Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

20 August 2017

Teach Your Children

In yesterday's post, I mentioned that some people are riding to work, school or wherever because it's cheaper than driving.  Some are too poor to own, maintain or park a car; others, who can easily afford four wheels and an engine, opt for two wheels and pedals because it saves them money they can use to...buy a more expensive bike.  Or accessories.

While buying even the most expensive bikes, parts and gadgets isn't nearly as bank-breaking as acquiring even some of the least expensive motorized vehicles, you can still find yourself spending more money than you'd planned.  Some would say it's like an addiction:

If it is "as addictive as cocaine and twice as expensive," wouldn't you rather see your kids hooked on bikes?

19 August 2017

The Future In A Milk Crate?

Perhaps it has to do with having gone from living as a guy named Nick to a woman named Justine. Or maybe it's just a result of aging.

Although I still like long rides--and, sometimes, to pedal as long, fast and hard as I can--my attitudes about cycling have been changing.  Now I can see how arrogant and, frankly, elitist--at least when it came to cycling--I was not so long ago.  Sometimes I still find remnants of those old notions within me: I still get annoyed with riders (these days, many of them on Citibikes) who twiddle along and take up just enough of the lane or road to keep me from passing.  Those dilettantes!  But now I understand how such snobbishness--whether against riders who aren't kitted out in the latest lycra uniforms or bikes that aren't what riders in the Tour would ride--has kept bicycles from becoming the vehicles for change (pardon the pun) they can be.

To be more precise:  Such attitudes have kept people (like yours truly) from allowing the bicycle to transform our cities and our lives in, well, ways that would make our cycling more pleasant as well as practical.  Too many planners see planning only in terms of painting lines on a streets and calling them "bike lanes"; in turn, too many people see those lanes--as well as bike share programs as entitlements for privileged young people.  

As much as I love my nice bikes and rides, I know that if cycling has a future, it lies with the unemployed and minimum-wage workers who ride so they don't have to spend large portions of their incomes (or savings) to buy, maintain, fuel, park and repair cars.   It lies with people pedaling to their schools, offices and shops, and those who go for a spin with their kids or parents or neighbors at the end of the day--as well as those who want to have schools, offices and shops to ride to, and people to ride with.

Last year, I wrote about how city planners and non-profit groups came to recognize these facts, and re-thought what makes a city "bike friendly". They came to see that in Reading, Pennsylvania, where they were working, it meant creating a network of bike lanes that actually allowed people to pedal quickly and safely all over to the city.  They also realized that, in a poor post-indstrial city that has little mass transportation, they had to make bicycling more affordable and convenient for residents.  So, bike racks were installed on city buses, and when Reading's first bike shop opened, it concentrated on selling used bikes and affordable parts, conducting safety and repair workshops--and loaning tools.

Now, I don't know whether planners in Stockton, California have been paying attention to what the folks in Reading have done.  It seems as if they have been:  The city's latest plan calls for a series of bike lanes that will allow cyclists to pedal out of their neighborhoods and ride all over town.  But these lanes won't be just lines on the street:  They will be separated from motor vehicle traffic by barriers or raised medians.  In some areas, traffic lanes will be removed in order to make room for cyclists.

Whether or not the planners in Stockton followed the work of their peers in Reading, they at least seemed to be listening to the concerns of everyday cyclists like Alfonso Macias.  He is a 56-year-old farm worker who doesn't own a car.  Bungee cords hold a grocery crate to the rear rack of a bike he pedals to the store, where he buys the food he carts to his house.  Along the way, he has to share streets that don't have bike lanes, or even shoulders, with drivers who weave around him, or around whom he has to weave.  "Thank god I've never been hit," he says.

Now, he is cycling out of necessity.  Others, who could choose to leave their cars home and ride for errands and such, are deterred from doing so because of the hazards Macias faces.  Here in New York, people have expressed similar concerns, and even wondered how I could ride in this city's traffic. "Aren't you scared?," they wonder.

Even if people perceive cycling as more dangerous than it actually is, their fears need to be heard.  So must the concerns of folks who tie grocery crates to their bikes so they can go shopping.  They, not the wannabe racers encased in lycra, are the future of cycling.

18 August 2017

This Ride Was Good

All rides are good.

At least, I can't think of any bike ride I wish I hadn't taken.   And I've been riding for a lot of years!

Some would say that some rides are "better" than others.  Of course, "better", when it comes to rides is subjective:  Some want to climb as many steep hills as possible; others prefer land flatter than their dinner tables.  Some of us love riding by an ocean or a lake; another cyclist's idea of a "dream ride" takes him or her through deserts or prairies.

You might to ride in the hottest weather with the brightest sunshine; I like it cooler with a mix of sun and clouds.  Your friend might not go anywhere near a bike if there's a single cloud, let alone if a single drop falls from the sky; his or her club-mate believes that if you don't get wet, it's not a "real" ride.

I'll admit there are a few conditions I'll avoid if possible. For example, I don't mind the cold or even rain, but I prefer not to have both together when I'm riding.  (Snow, on the other hand, can be fun.)  And, while traffic doesn't scare me, I prefer not to cross entrances to, and exits from, highways:  When I ride to the Rockaways or Point Lookout, I take a detour through the side-streets of Howard Beach so I can avoid having to traverse the on- and off- ramps of the Long Island Expressway and Belt Parkway that feed into, or lead away from, Woodhaven and Cross-Bay Boulevards.

I took a similar diversion yesterday after I crossed the Victory Bridge over the Raritan River in New Jersey.  On the Sayreville side, I zigged and zagged through an industrial area and residential streets simply to avoid a stretch where State Route 35 (of which the Bridge is a part), US 1 and US 9 merge and are one for about five miles.  There, it's a four-lane road which, at times, sees surprisingly little traffic but, at times, really seems to be carrying the load of three major highways.  

That wouldn't be so bad if there was a shoulder for the whole length.  Unfortunately, the shoulder appears and disappears, much like those bike lanes to nowhere that I see too often.  Worse, a large part of the traffic consists of trucks, which aren't allowed on the stretch of the Garden State Parkway that parallels the section of Route 35/US 1 and 9 in question.  

My detour, naturally, added some distance to my ride, which I'd started in the afternoon.  I didn't mind:  I avoided that potentially-bad section of road and wandered through a couple of historic districts and other areas with cute little gingerbread houses by lakes, streams, Raritan Bay (with great views of New York City) and the ocean.

Starting my ride in mid-afternoon and taking a circuitous route had its advantages, including this:

Now, if you've been reading this blog regularly, that I love descending bridges that lead to the ocean.  I coasted down this one, after pedaling up the hills on Route 36 (They don't call it the Atlantic Highlands for nothing!) for the first time when I was about 13 or 14 years old--either the year my family moved to New Jersey, or not long afterward.  

Call me sentimental, but I still get goose-bumps, especially when it's late in the day and the sun, through a scrim of clouds and haze, begins to tint the blue sea and sky with shades of violet and orange.  Once I reached the base of that bridge--in Sea Bright, on a strip of land not much wider than a football field with the ocean lapping up one side and the river on the other--I was floating.  My bike was a cloud; I had wings.  I felt that within an instant, I'd sailed--on two wheels--into Long Branch, some 8 kilometers down the road--without effort, and that every drop of surf mist, every ripple of wind, and every step of people walking with their partners, their children and their dogs along, had become a part of me.  

In Long Branch, I saw the soft twilight colors darken into the night that would engulf the streets as well as the sky and sea.  All rides are good; this, like so many others, made me happy in its own way.

17 August 2017

Making An Entrance

There was a time, about ten or fifteen years ago, when it seemed that every other urban and suburban bicycle shop was trying to be a "bicycle boutique".  There are still shops like that, though, it seems, not as many as there were in those days: I guess folks who can afford such places don't have the time to go to them, so they shop online.

The "boutiques" did everything they could not to seem like bike shops.  If anything, some of them tried to look and feel like the sorts of gyms young people with lots of disposable income frequent in order to meet other young people with lots of disposable income.  Or they tried to look like the sorts of coffee bars that try to be like Starbucks without being Starbucks.

There's a certain kind of atmosphere, though, that simply can't be achieved merely with track lighting and espresso machines.  Those things simply can't match a great entrance:

Some things, you can only find in Italy--Florence, to be specific.

16 August 2017

Across Siberia, To The Extreme

Some say the Tour de France is the world's most difficult bicycle race.  Some have even called it the world's most challenging sporting event.  It's not difficult to understand why:  Nearly every day for three weeks, cyclists pedal through all sorts of conditions, climbing mountains, sprinting across flatlands and fighting heat, wind and fatigue.

Others might say the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana are as unforgiving as the Tour.  After all, each of those races is, like the Tour, a multi-day, multi-stage event that presents similar challenges.  

I can't help but to wonder, though, how each of them compares to the Red Bull Trans-Siberian Extreme Race. This year's version began on 18 July in Moscow's Red Square and ended on 10 August in Vladivostok, a port city near the Chinese border.

At the starting line

Over the course of 24 days, the riders pedaled 14 stages covering 9211 kilometers (about 5700 miles).  That's nearly three times as long as any of the Big Three races in Western Europe.  And, because it goes across Russia--in contrast to the other races, whose courses are loops or rings--the riders cross seven time zones before reaching the finish line.

That feat was accomplished by only three of the ten riders who started.  Russia's Alexey Shchebelin won the general classification for covering the stages in the shortest time, followed by Pierre Bischoff of Germany and Florentino Marcelo Soares of Brazil.  They did what none of the riders could accomplish in last year's edition of the race, and what only one rider did in 2015, the first year of the Trans-Siberian Extreme.  

Interestingly, the race is open to women as well as men.   Shangrila Rendon, a Filipina and Thursday Gervais Dubina of the USA were the only two female contestants.  Paul Bruck, a race organizer, says he wants to make the race "more attractive" for women but is not sure of how to do it.  

One option he might explore is one used in the Race Across America, in which women are given 21 hours more than men (who get 12 days) to complete the 3000-mile course from California to Maryland.  Riders who do not complete the race in the required time frame are listed as "Did not finish" although they are allowed to complete the ride if they wish.

Another option might be to allow the women to compete in two-person teams rather than solo, which would give them the opportunity to hand off and get more rest.  Rendon and Gervais Dubina found that as they fell behind, they lost time for meals and recovery between stages.  

Whatever the race organizers decide for next year, the riders--whatever their gender--will have to prepare for the same sorts of weather and topographical extremes riders encounter in other big races, in addition to the roads themselves.  From what I've been reading, I gather that the road conditions are even worse than in any of the three major Tours.  If anything, they seem like the pave of the Paris-Roubaix after an earthquake.  

No, Alexey, we're not in "Breaking Away"!

Worst of all, those roads aren't closed to traffic for the race.   That, rather than the speed of the race, the weather or the mountain climbs, is what caused Gervais Dubina to withdraw from the race.  "I had three instances in which traffic was coming straight at me on the shoulder," she explained.  "It just got too much for me."

I'm not so sure changing the qualifying times or other rules would have kept her, or very many other riders, whatever their gender idenities, in a race with such conditions.

15 August 2017

Heather Heyer Didn't Deserve It. Nobody Does.

By now, you've no doubt heard about the awful events in Charlottesville, VA this past weekend.

If anyone didn't deserve to die the way she did, it was Heather Heyer, the young woman run over by  "white nationalist" James Allen Fields Jr.,  who drove his car into a group of protesters at high speed, then backed up to flee the scene.

Heather Heyer

His action is despicable and cowardly.  So is the reaction of Justin Moore.  In an e-mail, he said, "I'm sorta glad them people got hit and I'm glad the girl died."  He went on to denounce Ms. Heyer and the other protesters as "a bunch of Communists out there protesting someone's freedom of speech, so it doesn't bother me that they got hurt at all."

Such a tirade, shocking as it is, shouldn't come as a surprise from Mr. Moore, who is the Grand Dragon for the Loyal White Knights of Ku Klux Klan, based in the neighboring state of North Carolina.  Nor, I suppose, should it surprise us that he praised Fields as the sort of man who "made the great white race strong" and who will help to make it "strong again."

When I first heard the news about Heather Heyer, I immediately thought of the former Park Slope neighbor of mine whom I encountered in Paris last year, some two decades after we last saw each other.  Now she, her husband and daughter live in Charlottesville.  I knew her reaction would be strong, not only because the clash took place in her backyard (more or less), but also because of her convictions:  She has spent all of her professional life in the service of women and children who are vulnerable in physical, economic and other ways.

After corresponding with her, I checked some of my other e-mail.  I found a message from a professor who heads the Italian American Institute of the university system in which I teach.  He pointed out that because Italian immigrants (like my grandparents) experienced hate and bigotry--back then, they weren't considered "white"--we should stand with others who are hated for their race, ethnicity or any other intrinsic trait.  I responded to him with this:

The murder of a peaceful protester by a hater is tragic in and of itself.

The President's response is salt in the wound of our grief  At first, he denounced "all sides" which, of course, implies that the young woman was run down was somehow complicit in her own death  Until he was pressed to do so, he did not specifically name the sorts of people who foment the hate expressed by the driver of that car.  Then, he used only labels, some of which overlapped each other (white nationalists, etc.).

Even more important than denouncing the act of hate and the person who committed it--as well as whatever group(s) supported the hate he espoused--is to understand, and fight, the ignorance that makes it possible.  They do not understand the profound effect racism and slavery have had upon this country, and they seem to think that whenever someone different from themselves is finally gaining the same rights they've always taken for granted, they are somehow "losing out."  To them, blacks and LGBT people and whoever else you might name are "taking over" "their" country.  

Sadly, I have relatives who share this mindset.  Never mind that their parents or grandparents were among the people who earlier generations of haters and resenters tried to keep from "taking over" their country.  (My Italian grandparents were not considered "white".)  They say that blacks, LGBT people, Hispanics and others are getting "special privileges" at their expense.  (As a transgender woman, I can only dream of having such "privilege.!) Not surprisingly, they thought Hillary is the she-devil (I'm no fan of hers, but I also know she's not that powerful!) and voted for Trump even though much of what he promises can and will hurt them.

Some would say that such ignorance is a result of the way history is or isn't taught.  That is one part of the problem.  Another part is ignorance of what the definition of "American" is.  Nowhere in the Constitution is this country defined by a race of people or a culture.  To this day, we don't even have an official language.  I always had the impression the framers of the Constitution wanted it that way:  To them, the definition of "American" would change over time but still be bound by principles to which all who call themselves "Americans" would subscribe.  In short, this is a country founded on ideas, not on racial identity, national origins or religion.

In other words, white nationalism or white supremacy is nothing more or less than the expression of a notion that white people, however they are defined, are the only "real" Americans:  Never mind that blacks and Native Americans were here long before any of their ancestors--and that some of them were gay, lesbian, transgender or otherwise gender non-conforming long before anyone came up with names for them!

The War Between Blue And Orange

Everyone knows that New York is a big city.  How big is it?

Well, in terms of population, it is about three times as large as Los Angeles or Chicago, its nearest competitors in the US.  Its population is also that much greater than any European capital except London. (I know:  Some will say England isn't really part of Europe!)  

As for its geographical size, the Big Apple doesn't come anywhere near that of those sprawling municipalities found in the American South, West and Southwest like Jacksonville or Phoenix.  Still, it is a good deal larger than the aforementioned European capitals or even some American cities like Boston or San Francisco.

When most people talk about "New York City", they are referring to the island of Manhattan--which, until 1898, was indeed the whole.  But in that year, as the US was taking Guam, the Phillipines, Puerto Rico and Cuba from Spain in retaliation for something the Spanish didn't do*, New York City annexed the counties of Kings (Brooklyn), Queens, Bronx and Richmond (Staten Island).  As a result, the city was ten times as large as it was in 1897--and larger, in area, than almost any other city in the world:  at that time, those sprawling Sun Belt cities either didn't exist or were hardly more than villages.

To put the city's size in perspective:  You can cycle from the Porte de Clignancourt, at the northeastern end of Paris, to the Porte de Saint Cloud, in its extreme southwest, in 50 minutes or less, depending on your pace and route.  However you go, you won't have to pedal more than about 12 km, or a little less than 8 miles. On the other hand, a ride from Columbus Circle, in the center of Manhattan, to Rockaway Beach stretches for about 25 miles, or 40 kilometers.  If you ride about 25 kilometers (16 miles) in the opposite direction from Columbus Circle, you can go to City Island, near the northeastern extremity of the Bronx.

I am thinking about this because a San Francisco-based bike share company Spin announced a plan to bring its services to the Rockaways and other outlying areas of the Five Boroughs.  The city, however, put the kibosh on that plan, citing the "revenue contract" is has with Citibike.  That agreement gives Citibike gives exclusive rights for its first two phases, which include Manhattan, Brooklyn and parts of Queens--though not the Rockaway area.  

Long Island City, the Queens neighborhood closest to Manhattan, is part of the area included in the agreement.  But it didn't receive its first Citibikes until last spring, some three years after the blue bikes first appeared on Manhattan streets. Astoria, where I live, borders on LIC and is slated to get its first Citibike stations in the coming months.

That begs the question of just how long it will take for Citibike to reach neighborhoods like Rockaway Beach which, in the summer, has some of the most crowded bike lanes.  The district's City Councilman, Eric Ulrich, has said that allowing Spin--or, for that matter, any bike sharing program--in the Rockaways should be a "no brainer" because, among other things, "it doesn't cost the taxpayers a dime."

So why won't the city allow Spin to operate in the Rockaways?  I suppose the places that rent bikes might object, but I don't think they are a terribly large constituency.  And they're all seasonal.  I'm not a lawyer, but I should think that there would be a way to provide a temporary or provisional permit for Spin to operate, at least until Citibikes come to the Rockaways.

The reason why the city won't do that, I believe, is this:  Spin charges only $1 for 30 minutes:  less than Citibike's rate.  Also, Spin's technology is more advanced, so it is easier for someone with the right app to access one of Spin's orange machines than it is to use a Citibike.

In the meantime, in Ulrich's words, the Rockaway Beach--a location for bike shares if there ever was one--is "deprived" of such services, all over a war between Blue and Orange.  In this city, it makes no sense.

*--This event is commonly called "The Spanish-American War."  I think of it as the American lynching of Spain.

14 August 2017

When In Rome...

Bikes and Kisses.

That was the name of the place from which I rented my bike when I was in Rome.

With a name like that, how could I go anywhere else?

Actually, it's called Bici & Baci, which of course has a rhyme and consonance the translation loses.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, they also rent Vespas and, in fact, the branch I patronized has a Vespa museum.

The branch in question is near the foot of the Via Cavour, only a few pedal strokes away from the Forum and Colosseum.  Other branches are found near the Piazza Spagna (at the foot of the Spanish Steps) and la Piazza della Repubblica.

The real charm of the Via Cavour branch, though--aside from its location--is the folks who work there.  Especially Roberto, who guided me around on my first day.  The three-hour tour is 30 Euros and Roberto gave me a choice between the "tourist sites" tour and one of "hidden Rome".  Of course, I took the latter and was treated to some interesting stories, made all the more interesting by Roberto's storytelling as well as his intimate knowledge of the city. (I tipped him 20 Euros!)

The bike rental fee is 12,5 (that's 12.50) Euros per day, but I was charged 40 Euros for 4 days.  They will place a "hold" of 200 Euros on your credit card if you keep the bike overnight--which, of course, is removed when you return the bike.  

Another recommendation is for the hotel in which I stayed:  Il Tirreno.  The location is hard to beat: literally steps from the Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica (which is worth visiting for its ceiling alone!) and about a five-minute walk from Bici & Baci, the Forum and the Colosseum.  About ten minutes in the other direction will take you to Termini, the city's central depot for intercity--as well as airport-bound-- buses and trains.  

It's on a very narrow street--an alley, really--that winds from the Basilica down to the Via Cavour, which in turn slopes down to the Forum.

My room was small but well-kept and clean. Since I usually get in late after a full day of riding (or walking) and sightseeing, I really don't ask much more of a hotel room.  Also, the breakfast selection is decent (the usual rolls, butter, coffee, cereal, etc, as well as fruit and hard-boiled eggs) and abundant.  There is also a nice little patio/terrace where you can sit and eat, drink or whatever.

The best part of the Tirreno, though, is the staff:  They are friendly and helpful with everything from suggestions for places to go and services.

One of their suggestions included a tiny restaurant directly across the street/alley:  Il Brigantino.  It's really more of a pizzeria than an restaurant, and it's easy to miss.  But I had an utterly decadent pie made with buffalo mozzarella, porcini mushrooms and a local ham.  The lighting is low, but it's has a friendly, inviting "vibe", mainly because of the people in it!

13 August 2017

I Don't Think Picasso Tried This At Home

If you can't get to the Musee Picasso, don't worry:  You can still see the "bull's head" he made from an old bicycle saddle and a pair of handlebars.  I've included a picture of it in a few of my posts.  

Somehow I don't think this was his inspiration.  At least, I hope it wasn't:

From Farmer's Weekly

12 August 2017

Motor Doping In 1865?

Yesterday, I indulged in a bit of "What If?"cycling history.  If Greg LeMond hadn't won the 1986 Tour, would Americans be aware of bike racing at all?  If he hadn't finished--and won--the 1989 Tour in such dramatic fashion, would many Americans care?  And, if Lance hadn't raced from 1999 to 2005, would any cyclist have become a celebrity in the US?

Now, I'm going to engage in a bit of "What If?" about the bicycle itself.

What if the "safety" bicycle--one with two wheels of equal (or nearly equal) size, i.e., what most of us ride today--hadn't been invented?  What if we were still riding "penny farthings":  bikes with on which the pedals and cranks are affixed to the axle of the front wheel, which is usually much bigger than the rear?

Well, for one thing, to obtain a gear anything like what I ride normally, I would need a front wheel that's as tall--or even a bit taller--than I am!  So would most cyclists, I believe.  Since I have never ridden a "penny farthing", I can only imagine how it feels.  My guess is that it's something like riding a fixed-gear bike that's a few sizes too large.  Riding a fixie on a frame that's a couple of centimeters too high is difficult enough; I don't want to think about what it would be like on a bike that's about twice as high as what I ride!

I won't even try to conceive of what it would be like to ride such a bike with a motor.

Apparently, though, someone has thought about it.  

The designers of Ding3000, a German design studio, worked with BASF to come up with what riders in the Tour, Giro and Vuelta might be riding if someone hadn't realized that a bike with two wheels the same size and a gear-and-chain drive is safer and more efficient than a bike with a very tall front wheel.

You see, this bike not only has a motor in it (which makes the latest form of "doping" possible), it is made of "thermoplastic polyurethane".  Now, we all know that the carbon fiber tubes used in bike frames are woven strands bound together with a resin (plastic).  So, in terms of technology, the modern penny-farthing would seem to be a cousin-in-an-alternative universe to the bikes ridden in today's races.

But you could take this modern relic on your daily commute:  It is equipped with puncture-proof tires and integrated LED lighting.  And, I guess that sitting up so high on the wheel would make you visible to drivers!

What would it be like to see throngs of cyclists pedaling penny-farthings to work every day, or taking trips to parks and beaches?

Or--what if all of those guys (nearly all are male) who deliver pizzas and Chinese food were to trade their e-bikes or motorized bikes for the Ding3000-BASF concoction?

11 August 2017

Why Bicycle Racing Has Only Moments In America

When it was still interesting and relevant, Saturday Night Live did a feature called "What If History?"  

Now, I'm going to engage in a bit of speculation "what might have been," at least as it relates to cycling.

What if Bernard Hinault had won the 1986 Tour de France?

What if Greg LeMond hadn't ridden that amazing final time trial in the 1989 Tour and Laurent Fignon had won instead?

Finally, what if Lance hadn't ridden in the Tours of 1999-2005?

In the humble opinion of this blogger who has much to be humble about (!), cycling would never have enjoyed even those brief spurts of popularity it had in the US.  And your blogger who has so much to be humble about would be even more of a geek than she is.

I am thinking about that now in light of some coverage I found on the Colorado Classic.  It's a four-day race in the Centennial State, and today is the second day of this year's edition.

The Denver Post's coverage very clearly showed why interest in racing in the US has been so sporadic, at best.  The one article today's edition devoted to the race focused on an ultimately meaningless breakaway made by Taylor Phinney.  If that name sounds familiar, it's because he is the son of Davis Phinney and Connie Carpenter, two icons of American bicycle racing's near-golden age in the 1980s. 

But his lineage isn't the reason the Post focused such attention on Taylor Phinney.  Rather, he is a "local boy":  he lives in the cycling mecca of Boulder, not far from Denver.

To be fair, most American media outlets aren't paying attention to the race at all.  Still, it's disturbing--at least to those of us who care about cycling--that it only gets attention when it has a "local" angle.  When perhaps the greatest rider of all, Eddy Mercx, was in his prime, almost no attention was paid to him in the US.  The same can be said for Bernard Hinault, who was probably Mercx's most worthy successor, let alone Jacques Anquetil, who held the mantle before Mercx took it.

Whatever comes of Lance's bans or any American racer on the horizon, cycling will never become a sport that vies with baseball, football and basketball--or, for that matter, tennis or golf-- for the attention of Americans unless more attention is paid, by the media and the public, to the overall sport and not only to the "American heroes."

When a sport is about individuals rather than teams (Lots of people consider themselves Yankee fans even if they can't name the second-string catcher.), it is especially important for would-be fans to know how important the domestiques as well as the near-champions are to the sport.  I know it takes a lot of time and dedication, which not everyone has, or wants to devote. That, I think, is a reason why horse racing is dying:  Most people pay attention only to the Triple Crown races and the horses that win them.  A true racing fan knows all of the other horses and riders. (I was never such a fan, but members of my family were, which is how I know this.)

Anyway, congratulations to John Murphy, who won the stage in which Taylor Phinney made his breakaway.

10 August 2017

I've Got A Bike, You Can Ride It If You LIke...

Some might say I've lived two cycling lives because I've, well, lived two lives:  as a guy called Nick and a woman named Justine.

Of course, others might say that they are two parts, stages or chapters of the same life.  I wouldn't disagree with that, or that I've lived two lives.

Whichever (if either) is true, I know that some of my experiences while riding as Nick were different from the ones I've had as Justine, while others have been the same.

As for the latter category:  As both Nick and Justine, I've heard shouts of "Nice legs!" from other cyclists, as well as drivers and pedestrians.  I've also heard "You're built!" in both of my cycling incarnations.

When I was in Rome, riding the cute red bike I rented from Bici & Baci, a man on a much lighter and sleeker bike pulled up alongside me and intoned, "Tutto Campagnolo!"

I know he wasn't referring to the bike I was riding. Not his, either:  I could see just enough to know that his Olmo frame had mid-level Shimano stuff on it.  Perfectly good, but certainly not "Tutto Campagnolo."

Since then, I've wondered if his call had another meaning I hadn't picked up.  I mean, I know a bit of Italian, but I certainly am not up to speed on local slang.  

Hmm...Could it have been a pick-up line?  After all, cyclists (and other people) have said stranger and cheesier things:

From the Cascade Cycle Club blog.

09 August 2017

Crossing The Tracks

One of the invaluable life skills I learned in my youth is that of crossing railroad tracks on a bicycle.

If you've done it before, you know that you should approach them with your tire at a 90 degree angle--a.k.a. perpendicular (I remember that much from my geometry class!)--to the rails.  This is especially true if you are riding skinny road tires.

However, at many railroad intersections, this is not possible.  I have seen junctures where the road or path is nearly parallel to the rails when they meet.  Such intersections are all the more hazardous when, as often as not, the road or path has a sharp turn or curve just before it meets the tracks.  You then are faced with the same hazard presented by many urban bike lanes:  You are riding into the path of turning cars--at the same time you're negotiating the tracks.

So, perhaps, it's not surprising that in at least one locale, the most dangerous spot for cyclists is a railroad crossing.  

Knoxville, Tennessee is one such location.  Chris Cherry knows the spot all too well:  He watched his wife "really mangle her knee" after taking a spill at the Neyland Drive crossing.

Turns out, her mishap was one of 53 crashes recorded over a two-month period (2 August-3 October 2014) by a camera at the site.  As hazardous as railroad crossings are in general, this, city authorities acknowledged, is an unusually high number.

Cherry, an associate professor of engineering, at the University of Tennessee, decided to investigate.


  The problem was that the Drive crossed the tracks at a 45 degree angle--and, not surprisingly, the stretch of the drive leading to the tracks had a sharp curve.  

As a cyclist and engineer, Cherry knew that he best solution would have been to reconfigure the street so that it would cross the tracks at a right angle.  The city wasn't going to do that, however because the involvement of the groups it would have required--and the crossing's proximity to the Tennessee River--would have pushed the cost to $200,000.  Instead, the city used the "jughandle" approach (If you've cycled or driven on New Jersey State routes, you have seen it) to create a 60-degree angle.

Cherry, who was consulted on the project, knows it's not an ideal solution.  But, he hopes, it will reduce the number of crashes at the site.  So far, he thinks it's been effective.

Still, I think the intersection is one I'd approach with heightened caution:  I've pedaled through many others like it.

08 August 2017

Working Undercover?

In the US, the term "states' rights" has become a dog-whistle for those who, essentially, want to roll back the clock to 1861 or thereabouts.

"Local politics" has an almost equally-sullied reputations, as school boards, cities, counties and, yes, states have used their authority to excise any mention of evolution, climate change or slavery from school textbooks and to mandate all sorts of other ignorant, mendacious and mean-spirited policies.

But, sometimes, there is something to be said for localities having the power to make their own rules and deciding how their money will be spent.  An example of that is occurring now in Davis, California.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Davis may well have been the original "bicycle friendly" city in the US.  Home to a major University of California campus, its planners--at least some of whom were and are cyclists--have a long history of taking cyclists seriously.  

At the same time, other California cities grew exponentially.  So did their motor vehicle traffic:  The Golden State has, to many people, become synonymous with car-clogged freeways and smog-choked skies.  

(Of course, not all of California is like that.  I have seen it for myself!)

Sacramento, the state's capital, is one such city.  Not so long ago, it was a west-coast version of Albany or Springfield:  a town that rose and slept with its legislative sessions.  More recently, however, the high-tech boom that turned fruit orchards into corporate blocks in the Santa Clara Valley has spread eastward from the Bay Area.  So, Saramento has experienced the sort of growth in population--and traffic congestion--cities like Los Angeles witnessed in earlier decades.

Image result for bicycle ambassador
The President would not approve!

Thus, some folks in Davis are taking it upon themselves to encourage their neighbors in Davis (and the ones closer to home) to trade four wheels for two. They want cyclists who "know the Sacramento area inside and out" to share their knowledge and experience as "Bicycle Ambassadors."

In doing so, these "ambassadors" will,  according to Bike Davis President Trish Davis, help the city and region in its effort to reduce greenhouse gases.

Now, do you think the current occupant of the White House--or Congress, as it's currently constituted-- would ever implement such a program?  Hmm...Could it be that all of those tree-hugging liberals are really working undercover for the conservative Republican agenda?  Local control, indeed!

07 August 2017

The Dilemma

So..After ten days of hot and mostly dry weather in Italy, I came home to...a week of hot--and humid--weather in New York, punctuated by rain.

Yesterday was a respite.  I could not have asked for better cycling weather.  When I started, the skies were partly cloudy and the temperature was 17C.  The skies cleared along the way and the temperature increased a bit, but I was pedaling into 20-25 kph wind most of the way.  Still, I barely sweated all the way to Connecticut, where the sky was overcast.

On my way home, the clouds broke for some sun, but I didn't feel the need to replenish my sunscreen.  I think the temperature reached about 26C by the time I finished, in mid-afternoon.

The ride was completely pleasant and uneventful.  I was riding Arielle, my Mercian Audax, so it could hardly have been smoother or more effortless.  Although it's a drop-bar all-arounder road bike, I felt less strain on me than I did when I was riding an upright bike in Rome.  It probably has to do with the Mercian's fit.  Also, being a lighter bike, it's simply easier to pedal in  higher gears.  Most of all, it's my bike, so even when I don't ride it for a couple of weeks (or months, as sometimes happens during the winter), it takes me no time to re-acclimate myself to it.

So, which is better:  Going to faraway places and riding among sights you will rarely, if ever, experience again--or riding a bike you know and love on a route you know?

Such a dilemma!  It used to be so much easier back in the day, when most airlines (the non-US carriers, anyway) would take your boxed bike (with pedals, front wheel and handlebars removed) as one of your pieces of luggage as long as it, and whatever else you brought, was within the weight limit.  For most European carriers--as well as Air India, Air Pakistan (yes, I flew them to Europe), that limit was 44 kilos.

These days, it seems, airlines don't want you to bring your bike, or charge some exorbitant fee for it.  I figured that for a ten-day trip, it was easier to rent a bike, especially since I wasn't going across the countryside with loaded panniers and camping gear.

Of course, the obvious solution would be to get one of those bikes that travels easily like Bike Friday or Brompton, which would cost about as much as going on a trip somewhere.  Or, perhaps, there's some other way to take Arielle or one of my other bikes across the seas with me.

That would make my choices a little easier.  Then again, when I come home from a Connecticut ride--or one to Point Lookout or the Jersey Shore--Max and Marlee are waiting for me!

06 August 2017

A Croc Of...?

Grant Petersen of Rivendell Bicycles has been called a "traditionalist iconoclast".  At first glance, that sounds like an oxymoron.  What it means is that he advocated a return to tried-and-true designs, methods and materials for bicycles and components at a time when the industry was moving toward carbon fiber and such.

On the whole, I'm with him.  In fact, you might say my bikes are, at least somewhat, Rivendells without being Rivendells.  All of my frames are lugged steel; all of my components are steel or alloy: there's no carbon fiber anywhere on them. For that matter, I don't use brifters, clipless pedals or low spoke-count boutique wheels, although I've tried them all.

I also agree with him when he says you don't need special clothes for cycling.  I say this as a reformed Lycra Lizard.  

But he also thinks that Crocs are perfectly fine shoes for cycling.  Again, there was a time in my life when I wouldn't even ride to the local bookstore (remember that?)  unless my foot was attached to my Look pedals with the stiffest shoes Carnac or Sidi made.

Now I ride mostly in "normal" shoes.  Still, I have never pedaled in Crocs.  In fact, I have yet to own, or even try on, a pair.  Maybe I won't, ever, especially after seeing this:

If A Sims Thief And Dr Seuss Have A Baby And A Hipster Raises Him
From Memecenter

Even after shedding skintight racing gear and jettisoning clipless pedals and cleats, there are still some things I won't wear on a bike!  I'm sure Grant would concur.

05 August 2017


After my trip to Italy and writing about bike lane controversies in Brooklyn, I got to thinking about my sense of space, as a cyclist.

It took a couple of days of riding in Rome to acclimate myself to the ways drivers behave around cyclists.  I can say the same for Paris and France, but I had an even more acute sense of how drivers' and cyclists' sense of shared space is different while in the land of Michelangelo and Caravaggio.

You can ride through one of those traffic circles, or any other intersection, and a motorist might be a gear-cable's breadth from you.  Yet you would be in less danger than if you'd had a wider berth--or even riding in a "protected" bike lane--in most US cities.  

Italian--particularly Roman--drivers are often called "crazy".  Yet they not only are more aware of two-wheeled vehicles (including Vespas and motorcycles, as well as bicycles) than their American counterparts, they are more accustomed to driving in--and sharing--really tight spaces.

I was reminded of this when looking, again, at this street in Florence, between the Ponte Vecchio and Uffizi Gallery.

It's about half as wide as most sidewalks in New York!  Yet I actually saw a car and bike pass through it at the same time.  And the driver didn't honk his/her horn!

I also couldn't help but to notice the condition of the bicycles parked next to it.  If they'd been locked to a New York City parking meter or sign post, this could have been their fate:

04 August 2017

Making More Sense Than The Department of Transportation

The New York City Department of Transportation seems to operate from the same misguided notions that guide other cities' efforts to be--or seem--"bike friendly". 

Once again, the NYCDOT is showing its ignorance in a report it released recently.  That report, among other things, designates two Brooklyn neighborhoods--Ditmas Park and Sheepshead Bay--as "Priority Bicycle Districts" that could receive new lanes.

Now, if you've been reading this blog, you know that I am, at best, ambivalent about bike lanes, at least as they are usually conceived, designed and constructed.  From what I can see, the NYCDOT wants to repeat the same mistakes it has made in other parts of the city, the most egregious of them being "bike lanes" that are little more than lines painted on asphalt and run next to the parking lanes of streets--into which drivers open their doors, delivery vehicles stop and drivers of all kinds double-park.  

An all-too-typical "protected" bike lane in Brooklyn

Oh, did I mention that too many of those lanes lead cyclists straight into the paths of turning or merging vehicles?  I wouldn't be surprised sif the proposed lanes did the same.

Anyway, of the two neighborhoods I mentioned, one--Ditmas Park--might welcome the new bike "infrastructure", at least somewhat.  Parts of it are quite charming, with Victorian houses and the kinds of cute little shops one finds in neighborhoods with young creative people before they turn into, well, Williamsburg.  That means there are a number of people who cycle for transportation as well as recreation.

The other neighborhood--Sheepshead Bay--lacks such cyclists.  It lies further from the central areas of Brooklyn and Manhattan than Ditmas Park and is far less served by mass transportation.  In fact, one subsection of Sheepshead Bay--Marine Park--has no subway and little bus service at all.

What that means is that most residents of Sheepshead Bay drive.  Some drive their cars to their jobs; others are building contractors or self-employed in other ways and are therefore dependent on their vehicles to transport equipment and for other purposes.  Sometimes families ride their bikes to the park, or individuals might go for a late-day or Sunday ride, but relatively few ride for transportation.  

It is in such neighborhoods that one finds the most opposition to bike lanes and other amenities.  Some of it is class or generational resentment:  Cyclists are seen as entitled elitists or worse.  Some of the other objections, if they don't have merit, are at least understandable:  People who depend on their motor vehicles in places where streets are narrow and there is no room to expand are, understandably, wary of anything that might make driving or parking more difficult or, at any rate, more inconvenient.

Something really interesting is happening, however in Sheepshead Bay--especially in and around Marine Park. In New York, when a city agency like the DOT makes a plan, it is presented to the local community board for the neighborhood that would be affected by the plan.  Last year, the DOT sent a proposal to the local community board for Sheepshead Bay/Marine Park.  The community voiced its objections to it, partly for the same driving and parking issues I've mentioned.  

But they also made some of the same arguments I, and other experienced cyclists, have made against bike lanes.  They pointed out that a cyclist is no safer in a bike lane that runs next to a parking lane than he or she is in a traffic lane.  They also mentioned, as I have, that too many lanes lead cyclists directly into the path of turning or merging vehicles.

They also described a situation that makes their neighborhood different from the more central urban areas like Williamsburg and most of Manhattan.  Sheepshead Bay--especially the Marine Park area--bear more semblance to a suburban town than a city neighborhood in at least one respect:  The majority of residences are detached or semi-detached private houses with driveways rather than than apartment buildings.  Cars and vans frequently pull in and out of those driveways.  

The proposed bike lanes would have run right in the path of those cars entering and leaving the driveways.  Too often, drivers pulling out of driveways are driving in reverse, which makes it more difficult to see cyclists (or anyone or anything else) in the bike or parking lane.  And, when cars make turns to enter driveways, they would turn right into what would be the path of the proposd bike lanes.

So...While we still need to help drivers who aren't cyclists understand, if not empathise with, cyclists, we still need to hear them out--especially when they're making more sense than the Department of Transportation!