Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

17 December 2018

On Diet Floats And Hauling Trees

I used to know...all right, I dated...well, umm I...

Well, whatever my relationship to this person (I'll leave it up to your imagination), I remember her mainly for the way she kept her shape.  Or, more precisely,  she claimed that a dietary practice (along with consensual aerobic activity) maintained her fine form. 

So, what was her culinary custom?  Well, she drank Coke floats.  With supper.  With lunch.  Sometimes with breakfast.  And almost every time in between.

Now, you might be wondering how she kept her fine form with a regimen like that--especially when you consider that she made them with Haagen-Dazs, the richest, fattiest and most calorie-laden ice cream available at that time.   Her secret, she claimed, was that she used Tab--the "diet" version of Coke before there was Diet Coke.

She said that she was "making up" for all of the calories in the ice cream plopping scoops of it into a drink that had no nutritional value--not even empty calories--whatsoever.

To be fair, I should also point out that she really didn't eat a lot of sweets.  Perhaps she could have maintained her sinuous silhouette even if she'd mad her floats from regular Coke.  At least she didn't follow another practice of "dieters" at that time:  ingesting "salads" made from pieces of canned fruit encased in Jell-O, sometimes topped with Kool-Whip or Reddi-Whip.  I am not a religious person, but I think a good working definition of "sin" is taking a natural food, stripping it of its nutritional value and fresh taste, and encasing it in something that looks and tastes like half-cooled plastic in much the same way animals were stripped of whatever made them alive when they were encased in amber.

I must say that I at least had respect for that old, er, acquaintance of mine for not letting one of those abominations pass through her lips.  In comparison, her "diet" floats were at least more palatable.  And the logic behind them made more sense, even if they didn't make sense in an absolute sense. (What did I just say?)

So why am I talking about a beverage (or dessert, depending on your point of view) preference of someone I haven't seen or talked to in decades?

Well, some of you, I am sure, are more diet-conscious than I am. (Actually, most of you probably are.) But, more to the point, something I saw today reminded me of the "logic" behind her "diet" float.

Here it is:

The photo accompanied an article on Canadian Cycling's website.  Said article opens with this:

Transporting a Christmas tree isn't the most straightforward endeavour.  With a car, it often involves ropes, bungee cords and a lot of pine needles to clean up.  Then, when you start moving, the fear that it may fall off the roof.  While there's still some creativity and preparation required to transport a conifer by bike, there's no doubt it's more fun and fulfilling.

Now, I don't doubt that "creativity" and "preparation" are needed to haul a Christmas tree on your bike. I've carried pieces of furniture while riding, so I understand.  I also wouldn't disagree that it's more "fun" and "fulfilling".  Even if I win a Nobel Prize for my writing (or anything), I don't think it would give me the same satisfaction as knowing that I once moved myself and everything I owned from one apartment to another, in another part of town, by bicycle.  

People have all sorts of reasons for doing things by bike, without a car.  For some, poverty is one. But others do it by choice--whether for exercise, or to save money or do something that's socially and environmentally responsible.  Actually, I think that most people who cycle by choice to work or school, or on errands, count environmental and social consciousness as one of their most important reasons for doing so.  

That said, I can think of few things less conscious, and simply more wasteful, than chopping down a tree that will be tossed away in a few weeks.  That is, of course, the fate of most Christmas trees.  Even if, at the end of the holiday season, the tree is cut or shredded for other uses, I have to wonder whether there wasn't a way the tree could have been more beneficial to the planet.  

Hmm...I wonder whether those folks who bring home their Christmas trees on their bikes are also drinking Coke floats made with diet soda--or fat-free ice cream.

16 December 2018

Why I Ride Brooks Saddles

If you know how much a person rides and has ridden, and what sort of conditions he or she likes, it's fairly easy to make equipment recommendations.  Now, some cyclists might prefer one brand over another--say, Continental or Michelin or Panaracer tires--but it's not hard to tell someone what type of tires or gearing, or even bike, would be best for his or her riding.

Saddles, though, are another story.   Lots of internet bandwidth is wasted in arguments about which saddle is "best" or even "right."  For every cyclist who loves a particular saddle, there is at least one other who despises it.  Now, I can tell you that accounts of how long it takes to break in a Brooks saddle are, for the most part, exaggerated.  But even if you and your riding partners agree that tensioned-leather saddles are the best, you won't all agree on which model is the best. (The B17?  The Pro?  An Ideale?)

I believe, though, that I may have just found a way to test saddles.

More precisely, when a task is difficult...outsource it!  What else are pets for?

(My apologies to Marlee.)

15 December 2018

She Couldn't Run Far Enough

Too often, drivers get away with murder on cyclists.

I mean that literally.  I have heard and read of too many cases in which a driver who was intoxicated, distracted, malicious or just plain careless rand down someone on a bicycle and never faced any sort of consequence.

Too often, cyclists are seen as folks who "just won't grow up and drive".  Or we're poor, which is just as much of a crime as anything else in a capitalist society.

Either way, authorities think we're inconsequential--or that we "had it coming" to us.

Now, there have been exceptions, and I've reported on a few.  In particular, I am thinking of the arrest, prosecution and sentencing of Charles Pickett Jr., who mowed down five cyclists near Kalamazoo, Michigan two and a half years ago.  He was given a 40-to-75-year prison sentence, with no possiblity of early release.  Given that he had already served two years when he was sentenced, he has another 37-1/2 years to go--which means he won't be eligible for parole until he's 90.

Today I learned of another example of diligence by law enforcement officials in pursuit of a motorist who killed a cyclist.  I must say, the officials involved in this case went well beyond those involved in any other incident of which I'm aware.

Augustin Rodriguez Jr.

In January 2017, Augustin Rodriguez was pedaling to work in Whittier, California.  He wouldn't make it:  a white Lexus plowed into him from behind.

After hitting Rodriguez, that driver "slowed down briefly and then sped up," dragging him several hundred feet under the car, according to FBI documents.  Then the driver fled.

Fifteen minutes later, medics declared Rodriguez dead at the scene.

 A week after that, an anonymous caller pointed Whittier police in the direction of that Lexus' driver:  one Andrea Dorothy Chan Reyes.  She, too, was on her way to work--and running late.   Then she kept on running.

Andrea Dorothy Chan Reyes

She was identified as the driver after employees at a local body shop confirmed that they did front-end work and replaced a broken windshield for Chan Reyes, who claimed that she struck a deer.

Police then searched for the Lexus, which was nowhere to be found--until a string of clues led investigators a month later to Idaho, where the vehicle was found in a garage of a business associate of Chan Reyes.  DNA testing confirmed that the car was indeed the one she drove when she mowed down Rodriguez.

But now Chan Reyes was nowhere to be found.  Five days after the crash, she high-tailed it to Hong Kong, where she has family. Over the next year, she hopscotched between Asia and Australia, using as many as 11 different aliases.

Finally, in April of this year, she was tracked down to Adelaide, Australia, where local police honored a provisional request from the US government and arrested Chan Reyes at the home of her new boyfriend.  She has been in an Australian prison ever since.  

Later this month, a court will rule on her bail request. The expectation is that she will be denied and extradited back to the US, where she would face multiple felony charges.

Whittier police spokesperson John Scoggins would not comment on the case except to say that his department was determined to bring an alleged hit-and-run driver to justice, no matter how far or how long she ran.

I commend his dedication.  I must, however, criticize his choice of one particular word.  To be fair, most people in his circumstances would have used it:  justice.  In a case like this, justice is simply not possible, for justice--whatever it is--cannot bring back a life.  Nor can it "balance the scales" for someone's disregard for said life.   There simply is no justice when one person takes the life of another, in whatever fashion.

The only good outcome in this case--or any like it--is that the authorities take it seriously.  That is to say, they treated it as what it is--one person killing another through negligence or disdain.

14 December 2018

This Isn't Why They Bought Their Volvos

Why don't I want to spend five figures (even if I could afford to) on a carbon fiber bike?

I'll give you the same answer that many other longtime bicycle enthusiasts would give:  It's plastic!

All right, I know it's not as simple as that.  Carbon fiber tubing consists of carbon strands molded together with resin, i.e., plastic.  As such, it's stronger than plastic alone, though I still have to wonder just how much use--or abuse--a CF frame can take.

Also, I came into cycling when it was touted as environmentally conscious and friendly.  Making carbon fiber is certainly neither:  Like all plastics, it's made from fossil fuels.  And, if crashed or otherwise broken, it will sit in landfills longer than a trashed steel or even aluminum frame will.

To be fair, though, CF is an advancement over regular plastic.  That (at least to my knowledge) no one has tried to make a plastic bike in at least three decades is testament to that fact.

My becoming a dedicated cyclist more or less coincided with the '70's North American Bike Boom.  That is when large numbers of Americans discovered bikes with derailleurs.  Even the cheapest and heaviest of them were lighter than the balloon-tired bombers or even the three-speed "English racers" most people had grown up with.  

Those ten-speeds not only showed Americans that there were lighter bikes than the ones they rode when they were kids; they also gave people (some, anyway) that bikes could be lighter.  Also, I think that racers of that time started to obsess about weight in ways their predecessors didn't because they felt that they couldn't refine (at least for the purposes of cycling) their bodies much further than they already had.  

This was also at a time before "scientific" training became the norm:  At that time, most racers were still following regimens that their grandfathers followed.  As an example, on the morning he set the new hour record in 1972, Eddy Mercx's consisted of ham, cheese and toast.  No racer would consume such a pre-ride meal today.  Nor would he or she smoke: a practice that was common among earlier generations of riders because it was said to expand the lungs.

So, in the early-to-mid-1970s, the general cycling public and elite racers shared a passion that at times bordered on fanaticism about light weight.  That is when "drillium" became popular, and Huret produced its "Jubilee" derailleur, which is likely still the lightest production derailleur ever made.

That fanaticism is one factor that led to attempts to make all-plastic bicycles.  Another factor was, I'm sure, cost.  But lightness and durability would be the selling points of a plastic bicycle.  At least, that's how people who designed them sold their idea to investors.

I recall one such attempt.  I never actually saw one of the bicycles, but I saw the ads in Bicycling! and Popular Science magazines.  Everything--with the exception of the chain, hubs and spokes--on bikes made by "The Original Plastic Bike Inc." was said to be made of injection-molded Lexan.  Not many of them were produced, and no one knows whether anyone bought any of them.

A few people bought a later attempt at a plastic bicycle--but not nearly as many as such bikes were produced.  Those bikes were sold, unassembled, in boxes, with tools and instructions for assembly.  Still, some of the people who bought those bikes never got them running, either because they got frustrated or because some of the necessary parts weren't included.

If those bikes sound like home furnishings from a well-known chain, there's a good reason:  Those bikes were sold by Ikea in the early 1980s, when the chain was still all but unknown outside of Northern Europe.  In one of its most egregious failures, the company was stuck with thousands of bikes that didn't sell.  Worse yet, a high percentage of the ones that did sell were returned because parts (or even frames) broke and replacement parts weren't available:  almost nothing on metal bikes was compatible with the Itera, as the plastic bike was called.

Itera bicycle, circa 1981

In another irony, another iconic Swedish firm was involved with the Itera.  Volvo wasn't looking to become a bike manufacturer.  But it was interested in making mini-cars, and was looking for ways to make parts smaller and lighter.  Designers and engineers at the company came to the conclusion that their best hope was with plastic.  So, somebody at Volvo decided that it would be best to make other products out of plastics to test their durability.  One of those products was the bicycle that became the Itera.

Itera racing model.  An Ofmega "Maglia Rosa" rear derailleur would be just perfect on this bike, don't you think?

In yet another twist to this story, most of the unsold Iteras that piled up in Ikea warehouses went to the Caribbean, where rust is a problem.   That makes for a further irony, in that Volvo is known in the region less for its cars than its boats and marine engines.

But perhaps the most ironic part of this whole story is that Volvo was, to a large degree, responsible for one of the most brittle and fragile bikes ever made.  Nearly everyone I've met who has owned or even just driven a Volvo car or truck touts its durability and reliability.  Probably none of them ever bought or rode an Itera.  I wonder, though, whether they ever managed to assemble anything they bought in Ikea.

But, if they're curious, they can check out eBay:  Believe it or not, I just saw an Itera listed!

13 December 2018

A Bicycle Mayor And An American In Denial

The United States is the most technologically advanced nation in the history of the world.  Aspiring scientists come here for training and research opportunities that far exceed those of any other country. 

Yet we have a President who, essentially, says those scientists don't know what they're talking about.  Of the recent report on global warming, which he claims to have read, he says, "I don't believe it."

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that my native country would elect such a person:  After all, we have more people--and a larger percentage of our population--who deny evolution, insist that the Book of Genesis tells the literal truth of our origins, assert that the Earth is 6000 years old and even believe that there were dinosaurs on Noah's Ark--than any other "advanced" country!

I suppose that something else shouldn't surprise me:  Wells Griffith, El Cheeto Grande's "adviser" on energy and climate, stood before an audience in Katowice, Poland and touted fossil fuels as the solution to our problems.

Now, Poland still burns a lot of coal, basically for the same reasons other countries use it:  It's cheap, and they have a lot of it.  But even there, as in other European countries, there is a consensus among leaders and everyday citizens that such a practice can't continue if, well, they want to have Katowice, Poland or this planet for themselves, their children or their grandchildren.

What also makes Griffith's pronouncement particularly tone-deaf (I guess I can't fault him for losing his hearing when he works for the shrillest President we've ever had!)  is that in Katowice, a summit dubbed "Paris 2.0" was in session.  And he audience he addressed was part of it.

That conference is a follow-up to the Paris Climate Agreement of three years ago.  Our previous President, Barack Obama, was one of the leaders in the effort to get nations all over the world to agree to reduce their emissions dramatically.  Most of the other signatories to the Paris agreement are still on board with it. But now we have a President who wants nothing more than to build a wall--as if it would keep out people who want to come to this country any more than it would keep countries and people--including citizens of the country he wants to seal off--from bringing environmentally sound practices into their homes, workplaces and other aspects of their lives.

Grzegorz Mikrut

Oh, and while he's cycling through advisers and cabinet ministers (Maybe that's why the unemployment rate is so low:  Look at all the vacancies he's created!), Katowice appointed someone to an office that exists in cities like Amsterdam, Sydney and Sao Paolo.  Meet Grzegorz Mikrut, the Bicycle Mayor of Katowice. 

Anna Luten of Amsterdam, the world's first "Bicycle Mayor"

Fitting, isn't it?, that he should assume this post just as a representative of the US is channeling his boss's denial of science--and common sense.

12 December 2018

The Season Catches Up As I Race Daylight

The semester is ending and final exams are beginning. That left me with a "gap" yesterday.  So, of course, I went for a ride.

I don't mind cold weather, though I notice I have to be more careful when the temperature drops:  Muscles stiffen and puddles glaze with icy crusts.  At least there wasn't much wind, and a light show of sun and clouds drifted across the sky.

We are ten days away from the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. So, yesterday, we had only a few more minutes of daylight than we'll have on that day.  At this time of the year, we have about nine hours of daylight and, after I did the things I had to do, I had less than six hours left. 

Of course, I could have ridden after dark:  I often do just that on my commutes home.  Still, I prefer to stick to daylight whenever possible.  I would try to get myself home by sundown, but if I went a little bit later, that would have been fine.

Which I did, though not by much--and not for the reasons I anticipated.  Near the end of the ride--about 12 kilometers from home--my front tire started losing air. I was making a turn from Home Street (ironic, isn't it?) onto Fox Street in the Bronx when something seemed a bit off-balance.  I thought perhaps I'd run over something, or that maybe I was just getting tired.  But when I made my next turn, onto Southern Boulevard, I noticed that something definitely wasn't right.  A few blocks down, near 149th Street, I realized that my tire was indeed losing pressure. 

Slow-leak flats are often more difficult to deal with because the source of the leak isn't always obvious.  I didn't want to go to the trouble of locating a puncture or, worse, miss some small shard of something in the tire casing that would cause another flat if I were to patch or replace the tube.  

I was also near a subway stop and, although it wasn't dark, I could see the night approaching.

Plus, I had already ridden about 130 kilometers by that time, so I figured I'd had a decent afternoon's ride. Actually, it was more than decent:  I'd made it to Connecticut and pedaled up a few hills along the way.

One thing I must say, though:  I realized that I couldn't call it a "late fall" ride.  The bareness of the trees, and the light, definitely painted an early picture of winter:

11 December 2018

His Reward For Helping Others Ride

Yesterday, I complained about boneheaded planners and inconsiderate (or just clueless) drivers.  So, dear readers, I figured I'd give you a feel-good story today.

Owen Werner's mother is justly proud of him.  The 11-year-old from Elk Rapids, Michigan learned that a man in nearby Kalkaska modifies bicycles for special-needs and low-income kids.  So, Werner started a fundraiser in his school to help the man's work--and get those bikes to disabled and poor kids.

His efforts paid off, in the way he hoped--and in a way he didn't expect.

You see, Owen is one of the kids he was trying to help--although he wasn't thinking of himself when he started the fundraiser.  But, apparently, someone else noticed--specifically, the owners of McLain Cycle and Fitness.  They gave him a specially-modified bike for his needs:  He has a condition that's kept his muscles and joints from developing normally.

Owen Werner

In watching the video of him, I couldn't help but to remember someone I knew in high school.  He walked and moved in a way similar to how Owen gets around.  But he had the misfortune of growing up in a place and time where it was believed that kids with similar handicaps were incapable of any sort of physical activity.  He was even left back a year because, in spite of having an otherwise-perfect academic record, he didn't pass Phys Ed.  

Fortunately for him, he was extremely (almost frighteningly) smart and talented in all sorts of other ways.  I have to wonder, though, what his life would have been like had he grown up now--or simply in some place with more forward-thinking people than my high school had in the mid-1970s.  

Seeing Owen Werner also reminded me of something that I see in my work and everyday life:  How often physical disability and poverty go hand-in-hand.  If you go to any public housing complex, you will find disproportionate numbers of people, young and old, in wheelchairs and walkers, or who need other kinds of physical assistance.  At number of them are, and have been, my students and have spent all or parts of their lives in "the projects".  

There are, of course, several reasons for that. One is that the physical disability of a child can impoverish a family.  Another is that disabled people, in spite of all of the technological and social advances of the past few decades, have much more difficulty finding employment, let alone anything that pays well.  Moreover, a kid from a low-income background--or an adult who has trouble getting a job with a good insurance plan--might not get treatment that could keep a low-grade malady from turning into a crippling disability.

On a more positive note, I also couldn't help but to think of how versatile cycling is.  Someone, I forget who, said that a bicycle (or tricycle) can be adapted to just about any physical disability besides blindness or deafness.  And, of course, deaf and blind people can ride a tandem with a sighted or hearing "captain." (I know:  I played that role on a few rides with blind riders.)

Somehow, though, I don't think anything is going to stop Owen from doing whatever he wants.  Aleasha Witt, his mother, has every reason to be proud.

10 December 2018

Looking To Albuquerque

I know that what I'm about to say doesn't take a PhD to understand because, well, I don't have a PhD!

Here goes:

A parking lane is a place for vehicles to park.  It is not a place to drive.

A vehicle lane is a place to operate vehicles. It is not a place to park.

A bicycle is a vehicle. 

Therefore, a bicycle lane is not a place to park.

That, essentially, is the straightforward argument set out in an article D'val Westphal wrote for the Albuquerque Journal.

Members of the Albuquerque City Council understand that argument.  In fact, they have even made an ordinance, which will go into effect on the 19th of this month, based on it.  Better yet, for those of us who don't like to (or can't) read legalese, they've made a graphic of it, with captions in both English and Spanish.

Thank you, Albuquerque City Council and D'val Westphal.

Now we have to get folks in other cities to codify--and enforce--such rules.  If they need guidance, they can listen to this cheesy pop song from my pubescence:

09 December 2018

The Migratory Patterns Of North American Cyclists?

When I was working at Highland Park Cyclery, a customer said he was going to start pedaling from New Jersey in October and arrive in Florida--where he had family--around Thanksgiving.   After that, he said, he would spend the winter there and start pedaling north in April.

I don't know whether he actually followed through with his plan.  And I hadn't thought of him in a long time, until I saw this:

Is the bear pedaling to the place where he or she will hibernate this winter?

08 December 2018

I'd Join Their Club If...

Most bicycle clubs I've seen have just one requirement for membership:  Pay your dues.  That sounds worse than it actually is.  Let's say you're in such a club and something comes up in your life that keeps you from riding with the club for, say, a few months.  Well, if you can keep up your membership, at least you can stay in touch with fellow riders--and partake of whatever benefits the club might offer, such as discounts at local bike shops.

Then there are clubs that have other requirements for membership, such as age or gender.  Others--usually racing clubs--want riders who can keep up with everybody else in the group.  

Sometimes these bars to entry are placed to keep the club focused, whether by interest or simply people's level of comfort with one or another.  I've heard of a few clubs that simply want to stay small (or, at least, no bigger than X number of riders) for whatever purpose(s).

But there is one cycling club in London that limits its size for a possibly unique reason, which has to do with its name.

The Pickwick Bicycle Club, founded in 1870, is said to be the oldest continuously-operating bicycle club in the world.  In following a custom that was fairly common in England at the time, the Pickwick wasn't just a group of cyclists; it was also a sort of literary club.  Specifically, its members were dedicated to a particular work by a writer who died in the same month the club held its first luncheon.

The club's name is "Pickwick", as in "Papers".  Because he died just as the club started--a year after the velocipede appeared in London--Charles Dickens probably didn't ride a bicycle.  Characters in the "Pickwick Papers", or any other Dickens story, didn't, either.  At the time the club held its first rides, however, he was at the peak of his popularity:  Clubs and other organizations existed solely for the purpose of public or group readings of his works.  And, it just happened that the sorts of people drawn to those groups--mainly middle-to-upper-class city dwellers--were also the same sorts of people who took up the then-new sport of cycling.

Pickwick Bicycle Club riders at Hampton Court, 1877

The Pickwick Club's membership has always been limited to about 200.  If you want to join, they won't quiz you on the PP or any other Dickens work.  It does, however, take a certain amount of knowledge of the Dickens oeuvre to pull off something the club requires:  that you become one of the novel's characters.  At least, in club circles, you have to be known by that character's name.

As you can tell by the number of club members, there were a lot of characters--mostly peripheral, but in the book nonetheless.  That is because Pickwick Papers was originally a serial that was later assembled into a book.  Every novel, however--even one as sprawling as War and Peace or Les Miserables--has a finite number of characters.  So, even at 200 members, Pickwick is a fraction of the size of other clubs I've seen, and of which I've been a part.

Can you imagine if bicycle clubs today limited their memberships to the number of characters in a novel--or a TV show or movie?  I must admit that, even though I didn't like Batman Forever, I would join any cycling club--hey, any club at all--that would allow me to be Dr. Chase Meridian, even if I wouldn't look as good doing it as Nicole Kidman did!

P.S. Even if I were a famous racer or writer, or someone influential in the cycling industry, I couldn't join The Pickwick Club:  It's still a men-only affair!

07 December 2018

What Fits In The Box?

Why should we encourage people to give up their steering wheels for handlebars?  Here is one possible answer:

You have a box, and it holds only so much, and once it gets beyond that--then you start to have problems.

The "box" to which economic development specialist Einar Tangen was referring is a city--in this case, Beijing.  But he could have been describing just about any old European or Asian capital--or a few US cities like New York, Boston and San Francisco.

Tangen was describing a reality of the Chinese capital:  It simply wasn't designed for 22 million people--or, even more to the point (for the purposes of this blog, anyway), 5 million cars.  To put that in perspective, Beijing has almost two and a half times as many people, and cars, as New York City.  

From what I've read, I don't think anyone even began to realize Beijing's limits until, maybe, two decades ago.  That is when industrialization--and, with it, migrations from the countryside to the cities--accelerated.  

Beijing traffic jam,  1975

In 1995, Beijing and New York had roughly the same population--around 8 million.  Commuters and visitors to New York--especially the central areas of Manhattan--complained about traffic jams.  Driving from the Hudson to the East River along 14th Street--a distance of about 4 kilometers, or 2.5 miles--could, and can, take as much as 45 minutes, while a bus ride along the same route might cost an hour.  Meanwhile, even if a Beijing cyclist encountered a traffic jam, it would mean that the road was clogged with other bikes, not cars.  That cyclist could pedal the same distance in half as much time as it took transverse Manhattan.

Today, both cities contend with traffic jams.  Starting in the early 2000s, the ones in the Big Apple started to ease up a bit, at least for a decade or so.  But since 2015 or thereabouts, motor traffic is on the rise once again, in spite of Uber's boast that its services would take a million cars off this city's streets.  Uber and similar services, unbound from many of the regulations that govern New York's taxis and limousines, put thousands of new for-hire drivers on the city's streets.  Also, Amazon and other online shopping services began to offer free shipping for very small orders (Previously, most had a minimum number of items or dollar amount for no-charge shipping), which meant more deliveries, nearly all of which come in trucks.

Beijing's traffic jams, on the other hand, now have the same composition of the ones in most other major cities:  cars and trucks--but especially cars, in Beijing's case. 

Beijing traffic jam, 2015

New York, Beijing and other cities are facing or denying this reality:  They simply can't shoehorn any more motor vehicles onto their streets.  If anything, those places, and others, should encourge bicycling--but make it truly safe and convenient for people going to and from work, not merely a way for the affluent to stretch when they get bored with the gym.

As Einar Tangen said, each of these cities is a box that's already holding more than it was designed to hold.  To keep that box from bursting, planners need to start thinking out of the (auto-centric) box.

06 December 2018

Cyclists Are Good For Business. But How?

Is bike-friendliness good for business?

Two researchers at Portland State University are trying to answer that question.

More precisely, Jenny Liu, an assistant professor at the University's Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning, and Jennifer Dill, director of a research institute at the University, are leading a study of how street improvement for bicycle and pedestrian mobility affects retailers and other businesses.

The first phase of the study, which explores data sources and methodologies, will include Portland, San Francisco and Denver.  A second phase will include Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Memphis and Washington, DC.  While previous studies show that the street improvements Lui and Dill plan to study have no impact or a positive effect on retail vitality, there was, according to Liu, "a lack of rigorous and systematic methodology" that "can produce consistent, replicable and applicable results."  What she and Dill hope is to provide policymakers and planners solid research and a practical foundation as they consider multi-modal transportation networks.

But, they say, they aren't looking to make only sweeping generalizations about how to make cities more "bike-" or "pedestrian-friendly."  Instead, they want to build on other research that addresses different components of the economic and business effects of non-motorized transport.  Among other things, they want to find out how spending differs between cyclists, pedestrians, mass transit users and drivers.  Such information could help, not only in making decisions about what types of infrastructure to build, but in helping stores, restaurants and other kinds of businesses to decide, say, whether and where to build parking facilities, where to place entrances and even on what goods or services they might offer.

05 December 2018

This Isn't What We Mean By Track Riding

I admit that I grumble when a railroad crossing gate drops in front of me.  I guess I should be happy that such guards exist, though:

Surprisingly, that near-fatal encounter took place in Geleen---in the Netherlands, where we might expect such a crossing to be guarded, and a cyclist to know better.

Now I'm going to lecture you, dear reader:  Be careful at railroad crossings.  I admit, I'm saying so for selfish reasons:  I want you to come back and read this blog again.  Really, though, I don't like to see cyclists turned to road kill (track kill)?

04 December 2018

He Played In Peoria--And The World

If you had any doubts that I spent much of my youth reading the wrong kinds of books, I will dispel them now.

Horatio Alger is one of those writers who, it seems, everyone has heard of but no one (at least no one living today) has read.  Although "Horatio Alger story" has become, justifiably, a synonym for "rags-to-riches tale", some of his works are interesting, if not for the quality of the writing, then for the window it offers into the customs and mores of his time.

For example, the phrase "Will it play in Peoria?" had its origin in Five Hundred Dollars, or, Jacob Marlowe's Secret, Alger's 1890 novel.  In it, a group of actors on tour say, "We shall be playing in Peoria" and "We shall play at Peoria."  This meant they were going to play, not only in the north-central Illinois city, but in front of a prototypical American audience.  

Alger's novel came out just as vaudeville was becoming popular in the US.   Travelling vaudevillians appropriated Alger's phrase and, when they used it, meant that they were on the road to success--which, in turn, gave rise to the phrase "Will it play in Peoria?"

Does this mean that Peoria audiences are really tough?  Or does it mean that because it's so representative of "middle America" (whatever that means today) that if it can "play in Peoria", it can play anywhere?

I would tend to believe the latter--or, at least, that it would have been the case in Alger's and the vaudevillians' time.  And vaudevillians weren't the only ones who could gauge their chances of success by how they "played in Peoria."  

Lake View Park--now the site of the Komatsu plant--was once an important, if not the major, stop on the American bicycle racing circuit.  Its half-mile track made and broke cycling careers in the 1890s, the heyday of American bike racing.

One of the folks who became a star in Lake View did so by defeating Tom Butler.  Although only cycling historians know his name today, the rider who defeated him has not been forgotten, for a variety of reasons.

That cyclist "put up a lot of numbers that would be hard to achieve today on a modern bike," according to Tim Beeney.  The Bike Peoria board member and longtime advocate added that this cyclist was "one of the highest-paid in the world at the time he competed."  And, like the ambitious vaudevillians of history as well as Alger's novel, this cyclist found fame throughout America, and the world, after his exploits in Peoria.

The cyclist in question is none other than Marshall "Major" Taylor.  The only athletes I've seen in my lifetime who may have dominated their sports in their time to the degree that Taylor did in his were Eddy Mercx, Martina Navratilova, Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan and Serena Williams.

One thing that makes Taylor's accomplishments all the more impressive is the obstacles he faced.  Sometimes he would come to an American city and not be allowed to eat in a restaurant, stay in a hotel--or even to compete in the race that was the reason for his coming to that city! He faced hostility, not only from spectators, but also from fellow racers, who believed that he should not be allowed to compete in--let alone dominate--"their" sport.  He wasn't even allowed to join the League of American Wheelmen!

(I think now of the hate mail and even death threats Henry Aaron received in the 1970s when he was in pursuit of Babe Ruth's career home run record.  He still gets them. I also recall how, when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were on track to break the single-season home run record, many people wanted McGwire to finish with the new record.)

More than a century after his victories--and 85 years after his death--it seems that Major Taylor is getting some renewed recognition.  This past Saturday, Peoria-area bicycle clubs paid homage to him 140 years after his birth.  And, earlier this year, cognac maker Hennessy had a TV ad featuring Major.

That ad campaign makes perfect sense when you realize that he was most revered in France, where he went to race in the early 1900s--after he played in Peoria.

And, I suppose you could say he was a sort of Horatio Alger story in that he grew up poor but became very wealthy from his cycling.  Unfortunately, his story didn't have a Horatio Alger ending:  After a series of bad business investments, he died penniless.  

Still, though, he played--and made it, at least for a time--in Peoria, and the world.

03 December 2018

Getting To Where They Need To Go

I learned something interesting today:  Boise, Idaho has one of the largest refugee populations, per capita, of any US city.  Moreover, it has more Syrian refugees than Los Angeles and my hometown, New York, combined.

That Boise has so many Syrian refugees is particularly striking when you know that Los Angeles has the largest number of Middle Eastern immigrants of any US city. (Interestingly, Detroit is second.)  People familiar with the Idaho capital point to its relatively low cost of living and friendly climate as "draws" for people fleeing persecution and other forms of violence in other countries.

So why am I mentioning such things in this blog?  Well, like other refugees, the Syrians in Boise are, for the most part, poor.  They can't afford bikes for their kids, or even themselves.  What this means, of course, is not only are kids deprived of something that makes childhood more fun; the parents are deprived of an inexpensive ways to get exercise (which can help them deal with the trauma some suffer) and, even more important, to work or school:  Some can't get drivers' licenses because they lack documentation.

There is another group of people about whom I could say exactly the things I've just said about the Syrian refugees in Boise (or other refugees in other places).  Who are they?  Parolees.

This connection is what makes a program called "Shifting Gears" possible.  It grew out of the Boise Bicycle Project (BBP), a non-profit organization whose goal is to get everyone in the city, whatever his or her income, on a bike--and thus eliminate barriers to transportation.

The workshop at South Boise Women's Correctional Center

Jimmy Hallyburton co-founded BBP in 2007 in a former homeless shelter.    He opened a DIY bicycle shop much like Recycle-A-Bicycle and similar operations in other cities.  In BBP's facililty, a lycra-clad cyclist might be adjusting gears on a triathlon bike with a five-figure price tag alongside a Syrian refugee looking for a basic machine to ride to work.  

Some of the people BBP has taught to fix bikes became volunteers who helped clean, repair and adjust bikes that were distributed to poor city residents, children and adults alike.  

In the course of giving bikes to the needy, Hallyburton learned of the difficulties parolees face.   The biggest is, of course, employment:  Many would-be employers don't want to hire someone who's "done time."  But, even when a potential employer is willing to give a chance to someone who has "paid their debt to society," there is another problem:  getting to the job.  Recently-released prisoners find it difficult, or even impossible, to get a driver's license.  Even if they could get such a document, they might not be able to afford a car--or even a bicycle.

That is how he came up with the idea of Shifting Gears.  He pitched it to the Idaho Department of Correction, who loved it.  Different sites vied for it; eventually, South Boise Women's Correctional Center won out.  An officer volunteered to run the program and scheduled training days with a mechanic who volunteered to train inmates who would become mentors to others who joined the project.

So, for the past two years, some 200 incarcerated women have been stripping, cleaning, lubing and wrenching donated or salvaged bikes that are donated to people who couldn't otherwise afford them.

Finally, when participants are released, they are given a bike sized for their height, as well as a helmet, lock and light.  So they, like the folks who've received the bikes they fixed, will have at least one barrier to integrating with society removed.

The bikes that await them aren't the only benefits of the program.  Seeing how their work changed other people's lives have made some of them want to continue that work, or to help in other ways, when they're released.  For some, including one inmate whose release is scheduled for next month, being able to think that way is perhaps the most valuable thing she's gained from the program.

When Jessica Halbesleben, one of Shifting Gears' original participants and mentors, gets out in January, she will have a job waiting for her--with BBP.  And, of course, she'll have a bike she can ride to it.

02 December 2018

Suspension Of Disbelief

I've never owned a full-suspension bike.  My Jamis Dakota and Bontrager Race Lite mountain bikes had telescoping front forks, but no suspension built into the frame.  Perhaps if I had kept with mountain biking longer than I did (I stopped about 15 years ago), I might have such a setup now.

These days, my suspension consists of the sprung saddle on my Fuji commuter/beater--and my joints.

Folks like Jan Heine will tell you that you don't need suspension if you ride the right tires.  He's right: