Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

15 August 2018

Is A Picture Worth A Thousand Words When It Gives Us Two?

As The World's Only Transgender Bike Blogger (at least, the only one I know about!), you can understand why this got my attention:

From bikechaser

Well, all right, the colors are hard to miss.   But the design is not exactly to my taste (at least, not anything I'd wear).  What piqued my interest were the words:  "Femme" (woman) on the jersey, "Homme" (man) on the shorts.


14 August 2018

At Least He Survived--We Hope

Some stories bring me no joy.  But sometimes I feel the need to tell them, if only because they hit close to home.

At least this one hasn't ended in tragedy...so far.

A few days ago, I wrote about Madison Jane Lyden, the Australian tourist run down by an inebriated garbage truck driver as she cycled up Central Park West.  Well, I've gotten word of another cyclist struck by a motorist on a route I ride frequently.

Just before  8 pm yesterday, an 11-year-old boy (whose name hasn't been released) was riding his bike in Far Rockaway, in an area I pass through when I ride to Point Lookout or other points on Long Island's South Shore.  Occasionally, "Far Rock" is even my destination, especially when I'm trying to get a ride in during an abbreviated winter day.  

Anyway, a black sedan slammed into him--and kept going.  The impact sent him airborne for several car lengths. He landed in the hospital with internal injuries, but he is expected to survive.

At least, according to the NYPD, the driver of that car--41-year-old Aghostinho Sinclair--has been arrested.  Needless to say he's in a heap of trouble: The charges against him include reckless endangerment, leaving the scene of an accident--and driving without a license. (The latter charge is called "aggravated unlicensed operation".)  I wonder whether "endangering the welfare of a child" or some similar charge can be added to the list. 

13 August 2018

Judaism And The Art Of Bicycle Riding

If you're of a certain age, as we say, there's a good chance you've read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  Some English classes--including a few at the college I attended--actually assigned it.  I escaped that fate:  I didn't have to take the English classes that assigned it because, when I entered my college, the person (or folks) in charge of placement decided that I was a better writer than I actually was, based on an essay I wrote as part of my entrance exam.  

I did, however, read Zen on my own.  I didn't expect to learn how to fix motorcycles or about Zen.  If I recall correctly, the book's author, Robert Pirsig, included a disclaimer advising readers not to have such expectations.  Even if he'd intended to instruct his readers on how to wrench their rice rockets (That was a term for Japanese motorcycles, which were much lighter than Harleys.) or meditate, I'm not sure of what I might've learned because, really, I had little idea about motorcycles except that my uncle rode one or about Buddhism save for guys in orange robes.

I'm not sure of what, if anything, I learned from the book.  That's not to say it wasn't worth reading:  At that point in my life, I was a sucker for stories about folks who left jobs, families and other bourgeois expectations behind, even if only for a time, to traverse the country or world, mainly because--you guessed it--I wanted to do something like that.  

Pirsig's prose had little, if any, stylistic grace.  He probably wouldn't have wanted to have any--which, I believe, was part of the appeal of his book.  You don't quote him the way you would, say, Thoreau, let alone Virginia Woolf or Shakespeare. (About my friend Bill:  I remember reading that some researcher found that the average English speaker quotes him at least 20 times a day, mostly without realizing  he or she has done so!)  But I remember this:  "The real motorcycle you're working on is yourself."  Or something like that.

So, what aphorisms can one glean from an experience of Judiasm and the Art of Bicycle Riding?  It's hard not to think that Abigail Pogrebin, the author of an article by that name, didn't read, or at least hear of, Pirsig's volume.  And she indeed reveals a thing or two she learned about herself from riding a mountain bike through Arizona brush--with a Native American guide named George. And, oh, her rabbi.

The irony is, as she says, that George imparted so much Jewish wisdom.  In particular, he offered this nugget that could have come straight from Moses (who, in my mind, always looks and sounds like Charlton Heston):

Always look way ahead of you.  Never look down.  As soon as you look down, you will hesitate, overthink, negotiate, get stuck.  Always be moving into the future. Bike into the future.

The last two sentences, she admits, can sound pretty corny, but, as Ms. Pogebrin points out, "How many times does our tradition ask us to 'go forth'? How many times in our history have we had to keep going despite what's thrown in our way?"  There is no other choice, really:  By definition, we can only move toward the future.  Living in what I call the Eternal Present--and I've known lots of people who've done, and who do, exactly that--is a pretty good definition of a living death.

But, of course, George wasn't trying to be rabbinical.  As Pogrebin learned, his admonitions were entirely literal:  "Once we were out on the trails, as soon as we looked down, we were screwed--the bike suddenly spun out of control, stalled in a mud crevice or jammed its tires between rocks."  When her rabbi and two other cyclists who accompanied them--a couple of guys from San Francisco--navigated a stretch on which she stumbled, George bellowed "GO BACK AND DO IT AGAIN, ABBY!"  But then he imparted what was probably the most important lesson of all, at least for her:

You're too clenched, too focused on getting it right.  You're not trusting the bike or the path.  Keep your eyes ahead and trust that you'll get where you need to go.  Breathe all the way there.

"Breathe all the way there."  Funny, how Zen that sounds to me. But it probably could have come from her rabbi--or anyone who understands that it's all a journey, and the bike is the vehicle.  That, as I recall, is also one of the messages of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

(If Abigail Pogrebin's name looks familiar to you, it means one of two things:  You watched Ed Bradlees 60 Minutes segments, for which she was a writer and producer. Or, you read Ms. magazine, of which her mother, Letty was a founder and editor.  I'm guilty on both counts.)

12 August 2018

Keeping It Light

Today I am going to pose a question that never, ever would have occurred to me had I not seen the photo in this post.

And you probably never would have asked had I not mentioned it.

Here goes:  Do emperors take vacations?

From Freaking News

I haven't been to Elba, but I hear the beaches are really nice there.  So are the ones on Corisca!

11 August 2018

Her Last Ride

While riding here in New York City, I avoid curbside bicycle lanes.  I especially avoid them if they are alongside parks where motor vehicles aren't allowed. A terrible incident that occurred yesterday reminded me of why.

Madison Jane Lyden, 23 years old, was visiting from Australia.  She rode a rented bicycle in the lane on Central Park West just south of West 66th Street.  A livery cab pulled into it, in front of her.  She swerved to avoid it.  

A private sanitation truck rumbled up behind her.

Madison Jane Lyden isn't going home.  

When I lived in Manhattan, I cycled up Central Park West often.  That was in pre-bike lane days.  I always knew that the intersection with 66th Street was hazardous.  It's the where the southernmost traverse across Central Park enters regular New York City traffic.  Often, drivers are lulled after driving across that traverse, where they don't have to contend with the vagaries of Manhattan street traffic and are thus not ready for a change in traffic signals, pedestrians crossing--or cyclists.

Traffic is further congested when there is a performance at Lincoln Center, three blocks to the west, or in any of the other nearby performance and exhibition venues such as the West Side Y.

I am guessing that Ms. Lyden would not have been familiar with those traffic patterns.  Even if she were, I don't think she would have been prepared for a livery cab pulling into the bike lane--or for a private sanitation truck barreling behind her.

Let alone a garbage truck operated by an intoxicated driver.  

Madison Jane Lyden so enjoyed riding downtown that she decided to do some exploring.  She pedaled uptown.  It shouldn't have been her last ride.

10 August 2018

(Almost) Empty Box Dog Bikes

There was a time when a robbery or burglary seemed to be a rite of passage for an urban bike shop in the US.  

I can say, without being hyperbolic, that every New York shop in which I worked or bought anything from the late '70's to the early '90's was victimized by crooks.  Sometimes the perp walked in and demanded whatever cash was on hand, and whoever happened to be at the counter would hand it over.  Other times, a thief would flee with a bike or two or whatever parts or accessories he or she could carry.  

In one of the shops in which I worked, the robbers actually tied up the owner and employees in the basement and made off with expensive bikes and parts. (Fortunately for me, I wasn't working that day!)  Other shops experienced similar crimes. More than one such incident ended tragically:  In particular, I recall that a robbery in Frenchie's Cycle World, a favorite of Brooklyn cyclists, ended in a gunfight that left a robber and a police officer dead.

(The robber killed in Frenchie's was a 30-year-old man.  He persuaded his two teenage nephews and teenage friend to help him.  They were captured thanks to a ruse by one of the shop's employees.)

And then there were burglaries like the ones  that finally drove Tom Avenia out of New York City. From what I heard--whether from Tom himself or others, I forget--his windows, doors and gates were all broken or ripped out so that someone could have unpaid access to his Frejus, Legnano and other Italian bikes, as well as Campagnolo equipment.  Then, one night--again, this is an account I've heard--some thief or thieves actually cut a hole in the roof of his store and helped themselves to much of his merchandise.

I was reminded of Tom, Frenchie's and the other thefts I've mentioned when I heard about what happened in San Francisco the other night.

Box Dog Bikes is a worker-owned shop in the city's Mission district.  In the wee hours of yesterday morning, Geoffrey Colburn, one of the owners, got a call from the police department after they were called by a neighbor.  

What he and the cops found were a hole--just big enough to squeeze bikes through--in the metal gate, and a shattered tempered-glass window behind it.  Inside: empty bike racks.

In all, 21 bikes--most of the shop's inventory--were taken.  They were all listed on the shop's Instagram account.  Included is a plea to call 911 for anyone who sees the bikes, along with an admonition not to fight anyone who has the bikes.  "Most of these bikes don't have pedals, so it's gonna be hard to ride them."

If that doesn't stop the thieves, I hope something else will.

09 August 2018

A Buddy Bike For Disabled Kids

Back in the day, I served as a "captain" on tandem rides for The Lighthouse.  That meant I would  pedal and steer on the front of a tandem, while a blind or visually impaired person would be the "stoker" on the back seat.

And, yes, I followed all of the rules of being a gentleman cyclist--including that one.

I've heard that similar rides have been offered for deaf or audially-impaired folks.  That makes sense for the same reasons that tandem rides for the blind are a good idea:  It allows them to share in the joy we feel when we ride.  Also, it shows that people who partially or completely lack vision or hearing can do just about anything the rest of us can do. 

(One of the best and most creative florists I ever encountered was legally blind.  He could see colors, forms and arrangements, but had no peripheral visions.  Thus, while people and organizations called on him for weddings, banquets and other occasions, he couldn't drive!)

From The East Side Riders Bike Club website

Now the East Side Riders Bike Club (ESRBC) of Los Angeles is trying to provide a similar service for another group of people who have been, too often, deprived of the opportunity to ride and do much else we take for granted.  They work to help the Watts neighborhood (site of the 1965 riots) with bike programs and other charitable work to help keep kids out of gangs and other criminal activities.  

As it happens, communities like Watts have disproportionate numbers of developmentally-disabled children.  (When I worked as a writer-in-residence in New York City schools, I was struck by how many of the "special education" or "special needs" kids with whom I sometimes worked were residents of the projects or other poverty pockets.)  So, the good folks of the ESRBC saw another opportunity to help:  Getting kids with disabilities on bikes.

To that end, they appealed to Buddy Bikes, a Florida-based company that offers "adaptive" bikes.  Buddy Bikes is raising money so that ESRBC can get one of their machines--which cost $1500-$2000--at a reduced price.

The "Buddy Bike" that ESRBC would receive is like a tandem in reverse:  The "captain" pedals from the rear seat, while the disabled kid spins his or her feet from the front  What that means, of course, is that the Buddy Bike has a more complex steering system than what is normally found on traditional tandems.

The sad irony of this, though, is that Buddy Bikes is making their offer just as they are closing shop.  Their website says they will stay in business long enough to sell off their remaining inventory, and that they will keep their website up for another three years after.

We can only hope that the ESRBC continues their work!

08 August 2018

So Glad To Be Back That I Want To Go Back

It's been two weeks since my trip to Cambodia and Laos.  Everyone to whom I've mentioned it is convinced that I will go back.  So am I.  Any experience that brings me tears of both joy and sadness is worth repeating.  Of course, I wouldn't try to replicate the trip I just took:  That wouldn't be possIible.  But I could return, I believe, to what made the trip so memorable.

First among them is the people.  I already missed them during my flights home.  When I visit my friends in France, I miss them when I leave.  But I can't miss the familiar in the same way I miss the people I just met because, I guess, re-connecting with those you know can't change your perspective in quite the same way as people who allowed you into their lives,even if only for a moment, the first time you met them.  Plus, the only people I've ever met in the US who can match the vitality--who, purely and simply, have the heart and soul, for lack of better terms--are either African-American, immigrants or very old.  People in southeast Asia--especially Cambodia--have survived going to hell and back.  

I thought about that, again, the other day as I was riding back from Connecticut.  The temperature reached 34-36 Celsius (92-96F), and the humidity ranged from 80 to 90 percent.  Just before I crossed the Randalls Island Connector, I rode through the South Bronx.  Three of its ZIP codes--including 10451, where I work-- are the poorest in the United States.  Many residents indeed live in conditions most Americans--certainly those of my race and educational background--will never even have to imagine.  I know: some of those people are my students.  But even they have, if not luxuries, then amenities, that are completely out of reach for most Cambodian peasants and even city dwellers like Champa, the young woman who works at the guest house or  Sopheak, the tuk-tuk driver who took me around when I wasn't cycling.  As an example, the young woman told me she can't even stay in touch with me by e-mail because she doesn't have a device of her own, and she can't send personal messages on the guest house's internet system. 

Of course, you might say they were warm and friendly to me because I'm a tourist and they wanted me to spend money. But I experienced all sorts of helpfulness and friendliness--and a cheerfulness that's not of the American "it gets better" or "when one door closes, another opens," variety.  Perhaps the best expression of it came from a young woman at a gas station, where I stopped to ask for directions. "We are here," she said.  "We are alive.  We have today."

Then, of course, there are the things I saw.  While the Angkor Wat was the main reason I took the trip, and I spent about three full days in it, I could just as easily go back for Bayon or Banteay Srei--which, I admit, is my favorite temple--or to walk along the river junction or side streets of Luang Prabang.  And, naturally, eat the food--though I won't order a fruit shake, delicious as it was, again:  I think the ice used in it came from tap water, which unsettled my stomach on my penultimate night in Cambodia.

I must say, though, that I am glad to be riding my own Mercians again.  And, as hot and humid as it during my Connecticut ride, or on the Point Lookout ride I took yesterday, I wasn't nearly as tired because, in spite of the heat, the sun is much less intense.  And the road conditions are better, even in places like the South Bronx and Far Rockaway.

Hmm...Maybe, next time I go to Southeast Asia, I have to bring one of my own bikes--though, I must say, riding local bikes made me feel a bit more "native", if only for a few hours!

07 August 2018

The Bike I Should Have Given Her?

Today is my mother's birthday.

One year, I gave her a new bicycle.  She'd been pedaling an hour or so every day on an exercise bike.  At the time, she was relatively young (and I wasn't relatively young: I was pure-and-simple young) and I figured she could transition from indoor to outdoor cycling.

It didn't work that way and the bike was sold or given away (I forget which) when my parents moved to Florida.  She apologized for that, adding that "it was a nice bike."

It was actually a halfway decent machine:  a Peugeot mixte in a burgundy color with sunset orange graphics.  My mother even thought it was "pretty" and that giving it was "a nice thought" on my part.  Oh well.

Now, you might say I should have given her an even better bike.  I probably would have, if I knew she'd have ridden it.  

Actually, maybe I should have given her a more unique bike.  At least, when I went to visit her and saw the bike hanging in the garage, it might have been more interesting to see something like this:

The Velocino is handmade in Italy. (Remember when Colnagos, De Rosas, and all of those racing bikes were?) According to the Abici family, who make them, the "unique artisanal bike includes a "braze welded frame with three coats of paint" as well as Michelin tires and a Brooks B17 saddle. (Maybe I could ride it after all!)  It costs $980, plus $300 to ship it to the US.  The bike "ships in 1-2 weeks".  Hmm...Maybe she won't mind a belated gift.  It does look good, after all!

06 August 2018

Oregon Handmade Show Cancelled: Will Portland Remain "Bicycle City?"

In January, I wrote about an Ohio town that was best known for the bicycle company that, from 1925 to 1953, manufactured its wares right in its center.  The Shelby Bicycle Historical Society was recently formed to commemorate the role bicycle-manufacturing played in Shelby, about 150 kilometers southwest of Cleveland.

Other communities have been defined by bicycle manufacturing.  Although Raleigh is associated with Nottingham, the center of the British bicycle industry was Birmingham, where a company bearing its name--Birmingham Small Arms, or BSA--made the most sought-after componentry in the peloton, as well as some fine racing bikes.  

Likewise, for most of the 20th Century, the nexus of France's bicycle industry was St. Etienne, a gritty industrial city about 50 kilometers from Lyon.  Many editions of the Tour de France have included a stage that began, ended or passed through the city, and a French rider winning such a stage is a point of pride for the nation.

For much of the time Birmingham and St. Etienne dominated their respective country's bicycle industries, a certain bike-maker was a major employer on the South Side of Chicago.  I am referring to Schwinn which, as Sheldon Brown pointed out, was the only American brand with even a pretense of quality during the "Dark Ages" of cycling in the US.

Chicago, Birmingham, Saint Etienne and Shelby all had their heydays as centers of bicycle (and, in the cases of Birmingham and Saint Etienne, component) making.  But, like empires, those enterprises fell.  Cheaper imports, mainly from Asia, are often blamed (less so for Shelby than the others).  But the biggest reasons for their demise are their failures to keep up with changes in demand as well as innovations.  Schwinn, like other companies, sponsored racing teams, but limited their efforts almost entirely to the US, until it was too late.  So, the Paramount line, begun in 1938, was, by the 1960s, a dinosaur (its fine craftsmanship notwithstanding) compared to racing bikes from Europe.

More recently, the US city most commonly associated with bike-making has been Portland, Oregon.  One difference, however, is that in the Rosebud City's bike-building scene has more closely paralleled its "craft" beer milieu than it has reflected trends and practices in mass-production bicycles.  During Portland's frame-building heyday, from about 2005 to 2010, it was claimed that over a hundred builders practiced their craft in a city of about 600,000 residents.  

It was during that time that the Oregon Handmade Bicycle Show began as an annual event in 2007.  Builders enthusiastically set up booths to show their creations to ever-appreciative audiences.  How much those exhibits translate into orders is, however, a topic of debate:  Many people go to "ooh" and "aah" at frames they will never be able to afford, or simply don't feel a need to order, their fine artistry not withstanding.  

Framebuilder Joseph Ahearne at the 2017 Oregon Handmade Bicycle Show

The phenomena I've described are being blamed for the cancellation of this year's show.  Some builders said it simply wasn't worth the time and money it took to, not only create and set up an exhibit, but to actually get to the show.  Portland and Oregon are more spread out than, say, San Francisco or any number of East Coast cities one can name. That means it's harder to entice people to attend when an event is scheduled to be  held in an out-of-the-way place, as this year's show was.

But other factors were chipping away at enthusiasm for the show.  One is that more people are buying bikes and equipment online.  Another, though, is the builders themselves:  Some have had to scale down their operations, move or simply leave the business altogether.  While the bicycle industry is trending larger--think bigger conglomerates selling more and more merchandise at lower prices--builders who make their frames by hand work in the opposite direction:  They sell less, and for higher prices.

What that means is that in spite of the high price tags for such frames, most builders don't get rich.  In fact, many barely make a living at all.  All it takes is a major rent increase in their workspace to put them out of business:  Building bikes requires a lot of space, and if builders are forced out of their loft or wherever they're working, they have can have a very difficult time finding a comparable amount of space for a rent they can afford.  

Especially if the city is gentrifying, as Portland is.  The things that made it so appealing--its roots as a blue-collar town, its scenery and its edgy arts and social scene--are attracting trust fund kids and other people with money.  It's more or less what happened to places like Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which is now just as expensive as Manhattan but now manages to be as much a theme park as Las Vegas but with all of the character of Davenport, Iowa.

Now, I've never been to Portland, so I can't say whether it's becoming as dispiriting as Williamsburg is to me now.  (A few years ago, I felt differently.)  But from what I'm reading, the city sorts of folks depicted in "Portlandia" are changing their careers or lifestyles, or moving out.  So are the kinds of unique and unusual businesses--including custom frame building--associated with the city?

Could it be that Portland is ceding its place as the bicycle capital of the United States?  If it is, perhaps the change was inevitable: Small, labor-intensive enterprises with niche audiences generally don't last when the real estate becomes expensive.  How many bike shops, craft beer breweries, fabric weavers or tatoo artists are on 57th Street in Manhattan?

05 August 2018

Helmet? Pads? Who Needs 'Em?

Next time you ride, make sure your front wheel is fastened good and tight:

Of course, that lesson might be lost on him.  After all, when we're kids, if we walk away from something--or, at least, we get up--we think, "It wasn't that bad!"

04 August 2018

How Many Ways Can He Say, "Everybody Else Did it?"

It was like being ready for a knife fight, but everybody had guns.

I have to admit, it's a pretty good turn of phrase.  Still, the intent of the person who uttered it is suspect, at least in my mind.

Lance Armstrong (You just knew it was him, didn't you?) was talking about embarking on his career as a professional racing cyclist.  Now, if he'd been talking about how his competition was much better than he'd imagined--something many an athlete, or person in any number of areas of endeavor, experiences upon becoming a professional--I'd've enjoyed the description.

Instead, it was a rationale for why he took drugs and did all of the other unsavory things he did en route to seven Tour de France victories.  He says, in essence, that he didn't start out with the intention of doping but soon discovered that just about everyone else in the peloton was "juicing".

Stephen Dubner, who interviewed him for the National Public Radio program "Freakonomics" asked him whether he could have won those Tours without the wonders of modern pharmacology.  "Well, it depends on the other 199 (Tour de France riders) were doing."  When Dubner pressed him further, he confessed, "Zero percent chance."

Now, Dubner admitted to his sympathies, which came through in the interview:  He was willing to give Lance the benefit of the doubt until he finally confessed.  Even then, Dubner wasn't ready to villify Lance completely:  For one thing, even the most ardent cycling fans have acknowledged, for decades, that riders were taking one thing or another to shave of seconds on a mountain climb.  Also, Dubner seems willing to cut Lance a break or two for his efforts to "move ahead."

Hear the interview here.

That's more or less how I feel.  I, too, bought into the cancer-survivor-hero narrative, and one of the high points of a 2001 tour I took through the Alps (and in which I pedaled up l'Alpe d'Huez and other Tour climbs) was leaning over the police line and snapping a photo of Lance climbing during the time trial on Chamrousse. (One day, perhaps, I will digitize and post it.) Whatever he might have ingested with his breakfast that day, his ride was awe-inspiring.

I must say, though, that something still bothers me about Lance.  At no time during the interview--or in the more than five years since he "confessed" to Oprah--did he express any sort of contrition for the careers and lives he ruined, not only through his doping, but from his threats and intimidation--which were not limited only to his rivals and teammates, but extended to their spouses and other family members.

03 August 2018

King James' Promise To Kids In His Hometown

Just after he died, I wrote about the role Muhammad Ali's bicycle played in his life. More precisely, losing his bike launched him on his path to becoming "The Greatest".  When he went to the police station to report his bicycle stolen, he exclaimed that he would "whup" the thief.  The sergeant who took his report, who just happened to be a boxing trainer on the side, suggested that the young Ali--then known as Cassius Clay--should learn how to fight before taking on bicycle thieves.

Fortunately for LeBron James, he didn't have to lose his bicycle to become "The Greatest", as he has been proclaimed, in his sport.  In fact, his bicycle got him to safe places after school in a tough Akron, Ohio neighborhood.  Among those safe places were community centers--and, yes, basketball courts.  The exercise he got along the way certainly helped keep him in condition to play basketball.

Although he continues to cycle, by choice, in those days he rode because his poor family didn't have a car.  He recognizes that some kids today are in situations similar to the one in which he grew up.

That is why he teamed up with the school board in his hometown to start the I Promise School for at-risk kids, whether their struggles are at home, in school or elsewhere.  The school offers a variety of services to meet the students' needs.  It also gives each kid a bike and helmet, as well as instruction in bike safety.  In addition, I Promise School has made arrangements with two local bike shops for repairs and maintenance.

Maybe one of those kids will grow up to be "The Greatest"--whether in a sport, or in some other  endeavor.

02 August 2018

Once Again, A Bike Lane Isn't Enough

Sometimes you hear bad news and it's far away.  Other times, it hits close--too close--to home.

Bushwick, Brooklyn is just a few kilometers from my apartment.  As it's between Williamsburg, Brooklyn and Ridgewood, Queens, I frequently cycle its mostly narrow streets.  Friends of mine live in or near it.  And, when I was writing for a local newspaper, my work frequently took me there.

While most of those streets are relatively quiet, they see more than their fair share of trucks, as the residential streets are hemmed in by a heavy industrial area.  And, of course, the sanitation trucks have to make their rounds. Because those streets are narrow, there isn't much room for anything else when a truck rumbles through.  A couple of those streets--like one I'll mention in a moment--have bike lanes.  But they provide little, if any, margin of safety in the conditions I've described.

Now, I don't think truck drivers are any more hazardous than drivers of other vehicles.  If anything, I find them to be more conscientious because their livelihoods depend on their safety records.  I know this because relatives and friends of mine have driven trucks for a living.  One--my grandfather--drove for the New York City Sanitation Department.

I also know that it's entirely possible to run something over without realizing it, especially at night.  It's hard to tell whether that "thump" you felt--if indeed you felt it--is a pothole, or an inanimate or animate object.  Or a person, on foot or on a bike.

That's why I can understand why the driver of a sanitation truck didn't stop around 8:30 last night, on Evergreen Avenue near Menahan Street, in the neighborhood.  There, at that time, a 25-year-old woman was struck by that truck.

Of course, I am not trying to minimize the plight of that woman.  The latest report says she's in "critical but stable" condition, with a broken clavicle and an open wound on her right arm.  I hope she recovers quickly and well.  

I also don't want to vilify the driver or the passenger of that truck.  Inside the cab of their truck, they were a couple of meters above street level, so even if they knew they'd hit something or someone, they wouldn't have had any idea of who or what it was.  They claim not have known they hit anyone or anything, and unless the investigation proves otherwise, I believe them.

I also believe--no, I know--that safety must be improved.  There is a lane on the street where that woman was struck. (I know: I've ridden it.)  But, as I've said in other posts, bike (and pedestrian) lanes, by themselves, don't constitute "bicycle friendliness".

01 August 2018

Terrorists Attack Cyclists In Tajikistan

When I was a student, I often worked the "lobster shift".  This meant riding my bike home in the wee hours of morning through a couple of dangerous neighborhoods.  

Friends and family members worried about my safety. I didn't. Feigning bravado, I'd say, "I can pedal faster than trouble."

That actually was true.  It still is--well, most of the time.  But back then, in my youthful stupidity, I thought no harm could come my way when I was in the saddle.

If I still had such a belief, it would have been shattered last Halloween, when terrorists plowed a pickup truck into a crowd of cyclists on the Hudson River Greenway, near the World Trade Center.  That hit close to home for me, as I have ridden that lane many times.  Even if the site weren't so familiar to me, I think I would have felt more vulnerable after such a horrible attack.

I was reminded of it yesterday, when I heard news reports of a similar attack in Tajikistan.  As in the Manhattan attack, the driver in the Central Asian republic claimed to be acting in the name of Allah.  

 A woman helps a cyclist wounded in the Tajikistan attack on Sunday.  AP photo by Zuly Rahmatova

But there was a further, even more gruesome twist:  In Tajikistan, after the car rammed the cyclists, the driver and passengers poured out and attacked the cyclists with knives.  

The result:  four dead cyclists. Two were American, one Dutch and the other Swiss.  In a way, it parallels the carnage in New York last fall, when all of the victims were foreign tourists--who, like those who died in Tajikistan, almost surely had no inkling of the terrible fate that would befall them.

31 July 2018

Back To A Familiar Light

Yesterday I pedaled the 140 km to and from my apartment and Greenwich, Connecticut.  Although it's the longest ride I've done in three weeks, it actually seemed almost easy, even when I was climbing the ridge at the state line.  

One reason for that, of course, is that I was riding one of my own bikes:  Dee Lilah, my new Mercian Vincitore Special.  Plus, although the day was warm, it wasn't nearly as hot--or humid--as what I experienced in Cambodia and Laos.  

Even more to the point, the sun was much less intense.  I didn't think of it until I got to Greenwich and sat in the Common, by the Veterans' memorial.  Normally, I wear sunglasses any time I'm outdoors:  something my opthamologist recommends.  But, as I was sitting on that bench in the Common, I took off my shades.  The green of the leaves, and the pinks, purples, yellows, oranges and other hues of the flowers seemed soft, almost cool.

Not only did I have to remind myself to wear my shades, I also had to remember to put on some sunscreen.  Even when it was overcast, I could feel the sun's heat and radiation on my skin.  So I didn't forget to massage myself with protective lotion, or to wear my broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses.  Even so, at the end of the day, I would feel the kind of tiredness I experience after spending time in the sun--say, at the beach or after a bike ride.  Then again, I spent much of my time outdoors, looking at temple sites and landscapes.

I now realize that yesterday and the day before, I was experiencing, more or less, what I experienced when I've gone to France or northern Europe in the summer:  longer hours of softer light.  I believe, though, the difference is even greater between here and Southeast Asia than between here and Europe.

In any event, I enjoyed the ride, as I almost always do.  And it is nice to be my age and not feel tired after a 140 km ride!

30 July 2018

To The Reservoir

You come back from a trip like none you took before.  You wish you were still on it.  So what do you do?

Well, heading back to Cambodia and Laos right now isn't very feasible, at least not at this moment.  I am determined, however, to return.

So what to do in the meantime?  Well, I can take other shorter, less exotic journeys.  That's an especially good strategy when you go to someplace that, though near, you've never visited before.

That's what I did yesterday, with Bill and his girlfriend Cindy.  We went to Croton Gorge Park, about 75 kilometers from my apartment.  

Now, you don't go to a place like that for cultural experiences,  or exotic architecture or natural scenery.  You go for the same reason city folk like us were there on a nearly-perfect summer day:  It's a pleasant way to spend a weekend day.

From the main parking lot, you can ride a dirt-and-gravel trail up the hill to the aqueduct.  A lot of people think you "need" a mountain bike, but I had no trouble with it while pedaling Arielle, my Mercian Audax, shod with 700 X 28C Continental Gatorskin tires.  Bill didn't have any problem, either, on his Trek road bike.  Cindy rode a Fuji Sagres with Pasela 700 X 28 tires; she slowed down in a couple of spots only because of her inexperience in riding in such conditions.

At the aqueduct, there is a beautiful road--which, at times, turns into a wide hard-packed trail--that more or less follows the shoreline of the "lake".  Part of the road has "lake" in its name; indeed, many people refer to the reservoir as a lake because it's easy to forget that it's a manmade body of water.

The "falls" under the aqueduct were designed to stream the water, by gravity, to Manhattan.  Built between 1837 and 1842, it's believed to be the first municipal water system of its type in the United States.  At that time, most New Yorkers got their water from wells and springs, almost all of which have been filled in.  (Chances are, if a New York street name has "Brook", "River" or some other body of water in its name, it probably was just that.)  By the time the Croton system was being built, most of those water sources were already tainted, and people made the water palatable--if not safe--by adding spirits to it. (An early emphasis of the temperance movement was the provision of fresh water to the poor.) Not surprisingly, New York had rates of cholera and other water-borne diseases on par with those of places like Bombay (Mumbai).

Anyway, a short ride along New York State Road 129 took us to something called the North Country Trail, of which we rode part.  We weren't surprised to see many other cyclists, as well as hikers, along the way.  

We've made plans to go back.  I'd really like to ride the area in the fall.  

(Bill took the photos of me and Cindy; I took the others.)

29 July 2018

Can They Carry Stuff On A "Muscle" Bike?

When I was a kid, "muscle bikes" became popular.  They were meant to emulate "muscle cars" like the 1967-74 era Chevy Camaro RS, Ford Mustang Mach 1 and Dodge Challenger SE or racing motorcycles.  Mainly, what bicycles like the ones from the Raleigh Chopper and Schwinn Krate series had in common with those machines were flashy graphics and stick shifters.  

One difference is that the "muscle cars" were designed to appeal to their drivers' desire to feel more powerful and virile (They didn't have Viagra in those days!), while the placement of the "stick" shifter on the bicycle imitators seemed chosen specifically to decrease the fertility rate of a generation of young boys.

Many an adult expressed umbrage at those bikes, mainly because they were garish rather than for dangers like the "stick" shifters. (Those same adults almost always expressed concern for their kids' safety!)  I think the best reason to disapprove of those bikes, though, was that they taught kids that their bikes were just "stepping stones" to the "bigger and better" machines they would drive when they became of age.

One thing I can say about them, though, is that kids usually enjoyed them:  There was no pretense to practicality about them.  Which begs the question (for me, anyway):  Can a kids' bike be whimsical and practical at the same time?

28 July 2018

How Much Will It Cost?

How much is that bike-ee in the window?

You've heard the saying, "If you have to ask what it costs, you can't afford it."  Well, somehow I don't think someone in San Diego asked "how much?" about the Moots in the Adams Avenue Bicycles window.  Maybe he already knew its price--or had an idea of what it was worth.  

That probably explains why he pried the bars off the window and smashed the glass.

By the way, the price tag on that bike was $8639.99.  The thief left it behind--along with the image on the store's surveillance camera.

I'd be interested to see what it costs him--if and when he's caught.

27 July 2018

How Old Is That Bike?

While in Cambodia and Laos, I visited temples lorded over by statues of Buddha and decorated with carvings of Hindu deities, natural and mythical animals, dancers and other people engaged in tasks as well as celebrations.

(About the dancers:  Since those carvings are centuries old, many are worn in spots, if not wholly.  A guide told me that much of that wear is caused by visitors' touches.  That made sense when I saw that on some of the dancers, a particular body part--a pair, actually--suffered the most erosion.  As Stuart, who accompanied me on the Grasshopper tour, said, "Stones don't lie.")

What I didn't see, though, were depictions of cyclists.  Of course, I wasn't expecting to see them:  Bicycles, at least as most of us would define them, have been around for a century and a half; the temples have stood for centuries, and even a milennia, longer than that.  

So how is it that a carving of a bicycle was found in the Panchavarnaswamy Temple, built over 1300 years ago in India?

At least, that's what Praveen Mohan, host of the "Phenomenal Travel Videos" Youtube channel, claims to have found. 

Of course, he's not the first person to find an anachronistic depiction of technology:  Sometimes I think one of the reasons why Shakespeare's Julius Caesar isn't taught or performed more often (I confess:  I've never taught it!) is that none of us wants to deal with a smart-aleck student who wonders aloud, "What's a clock doing in this play?"  It's hard to answer that one without sounding like, well, an English teacher.  

(Then again, almost no one ever notices the discrepancy of Hamlet going to study at the University of Halle-Wittenberg, which didn't open its doors until three centuries after the time in which the play is set!)

We all know that Shakespeare is allowed to do things like that because of poetic license or dramatic license or because, well, he's Shakespeare and we're not.  But how does one explain an image of a bicycle in a temple built more than a milennium ago?

Since Mohan made his claim, some have tried to discredit it by saying that the temple is really only a century old.  Such is a possibility when you realize that many temples and cathedrals are not, in fact, "original".  As an example, St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican was built during the 16th Century.  At least, the one standing today dates from that time.  Other structures bearing the same name, however, have stood on that site at least since the 4th Century CE.

So, it could be that the current Panchavarnaswamy Temple is not the "origninal" or first built on the site.  Almost nobody with any knowledge of it, however, believes that this is the case:  It's generally agreed that the temple dates to the 7th Century CE or thereabouts.  

The more logical explanation is that the bicycle depiction was added during a renovation.  According to records, one took place early in the 20th Century, when the bicycle was a common mode of transportation in India as well as its colonial overlord, England. 

That explanation makes sense when you realize that "modern touches" are often added to renovations of ancient sites.  For example, a photo of an "ancient astronaut" on the wall of a medieval Spanish cathedral has circulated for years.  But even Erich von Daniken would have trouble believing that someone in the 12th Century would have depicted something that looks like a modern space explorer.  That "ancient astronaut" was most likely an astronaut:  The image was added during a 1990s renovation.