Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

24 June 2018

Why Can't They?

Bicycling has been one of the few "constants" in my life.

One of the few "near-constants", if you will, in my adult life has been living with cats.

At times in my life, I've tried to combine them.  You guessed it:  I've tried to teach Caterina, Charlie I, Candice, Charlie II, Max and Marlee to ride.  Nothing I've tried has worked.  I even tried this as a motivational tool:



I mean, if a dog can ride, why can't they?  Right?

Then again, just because two things are wonderful, they should not be combined--like chocolate chips in bagels. (Hey, I'm an old-school New Yorker!)

23 June 2018

No Needles Needed

I believe I've just found the perfect gift "Velouria". 

 If you've been reading this blog, chances are you know her as the author of Lovely Bicycle, on which she posted almost daily for a few years.  We haven't seen much of her lately.  I'm guessing it's because she's engaged in more remunerative work or enjoying marital bliss.


Or, perhaps she's doing a lot of knitting.  Which is why I believe this would right for her.  





A Dutch engineer has recently created the Cyclo-knitter.  It's a bicycle--actually, more like an exercise bike--attached to a loom, which is placed on a wooden tower above the bike.  As you pedal, the fabric cascades from the tower, and in five minutes, you hve a brand-new scarf.


The contraption has been placed on a platform of a Dutch railway station.  As George Barratt-Jones notes in his Mental Floss article, a commuter who has some "down" time on a cold morning can get on the bike, warm him or her self up by pedaling and, after five minutes, have a scarf that will help keep him or her warm for the rest of the day.


Now, I'm not a knitter. But I know a few, including "Velouria", who are.  While some make money from their work, they don't support themselves on it because it takes too much time.  They tell me the knit because they enjoy it and find it "relaxing" or "meditative".  That, I can understand.  Which is the reason why, on second thought, they and "Velouria" might not want the Cyclo-knitter after all--unless, of course, they actually want to make a living as knitters.  What kind of fun would that be?



22 June 2018

Carrying The Evidence Against Him

If you're going to commit a crime, you shouldn't leave evidence.  And you certainly had better not have the evidence on you when you get caught.

Josue Flores-Ochoa has just learned this lesson.  The 27-year-old from the Boston suburb of Everett had one too many and drove through nearby Revere in the wee hours of Sunday morning. At the same time, a 56-year-old man from Winthrop was riding his bike.


Unfortunately, you can guess what happened next:  Flores-Ochoa struck the man with his car. 


The man was taken to a nearby hospital where, fortunately, his wounds were not found to be life-threatening.

In another instance of good fortune, police found Flores-Ochoa a short time later.  Several people reported seeing the crash, which certainly helped. 

Don't carry the evidence with you!


But Flores-Ochoa actually did more than anyone else to help the police find him:  When he drove away after hitting the man, the bicycle was attached to the front of his car.  It was still there when the cops stopped him on Washington Avenue in Chelsea.


I wish his victim a speedy recovery.  Most of all, I want him to be well enough to get a chuckle out of Flores-Ochoa's ineptitude.

21 June 2018

A Bike That Mines Bitcoins?

Eddy Mercx was very particular about his bicycles.  “They have to make money,” he explained.

What would he have thought about TOBA?




Jsince it,s an e-bike, he wouldn’t have been allowed to ride it.  On the other hand, given the corruption of the UCI, someone might have found a way to get it “under the radar” for him.  Then again, if he had ridden it, people might not have noticed the difference.

One thing he would have approved, though, is that the bike makes money. Well, sort of:  It rewards its users with crypto-currency.  For every thousand miles, the rider earns the equivalent of $26.50, which can be redeemed for products provided by partnerships with LoyalCoin.

Hmm...Maybe this wouldn’t have been such a great deal for Eddy!

20 June 2018

Sunset Bikes?

A week ago, I gave you, dear readers, a lesson in business history disguised as a post about an aspect of bicycling.

Specifically, I reported on Uber's foray into the bike-share market.  This shows that the company's decision-makers realize are not mistaking their business for their industry, as other companies did before it was too late.  Actually, Uber executives probably realized that in New York and other cities, the model they pioneered--taxis that could be hailed by a phone app--was undermining the taxi industry because there were simply too many on the streets. (This has had tragic results: Six cabbies have committed suicide this year.)  Whatever the case, Uber made the move to dockless bike-sharing, which could be said to be part of the new "share economy"--or of the transportation industry.


Now another company is venturing into a related industry--that of bicycles themselves.  What's really interesting about this story is that this firm, which makes one of the most iconic American products, has an all-but-forgotten history as a bicycle manufacturer.  And the products for which it's currently known have---two wheels!

Yes, I am talking about Harley Davidson.  If you're of a certain age, you remember Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda astride custom Harleys in 1969's Easy RiderBut, in recent years, the brand's image has become as staid as that of Buick or Oldsmobile--or, ahem, Schwinn.  As it is, milennials are far less likely than anyone over 35 to buy any motorcycle at all, and among those who have the funds and inclination to buy one, Harley is seen as an "old white guy's brand."  

So, one has to wonder whether Harley's introduction of a limted-edition cruiser will achieve its intended goal of reaching younger consumers--especially with its $4200 price tag.  Ironically, Harley's earlier incursion into the bike market, from 1917 to 1922, was also an attempt to "hook" younger people--in this case children--on the company's brand in the hope they would grow up to buy the company's motorcycles.

The limited-edition Harley


Now, I am not trying to knock Harley or motorcycling in general.  My uncle rode for more than half a century and finally got the Harley he always wanted just a couple of years before he had to stop riding.  If anything, I feel sad for him, because he had to stop doing something he loved, and perhaps a little sad for Harley.  After all, the bikes and the brand practically scream "Americana" and they were made, for decades, in Milwaukee by union workers. 

In a sad irony, the tariffs imposed by El Cheeto Grande with the ostensible purpose of protecting American workers and industries may deal another, if not the ultimate, blow to a company that's been on the ropes for some time.  More than one analyst familiar with the company and industry says that for some time, overseas sales have been keeping Harley-Davidson afloat.  Perhaps the tariffs that were supposed to be the gunboats guarding the company could instead be the torpedo that sinks them--and one has to wonder whether their bicycles will be their life preservers.

19 June 2018

Some History On EBay

Here's something the author of Disraeligears (no, not the Creem album) would love, or at least appreciate.  So would another one of my favorite bike bloggers, The RetrogrouchFor that matter, I would, too.



Back in the mists of time, before the cycling world was ruled by Campagnolo, Shimano and SRAM, a bicycle component manufacturer was beginning its ascent in the Land of the Rising Sun.  They would enjoy dominion in the world of quality bicycles--save, of course, for Campagnolo's racing colony--long before most had heard of Shimano or SRAM was even a seed in the great plains of cycling.

(Can you hear Sprach Zarathustra in the background?)

That company's demise came in much the same way as the deaths of other empires:  through complacency, hubris and responding to a threat that really wasn't.  That is the reason why its beginnings are, if not lost in the mists of time, at least not remembered by many.

That company was called--ironically, in retrospect--SunTour.   In 1964, its chief designer created a derailleur with a design--called the slant parallelogram--that would change derailleurs for ever.  For about a decade prior, however, it would offer derailleurs that seemed to be derivatives, if not copies, of Huret mechanisms of that time.  



The SunTour 8.8.8 wide in the photo does, in fact, bear both mechanical and visual semblances to the Huret Competition from the same period.  The derailleur Louison Bobet, the first cyclist to win the Tour de France in three consecutive years, rode is a refinement (some say just a re-badging) of that derailleur. SunTour's version, on the other hand, has a longer cage and might be considered a "touring" version.

Both derailleurs are on eBay.  For $158, plus $12 shipping, you can have the SunTour sent to you from Japan.  The Huret "Tour de France", on the other hand, will set you back $999.52.  But at least shipping is included and, hey, not only is it associated with one of the greatest cyclists of all, but the seller claims to have received it as a gift from Tom Avenia, one of the folks who kept the torch burning during the "dark ages" of cycling in the US.

I'm a Francophile, and I still have a soft spot for SunTour, in spite of the blunders that led to their undoing.

18 June 2018

A Carpet Under Me, A Canopy Above Me

Sometimes everything is just right...




I love the sun, but the best riding conditions for melanin-deficient folks like me are the ones I had on Friday, when I pedaled to Point Lookout.  It's what one often experiences in coastal areas:  thick, heavy, puffy clouds that cast shadows across the sky but pose no threat of rain.  They even break, now and again, for rays of sunlight--or just to give a peek at opaque blue windows.



The temperature held steady at around 21C (70F), with just enough wind to feel at my back on the way out and in my face on the way back.  I would have preferred that the wind was blowing the other way, but it didn't do much to slow or tire me on my way back.   I feel I could pedal all day, every day, in such conditions.



Of course, it helped that I was astride Dee-Lilah, my new Mercian Vincitore Special.  She's like a magic carpet:  so quick and so comfortable.  I also don't mind that guys on carbon and titanium bikes were complimenting her!

I really was lucky.  I mean, having such a great bike and conditions at the same time:  Who could ask for more?

17 June 2018

When Passing Other Cyclists....

It's one thing when motorists cut us off, swear at us or otherwise behave badly.

It irks me even more, though, when cyclists are inconsiderate toward each other.


With that in mind, some folks in Merrie Olde England have made a video about something only they can teach us:  How To Be A Gentleman/Lady Cyclists.




Most of the suggestions are commonsensical:  pointing out road hazards, giving a boost to someone who's lagging and helping out with repairs. I had to laugh, though, at the bit about sharing food--including Pringles!  And, after offering suggestions in that oh-so-British understated way, we're told that, ahem, we shouldn't pass wind as we pass each other.


Oh, and don't forget to bring your wallet!

16 June 2018

Offering An Illusion Of Safety

Sometimes there just isn't a better way.

I am reminded of that whenever I ride along the North Shore of Long Island and eastern Queens.  The area offers much, from mansions and country clubs with the Gatsby vibe to picturesque towns like Roslyn (where, incidentally, Gabriela Mistral--the first Latin American and fifth woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature--spent her last few years) as well as tidal wetlands, beaches, bird sanctuaries--and cliffs.  Best of all, there are actually some nice roads for cycling and a few bike lanes, including one that winds along the bay near Udall's Cove Park



Cyclist riding on Northern Boulevard near the Little Neck Bay bridge


The problem is in getting there from my part of Queens.  I know a few decent routes that will get me to Bayside, about 20 kilometers from my apartment.  Little Neck Bay, an arm of the Sound, reaches into the neighborhood, and you have to cross it in order to get from Bayside to Little Neck and Nassau County.  Oh, I could get around that body of water if I take a detour southward--one which I actually don't mind, as there are some quiet side streets and a rather nice park (Alley Pond) along the way.  I don't mind, as long as I have enough time or am not trying to stay ahead of rain I didn't anticipate before my ride.


But if you want to go directly from western Queens, where I live (just across from Manhattan), there is only one choice if you don't want to swim or take the Long Island Railroad:  Ride the Route 25A, a.k.a. Northern Boulevard, bridge over Little Neck Bay.  

Northern Boulevard is a four-lane road.  For most of its length, at least in Queens and Nassau County, it is a commercial thoroughfare,  which means that it is heavily trafficked.  But even where it cuts through parks and nature preserves-- as it does on either side of the Bay bridge-- there is little if any respite from the traffic because, as it happens, highway exit and entrance ramps veer from and merge with the road near the bridge.

At 6:30 on a summer morning almost two years ago, 78-year-old Michael Schenkman was cycling eastward, in the direction of the bridge--ironically, on his way to the nearby Joe Michaels Mile Bike Path.   A black Chevrolet Impala traveling in the same direction on Northern collided with Schenkman, who died shortly afterward.  The driver, to his credit, remained at the scene.


223rd Street and Northern Boulevard, where Michael Schenkman was killed


After the crash, the city's Department of Transportation came up with a plan to create a bike lane on the north side of the bridge by taking out a lane of traffic.  The local community board approved it, but changed its mind just as the DOT was beginning to work on it last September.  Tomorrow, members of that board will march along the side of the bike lane project.  They--led by State Senator Tony Avella--want the DOT to scrap the lane and, instead, expand the width of the sidewalk so that it can be shared by cyclists and pedestrians.

As someone who has pedaled that stretch of Northern Boulevard dozens of times, I can say that those folks probably aren't cyclists it would be a terrible idea for everyone.  First of all, no one quite knows how wide the sidewalk would have to be in order to accommodate both cyclists and pedestrians--and whether it would mean new construction or taking out another lane of traffic. Either way, it would probably cost more than what board members claim--or, for that matter, the DOT's project.

Worse, though, is that the sidewalk crosses a highway exit ramp.  It's bad enough when pedestrians have to walk into the crosswalk with cars streaming on the ramp; I can only imagine the consequences if cyclists and pedestrians are forced to share that crosswalk!

Some experienced cyclists (like me) who are familiar with the area have learned how to at least minimize the risks while riding along the bridge and Northern Boulevard.  A shared sidewalk would give less-experienced cyclists (and those unfamiliar with the area) the illusion of safety, which can be worse than any hazard of the road.


15 June 2018

Riding Off With Perfect Attendance

The school year is ending for lots of kids.  Some of them will be rewarded for their academic, athletic, artistic and other achievements--or perfect attendance.

In my day, we got ribbons or medals--or "encouragement" from our teachers and parents. ("You're gonna do it again next year!")  A few kids I knew got material rewards like ice cream, a day at the movies or an amusement park, or even cash.  But 120 sixth-graders in Idaho will receive a prize many of us would have loved--a new bike.




Ryan Rogers, the owner of Rogers Toyota in Lewiston will be giving out the shiny new two-wheelers. The giveaway is part of a program called PASS, for Perfect Attendance Spells Success.  "We've been in business for 48 years," he explains, "and this is just one little thing we can do to give back to our schools and community."

I won't ask whether he sees the irony in an auto dealership giving away bicycles.  I'll just thank him for his generosity and wish he'd been in my neighborhood when I was in school!

14 June 2018

If Not Justice, Then Strength. Or So One Hopes.

They were not looking for vengeance.  Instead, they sought justice.  But is it possible when five lives are ended, horribly and pointlessly, and survivors may nurse wounds for the rest of their lives?

Paul J. Bridenstine probably did the best he could under the circumstances.  On Monday, he sentenced Charles Pickett Jr. to 40 to 75 years in prison.  Given that he has already served 734 days (just over two years) and that he is 52 years old, Pickett won't be eligible for parole until he is 90.


What caused Bridenstine to mete out such a sentence?  Two years ago last week, Pickett--who was driving 58 MPH in a 35 MPH zone while under the influence--plowed into a group of cyclists out for their weekly social ride.  He didn't hit his brakes until he hit the first cyclist.


Last month, he was found guilty of five counts of second-degree murder and five of driving under the influence when he cut short the lives of Debra Ann Bradley, Melissa Ann Fevig-Hughes, Fred Anton "Tony" Nelson, Lorenz John "Larry" Paulik and Suzanne Joan Sippel in Kalamazoo, Michigan. In addition, he was convicted of four counts of driving while intoxicated and causing serious injury to Paul Gobble, Jennifer Johnson, Sheila Jeske and Paul Runnels.


At the sentencing hearing, Johnson spoke of how she lost one of her best friends, Fevig-Hughes.  She rides "only in a group" now.  "I find myself holding my breath as people pass."  Still, despite intense pain, she continues on, inspired by the strength of her friend.


In that sense, she is someone else who gave a moving statement:  Madeline Bradley, the daughter of Debra Ann.  She attended Michigan State University for a semester after her mother's death, she said, but remained "broken".  At first, she thought, nothing remained of her mother until she discovered her strength.  "She continues to protect me with this strength, her strength," she declared.


At least she has that, whether or not there is justice.



13 June 2018

Accessorize!

I've known a few people who started riding their bikes to school or work when their cars broke down.  Two, I recall, couldn't afford to fix their motor vehicles, and one returned to driving after his car was up and running.   The other stuck with cycling to work but wanted to have as many comforts and conveniences on two wheels as he had with four.

What made me think of him for the first time in decades?  I think I've encountered (online, anyway) his distant cousin:  Robert Sept of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.




Mr. Sept's car needed $2000 worth of transmission work. That motivated him to fix up his bicycle.  But he didn't stop with inflating his tires, oiling his chain or adjusting his gears or brakes. His wheels now roll with the weight of a DVD player, cell phone, cup holder, umbrella holder, storage boxes, wallet keeper, LED headlights and tailights--and other things he attached to his frame, handlebars and rear stays.



He seems quite happy with the results.  "It was a relatively cheap investment," he notes, "costs nothing but pedaling to operate [and] gets me from point A to point B." His bike is "noticeable" and "different,' he says  How different?  It "helps keep me out of the sun and weather."  I guess nobody can accuse him of being a fair-weather cyclist.

Now I wonder:  What kind of music does he play?  

12 June 2018

You Can Take This Turtle On Your Next Trip

Chris Rock once defined camping as "white people pretending to be homeless."

Or, as a former coworker of mine once put it, "when you don't have room service."

Seriously, though, we have our own ideas about what it is and whether or not we've done, or would do, it.  During the course of bicycle tours, I have slept outdoors, with no shelter besides my sleeping bag:  sometimes under an open sky, other times under bridges and overpasses.  I have also slept in tents and tarps.  But I have never hauled a camper trailer behind my bike!

If you really want to pull a trailer, you can choose between ones with full-sized tents or bubbles that look like RVs designed for ET.  Now Austrian tent specialist GentleTent is offering something new:  a bicycle camping trailer with an inflatable tent.

Yes, you read that right:  inflatable.  The B-Turtle consists of an aluminum frame topped by an inflatable tent wrapped in a  PVC protective cover.  Inside the chassis is a 120 liter slide-out storage compartment for carrying additional gear.  That is also protected by a PVC cover.



According to GentleTent, it can be set up in 10 to 20 minutes.  It can house two people, each of whom can sit, but not stand, comfortably.   While it's made for cyclists, GentleTent says it's meant for pedalecs (electric-assisted bikes) that max out at 25 KPH (15.5 MPH) or less.



The kit, as it's offered, includes the trailer, tent, guy-lines, stakes, repair kit and hand pump.  The price?  2990 Euros (about 3500 USD at current exchange rates).  Hey, that's a steal:  It's not so much more, really, than a night in the Gatsby-themed room in the Plaza Hotel!  

11 June 2018

They Don't Make 'Em Like This Anymore!

The other day I was wandering some familiar haunts in Brooklyn with Arielle, my Mercian Audax special.  Along the way, I made a quick detour to look for a sign the world hadn't ended.

All right, so it wasn't so dramatic.  I was, however, relieved and gratified that one of the truly gentle people I've known still has his shop.  If the repair bicycles weren't locked to a rack in front of the store, it would be easy to miss.  

Arnold's Bicycles and Trains is no bigger than my apartment but is chock-full of history. It has been on the same block of Sunset Park for decades.  I don't think Arnold has sold any trains in a while, but I suspect he may have a few leftover tracks or cars in his basement. (Do kids still pine for model railroads at Christmastime?)  He says he still has a few nice old parts but "I've sold most of them over the past few years" as people are restoring all sorts of old machines.


These days, I suspect he makes most of his money from repairs, helmets and other accessories, as well as the occasional new kid's bike.  In addition to his gentleness, everyone who's dealt with him remarks on his honesty, which is probably why his store has weathered the changes in the surrounding neighborhood.

It's hard to believe, but when I stopped by, one of the repair bikes I saw is older than the shop--and possibly Arnold himself:





Like Arnold, it's "the real deal".  In other words, it's what lots of bikes today claim they are:  a Dutch city bike. (Brand:  Victoria) It could have been parked next to an Amsterdam canal yesterday, or 50 years ago, and it wouldn't have looked out of place.  This bike is meant for commuting, as evidenced by at least one interesting feature:



People pay custom frame builders and constructeurs good money for internal generator-light wiring, but here it is on an everyday utility bike!  But the thing that fascinated me most is the crank:



We expect most bikes of this type to have cottered cranskets.  Cotterless sets, we're told, were the province of Campagnolo, Stronglight, Specialites TA and other makers of high-end racing and touring gear.  

This one is made of steel.  Its chainring cannot be changed, but I suspect that it will never need to be.  

Nor will Arnold.  Whatever he sells in his shop, people go to it because of him.  Oh, and there's a place on the next block where you can eat some of the best pork buns you can get without taking a flight to Shanghai!

10 June 2018

No Illusions Here!

We all have people in our lives--friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses, co-workers and others--who simply cannot understand why we ride our bikes instead of driving (or taking a train or plane!) to some place or another.

They have probably called us worse than this:




We, however, know why we ride.  That's why, if they looked at us closely, they would find none of the signs of mental disorder.  Instead, they are more likely to see this:


09 June 2018

The Future, For Now? Am I Responsible For It?

I'll take credit--but not blame.

No, I'm not channeling El Cheeto Grande.  Rather, I am here now to tell you that a line I tossed off in an earlier post has become a reality--better (or worse) yet, a business plan.

Last year I wrote about the then-new dockless bike share programs making their debut in China.  They have since appeared in European and North American locales:  In fact, there's talk of bringing such services to the Bronx and other parts of New York City not presently served by Citibike.

I called those dockless programs, which allow anyone with the company's app on his or her smart phone to pick up or leave a bicycle, "Uber for bicycles."

Now--you guessed it--Uber is getting into the bike share business.  I am not surprised, really:  If the future is in driverless cars (the Force forbid!) or fewer or no cars, it makes perfect sense for the company to look at other forms of transportation.




Uber is doing something to many other companies failed to do:  look at the industry, not the business, of which they are a part.  Some business writer, I forget whom, said the real reason why the New York Central and Pennsylvania Railroads--at their peak, the world's two largest corporations-- are in the dustbin of history (Funny, isn't it, to quote Marx when talking about business?) is that they didn't realize that they were not just in the railroad business--which was dying in the US--but in the transportation industry.  So, by the time they merged, it was too late to save either of them.

One of the better analogies I can think of in the bicycle world is Schwinn.  They failed to see their role in the bicycle industry, which changed dramatically.  That is why the company started by Ignaz Schwinn in the 1890s didn't start making (or even offering) BMX or mountain bikes until other bike makers, some of them newcomers, had already taken hold of those markets.  The company's management seemed to think that its industry consisted of making and selling people the bikes their parents and grandparents bought--the only difference being that it added derailleurs and skinnier tires to the two-wheeled tanks they'd been making.  

Which reminds me:  For all of the Varsities and Continentals they sold during the '70's Bike Boom, they really missed the boat when, a couple of years in, college students and other young adults started to demand lighter bikes, like the ones offered by European and Japanese makers.  

At that time, the only really lightweight bicycles Schwinn offered were the Paramount and, depending on how you define "lightweight", the Sports Tourer.  The  former was beyond the means of most young people, while the latter was indistinguishable, appearance-wise, from the company's flash-welded bikes.By the time Schwinn started to offer the Japanese-made LeTour and Voyageur, in 1974, the Bike Boom had already crested and people who wanted lighter bikes had already bought Nishikis, Fujis, Motobecanes and Raleighs.

Anyway, it seems like Uber is not falling into the same trap as Schwinn or the railroads.  They are debuting their new share program in Berlin, Germany and, I am sure, will expand into other places.  With the popularity of dockless share programs and the company's name recognition, it seems like Uber has an unbeatable combination--for now.

It'd be nice if they give me credit, though--although it would be nice to be compensated at least as well as someone who created one of the world's most recognized logos.

08 June 2018

A Memorial To The Kalamazoo Tragedy

Two years ago this week, Charles Pickett Jr. mowed down five cyclists and severely injured four others in one of the most horrific car-on-bike crashes I've heard of.




Yesterday, a monument those cyclists--part of "The Chain Gang", a group that met every week for a ride--was unveiled in Cooper Township's Markin Glen Park, near the site of the Kalamazoo (Michigan) tragedy.  The four survivors--Paul Gobble, Sheila Jeske, Jennifer Johnson and Paul Runnels--attended along with others.  The five front seats were left empty to honor Debra Ann ("Debbie") Bradley, Melissa Ann Fevig-Hughes, Fred Anton ("Tony") Nelson, Lorenz John ("Larry") Paulik and Suzanne Joan Sippel.  

Local artist Joshua Diedrich designed the monument. The sculpture's sloped curve shape represents the hill on North Westnedge Avenue, where the cyclists were riding at that fateful moment, he explained.  That curve consists of four panels, two telling the story of the crash and the other two listing the names of the killed and injured cyclists.  The monument is topped by five bicycles, one for each cyclist whose lives ended on that evening ride two years ago.  


Survivors (l to r) Sheila Jeske, Paul Runnels, Jennifer Johnson and Paul Gobble in front of the monument.


 After the ceremony, Chain Gang members and other cyclists rode 25 miles to raise funds for maintenance of the memorial and bicycle advocacy in Michigan. A reception followed the ride.

Last month, Pickett was convicted of five counts of murder, five counts of driving while intoxicated and four counts causing serious injury by driving while intoxicated.  Sentencing is scheduled for Monday the 11th.



07 June 2018

Out Of Season, All To Myself

Yesterday was unseasonably cool.  I didn't mind: it was good riding weather.  At times, though, it seemed as if the snow was covered with snow rather than clouds.


Under the blanket, but still cool all the way from the Rockaways to Coney Island.   Another way the day belied the season was the nearly complete absence of people on the boardwalks.



Even the bay, where I normally see at least a few boats, was abandoned.  Or, to look at it another way, I had everything else to myself.  I enjoyed it.

06 June 2018

If You Get A Bike Named After You....

I suppose most of us want to be immortalized.  The problem is that, if we are, we probably don't have a say in why or how someone is perpetuating our memory.

So it is with the newest Trek model.  Now, I could understand why the company wouldn't name any of its products after Lance.  Yes, he's alive, but as we know, there are other reasons why a "Lance-strong" bike would be a public relations fiasco for the company.  I also see why they wouldn't want to name their bikes after any number of other cyclists--or celebrities-- living or dead.  


On the other hand, I can understand why Trek, or any other company, would name one of its wares after someone who never got anywhere near a bicycle.  I mean, there was even a whole bike brand--Hercules--named for a mythological hero.  The last person who actually believed in his existence died, probably, about two milennia before the first bicycle--however you define it--saw the light of day.  

Some Trek marketing genius probably figured that if bikes called Hercules could evoke images of that character's strength and fortitude, then a line of its bikes could surely trade on some other famous person's most notable physical trait--one that essentially became his metier.



And so we have Trek "Farley" bikes, named for the late comedian and actor Chris Farley.   His stock-in-trade was "fat guy" humor, which is not surprising given that he weighed about 400 pounds when he died in 1997.  Trek's new machines are--you guessed it--"fat" (i.e., fat-tire) bikes.  

Not surprisingly, his family is not happy about this.  They're not upset that he's still known as "the fat guy"--that will most likely remain his claim to fame--but that the company "misappropriated" his image.  According to a lawsuit the family filed, even though he turned his girth into his art, if you will, he "carefully guarded and policed his brand" and often rejected overtures from companies whom wanted to use it to sell their products.

Now, Trek might not be Apple or Microsoft, but I imagine they can hire some high-priced lawyers.  I am guessing they did:  Who else could challenge the lawsuit because it was filed in California, where Make Him Smile, the company his family formed to protect his rights and images is based.   That would subject the claim to California law.   Trek is trying to invalidate the family's claim by saying that it's invalid because Farley was a resident of Illinois, where he died of a drug overdose in Chicago.  

An irony of this case is that Trek could have named bikes after Farley for another, and possibly better (public-relations wise, anyway) reason:  He was born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin--about 30 miles from Trek's headquarters in The Badger State. 

Hmm...What if Trek decided to name its bikes for famous people from Wisconsin?  What would the Rod Blagojevich bike look like? 

05 June 2018

There's A Bike Mechanic In The Family!

My high school had a vocational-technical ("vo-tech") program that trained students to work as auto mechanics, beauticians and as other skilled trades- and craft-people.

That high school served a fairly large township that included everything from mansions with Cadillacs in their driveways (In those days, you had as much of a chance, on any given day, of seeing a BMW or Mercedes as you did of meeting a member of the Royal Family.) to storm-battered bungalows with tousled kids tumbling on bristly lawns.  What they had in common was aspiration, whether from the parents or the kids themselves.  

Such aspiration wasn't limited to economic mobility:  People wanted to increase their status and reputation.  A decal from a prestigious college or university on the rear window of a family's car meant that the parents "did something right" in raising their child; dirty hands and clothes meant that the kid didn't work hard--or simply wasn't smart--enough and were seen as signs of poor parenting.

So, the success of my high school, and many others, was measured by the percentage of our graduates who went to college--never mind that the kids who became auto mechanics or plumbers or beauticians could make as much money as those who became educated professionals.  Training for one of those trades was seen as the "loser track", in contrast to "the college track" and other more prestigious paths in the school.

Because such scenarios played out all over the US, many high schools ended their vo-tech programs and new schools opened without them.  Young people and their families continued to equate success with graduating from college and entering white-collar professions.  In the meantime, auto mechanics, beauticians and the like got older and employers had a hard time finding replacements, just as those jobs became more technically sophisticated.  

Then college tuitions started to rise at a much faster rate than prices in general. (My salary hasn't kept pace--it's not even close!)  And companies figured out that their office work could be automated or relocated just as easily as assembly-line jobs.  So, the college degree that costs so much more than it once did is no longer the ticket to a "good" job and middle-class life it once was.

Also, because people had a harder time getting good jobs, they started fixing stuff--including cars and appliances-- they would have tossed or replaced earlier.  Now, as a result, some young people and their families are starting to realize that their may well be more of a future--especially for a kid who doesn't like to sit still and read--in the kinds of work people in my generation were taught to disdain.

Another result of what I've described is that people are riding bikes to work and school.  Those bikes need to be kept running, and not everyone has the time or inclination to adjust their brakes or shifters, or fix their flats.  At the same time, bikes are getting more technically sophisticated.  This means mechanics, who are increasingly referred to as "technicians" will need to be more skilled.

As a bike shop owner, Berri Michel is certainly aware of what I'm saying.  She had trouble finding good employees for Bicycle Trip, her Santa Cruz, California shop.  So she did what any desperate employer might do:  She trained people.  Specifically, she showed high-school students how to fix bikes.  That was back in 2007.



That was the beginning of Project Bike Tech, in which students earn academic credit for learning how to repair bicycles.  Since then, it has expanded to other schools in California and three other schools in Colorado and Minnesota plan to start similar programs soon.  The scope of the course, which spans four semesters, has also grown.  Now students learn interviewing, resume-writing and team-building techniques in addition to adjusting headsets and truing wheels.

Ms. Michel says that in the class, students are introduced to other bicycle-industry careers such as fabrication, marketing, sales and graphic design.  And, because students don't sacrifice their academic training to learn the bike trade, they are also ready to go to college or enter other careers when they graduate.  Some even pursue other trade careers like construction and auto mechanics because "they discover that they love working with their hands," says Project Bike Tech director Mercedes Ross.




Could the day come when parents proudly announce, "There's a bike mechanic in the family!"

04 June 2018

What Do They Need To Believe?

Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I believe that the first major work of American fiction in the new millennium was The 9/11 Commission Report.

If that is the case, then the last major work of American fiction of the previous century may well be It's Not About The Bike.  And another major work of American fiction from this millenium may well be Positively False.

Matt Hart did not echo my opinion about The 9/11 Commission Report in his Atlantic Monthly article last month. He did, however, say that INATB and PF are narratives that "now read more like fiction" than the autobiographical narratives they purported to be.

Now, I'll make a confession:  I was a Lance fanboy/fangirl (I underwent my transition during the time Lance was racing.) almost until the time Oprah interviewed him.  At least, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt because--call me naive--I still adhere to the principle of "innocent until proven guilty."  Though the rumors echoed everywhere (or so it seemed), he had not failed any drug tests--or, if he did, the results hadn't been made public.

I started to entertain doubts about him a couple months before the interview, when the US Anti-Doping Agency released its report. Even then, I took the stories about Lance's doping with a grain of salt because many of the accusations came from his rivals, including Tyler Hamilton and, yes, Landis.  


Armstrong and Landis in the 2004 Tour de France.


Reading Hart's article didn't change my opinion about any of those riders, the USADA's report or the whole sad story.  If anything, it re-enforced something I already believed:  that Tour de France, UCI and other officials looked the other way while those riders were doping, much as Major League Baseball did when bulked-up players like Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds shattered home run records.  

In 1998, MLB was in a very similar position to that of professional bicycle racing:  Both were trying to recover from public relations fiascos.   The Festina team was expelled from the Tour de France that July for doping and the team's soigneur was arrested as he re-entered France from Belgium.  People were understandably upset and angry:  They felt betrayed by athletes they, if not idolized, then at least admired.

For the previous few years, US baseball fans felt betrayed, but for a different reason:  the players went on strike in August of 1994, cutting the season short by nearly two months.  Worst of all, in fans' eyes, there was no World Series that year for the first time in nearly a century.  The strike continued long enough to delay the 1995 season opening.  When play resumed, resentful fans stayed away through the rest of that season, and the two that followed.

So, MLB and the UCI were faced with a similar problem:  bringing the fans back.  That is why I believe both organizations did nothing while McGwire, Armstrong and others were "juicing".  McGwire's epic season, in which he and Sammy Sosa battled to become baseball's new home-run king, generated excitement and brought fans back to the park.  The following year, the story of Lance rising from his deathbed to the peaks of hors de categorie climbs in the Tours piqued interest in old and new cycling fans, especially in the US.  Skeptics--especially those in France--were seen as resentful curmudgeons who simply couldn't accept a brash American winning the Tour.

Although Hart paints Landis more sympathetically than he does Armstrong, it's clear from the articles that there are no heroes in the whole sordid saga of professional bicycle racing in the past two decades. 

It's been said that we tell the stories we need to believe--or have others believe. (Every nation in history has done this.)  Perhaps the sport, and others, will find another compelling story to get people interested again.  Then, if that story--like Lance's--is revealed to be that of a cheat and liar, or simply a fiction, some fans will walk away but those who remain simply won't trust the athletes or sport as they once did.  Thus, it remains to be seen whether those sports and leagues* will ever emerge from the cloud of suspicion that shrouds them. 

*--As bad as the UCI is, it can be argued that FIFA, the International Olympic Committee and other sports authorities are even more corrupt.