti.  On the other hand, lots of young people play--and lots of people, young and old watch--the game in Jamaica and Trinidad.


Although futbol has grown steadily in the US--newscasts routinely feature the results of matches--interest in the game seems to have bypassed Puerto Rico, at least for the time being.


The customer added this observation:  "In Mexico, they love futbol."


His observations are accurate.  In fact, Mexico even hosted the 1970 World Cup tournament, which attracted practically no attention in the US.


It's as if Customs and Immigration were stopping every ball floating across the Rio Grande or rolling across the line in the sand that separates California, Arizona and New Mexico from the country to which they once belonged.  Hmm...Would Donald Trump try to stop the "beautiful game" from invading America's heartland?


Now, one could argue that the reason why baseball gained such popularity in La Isla del Incanto, but soccer didn't, was the influence of the US, which colonized the island in 1898 as one of the spoils (along with Cuba and the Phillipines) of victory in its war against Spain.  Speaking of which...the Phillipines have never been known as a soccer powerhouse.


I mention the conversation, and my musings about it, because it got me to thinking about why certain sports, including cycling, become popular in one place but not in another.


From "My Bike Went to Puerto Rico", in  Bicycling




Bicycling has been both a popular spectator and participant sport (and recreational activity) in most European countries, and in England, practically from the time bicycles first appeared.  Until World War I, it was at least a popular in the US.  Right up to the six-day races of the 1930s, some of the best racers in the world were American, and at least until Babe Ruth reached his prime, cyclists were among the best-paid athletes.

The decline of cycling in the US, particularly in two decades or so after World War II, has been attributed to increased affluence-- which put the price of automobiles within reach of most working people and families--along with the construction of the Interstate highway system and cheap gasoline.  It took longer for affluence to come to Europe, and even after it did, the price of cars and, especially gas, remained prohibitive for many people.  


So, bicycles continued to serve as a primary means of transportation, and even recreation, in Europe, particularly among the working and middle classes.  Also, my tours on the continent were made possible, in part, by well-developed systems of secondary and tertiary roads through the countryside and small towns, especially in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and England.  Much of the United States lacked such routes; in fact, in some remote areas (for example, in the Rocky Mountains and the deserts), the interstate highways were the first roads to be built.  So, while Americans were taking to the highways for their vacations, Europeans continued to pedal the paths of Provence and byways of the Black Forest.


It's been said that because Europeans vacationed as well as commuted on their bicycles, they appreciated the physical effort and discipline it took to ride long distances, day after day, and that is why they continued to support bicycle racing.  Meanwhile, in the 'States, kids pedaled to school or the park, and their bikes were discarded as soon as they got their drivers' licenses.  So, they couldn't understand, let alone care, about grown men (or women) riding hard and fast every day for three weeks, only to win or lose by seconds.


Those explanations make some kind of sense, up to a point.  For one thing, it doesn't explain why the British developed a cycling culture--and racing scene--that was, at least until the 1960s, almost entirely separate from that of the Continent. (The Brits tended to focus on time trialing more than stage races.)  Also, it doesn't explain why other countries where people were, arguably, even more dependent on their bicycles than Europeans were, never developed a significant racing scene.  I'm thinking about countries like India and Pakistan, where the main sports seem to be cricket, rugby, field hockey and the ancient indigenous game of kabaddi.  Additionally, I'm thinking about China, where there are more bikes and people riding them than in any other place on earth.  Although races have become more commonplace in recent years, Japan, with about a tenth of the population, still has more events and competitors.


I understand that more cycling events, including tours and races, are also winding their way through Puerto Rico.  Although cycling might well be more popular than soccer on the island, it remains to be seen whether it attains the status that it has even on the mainland US, let alone that of beisbol.


26 June 2016

Carrying Our Flag

Today's post won't have any double-entendres.  Or even any single ones.  In other words, it will be completely unironic--and short.

As you probably know, it's LGBT Pride Day.  I have marched in a few parades past, but I didn't this year.  To tell you the truth, I've never cared for it.  For one thing, I hate being forced to walk slowly in a stop-and-stop fashion in a crowd. Also, the noise gives me a headache. 

But I was involved with an event en route--specifically, between the Stonewall Inn and the Christopher Street Pier, where the march ends.  Specifically, I was preparing and serving food (chicken, pasta salad and burgers, mainly) and greeting people.  Though I'm pretty introverted, I prefer that to actually marching in the parade.

So...I'll just share this image from the march:



P.S.  The Stonewall Rebellion is one of those historic events I would have liked to see:  It's a great story.   I was ten years old when it happened, but, at the time,I knew nothing about it:  nobody in my conservative blue-collar (mostly Italian and Catholic)  neighborhoorhood in Brooklyn talked about it.  At least, I don't recall hearing anybody talk about it.  On the other hand, I heard all about Woodstock!


25 June 2016

Don't Mess With....My Hair!

He was a young guy, in really good shape.  She was the attractive young woman who dated him...though, not for very long.

So what, exactly, was the "deal breaker"?  No, one didn't find out the other had a spouse and family in another country--or was an axe-murderer.  And no other "dim, dark" secret--like the one that led to my other blog--was revealed.

By now, you've probably guessed that I was telling one of my stories, in third (rather than first) person.  So...do you want to know why I broke up with her?

All right...I'll tell you anyway.  She wouldn't go bike riding with me.  In fact, she wouldn't ride a bike, period.  

OK.  This is nothing new. I'm sure some of you are, or have been, in relationships with people who don't want to get on the saddle and pedal.  Perhaps you, too, ended a relationship with a person for that reason. Or, maybe, you've found a way to accomodate your differences:  You go for your rides while your beloved does something else.  Afterward, you wine and dine together and, to burn up those calories, engage in another kind of physical activity--one that generates more wattage than a dynohub and LED headlamp! ;-)

Now, being as young as I was, I had almost no concept of compromise and no skills in mediation.  (I still don't have much of either, I'm afraid.)  So there was simply no way I could come up with a solution--even to keep such an attractive young woman at my side and keep up the appearance of being a macho heterosexual male.

But even if I were more adept at the art of negotiation, I wouldn't have wanted to come up with a way to keep us together.  You see, what really bothered me was the reason she wouldn't ride:  She was afraid that it would mess up her hair.

I kid you not. (When was the last time you heard that?)  She always kept herself perfectly coiffed.  (Later, another partner would keep me perfectly cuffed.;-)) Of course, when I met her, that was one of the first things I noticed:  her nearly perfect chestnut mane.  Still, I told myself, it was entirely frivoulous and pointless (I actually used to say things like that to myself!) to devote so much of one's attention to such a thing--and to deny one's self other pleasures and experiences in the service of such devotion.

Now, many years (decades, actually) later, I can say this:  I wanted her hair.  And I wanted permission to be so fussy about it!  Yes, I was jealous.

Anyway, I hadn't thought about her, or the story I've recounted in a long time--until I saw this:





If you don't live in or around Roanoke, Virginia, you might not know that such a rack was actually built.  Its creators--the design team of the Knowhow Shop--say it was inspired by this question:  "What would I lock my bike to if I were really small?"

I wonder whether any of them had a girlfriend who wouldn't ride because she was afraid that it would mess her hair.

24 June 2016

Lael Wilcox Beats All Comers--Yes, Including The Men--In The TransAm

In previous posts, I've mentioned the Bikecentennial.  

A few years after it, something called the Race Across America started.  Lon Haldeman won its first incarnation in 1982; Severin Zolter of Austria won last year.  

It is comparable to the European super-races like the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana mainly in its overall length.  Those races are in stages and consist of a number of diffent kind of events, such as mountain stages and sprints.  On the other hand, Race Across America is a straight-through race, from some point on the West Coast to some point on the East Coast. (The first edition began on the Santa Monica Pier in California and ended at the Empire State Building in New York.) This means that riders choose when and where they stop and how much or how little they sleep.  Another difference is that roads are not closed to traffic for the race's course.  So, perhaps, it's not surprising that both of the fatalities in the race's history are the result of collisions with motor vehicles.

It seems that someone had the bright idea of combining Bikecentennial with the Race Across America.  Thus was the Trans Am race born.  

Run every year since 2014,  it is a transcontinental race, like RAAM.  Also like RAAM, it is not in stages, so insomniacs can ride through the night, if they like. (I imagine it is better for the mind, as well as the body, than binge-watching Gilligan's Island.)  The most interesting aspect of the race, though, is that it's run on the Bikecentennial route--which is 6800 km (4200 miles) long.  That's at least several hundred kilometers longer than any RAAM, Tour, Giro or Vuelta route!

The other morning, the first American to win the race arrived in Yorktown, Virginia 18 days and 10 minutes after departing Astoria, Oregon.  Lael Wilcox came in ahead of 51 other riders.  As of this writing, four others have finished and eight others have scratched.  That means 38 others are still en route to Yorktown.

(You can follow the riders' progress here.)

For most of the race, Wilcox chased Steffen Streich (who, in spite of his name, hails from Lesbos, Greece) and caught him when, after awaking from a 2.5 hour sleep on the last night, began riding the course backward.  When she encountered him (They'd never before met.), he suggested that they ride together to the finish.  She reminded him that they were in a race.

Now, if you're not from the US, you might not care that Wilcox is the first American to win the race.  You might not even care that Wilcox rode the second-fastest time in the history of the race. Only Mike Hall (of England), who won the inaguaral edition of the race, completed it in less time: 17 days and 16 hours.  




The most interesting aspect of Wilcox's feat is--at least to me--is that she is one of the few women to have ridden it.  Think about that:  The only man who bettered her in the history of the race is Mike Hall!




She is making me think of Beryl Burton, of whom I've written in earlier posts. For two years (1967-69), she held the 12-hour time trial record.  Not the women's record, mind you:  the record.  Moreover, her 277.25-mile (446.2 kilometer) ride was a full five miles (eight kilometers) longer than any other 12-hour time trial!




Hmm...Could Lael Wilcox beat all comers in the RAAM--or some other event?

N.B.:  All photos by Nicholas Carman, from the Gypsy By Trade blog

23 June 2016

It's A Toxic Waste Dump. Keep It Clean!

The last part of yesterday's ride took me, before Greenpoint, through the industrial necropoli along Newtown Creek.  Actually, there is still a lot of manufacturing and trucking in the area, but the corroding concrete carcasses and brick buildings bubbling with the anger of acid in the rain and sunshine echo and mirror deaths past and future.

Among those of the past are the Lenni-Lenape who lived along the shores and lived on what they picked from it and fished from the creek.  In their day--two centuries ago--the creek, and other New York waterways, were the world's richest oyster beds.  Charles Dickens and Alexis de Tocqueville remarked on the ubiquity of those bivalves: even day laborers ate them for lunch!  (According to some histories I've read, the oyster bar was invented here in New York.)


Pilings from a bridge built in 1836 and decommissioned in 1875 over Newtown Creek.   It  connected Williamsburg, Brooklyn (on the oposite shore) with Maspeth, Queens


Today no sane person would eat anything from that water.  In fact, most people wouldn't even touch it, as a century and a half of dumping all sorts of petroleum by-products and other chemicals have rendered Newtown Creek--as I mentioned in an earlier post--one of the nation's most polluted waterways.

But at least there are attempts to make the waterway and its shores, if not pristine, at least something other than a toxic tragedy.  Could the day come when we'll ride on a green path and stop to pick berries or flowers along the way?

Until then, we can only heed the warnings on the signs posted near the creek.




What, exactly, is this one saying?  "Due to poor water quality and contamination of sediments, within Newtown Creek," it explains, "it is NOT advisable to swim, wade or consume fish or shellfish at this location."  OK, that makes sense. But in the next sentence:  "Please help keep this site clean (italics mine) by not littering or dumping debris."

Hmm...I wonder whether anyone actually reads signs before they're posted.

22 June 2016

Vera's And Helene's Cousin?

And here I was, thinking that I rode the only Mercians with Velo Orange Porteur handlebars in New York City.




On my way home, I wandered, as I often do, through Greenpoint, Brooklyn.  It's just across the Pulaski Bridge from Long Island City, Queens--which, in turn, is just upstream (on the East River) from Astoria, where I live.

I was spinning the gears on Tosca, my Mercian fixed-gear, on Greenpoint Avenue, one of the neighborhood's main throughfares.  (I won't use the word "drag" because I don't want to create unintended connotations!)  Out of the corner of my eye, I tawt I taw, not a puddy tat, but an interesting bike.

My instincts proved correct.  Indeed, parked on the street was a Mercian.  Of course, I will find a bike interesting just because it's a Mercian, but this one--in spite of its classic panel scheme--would prove to be unique.



I wish a car weren't parked right next to it and that I had something more suited to close-range photography than my cell phone. I did the best I could by squeezing myself between the car and bike and doing my best imitation of Gumby.  At least I captured, I think, something of the bike's look, with its pewter-gray paint and its creme anglaise-coloured panels.  

The grips, I think, made those Porteur bars look like they belonged on the bike.  If I were building it, I would have gone with a honey or brown Brooks saddle, though I don't think the black seat looks bad.  I'm guessing that whoever put the bike together had that saddle on hand, possibly from another bike he or she had ridden.

One nice thing about the bike was that it looks as if it wasn't put together merely for looks or style.  For one thing, it is a Mercian, so it is built for a nice ride. (Why do you think I own four of them?)  The frame is constructed of a Reynolds 531 "Super Tube" set.  Reynolds 531, like other top-quality bicycle tubing, was made in different thicknesses.  The "Super Tube" sets combined different thicknesses. I suspect that, as the frame is a small size, lighter tubes were used on the top tube and possibly the seat tube. The components are all first-rate:  mainly Shimano, including Dura Ace hubs and rear derailleur. 

I was tempted to leave a note on the bike, in the hopes that its owner would contact me.  That is a risky thing to do here in New York (and, I suspect, in many other places).  So all I can do is hope that the bike's owner sees this post and contacts me.  I would love to know more about the bike--and, possibly, whoever rides it.  Perhaps he or she would like to meet Vera or Helene, my Mercian mixtes with Velo Orange Porteur bars!

21 June 2016

Fuji S10-S: It Brought Japanese Bikes Out Of The Shadows

This has to be one of the best catalogue illustrations in history:



It appeared on the back cover of the 1971 Fuji Bicycle catalogue.  That year, Fuji--and Japanese bicycles--"came out", if you will, in the American market.

Although Japanese cameras and electronics were developing a good reputation in the 1950s, their bikes were still seen as inferior to those from Europe and America.  That perception was mostly deserved:  While many Japanese bikes and parts from that era were built to close tolerances and beautifully finished, the alloys (whether aluminum or steel) used to make them weren't as strong as those from other major bike-building countries.  Also, as Sheldon Brown points out, many bikes--like the Royce-Unions from that era--came in only one size.

By the 1960s, the quality of Japanese bikes was improving.  However, they were still mostly "under the radar", often sold under the names of familiar American and European manufacturers (like the Ross I wrote about yesterday)--or simply names that didn't sound Japanese.

The market for bicycles--for adults as well as children-- was growing, although not as explosively as it would during the '70's Bike Boom.  Still, even then, American manufacturers were having difficulty keeping up with the demand.  Three-speed "English Racers" and the few (mostly lower-end) European derailleur-equipped bicycles available in the US at the time often sold out because, althought they seem like tanks today, they were considerably lighter than almost anything made in America.

Then, when the Bike Boom exploded, even the British and European manufacturers, working overtime, were hard put to keep up with the demand.  (I recall waiting lists for Schwinns, Peugeots and Raleighs at local bike shops.)  This, of course, is one of the reasons why some ten-speeds of that era had workmanship that made Detroit behemoths of that era seem like pinnacles of Bauhausian design and craftsmanship.  I still shudder to think about some of the Raleigh Records and Grand Prixes, as well as low-level models from Atala, Gitane and makers, I assembled and fixed when I was working in bike shops!

On the other side of the world. the Japanese were perfecting the quality control for which they would become famous in all industries.  Plus, plenty of people cycle in Japan, and more than a few of them are engineers and designers.  So, they came up with bikes and parts that, in many ways, were improvements (or, at least, departures) from typical European and American products of the time.

In the late '60's and early '70s, some nice Japanese bikes were being sold in the US under names concocted by marketing executives in the companies that imported them.  And they tried to sound un-Japanese:  American Eagle, Centurion, Univega.  You won't find bikes with those names in Japan. 

Early Fuji S10-S, circa 1972



But in 1971, Fuji introduced its iconic S10-S model in the US.  You may have owned or ridden one; perhaps you still have (or acquired) one.  Reviewers raved about it, whether in the bicycle publications or Consumer Reports.  It remains, to this day, one of the best thought-out bikes ever made:  Its frame was built from double-butted high-tension steel, with clean brazing at the lugs.  The geometry was a classic 73 degree by 73 degree, found on racing bikes of the time but entirely appropriate for light (or even medium-load) touring.  It's no surprise, then, that S10-S and S12-S (its later 12-speed iteration) bikes have been raced, ridden on transcontinental tours, and used for just about every other kind of riding imaginable.



S-10S from 1978, its last year of production.  A 12-speed version was, by then available:  the S-12S



And its components were not fancy, but still very good and practical:  Sun Tour V-GT derailleurs and shifters (Shimano on some of the early models), Sugino Maxy cranks, Dia Compe centerpull brakes, Nitto bars and stem and the very strong Ukai rims laced to Sunshine (Sanshin) hubs.  Plus, there was that legendary Belt leather saddle, which took longer to break in than almost any other, but was seemingly indestructible.  I've seen Belts fetch $200 on eBay!

Another early S10-S.  I always liked that shade of green.


This bike was an almost immediate best-seller.  For some riders, it was a "move up" bike: one purchased after racking up miles on a cheaper, heavier bike.  Others bought it as their first "grown-up" bike.  It also became one of the more popular rides on the Bikecentennial.

One thing I find very interesting is that the bike was so successful in the American marketplace with an almost stereotypically Japanese name, albeit one most Americans could pronounce easily.  It also seemed to make no effort to hide its Japanese-ness:  The bikes were attractive, but seemed to make little effort to mimic European bikes. 

Ironically, later Japanese bikes sold in the American market tried to sound even more Japanese than the Japanese, if you will.  Bikes like Shogun and Lotus, while nice, were so named by marketing folks in the US.   And, when some people took umbrage over a Japanese bicycle called "American Eagle", its name was changed to Nishiki in 1971--the same year the S10-S came out. Kawamura Bicycles in Japan--which, to my knowledge, has never sold bikes under its own name in the US-- made Nishikis as well as Azuki, a lower-priced (but still nice) line of bicycles.   

Howie Cohen, the importer of Nishiki and Azuki, explained that the names were chosen because they were definitely Japanese, but easy for Americans to pronounce, and could not be translated or used in offensive ways.  Nishiki is a  gold thread woven into wedding kimonos, while Azuki is a sweet bean native to Japan.  To my knowledge,no bicycles have ever been sold under those names in Japan, although "Nishiki", like "Fuji", is a  brand name for a wide variety of products in that country.

On the other hand, there are Fuji bicycles in the Land of the Rising Sun.  Some models are different from those offered in the US and other places.  The same could be said for Panasonic bikes (which, nice as they were, never sold very well in the US) and Miyata, known as Koga Miyata in Europe.  Also, Bridgestone --probably the most un-Japanese-sounding of all--was successful in Japan before Grant Petersen turned it into a brand with a cult following in the US.  It was probably far better-known as Bridgestone--both in Japan and the US--than it was with the under the more Japanese-sounding names of Kabuki (not bad, but very strange, bikes) and C.Itoh (pretty bad) under which it was marketed in the US before and during the Bike Boom.

So, by the 1980s, Japanese bike manufacturers had come "full circle", at least in one sense:  They were flaunting, rather than hiding, their origins.  In other words, they no longer had to "go stealth" in order to sell:  The ride qualities and reliability of Japanese bikes and parts made them desirable, just as the quality of other Japanese goods (such as cars, cameras and electronics) made them preferable to their counterparts made in other countries.  

In brief,one could say that the Fuji S10-S showed American cyclists that Japanese bikes and components were as good as--and, in some instances, superior to--what other countries were making. Japanese bikes became what you bought if you wanted something really good for your money, not what you bought because you couldn't afford "something better".  After the S10-S came along, you could buy a Japanese bike without shame.

20 June 2016

As The Sun Sets On Newtown Creek, A Ross From The Land Of The Rising Sun

In Greenpoint, Brooklyn, Manhattan Avenue--one of the neighborhood's main throughfares--dead-ends at Newtown Creek.  One recent year, the Environmental Protection Agency declared it the nation's most polluted body of water. (In other years, the Gowanus Canal has garnered that distinction.)  But when it doesn't win "the Prize", the Creek is almost always listed among the most polluted bodies of water in the nation.




Of course, I don't think about that when a late day ride takes me there and I take in the views.

There's a nature walk along the creek.  By its side, at the end of Manhattan Avenue, there's a green patch with a fence around it that's a popular place to lock--and, it seems, abandon--bicycles.

Sometimes the bikes left there are rather interesting in their own ways.  For instance, there was this Ross 3-speed:



Ross was known mainly for making "muscle" bikes like the Barracuda (which was intended to compete with the likes of the Schwinn Krate and Raleigh Chopper) and some of the early production mountain bikes.   Their factories were located in Rockaway Beach, NY and Allentown, PA, before production moved to Taiwan.



However, during the 1960s--on the eve of the North American Bike Boom--Ross imported three-speed bikes from Japan.  At that time, few Americans owned or rode bikes with derailleurs.  Thus, most adults who rode--and kids who wanted something lighter than the baloon-tired "bombers" made by Schwinn and other American companies--preferred three-speed bikes, which were called "English racers".

Most of those bikes were made by the likes of Dunelt, Sunbeam, Robin Hood and other companies--and, of course, Raleigh, which would later acquire most of those marques and all but monopolize the remaining market for that type of bicycle.

However, as demand grew, those old English manufacturers couldn't keep up.  Thus, bikes were imported from Japan. One of my first bikes--a Royce-Union--was one of those English-style Japanese three-speeds.   As you can see in the photos, bike-makers in the Land of the Rising Sun did everything they could to emulate, if only visually, the "English Racers" that were so popular in the US and elsewhere.

(When Centurion ten-speeds first came to these shores in 1969, they could very easily be mistaken for Raleigh Grand Prix machines of the same year--unless, of course, one noticed the SunTour or Shimano derailleurs, as well as a few other details.  At that time, most Raleighs came with Simplex or Huret derailleurs.)


Some Japanese bikes came with leather saddles, also made in Japan, that resembled the offerings of Brooks, Ideale and other British and European makers.  I don't know whether the bikes made for Ross came with them (I can find practically no information about the bikes), but somehow I doubt it.  Even if it came with a leather saddle, I doubt it would have been this one:



You probably think it's a beat-up Brooks B72:  the saddle that came with many British three-speeds.  It does indeed have the same looped under-carriage rails and saddlebag slots built into the saddle.  And the top is the same size, and has the same shape as the B72, with a couple of exceptions:



It is indeed a B18. The embossed floral pattern at the top is wearing down.  I don't know whether it's from use or abandonment.  Somehow I don't think it's an original-production B18 from the 1930s, worn as it is.  The design was resurrected about a decade ago, as classic-style ladies' city bikes became popular.  The curled front is designed to prevent a skirt from getting caught on the saddle.



Whatever the story, the saddle is a nice addition to the bike, though I think it deserves better than to have bird poop on it.  I have to wonder, though, how the bike rides with this bar and stem combination:



That extension of that stem must be about 120mm.  That makes the steering more sensitive.  And, of course, the bars increase leverage.  I would be curious to ride the bike just to see how a bike that's not made for quick cornering rides with touchy steering.  Maybe it's a good combination for riding in traffic.



Anyway, I hope the bike isn't abandoned.  It may not be anyone's idea of a "great" or "classic" bike.  But it certainly is practical (except for those bars!) and I am always glad to see a bike like it in circulation.  At least, I hope, it won't become part of the detritus in Newtown Creek!


19 June 2016

A Father's Day Post For Tony Nelson and Larry Paulik

Here in the US, today is Father's Day.

I could have written this post about ties with bike motifs, or cufflinks and bracelets made from bike parts, that you could give to your father (or any man in your life) if he were a cyclist.  But you probably know about those things already.  Perhaps you received such a gift yourself.

Instead, I am going to dedicate this post to two particular fathers--and grandfathers:  Tony Nelson and Larry Paulik.

Tony Nelson


They are two of the five cyclists who were mowed down by a pickup truck driver near Kalamazoo, Michigan.  Three other cyclists, who were mothers (and, in one case, a grandmother) died with them. 

Larry Paulik


I implore every driver who encounters a cyclist on the road to remember that many are fathers and mothers, and all of us have parents.  In that sense, we are no different from you.  Thus, being mindful of us--as we are of you--is a family issue!

18 June 2016

No Fish Tales On This Ride!

You've heard the expression "fish story". You know, the ones about the catches that grow bigger and bigger in memory--or imagination.  Or the catches that never were in the first place.  

Surely you've heard one or two in your time.  You might have told one or two yourself. (Don't worry:   I don't judge!)  Me, I never have. (I swear! ;-))  I really was leading thhat stage of the Tour d'Israel when a Mossad agent yanked me away and conscripted me into the Army.  Really!




Why am I mentioning "fish stories" now?  Well, I got to thinking about them yesterday, during my ride to the Jersey Shore.  Of course, if you live an any coastal area, you've heard your share of such tales.  The guppy becomes a grouper, which in another telling, becomes a marlin or some other species that isn't native to the region.

A hundred years ago, people believed that stories about sharks were "fish tales"--or, if you were, sailor's tales. In other words, men who'd gone to sea--or claimed they did--would tell stories about those "man eating" creatures to scare or impress other people.  Or, if people believed in sharks, they thought the sailors and fishermen who told of them were exaggerating their size, speed and ferocity.

Well, one hundred years ago next month, those people would learn that those seafarers were only telling the half of it.  

The first two weeks of July 1916 were brutally, frightfully hot in the New York metropolitan area, and in much of the Northeastern United States.  At the same time, there was a polio epidemic.  Seeking relief, thousands of people took to the beaches of the Jersey Shore.  The combination of hot weather--which, in turn, meant warmer-than-normal ocean temperatures--along with the increased number of people may have brought the sharks, who usually habituate the shores of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas, to more northerly reaches.

Shark attacks killed swimmers in the Atlantic on the 1st and 6th of July, off Beach Haven (near Long Beach Island, which was so ravaged by Superstorm Sandy) and Spring Lake (near Asbury Park), respectively.  Even though both attacks resulted in the swimmers losing parts of their bodies before bleeding to death, authorities thought there was no cause for alarm.  When sea captains entering the ports of New York and Newark reported seeing large sharks, they were dismisssed.

So was Thomas Cottrell, another sea captain and a resident of Matawan.  He spotted an 8 foot (2.5 meter) shark in Matawan Creek.  For its last couple of miles, Matawan Creek is a tidal inlet of Raritan Bay, which in turn is part of the ocean.  


Matawan Creek, a couple of kilometers upstream--and a century after--the shark attacks.


In a way, I can understand why authorities were skeptical of Cottrell's claim.  It had nothing to do (at least, as far as I can tell) with his credibility.  More than anything, I think that if people had a difficult time believing that a shark attacked in the ocean off southern New Jersey, they had an even more difficult time fathoming that such a creature would swim within sight of the Staten Island Ferry.  

(Even though one has to ride or drive 55 to 70 kilometers (35-40 miles) to get to Matawan from New York, due to the curvature of the shoreline, they're really only a few miles apart "as the crow flies".)

What was even more incredible was that the shark would swim upstream in Matawan Creek, about 15 kilometers inland from the ocean.  Had Cottrell been heeded, two boys--including 11-year-old epileptic Lester Stillwell--might never have entered the water.  They saw what they thought was a piece of an old dock or some other flotsam.  But when they saw a dorsal fin, it was too late:  the shark dragged Lester under the surface of the water.  He did not survive; neither would his would-be rescuer, Stanley Fisher.

On my way back, I pedaled across a bridge over Matawan Creek, a few kilometers from its mouth.  The still waters belied a century-old tragedy, one that is anything but a "fish story".  There were tears then; there have been tears in recent days; for me, there was only sweat: sweat of my own choosing.