Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

20 September 2017

A "Fancy Ladies" Bike Tour

Am I a "fancy lady"?

If I am, I can join others like me on a ride made for us.

Yes, it's called the "Fancy Ladies Bicycle Tour".  Best of all, it's being held in 50 different locations this Sunday.

There's just one problem, and it's a logistical one:  None of those locations are near me.  So it might be a bit difficult (not to mention expensive!) to book an airline ticket and hotel reservations.  Oh, and I have to be at work on Monday!

Oh, well.  The starting points for the "Fancy Ladies Bicycle Tour" are in a country I would gladly visit again:  Turkey.  I once spent nearly a month there.  Of all the countries I have visited, it's my favorite. (I don't count France as a country I've visited, as I've lived there.  So, for me, France is in a special category.)  It offers a great combination of artistic and cultural treasures with natural beauty.  The food is great. And the people are lovely:  I mean, they ones I met were warm and hospital and, very often, physically attractive!  My only regret was that I didn't get to do any bike riding when I was there.

The Tour has no admission fee.  The only requirements for the Fancy Ladies Bicycle Tour seem to be, in addition to being a woman, dressing up one's self and one's bike.  I think I can do those things.  

This is the Tour's fifth year.  The first version was held in 2013 in the coastal city of Izmir (formerly Smyrna) with the objective of promoting bike riding among women, while marking World Car-Free Day.  What's really interesting is that the Tour is not sponsored:  it formed and spread entirely by cyclists showing up for it.  Now, that's definitely my kind of ride!

19 September 2017

Could The Insurance Capital Help Cycling Bloom In The Rosebud City?

Bicycling is good for business.

Cities large and small are discovering how this is true, and not just for bike shop owners.  Obviously, we are good for coffee shops, bakeries and such.  But we--cyclists--use most of the same products and services as everybody else.  Thus, we will patronize the same sorts of businesses.

But we are also good for business, especially in urban downtown areas and on Main Street-type shopping strips in smaller towns, in the same way that pedestrians are.  Stores in such environs--whether they sell books or craft supplies or serve babkas or craft beer--are more likely to find customers among those who walk or pedal in front of them than from drivers who pass by because they can't find a parking spot.

That, I believe, is a reason why more cities here in the US are trying to make themselves "bike friendly"--or, at least, are doing the things they believe, rightly or wrongly, will make them so.  Chambers of Commerce or Business Improvement Districts will install bike racks (good) and nudge their cities into painting bicycle lanes on the streets (sometimes not so good).  They perceive that making their shopping areas more attractive and convenient for cyclists will do more to help business than squeezing more cars into already-crowded streets could.

Apparently, some folks in Hartford, Connecticut had the same idea.

Now, when most people think of Hartford, the insurance industry comes to mind.  It still is known as "The Insurance Capital of the World", with good reason.  Those with a sense of history might recall Connecticut's state capital was also a major industrial center.  In 1850, a native named Samuel Colt invented a precision manufacturing process that enabled the mass production of revolvers--which, of course, bore his name--with interchangeable parts.  His method would be adopted by a couple of guys named Richard Gatling and John Browning who made their own firearms, and the Weed Sewing Machine company, which dominated the market at the time.

Weed would also produce the first bicycles manufactured in the United States.  Albert Pope, another Hartford native, saw British high-wheeled velocipedes at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition and bought the patent rights to produce them in the US.  Since he had no manufacturing facility, he contracted Weed, who would produce everything but the tires.  Soon, bicycle production overshadowed that of sewing machines, and Hartford became one of the leading centers of bicycle-making in the US. 

Lest you think that the city's energies have been devoted entirely to commerce and industry, some very creative individuals in the arts have called Hartford home.  In fact, a couple of books you may have read--A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn were written in a house that is today a museum dedicated to their author. (I was there once, years ago, and thought it was interesting.)  And one of America's most innovative poets, Wallace Stevens, was an executive with the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company!

Anyway, it seems that creative thinking lives on in Hartford. For years, the city's Business Improvement District has run a "safety ambassador" program.  The "ambassadors" patrol downtown streets, acting as security escorts, providing free help to stranded motorists and acting as additional sets of eyes and ears for the police.  In May, the BID added bicycle maintenance and repair to the work done by the "ambassadors" in order to encourage bicycle commuting and assuaging some of the fears associated with it, according Jordan Polon, the BID's executive director.

Eddie Zayas, a Hartford "safety ambassador",

Ambassadors give their phone numbers to people who ask for them.  Maureen Hart was one of those people. Just a few days after getting that number, she was riding home from a concert when she got a flat.  She called that number and became one of 42 cyclists who have received roadside assistance since the program started. 

"It's such a cool service," she said.  "I know people who live in Portland and that's a really bicycle-friendly city.  They don't have anything like this.  This is amazing."

Well, you can't have bicycle-friendly cities without bicycles.  And Hartford was making them long before most people ever heard of Portland.  Now the capital of the Nutmeg State looks ready to teach The City of Roses how to make it even easier to ride in their city.

(Here's another fun fact about Hartford:  It's also home to the oldest continuously-published daily newspaper in the US.  The Hartford Courant has been in print since 1764, making it 87 years older than the New York Times--and 12 years older than the United States itself!)

18 September 2017

Lady Godiva He Ain't

When I was writing for a local newspaper, I was talking to a police officer when a call about a robbery came in.  The caller had gotten a glimpse of the suspect, so the officer asked for a description.

"He was wearing a T-shirt, blue jeans and sneakers."  As the officer wrote it down, he repeated it to the caller, just to be sure--and asked for more detail which, apparently, the caller couldn't (or wouldn't?) provide.

He hung up the phone.  He saw that I was just barely suppressing a laugh; his knowing smirk was a signal that I could release it.  "How many other guys fit that description?," he wondered aloud.

I'm recalling that incident after seeing a news story out of Fort Worth, Texas.  Apparently, at around 5:45pm on Saturday, a man on a bicycle chased down a female jogger and assaulted her.  

Now, my heart goes out to that woman and I hope the guy is caught.  He, however, might be as difficult to spot as the perp in jeans, T-shirt and sneakers, although his apparel was entirely different.

The difference was, well, that he had no apparel at all.  That's right:  He rode his bike naked. According to a witness, he'd been sitting on a park bench before he took off his shorts, hopped on a bicycle and pedaled westbound on Rogers Road.

Police say that the suspect is a white male who's about 5'10" tall with a slender, athletic build and short brown hair on his head but none on his body.

The woman, thankfully, escaped his clutches.

I hope he's caught.  If he's riding around naked, he probably will be, very soon.  Somehow, though, I doubt that he is:  For all we know, he might be wearing jeans, a T-shirt and sneakers at this very moment!

17 September 2017

How Many Tubes?

Almost everybody loves the look of a twin top-tube mixte frame.  I own two. (You're going to hear about them very soon.)  They are practical and stylish, and in the days when Reynolds, Columbus, Ishiwata and other tube manufacturers made the skinny top tubes, could be made with the same quality as the best diamond-frame bikes.

They can be a lot of fun, too:

I have to admit: At first glance, I thought it was one of the stranger-looking mixtes I've seen.  But I love it!  I think if there were no limit (due to space limitations and finances) to the number of bikes I could own, I'd want it!

16 September 2017

What Does This Shop Have In Common With The Packers?

In My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Toula (played by Nia Vardalos) falls in love with a non-Greek American, Ian Miller (played by John Corbett). When he has dinner with her family, he mentions that he's a vegetarian.  The entire family stops and gasps.  Toula's Aunt Voula says, "That's OK. I make lamb."

A former co-worker of mine told me that was pretty much the definition of "vegetarian", a term of derision or approbation in her hometown of Green Bay, Wisconsin.  She insisted she wasn't joking when she told me that Jell-O with mini-marshmallows and Reddi-whip is considered a "salad" in "cheeseland."

She also affirmed another stereotype:  People in her native city live for football (the American version).  As it happens, Green Bay is the smallest city in North America with a major-league sports team.  (Between 1972 and 1995, that distinction belonged to Quebec City, where the Nordiques of the World Hockey Association and, later, the National Hockey League played.)  The object of Green Bay denizens' affection is, of course, the National Football League team known as the Packers.

Interestingly, the Green Bay Packers hold another distinction:  They are the only North American major league sports team that is publicly owned.  As I understand it, the Packers are, in this sense, no different from a public utility like an electric or water company.  

Or the city's newest public enterprise:  The Green Bay Bicycle Collective's new Community Bicycle Shop, which has just opened in a city-owned garage at 418 4th Street.  This shop will hold bicycle maintenance classes and allow people to come in and work on their bikes for free.  "If the garage door's open, anyone can come in," explains Heather Gentry, the Collective's president.  She says the Collective also plans to launch an "earn a bike" program, in which students and other young people can learn volunteer at the shop in exchange for a bike, in the spring.

Rebecca Nyberg of  Brown County Public Health describes this new venture as one more piece of her organization's effort, begun in 2004, to get more people, especially students and the young, to cycle and walk for transportation as well as recreation.  Part of the effort, she says, has involved making bicycles more readily available and easier to access, and cycling safer and more practical.  "We realized that if we don't make the right thing easier to do, we won't get anywhere with people," she explained.

And so her organization and the Collective have worked together to create a public good in a city that has a surprisingly (at least, to those who aren't familiar with it) rich history of communal effort and community ownership.

15 September 2017

You Can Have It In Any Color You Want, As Long As It's Marina Blue

One of my favorite bloggers, "The Retrogrouch", has written a few posts about bicycles made for folks who have more money than interest in actually riding a bicycle.  The bikes he mentions in those posts usually have, at minimum, five-figure price tags and features for which there is little, if any, earthly reason.  Some of those bikes really seem to be intended as wall installations or fashion accessories--or simply status symbols.  A few are even made to match the owners' cars with six-figure price tags.

The Retrogrouch has written eloquently, with just the right amount of cynicism, about such bikes.  There is nothing I can add to what he's said, so I try not to write about those machines.  

Today, though, I will write about a bike that might seem like a subject of his scorn.  Yes, it's a bike that matches an expensive sports car.  But, to be fair, it seems to be designed with actual cycling in mind.  And its price tag is more or less in line with other high-quality bicycles of its type. It's not a bike I'd necessarily buy for myself, but I could understand a real, live cyclist wanting the bike I'm about to mention.

If you have a BMW M5, it's the bike you simply must have.  It's painted in Marina Blue--of course--to match the car.  I rather like the color myself.  It comes with Continental Cruise Contact tires.  They're not the model I ride, but I ride other Continental tires.  And the design is something I might choose if I were in the market for an all-arounder or "gravel" bike.

The deal-breakers for me, though, are the carbon fiber frame and disc brakes.  Then again, this bike is not made with someone like me or Retrogrouch in mind:  Someone who's buying an M5 or some other car in that price category probably wants the "newest and latest" tech gadgets.  So, it makes sense the bike is so designed.

If you want the bike, however, you have to act quickly:  Only 500 are being made.  And you can only get it from a BMW dealer--for 1400 Euros (about 1650 dollars at today's exchange rate).  That's about a tenth of what Audi charges for its e-bike.

14 September 2017

In My O-Pinion, This Could Be Interesting

Derailleurs are great.

Well, most of the time--for me, anyway.  With the exception of Tosca, my Mercian fixed-gear, my other "fun" bikes have derailleurs on them.  Cyclists have been using them for nearly a century; in that time, derailleur-equipped bikes have gone from having two cogs to eleven on the rear wheel.  (When I first became a dedicated cyclists, five in the rear was normal; six-speed freewheels were new and exotic

I think 8 rear gears is the "sweet spot" where a wide range of gear options intersects with relative durability and un-fussy shifting; 9 gears--which I use--sacrifices a bit of chain life but greater availability of cassettes across a wider selection of gear ratios and price ranges.

Aside from Tosca, I have one other derailleur-less bike:  my commuter/"beater", which has a single-speed freewheel.  Most commuters here in New York don't have to negotiate many, if any, hills.  I myself make one climb of any significance on my way to work in the Bronx.

Now,  if you don't have to ride hills or are very young or strong, a single-speed bike is a great option if you want to do as little maintenance as possible.  If you're really young and strong, or a messenger, (I was all of those.)you might even like a fixed-gear single-speed.  (At times, I have commuted on a fixed-gear and, as I've mentioned in other posts, I've been a messenger.)  But if you're not-so-young or athletic, live in a hilly area or simply want to sweat as little as possible, you might prefer a variable-gear bike.

If you want variable gears but don't want to use derailleur, you only other option--at least, if you live here in the US--is an internally-geared hub.  The most familiar kind is the classic three-speed.  Sturmey-Archer made several models, but by far the most popular (or at least common) was their AW, which came on the Raleigh, Dunelt, Robin Hood and other English bikes.  Shimano, Sachs and a few other companies also made them; the one marketed by SunTour during the 1960's and early '70'd has long been rumored to be a re-badged Sturmey-Archer.

The problems with those hubs are that they don't offer a wide variety of gears, the spacing between gears is less-than-optimal and, with the exception of the old (pre-1975 or thereabouts) Sturmey-Archer models, they tend to wear out quickly.  Moreover, they don't transmit power (turn your pedal strokes into wheel revolutions) very efficently and weigh significantly more than a hub with a cassette or freewheel combined with derailleurs.

Worst of all, if riders neglect (as most do) even the minimal maintenance internally-geared hubs require, they can fall  to the ravages of rain, wind and other elements almost as easily as the exposed parts of a derailleur.

For some time, European commuters and utility cyclists have had another option:  a gear box.  

The German-made Pinion gear box is a standard feature on about 90 different bike models sold in Europe.  It is a rarity in the US, but that could change:  The company is opening an office in Denver in conjunction with Gates, the manufacturer of the Carbon Drive System.

Think of Pinion as an internally-geared hub on your bottom bracket:  The box contains a set of epicyclic gears, like the ones inside the hub, in an oil bath.  But, unlike the hubs, which had oil caps on their shells, Pinion requires an oil change every 10000 km or so.  The good news is that Pinions appear to be more hermetically sealed than internally-geared hubs, so the lubrication is less prone to contamination and, one assumes, runs more smoothly.  

Kalkhoff Trekking
Add caption

The main downside to Pinion is, apart from its weight, the fact that it can be installed only on a Pinion-specific frame. For some, that limitation is counter-balanced by its greatly reduced maintenance, ease of shifting and the fact that it's available in a number of gear configurations, with 6,9,12 or 18 gears in a range from 295 to 636 percent.  This means a wider range of gears, with narrower steps in between, than is possible in an internally-geared hub.  It's also available with a die-cast magnesium gear box, which cuts the weight somewhat, in addition to standard aluminum model.

13 September 2017

Not Paved With Gold: Lined With It

We've had some insanely nice weather the past few days.  That's going to end late this afternoon or tonight, according to weather forecasts.  Rain will fall, but it won't be anything like what folks in Texas and Florida have experienced.  And it won't be accompanied by wind.

This morning's commute, though, was a treat:

Hell Gate doesn't seem so Hellish when the sun rises amidst the columns of morning.

From the dawn horizon, I rode the Randall's Island path underneath the Amtrak trestle (a.k.a. the Hell Gate Bridge) to the Randall's Island Connector.

Randall's Island Connector: The Bronx's new car-free link to Manhattan from STREETFILMS on Vimeo.

Legend has it that people emigrated to the US after hearing that streets in America were "paved with gold."  Believe it or not, such stories still circulate and entice the poor, the hungry and the ambitious to come here.

Of course we all know the streets aren't "paved with gold".  But, for a moment, it seemed as if the Randall's Island Connector was lined with it:

A good day has followed.

12 September 2017

Yes, Cycling Is Intoxicating...Especially If You Ride This Bike

I've been reading about bamboo bicycles for the past few years.  I have only seen two in person, neither with a rider aboard.  So, apart from what I've read in a few cycling magazine and blog reviews, I know nothing about their ride qualities.  And those reports vary widely.

It seems that there are basically two types of bamboo bikes:  the ones that have some sort of metal at their joints and the ones--like Calfee's--that are made by joining bamboo tubes with hemp.  

I must say that if I were rich, I'd buy a bamboo bike as an objet d'art or a conversation piece, but certainly not as my only bike.  From what I've read and heard, such a machine--an odd term, isn't it, to use in reference to something made of bamboo--would give a cushy but not very snappy ride.  That, of course, would rule it out for a "do it all" bike, let alone one for fast rides.  

A bamboo bike might not "ride on rails".  But neither would the latest creation from Portland (where else?)-based wooden bike specialist Renovo.  A wobbly ride on it, however, might not be the fault of the bike itself--or its materials.  Rather, the problem, if you will, is more likely to lie with the rider.

You see, the latest Renovo model is made from barrels in which Scotch--specifically, Glenmorangie--was aged.  The renowned distiller, who is marketing the bike, ships the wood to Renovo in Portland, where the frames are crafted and finished--with the distiller's name on the right chainstay.

And, of course, the wood is infused with the world-famous libation.  Dr. Bill Lumsden, director of Glenmorgie's distilling and whisky creation, says that the casks are used only twice to make The Original, "a whisky which balances hints of ripening peaches and citrus fruits with creamy vanilla notes, to delight malt connoisseurs and amateurs alike."

Now, I don't know whether you'd notice those hints of peach and citrus or notes of vanilla while you're riding.  I'm not even sure they have anything to do with the color and texture of the wood, let alone the bike's durability or ride quality.  Does the whisky dampen shock?

Whatever the case, Dr. Lumsden says that even though his creation is mixed with the wood, customers shouldn't combine it with riding the bikes made from the barrels in which it's aged.  The original should be consumed apres-velo. 

11 September 2017

A Hurricane And A Guilty Pleasure

As Hurricane Irma churned up from Cuba to Florida, we enjoyed a weekend of perfect weather:  high temperatures between 20 and 24 C, and lots of sunshine.  But, as high cirrocumulus clouds drifted across blue skies, the tides spilled the distant storm's fury onto our shores.

Since I'm not a surfer, I heeded the warnings against going into the water.  So, of course, I cycled.  Specifically, I took Arielle, my Mercian Audax, for a "doubleheader":  a ride to Connecticut on Saturday and Point Lookout on Sunday.  

On my way up to the Nutmeg State, I pedaled into a stiff headwind most of the way.  That meant, of course, that it blew me back to New York.  En route to Point Lookout, I pedaled into what seemed to be the same wind to the Rockaways and it whipped at my side as I rode along the South Shore.  Then, of course, I had to pedal into the wind on my way home.

I'm not complaining about that headwind on my way home.  It's hard to imagine a more pleasant weekend of riding locally.  Is it still a guilty pleasure if you're grateful for it?

10 September 2017

09 September 2017

Sad News About A Television Station Owner

He was cycling eastbound on Slaughter Beach Road in Milford, Delaware around 7:35 Thursday morning.

A Ford pickup truck was going the same way--and struck the cyclist.

The driver, Shawn E. Armstrong of nearby Lewes, stopped to help the cyclist.  But the cyclist, 76-year-old Thomas Draper of Milford, didn't survive the impact.  

He is well-known in his community--and throughout the Delmarva area--as the longtime owner of WBOC, one of the largest television stations in the area.  He also owned other television stations and media outlets in the area, as well as other parts of the United States.

Owner of WBOC Tom Draper has passed away following bicycle accident in Milford
Thomas Draper

At least Armstrong stopped when he realized he'd struck Draper.  That is, unfortunately, more than can be said for too many other drivers in similar situations. 

08 September 2017

No New Bike Shares In Beijing

It wasn't difficult to see this coming: Beijing has banned all new bike-share bikes.

China's largest city has been bedeviled by the same problems as other municipalities where Ofo, Mobike and other private bike-share companies have set up shop:  bicycles are left haphazardly on sidewalks, around people's houses and even in the middle of intersections--or they've been stolen, vandalized or even destroyed.

It seems that the very advantage those share  companies offered--their chip-implanted bikes could be located with an app and left anywhere, and didn't have to be taken from or returned to docking stations--also made life easy for vandals, thieves and people who are simply inconsiderate of others.

Rows of bikes in China's bike sharing scheme

Beijing is not the first Chinese city to ban new share bikes. Since it is the largest, though, it begs the question of whether similar bike share schemes in the rest of the country are doomed.  Moreover, these bans are taking effect just as similar programs are starting in municipalities outside China.     

In particular, I wonder about similar operations in the US:  Just last month, Ofo began operating in Seattle, as an example.  It seems that such private companies appealed to cities like Seattle, where an earlier city-funded bike share program failed, or other American cities that are reluctant to use public funding, or where corporations like Citibank (the sponsor of New York's Citibike) might be reluctant to invest in such a project--or where property or business owners don't want docking stations by their frond doors. 

In cities large and small all over the world, there is certainly a demand for bike share programs.  Now the problem seems to be one of how to make them useful and practical without creating nuisances or hazards. 

07 September 2017

Across The Canal In 3D

The Dutch ride bicycles more than just about any other  people in this world.

Their capital, Amsterdam, has more than one hundred kilometers of canals and about 90 islands.  So, perhaps, it's not surprising that the city has about 1500 bridges--or that some of those bridges are devoted to bicycles.

As an American, it's difficult for me to imagine any city in this country even envisioning a bridge for bicycles.  Hey, some of our major bridges, such as the Verrazano-Narrows, don't even have pedestrian or bike paths!

As an American, it's interesting--though not surprising--to me that the Dutch are also among the world's leaders in applying advanced technology to everyday life, and their infrastructure.  

So, perhaps, it was inevitable that the first 3D printed bicycle bridge would be built in the Netherlands.

Yes, you read that right.  The Eindhoven-based construction company BAM has collaborated with the Technical University in that same city to create a structure that will be 8 meters (26 feet) long and 3.5 meters (11.5 feet) wide when it is set up in the nearby town of Gemert, where it has just been delivered.  

The bridge is constructed in eight one-meter segments which will be connected with a special concrete mortar.  Thus assembled, it will be built between two bridge heads and secured by cables.

Cyclists riding across Peelsche Loop in Gemert can 
expect to see the bridge in place by October, according to published reports.

06 September 2017

Paris In The Bike Lane

If you were to ask, "What is the world's most bicycle-friendly city?", the answers you'd most commonly hear probably would be "Copenhagen" and "Amsterdam".

It would be difficult to argue against either.  And, although it's more bikeable than most American cities, not many people would put Paris ahead of either the Danish or Dutch capitals.

If you've been reading this blog, you know that I thoroughly enjoyed cycling in the City of Light.  That is not to say, however, that there isn't room for making it an even better place for cyclists than it is.  Mayor Anne Hidalgo recognizes as much, and has said that she wants not only to improve the cycling experience in her city, but to make the French capital into "the world's cycling capital".

Although one sees many bicycles and cyclists along the banks of the Seine, the portion of the population that rides regularly, let alone every day, is still fairly low, at least in comparison to places like Copenhagen and Amsterdam.  Nearly everyone agrees that one of the goals in making a city more "bike friendly" is to get people out of their cars and onto bike for their commutes, and to shop and visit the sights of the city.  That can be done when cycling is made available, affordable, safe and practical for those who are not, and do not wish to become, hard-core cyclists.

From what I can see, Paris has succeeded with the first two priorities:  You don't have to go very far to find a Velib station (or other bikes to rent or buy), and rental rates and purchase prices  are relatively reasonable.  The availability of Velib even well beyond city limits at least partially addresses the practicality issue.  But another part of it ties in with safety:  a coherent scheme of bike routes that cyclists can actually use to get to work, school or anyplace else from their homes and is physically separated from vehicular traffic.

The new Paris bike expressway.  Photo from a tweet by Marie Fugain.

Such networks are what separates Copenhagen and Amsterdam from nearly all other cities, according to Mikael Colville-Andersen,a  planner who regularly works with cities around the world to improve cycling conditions.  Of his native city, Copenhagen, he says, "Visitors who come for the first time will easily find their way around by bike because the network is uniform. That is not the case in Paris," where he points to "incoherent" choices like putting buses and bikes in the same lane on some roads.  Then there are "utterly stupid" ideas, he says, like the bicycle lane in the middle of the Champs-Elysees that is scheduled for completion next year.  "It will fail," he pronounces, because it will "lead to accidents" which will "give ammunition to the bike haters."

He does, however, see signs of improvement, like the new bike expressway" along the right bank of the Seine.  The route was created by taking two lanes from the Voie Georges Pompidou, a motorway that winds past the Louvre and the garden of the Tuileries, across the river from the Eiffel Tower.  This new "expressway" meets the standards of "Copenhagenization" in that it runs in a continuous axis in both directions, has enough room for cyclists to pass each other and has a separator between the bike and auto lanes, according to Colville-Andersen.

He says it could be the start of a bicycle network that could take its inspiration from another network for which Paris is justly renowned: its Metro.

05 September 2017

They Keep Going Even When There's No Gas

Here in the US, one normally expects to see a bicycle-mounted police officer in a park, on a college campus or in some other place where there are narrow alleys or paths, like large housing complexes.

It seems, however, that cities and towns are figuring out that such patrols can be very useful in downtown areas.  If you have cycled in such places, as I so often have, you know that you can often reach a given destination before a car or bus, especially when traffic is heavy.

That is basically the reason why there are still bike messengers, even when offices have scanners and e-mail systems.  Some things require that actual people physically sign for them, or have to be delivered by hand for other reasons.  When I was a messenger, I routinely made trips from Midtown to the Wall Street area in five to ten minutes that would have taken twenty minutes to half an hour in a motorized vehicle.

But I digress.  Now ever-smaller cities and towns are seeing the usefulness of bicycle patrols.

One such municipality is Wimberley, in the south-central part of Texas, between Austin and San Antonio. With less than 3000 residents, it doesn't have its own police station, so it depends mainly on deputies from the Hays County Constable and the county sheriff's department to respond to emergencies.

As often as not, those emergencies are the cause of traffic congestion in the downtown area.  Emergency trucks have an especially difficult time getting to the scene of an accident, explosion or some other emergency quickly.  In situations like those, saving seconds can mean saving a life.  And, as Constable Ray Helm explains, "those guys on their bikes can get there within 20 seconds" when it might take minutes for a first responders' vehicle. Also, "they can access different parts of the city trucks can't," he notes.

Also, those quick arrivals make it more likely for officers to de-escalate tense situations, like the ones that unfolded this weekend when gas stations ran out of fuel. Tempers flared, and the officers on bicycles avoided traffic tie-ups and were thus might have arrived just in time to prevent a fracas.

In sending constable's deputies on bicycles, the department was also able to use less of its own gasoline--which, of course saves money.  I am sure that would sway a few folks who might not be moved by the other benefits--such as improved community relations (Officers and the public deal with each other face-to-face rather than through a metal encasement.) that accrue from getting officers out of their cars and onto bikes.

04 September 2017

To Find A Bike, Go Where The Donuts Are

Years ago, a fellow but very-senior faculty member was observing and evaluating one of my classes.  She wrote favorably of me, though she commented on my seeming lack of confidence.  "Remember, you are doing God's work," she told me.

I was taken aback because I hadn't taken her for a religious person.  For that matter, I was somewhat surprised--for reasons I can't recall--that she would even invoke a deity.  Perhaps I had assumed, wrongly, that she would share most other humanities faculty members'--and my--non-religiosity.

(I sometimes joke that the Carmelite nuns of my school tried to beat the devil out of me but exorcised me of my faith instead.)

Anyway, I think it's fair to ask this:  If there is indeed a god, what would that god's work be?

Of course, being a cyclist and bike blogger, I'd like to think that it somehow involves bicycles and bicycling.  Benjamin Franklin once quipped that beer is a sign that God loves us and wants us to be happy.  I would say the same about bicycles.

And, if God's work does involve bicycles, could a bakery be a theatre, staging area or workshop?

Larry Batten is the coordinator of Chain Reaction Ministries.  The program, based in The First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Oklahoma City, provides bikes for people who need basic transportation to get to their jobs.  Not surprisingly, most of the recipients have recently started their jobs or work for low wages.  Among their ranks, also not surprisingly, are some recovering addicts and new or recent parolees.

 Larry Batten, Chain Reaction Ministries coordinator, refurbishes bicycles at First Christian Church of Oklahoma City to give away to those who need them. [Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman]
Chain Reaction Ministries coordinator Larry Batten

The point of the program, according to Batten, is to help such people get back on track with their lives.  That is the reason why, he says, the bikes aren't given to just anybody. "We are providing a hand up, not a handout," he explains.  Thus, the program requires takes  would-be recipients who are referred by various agencies, and requires those would-be recipients to present some sort of proof of employment.

The program has grown much faster than he or anyone else imagined.  So, they are almost always in need of bikes and parts. Sometimes bikes are stripped for parts, while the more expensive ones are traded at nearby Al's Bicycles for tires, tubes, chains and other parts that are needed continuously.  "Al's been amazing to us," Batten says.

His search for bikes sometimes goes far and wide.  One thing he  learned, however, is to go where the bikes are--or, more precisely, where the bikes might be.  Hence program volunteer Tom Russell's trip to Brown's Bakery.  It seems that Brown's doughnuts have quite a reputation, which is the reason why the bakery is a magnet for cyclists.  Indeed, as far back as the 1970's it served as the destination for  the Oklahoma Bicycle Society's Donut ride, a meandering ride through historic neighborhoods in Oklahoma City.

Batten says that the church has a repair shop equipped with tools donated by the local rotary club.  Two mechanics work there.  They are not mere "wrenches", though:  They empathize with their clients because they were once homeless themselves.

There are other "happy endings," evidenced by the many "thank-you" letters Batten receives.  Some of the recipients continue to ride after they get their lives together.  Others, though, buy cars--and give their bikes back to Chain Reaction Ministries.

If you want to donate, or simply want more information, you can call Chain Reaction Ministries at  (405) 525-6551 or Batten himself at (405) 479-3809.

03 September 2017

Keep Your Eyes On The Road!

Whenever I'm about to take attendance, or read something to my students, I have to pull my reading glasses out of my purse or bookbag.  Sometimes I wave my spectacles in the air and warn my students, "This is what you have to look forward to when you get old!"

Fortunately, I don't yet need glasses for anything besides reading or other close-up work.  When I ride, the only eyewear I need is the kind that protects my eyes from the sun and wind.

Others are not so fortunate:

02 September 2017

Bike Shares: The "Monster Revealing Mirror"?

I've head and read more than a few anti-bicycle (or, more precisely, anti-cyclist) rants.  Almost invariably, they say we are scofflaws who run red lights, thumb our noses at everyone in sight and run over puppies, kittens and people's grandmothers.

I'll admit that in my younger years, I was bolder and perhaps more reckless than I am now.  But I have never run over anyone's grandmother, or a puppy or kitten.  In fact, I've actually rescued a couple of little furry ones and stopped to help senior citizens with one thing and another.

And I'll also admit that however inaccurate the rants may be, I don't recall anyone--at least, not in this country or this time--blaming us moral decay.  I've been fingered as one of the agents in the breakedown of civil society and Christian values, and as a potential bad influence on young people--but not because I'm a cyclist.  Of course, I might not be the best example one can find for his or her children, but not for the reasons the blamers usually cite.

Anyway, I at least feel fortunate in that most of the time, I can cycle in relative peace, alone or with whomever I choose.  And I can make a case against the haters of cyclists by being law-abiding and well-behaved (mostly).  And I've listened to more than a few rants that ended with the ranter turning to me and catching him or her self:  "I didn't mean you.  It's those others--you know who I mean."

Now, you might think--correctly--that the ranters haven't been on bikes since they were kids, or at all, and they still can't wrap their heads around the idea that someone who's old enough to drive would continue to cycle by choice.  But cyclists--and bicycles--are getting the blame for "moral breakdown" and all manner of bad behavior in one of the first countries that comes to mind when one thinks about everyday adult cyclists.

I am talking about China.  There, bicycles--actually, a specific kind of bike and rider--are seen as the worm in the apple of their country's order.  

As I have mentioned in earlier posts, Chinese bike-share companies have pioneered systems that don't require ports and, instead, depend upon telephone apps and codes.  Borrowers can, therefore, leave their bikes anywhere when they are finished, and anyone who has the share company's app can find it, or any other available bike, wherever it may be.

Well, people are complaining that bikes are left literally anywhere, including in the middle of busy intersections, where they block traffic.  They've also been left on people's doorsteps or in their yards, and in any place where grandmothers can trip over them.

But some Chinese people aren't upset only because users of bike share programs are being inconsiderate of others.  Turns out, those share programs are taking business away from taxi and rickshaw drivers.  They, like those whose properties are blighted or paths are blocked by piles of abandoned bikes, are angry. It's believed that they are behind much of the vandalism and outright destruction of bikes, which includes setting them on fire or tossing them into dumps and rivers.  And bike vandalism isn't limited to the "strip and dump" variety:  individual parts are hacked and shredded, and the pieces are conspicuously displayed. 

(I am reminded of those hate crimes in which the victim is shot, slashed and burned.)

The Chinese response to the bike share menace, if you will, might reveal something about the difference between their culture--or, perhaps the way people see their roles and responsibilities in it--and what we see in the West.  When I hear an anti-bike or anti-cyclist rant here, it always goes in one direction:  against bikes and cyclists.  It is not in any way self-reflective, or even self-referential:  It begins and ends with blame of the bikes or cyclists.

On the other hand, some in China have described bike-share programs as the "monster-revealing mirror."  They believe bikes that are vandalized or block intersections expose the true nature of Chinese people.  Then again, no one seems to be saying that the phenomena I've described are indicators of anything new:  Nearly a century ago, writer Lu Xun assailed Chinese culture as boastful, cruel, selfish and servile.

Well...at least nobody in this country says such things about cyclists.  At least, not in the anti-bike rants I've heard.

01 September 2017

Bicycle Bingo In The Land Of The Potato Chip

I am going to make a confession.  If you've been reading this blog for a while, you're used to such things.

Anyway, here goes:  I have played bingo.

Mind you, it's been at least 30 years since I last daubed an ink bottle to a bingo sheet:  If I recall correctly, I was with my mother and grandmother, and possibly one or two of their friends.  Grandma died in 1981, and I don't think I've set foot in a bingo hall since then.

But her death isn't the reason I stopped playing:  I simply thought, even with the good company I had, it was boring. I simply could not understand what sort of thrill people got in waiting for numbers to be called.

Then again, I was in my early 20's.  Perhaps I'd like it better now.  I probably am somewhere near, or not too much below, the median age of the average player. Also, I now realize that even though I was the sort of young person I was, my mother, grandmother and their friends enjoyed my company--and I liked theirs.  Perhaps that is the real reason why people go to smoke-filled halls (at least they were in those days) and eat bad food, all for the chance to hit a "jackpot" that might equal a day's pay:  the camaraderie.

Such thoughts cause me to ponder this question:  How many bingo players are cyclists--or vice-versa?

And this related question:  Is it actually possible to combine bingo and cycling?

It seems that some folks in Saratoga Springs, NY have answered the second question in the affirmative.

Saratoga Springs.  From SCiraulo Photography

The "Spa City", like other places noted for mineral springs, thrived when doctors told patients to "take the waters" as a cure for everything from arthritis to zinc deficiency.  This "prescription" became less common with developments in modern medicine that happened and, later, air travel and interstate highway systems made it possible for the sorts of people who vacationed in places like nearby Sharon Springs and Ballston Spa to head for more exotic locales further away.  

Although Saratoga Springs experienced a decline during the 1950's--when the city and state cracked down on illegal gambling--it never entirely lost its draw because of its race track (one of the few horse racing venues in the US that is still thriving) and its vibrant arts scene.  The Yaddo artists' retreat is there.  So is Skidmore College, long a fount of creativity, and the National Dance Museum, the only museum in the US (and one of the few in the world) devoted entirely to the art of dance.

So, perhaps, it's no surprise that "Spa City" came up with "Bike Bingo".  To participate, a cyclist buys a $2 card available at several locations throughout the city. The rules are simple:

• Bike to a location listed on the card and request a stamp.
• Get five in a row for “BINGO” and pedal to one of the prize locations to receive a prize.
• Get another “BINGO” to receive another prize.
• Fill the card to get more prizes.

The "game" will continue until 22 October.  Its organizers hope to reduce motor traffic downtown by encouraging people to explore it by bike.

If you pedal long enough, you'll work up an appetite.  You can sate it in one of the town's many restaurants and cafes--or with some potato chips:  legend has it that they were invented "Spa Town" .  Of course, you will wash them down with water from the Springs!