Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

31 May 2018

A Day of Spring

It's been called "The Year Without Spring."

Here in New York, people talk--and complain--more than most farmers about the weather.  This year, though, they do have reason to complain:  Since March, we've had days or weeks when it's been cold and wet punctuated by a day or two of summer-like heat.

Yesterday was one of the few spring-like days we've had, at least temperature-wise.  The mild air, though, was humid, probably because of the heavy clouds that covered the area until mid-afternoon, when the sun broke out.  Also, we had march-like wind.

So what did I do?  I pedaled into that wind--to Connecticut.  Yes, I cranked most of the 70 kilometers (43 miles) up to the Nutmeg State into a 30KPH wind.  I had to remind myself of that when I arrived, more tired than I'd been on previous rides this year.  I thought I'd grown soft over the past couple of weeks, when papers, exams and other end-of-semester duties made me more sedentary than usual.




At the Veterans Memorial in Greenwich, the flowers--and flags--were in full bloom.  Unfortunately, my camera wasn't up to the occasion (or I'm the most technologically incompetent person writing a blog today).  Fortunately, Arielle was.*




Of course, the ride back was--if you'll pardon the expression--a breeze.  

*--I'll be riding more of Dee-Lilah, my new Mercian Vincitore, soon.  I have ridden her a couple of times, mainly to test things, but I wanted to save her for the nice weather--and my birthday, for which she is my gift to myself!

30 May 2018

Gooooal?

The World Cup football tournament starts in a couple of weeks.

Perhaps even the US, which didn't qualify, is getting ready:





Will the "ball" go through the" posts"?  If it does, and Andres Cantor isn't there to announce it, does it count as a goal?

Interesting, what you can see on a bike ride in the Bronx!

29 May 2018

From Cars To Bikes, On A Highway

Twenty-five or thirty years ago, streets in Chinese cities were as choked with traffic as the Long Island Expressway (a.k.a. The World's Longest Parking Lot) during peak commuter hours.  The difference was, of course, that the throngs of people going to work or school in Beijing or  Shanghai weren't enclosed in four-wheeled motorized vehicles.  Instead, they were astride bicycles:



Westerners--especially Americans--were amused by the idea of "bicycle traffic jams."  The Chinese who were part of them, like people stuck in any kind of traffic jam, probably weren't (or so I would assume).  But within a decade or so, their problem would be "solved":  Instead of being surrounded by cyclists on their way to work, they would be stuck in automotive gridlock that would make a trip across the George Washington Bridge at 8 am seem like, well, a bike tour along la route departementale 618 from France to Spain.

Now some folks in Beijing are realizing that driving isn't always as quick or convenient as they'd hoped. They, especially the young are--you guessed it!--getting back on their bikes.

I haven't heard any reports of bicycle traffic jams like the ones the city experienced when few people had cars.  But city planners might be anticipating them--or responding to folks who want their bike commutes to be safer and more convenient.  To that end, construction on a 6.5 kilometer bicycle highway is set to begin this September.  

Because it will cross major highways, much of the bike route will be elevated.  There will be no traffic lights, and its use will be restricted to pedal bicycles without motors.  Moreover, it will have a gated entrance--a feature borrowed, along with others, from the world's longest elevated bike path in Xiamen.

That southeastern Chinese city was mainly a port city until three decades ago, but has morphed into a center for financial services and technology.  It has also become, interestingly, the city frequently cited as "greenest" or "most livable" in the country.  The influx of highly-educated professionals probably has something to do with that.

Those are the same sort of people who live and work in Zhongguancun, the district in the northwestern part of Beijing where the new bike highway will be built.  It's often called "China's Silicon Valley."  If the area's scientists, engineers, venture capitalists and creative people are anything like their counterparts in California, it's not surprising that they've taken to cycling--and want better conditions for it.

What I find fascinating is that the move from bicycles to cars and back has happened more or less within a generation.   Here in the US, the cycle has taken a century--that is, in those areas where there are people who ride to work and school, and for pleasure.

28 May 2018

Ride And Remember

Is there a Tomb of The Unknown Cyclist?




One could be forgiven for believing such a thing, especially after the way the Cynergy Cycling Club (of southern New Jersey) publicized its Memorial Day ride two years ago.

Whatever you do today, I hope you ride and remember!

27 May 2018

What's The Difference Between Security And Entanglement?

These days, we see lots of bicycles on the "Web".

But unless you let your bike sit too long without riding it, you're not likely to see a web on your bicycle....


From The Web Awards


...unless you had to park and forgot to bring your lock with you!

26 May 2018

When Nutley Ruled The (Cycling) World

Even during mountain biking's peak of popularity--about a quarter-century ago--most mountain bikes never saw a trail or dirt, let alone a mountain.

These days, something similar might be said about track bikes.  If someone is obsessed with building a bike that's NJS-compliant, chances are that it will never go anywhere near a velodrome.

It's just as ironic that as track or fixed-gear bikes have grown in popularity, interest in track racing, as a participant or spectator sport, doesn't seem to be on the rise.  Most fans, at least here in the US, seem to focus their attention on major road races like the Tour, Giro and Vuelta.

Time was, though, when track racing was more popular than any other sport in the 'States, with the possible exception of baseball.  In fact, the top cyclists earned even more money than guys who could hit or throw spheres of stitched horsehide.

There are few remnants of that time because, for one thing, most of the great riders of that time have passed on.  Also, most of the venues in which they rode are gone.

One of them was located about a morning's ride--half an hour on a ferry and two on a bike--from my apartment.  In its day, it hosted some of the best cyclists of the day--including Alfred Letourneur, the French rider who set speed records on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as local heroes like Charlie Jaeger and Frank Kramer.

Jaeger and Kramer hailed from Newark, then a major cycling center.  After that city's velodrome closed in 1930, a businessman and cycling enthusiast from neighboring East Orange tried to keep the torch burning, if you will, and built a new velodrome on the site of a former quarry.

Joseph Miele's track, the Nutley Velodrome, opened on 4 June 1933.  Twelve thousand fans turned out that day to see Letourneur and Jaeger, as well as other star riders like Italy's Giovanni Manera, Belgian Gerard Debaets, Franz Deulberg of Germany and Brooklyn's own Paul Croley.




For two years, Nutley was "an international dateline," according to Michael Gabriele, whose book, The Golden Age of Bicycle Racing in New Jersey was published in 2011.  "All the wire services covered the events," he explained.

But around 1936 or 1937, the popularity of six-day and other track races declined, and the velodrome was used for boxing matches, midget car racing and other sports.  The venue's last event was held on 15 September 1940, and it was demolished in 1942.

A few months before the Nutley Velodrome's last event, another event was held that would continue New Jersey's status as one of cycling's US centers:  the Tour of Somerville.  For decades, it was the single most prestigious bike race in America, and one of the few that attracted riders from abroad.  It also ignited the popularity of the criterium, which continues to be the most popular type of cycling race.

Though the Nutley Velodrome, which opened 85 years ago next month, lasted less than a decade, it still holds an important place in American cycling.  Nutley provided thrills for thousands of people, but in recent years the city has done more to calm people down:  Until 2013, it hosted the US headquarters of Hoffman-Laroche, where Valium and Librium were developed. 





25 May 2018

Because They Are Able

The Place de la Concorde is one of the world's most impressive public squares.  The first time I saw it, however, I tried to imagine it "covered with blood," as more than one writer of the time described it, as members of the French nobility and royal family were guillotined.

I have seen other beautiful places with terrible histories.  Sometimes their histories make their beauty all the more wonderful, in much the way lilacs are (and smell even better) because they bud and bloom at the end of winter.  

(Last week, I clipped some that were growing in a lot near the RFK Memorial Bridge.  They're some of the latest I recall picking or buying, and their scent was all the more intoxicating because it seemed our winter simply would not end.)



All of this brings me to Elliot Lake, Ontario.  It's in the northern part of the Canadian province, above Lake Huron.  I've never been there, but the photos I've seen are enticing.  I hear that people go there for outdoor sports--or to retire.

Not so long ago, however, it was known as the "uranium capital of the world."  Just about any kind of mining is dangerous to the miners and the place being mined:  All you have to do is look at parts of West Virginia and Southeastern Colorado to know that.  The Elliott Lake area is no exception.  Though it doesn't seem to have suffered the environmental devastation some mining areas incurred, plenty of miners and other workers were injured, disabled or even killed while doing their jobs--not to mention those who got sick from uranium poisoning.  

Well, today some cyclists are going to set off from Elliot Lake and ride 170 kilometers to two other former mining centers in Ontario:  Massey and Sudbury.  What's interesting about this ride is that some of the cyclists were themselves injured or made ill on their jobs.  Friends and family members will ride with them, in part to support injured workers, but also to protest the cuts in benefits paid to such workers.

24 May 2018

How I Wandered Into Common Sense

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you have seen a few photos of me riding, and a few more with one or more of my bikes.

Now, if you are a truly committed and dedicated reader of this blog (translation:  if you are reading this blog when you should be riding), you might have wondered what I look like when I write these posts.

Well, today I am going to reveal all:



All right, so I don't have an outfit like that.  And if I did, why would I wear it while writing--or riding?

That is actually a figure of Thomas Paine writing "Common Sense".  At least, that's how someone remembers or imagines him writing it.

So, apart from the fact that he wrote one of the most important documents in American--and possibly human--history, why am I showing an image of him?

Well, this afternoon I snuck out for a ride.   I got done what I needed to get done and scarcely a cloud was besmudging the sky.  So, out I went, with no particular destination in mind--although I kinda sorta started on one of my routes to Connecticut.

But I took a couple of turns I wouldn't normally take and found myself pedaling up and down hills in unfamiliar parts of somewhat familiar towns.  After riding up a hill to avoid traffic headed for the Thruway, I came upon this:

Yes, Thomas Paine lived here.  No, he didn't ride that bike.



Thomas Paine lived in this house from 1802 to 1806.  It was originally one of several buildings on a 300-acre farm the State of New York gave him for his service to the state, and the cause of independence.  The State had seized the farm from Frederick DeVeaux to punish him for treason:  He worked as a spy for the Crown during the Revolution.

The house contains a number of artifacts as well as some charts and dioramas describing, among other things, the roles Jews and the descendants of the Huguenot settlers of New Rochelle played in the Revolution.  (The city was founded by Huguenots from La Rochelle, France, who were escaping the wars of religion.)  

One interesting fact I learned is that the Hessians weren't actually mercenaries, at least in the way we define that term today.  They were conscripted into their national armies, and the Landgrave (Prince) could basically use them as he saw fit.  In essence, Landgrave Frederick II of Hesse-Cassel rented those troops to King George III--whose grandfather, George II, just happened to be Frederick's father-in-law.  And Frederick pocketed the money.

Today the house sits in a part of New Rochelle with sprawling houses and lawns.  In addition to the old house, another remnant of the farm remains




one that suggests, if obliquely, one of Thomas Paine's occupations before he became a pamphleteer:



Yes, he was a sailor.  No doubt he guided boats in or out of another stop on my trip this afternoon:



Mamaroneck is just a couple of towns up from New Rochelle on the western end of Long Island Sound.  Not surprisingly, its harbor is a favorite spot for walkers and idlers, as well as a destination for cyclists.  And a wedding party or two has been known to be held there.

I can't help but to wonder whether Thomas Paine was looking out toward that expanse of water when he envisioned a new nation free from the rule of a king on the other side of the ocean.

23 May 2018

He Couldn't Run Away. But He's In The Running.

Was he practicing for a Darwin Award?

According to police reports, Brady Michael Phipps pilfered some merchandise from a Verizon store in Redding, California.  From there, he ran across Hilltop Drive and entered a Dick's Sporting Goods store, where he climbed a ladder and stashed the stolen items in the rafters.

Police officers came in.  Now, I know that outside my hometown of New York, Big Box stores are even bigger than they are here.  Still, I think that Phipps' chances of eluding capture weren't the greatest, especially since multiple officers were in the store.

That, apparently, is not what he was thinking. He grabbed one of the bicycles the store was selling and rode it through the aisles and racks in an attempt to escape.

One officer knocked him down.  He continued to resist arrest, but the officers managed to take him into custody and book him.  The charges:  suspicion of obstructing an officer, petty theft...and violating parole.Turns out, he's been booked into the Shasta County jail twelve times since 2017.  

Brady Michael Phipps, from the Shasta County Sheriff's Office


Maybe I've lived a sheltered life, but small-time shoplifting doesn't seem like the smartest thing to do when you're on parole.  Nor does stealing a bike in an attempt to elude cops.  

Also, I can't help but to think that in the confines of a store, being on a bike might've made it easier for the police to capture him, if for no reason than it was easier to knock him off the bike than it would've been to tackle him while he was running.

Brady Michael Phipps made it easier for some police officer to take him out of circulation.  At the rate he's going, he'll take himself out of the gene pool and therefore be a candidate for the Darwin Awards.


22 May 2018

Buying What They Were

Five of my six bikes are equipped with SRAM chains, even though I don't currently use any other SRAM components.

It's an old habit: The first replacement chain I ever bought was a Sedis. It worked well for me, and I would use continue to use Sedis chains...until they became Sachs chains.  Then I used Sachs chains...until they became SRAM.


Back in the '80's, Sachs, which was known primarily for multigear and coaster brake hubs, bought out Sedis, as well as several other French component makers, most notably Maillard and Huret.  A few years later, the SRAM consortium, which consisted of Grip Shift, Rock Shox and a few other parts makers, acquired Sachs.


To keep simple-minded folk like me from getting confused, for the first few years of Sachs ownership, the company marketed those parts--which were still made in France--under hyphenated names:  Sachs-Sedis, Sachs-Maillard and Sachs-Huret.  But SRAM tossed all of those names into the dustbin of history.  I didn't mind:  I still like the chains.


I mention this because of another interesting name-change.  Rivendell is, of course, the bike brand Grant Peterson created from the ashes of Bridgestone.  Now "Rivendell" and "Bridgestone" are often used as terms to describe a kind of retro-ish or modern-retro bike, much as "Scotch tape" has become a generic term for rolls of clear adhesive bands, even though the phrase is a registered trademark of 3M.


Today Bridgestone bikes have something of a cult following.  So does Rivendell, if it's not a status symbol in some circles.  But what's commonly forgotten is that Bridgestone had two other identities, at least in the US, before it became Bridgestone.


Back in the early '70's, when the American Eagle Kokusai (later known as the Nishiki International) and Fuji S-10S were showing that Japanese bikes could compete with, and sometimes beat (especially in shifting), their European counterparts, there was another Japanese bike brand that seemed determined to make people remember why they shunned anything with a "Made In Japan" label.  


To be fair, some bikes sold under the C.Itoh brand were pretty good riders.  The company even had a "professional" model with a chrome-moly frame, Sugino Competition cranks, Sun Tour bar end shifters, "V" rear derailleur and Compe V front; Dia Compe brakes and Sanshin-Sunshine hubs with tubular rims and tires.  It was like a lower-priced version of the Fuji Finest, Nishiki Professional or Miyata Pro, with the best pre-Cyclone, pre-Dura Ace equipment available.


C.Itoh bike, circa 1972


But there were other C.Itoh bikes that, shall we say, reenforced all of the old negative stereotypes about Japanese bikes:  They had clunky lugs and bottom bracket shells,  dropouts and other frame fittings that were, to put it politely, quirky. The paint on those frames and chroming on the rims and bars flaked and came flying off when the bike was operated at more-than-average speeds.




Bridgestone-Kabuki "Superlight", circa 1975


(Maybe the folks making those bikes were trying to emulate the French, as Japanese bike makers often did in those days, and so believed they had to make their bikes like croissants.*)

Some of those bikes also came with a seatpost that almost no novice cyclist of the time had seen:  It looked more like the quill of a stem, with an expander bolt and plug that worked like those of a stem.  So, you didn't tighten your seat post with a seat binder bolt:  The expander kept it in the frame.  In one way, that's a good idea:  At least you don't have to worry about stripping out or deforming the seat lug.  On the other hand, it meant that saddle height adjustments could be made only by removing the saddle.


Kabuki Submariner, circa 1975


When C.Itoh bikes were rebranded , they kept that strange seat post. They also kept the clunky-looking lugs and bottom bracket shell.  At least they made sense on one model.  If you haven't seen it, you've heard of it:  the Submariner.  At least, that's what it was called when C. Itoh became Kabuki.

The Submariner was ostensibly a bike designed for marine environments.  So those lugs and bottom bracket shell were thick because they were aluminum.  Why were they aluminum?  Supposedly because they were needed in order to braze together the tubes, which were stainless steel:  Using steel lugs would have all but required silver brazing rod, which is much more expensive than the brass brazing rods used on most bikes, to keep from overheating the stainless steel.

The thing is, most other Kabukis looked like Submariners with paint on them.  What's funny about that, and the Submariners, is they date themselves as '70's bikes precisely because they don't look like other bikes from that period.  And they were sold under the Kabuki name because, by the mid-70s, people were actually willing to buy Japanese bikes because they were Japanese, so it wasn't necessary to mask their identities with names that didn't sound Japanese. (American Eagle?)


A rather nice Kabuki track bike, circa 1974


A decade later, when Kabuki became Bridgestone, and Grant Petersen became their lead designer, people were buying them because they rode--and looked--like the bikes they remembered from the '70's.  And they're paying even more for that privilege when they buy Rivendell, the line of bikes Grant started after Bridgestone closed its US operations in the mid-90s.

So, while I buy SRAM chains because they were (and, really, still are) Sedis chains, you probably aren't buying a Rivendell--or didn't buy a Bridgestone--because it was Kabuki or C.Itoh.  At least, I hope not.

(*By the way, I didn't mean to disparage French bikes, or anything else French.  I love croissants, and some French bikes, but that doesn't mean bikes should be made like croissants!)

21 May 2018

Building in 3D

I guess we shouldn't be surprised.

On Friday, I wrote about a 3D printed airless tire.  When I learned about it, I knew that other 3D printed parts were being made somewhere. 

Turns out, I underestimated the speed of technological progress.  Now there's a 3D printed bicycle that looks like a sci-fi version of an urban commuter bike--and is said to be stronger than titanium.



The new machine was made by Arevo, a Silcon Valley (where else?) startup that specializes in "additive manufacturing" (tech-speak for engineering-level 3D printing).  The company is backed by the venture capital arm of the Central Intelligence Agency, which isn't surprising when you realize that the armed forces are the main drivers behind 3D's evolution from a novel way to make chintzy plastic figurines to a sophisticated technological process used to make weaponry.


(Few people realize that the Silicon Valley became, well, the Silicon Valley largely because of military contracts during the Cold War.  So, if you're going to thank a soldier or sailor for anything, make sure it's for making the iPhone possible, not for invading Iraq!)

The bicycle's frame was made first, as a single piece, and the other parts were made.  According to Arevo CEO Jim Miller (formerly of Google), it took about two weeks to make the bike.  

Knowing that answers the question folks like me ask about carbon fiber bicycles: "Why does something made of plastic cost so much?"  Well, carbon bike frames--whether of custom chassis from the likes of Land Shark or the Specialized items your local bike shop offers--are made by workers who lay, by hand, individual layers of carbon fiber impregnated with resin around a mold of a frame.  The frame is then baked in an oven to melt the resin and bind the carbon strips together.

Arevo takes workers out of the process.  It uses a "deposition head" on a robotic arm to print out the three-dimensional shape of the frame.  The head then lays down strands of carbon fiber and melts a thermoplastic material to bind the strands, all in one step.   The result is that Arevo can build a frame for $300, even in The Valley.  That is about what it currently costs to build a similar frame in Asia.

Of course, even though Miller is reportedly a cyclist, he doesn't see Arevo as the next Schwinn or Trek or Specialized:  The company is working on a head that can run along rails and print larger parts, avoiding the need of ovens in which to bake them.  "We can print as big as you want--the fuselage of an aircraft, the wing of an aircraft," he says.

Surely he knows the Wright Brothers started as bicycle builders...


20 May 2018

A Robin Hood Of Public Health?

I am a terrible person:  I just laughed at the misfortune of someone else.

Actually, I was laughing about the way that person came about her misfortune, and somewhat in approval about the person who brought it to her.

What disaster befell her?  Well, she was sitting in a Honolulu bus stop Wednesday morning.  A man approached on a bicycle.  

He tried to snatch a carton of cigarettes from her hand.  She held on, but he overpowered her and snatched it away.  That caused her to fall on his bicycle and hurt her knees.




Now, given the way he robbed her--and the fact that he is 25 and she is 62--the police had reason to arrest him.  But he wasn't charged with assault or any other kind of crime against a person.  Instead, he was arrested on "suspicion of second-degree robbery."

Of course he was wrong to use force in an attempt to rob that woman.  I can't help but to wonder, though, whether things would have been different had he destroyed those cigarettes.  I mean, a cyclist taking away someone's cigarettes:  If that doesn't sound like someone promoting public health, I don't know what does.

Seriously, though, I hope that woman recovers--and doesn't smoke!

19 May 2018

Recycling Bikes In Brett's Memory

Families find all sorts of ways to keep the memory of a loved one alive.

This might be a "first", though:  a recycle-a-cycle program.


Three years ago, a motorcycle accident took Brett Rainey, whom his sister, Lisa Karrer, described as her "best friend".


She lives in Huntington Station, a Long Island town just a morning or afternoon ride from my apartment.  It has its charms, but as in many parts of Long Island, streets marked with hardscrabble lives are woven among the strands of  mansion-lined lanes.  A kilometer or less away from folks who drive their Mercedes' to shops where they buy the latest carbon fiber bikes and lycra kit, one can see children who don't have a bike to ride--or immigrants, mostly young, who could use a bike to get to the lawns they manicure and houses they paint.


Living with such a reality, and with the memory of a brother whose last job--and passion--gave birth to the idea.  "My wife said why don't we get used bikes?  We'll fix them up and donate them to the kids that can't afford them, we'll give them in Brett's name because that's what he would have wanted," she recalled.




The family's project, Brett's Bicycle Recycle, has given away about 100 bicycles, tricycles and skateboards since it started last year.  "Some of these kids have never even rode a bike and they're like 14- to 15-years old and they're in shock,"  Karrer explains.  


"He would have loved seeing this," said his mother, Drena Kanz 



18 May 2018

Without Air Or Tubes, In 3D.

Three years ago, "The Retrogrouch" wrote about one of the most interesting and enigmatic companies in the cycling world.

Zeus probably came as close as any bike manufacturer to crafting all of the parts for its bicycles.  Of course, they didn't draw the frame tubes, which were usually Durifort, Vitus or Reynolds.  But they, or one of their subsidiaries did  make all of the other major parts, except for the tires.  But you could still ride Zeus tires on your Zeus bike.  How's that?, you ask.


Well, there was a company in the US called Zeus that made them. But they weren't the kind of rubber someone riding a Reynolds 531 frame with Zeus 2000 components would have wanted.  The appeal of that tire, the Zeus LCM, was found more among novice commuters and folks who didn't want to get their hands dirty or scratch their just-enameled nails. (I can understand that!)


Those tires were airless and didn't go flat because they were solid polyurethane rubber.  I tried them for a half-century and a few days of commuting. I wondered whether I had just experienced what it was like to ride a "boneshaker"!  


As so often happens when a new product comes to market, people think the idea is new when, of course, it isn't.  And when it disappears, it will probably return and have another generation of consumers believing they've just witnessed the most wondrous innovation.


Well, it turns out that the airless tire has been revived during the past few years.  Three and a half years ago, The Retrogrouch wrote about a new crop of such rim coverings

They were not solid, like the Zeus, but like other offerings that preceded them, they had solid inner tube-like inserts.  

Now a German startup company, ProFLEX, has created its own version.  This one does not have an insert but, unlike the Zeus, it is not solid rubber.  Instead, it is supported by a complex honeycomb-like structure inspired by a car tire Michelin introduced last year.  That network mimics alveolar structures like the air sacs of lungs:  solid on the inside and more flexible on the outside.  


(Or, since we're talking about Michelin here, we could say it's the inverse of a baguette, which is crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside.)


The ProFLEX has one more thing in common with the Michelin tire:  It is 3D printed.



ProFLEX tire


Although I am not sure I would switch over to such tires, I would be curious to try them. I wonder whether their ride is more akin to that of pneumatic tires (most likely heavy ones) or solid tires like Zeus.


None of these airless tires, by the way, should be confused with tubeless tires, which are filled with air and can therefore be flatted.  I know:  Bill and I stopped to help a fellow who'd just been sidelined with his tu
beless tires.  

17 May 2018

A Ride Of Silence To Speak For Him

In Greek tragedies, the hero falls to a combination of circumstances and his or her personal failings or shortcomings.

One of the reasons such stories endure is that they make the world make some kind of sense.  The combination of situation and personal flaw give a sense of symmetry, if not justice, to the demise of the hero.

Of course, it doesn't always work out that way in life.  Sometimes a person meets his or her fate due to an incident that he or she did not bring on and cannot control.

Such is the story of Roger Grooters, who went on a ride to help people whose lives were changed for the worse by a circumstance not of their making.  


Eight years ago, the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill (better known as the BP Oil Spill) spewed seemingly endless streams of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, befouling beaches in five US states and Mexico and leaving birds, fish and marine mammals sick, helpless or even dead.  Grooters wanted to help the people from whom the spill their property, livelihoods and health.  

His pastor and fellow church congregants told him there was nothing tangible he could do.  He thought otherwise.  So, on 10 September of that year, he got on his bicycle in Oceanside, California, near San Diego, with the intention of reaching Jacksonville, Florida.  He documented his trip, which raised $12,000, on a blog called Roger X Country.

The name of that blog has been changed to We Ride For Roger.  A little more than a month after he started his ride, a pickup truck was barreling down State Road 20 just outside of Panama City, in the Florida Panhandle.  The driver was texting and--unfortunately, you can guess what happened next:  He plowed right into the back of Grooters.

You can probably guess what happened next:  He didn't make it to Jacksonville.  He didn't make it, period.  His ride ended after 2179.4 miles, or about 300 miles short of his destination.

The following year, a group of cyclists that included some of his family members gathered at the crash site and continued his ride to Jacksonville.  He rode to raise awareness of the victims of one disaster; they were riding to raise awareness of the victims of the kinds of disasters that occur all too frequently on roadways in Florida and elsewhere.


The Ride Of Silence


A cyclist has a greater chance of being killed by a motorist in the Florida than in any other state in the Union.  I am sure that at least some of the 100 riders who gathered yesterday at Pensacola State College were aware of that. They participated in a seven-mile "Ride of Silence" along the city's streets in drizzle and rain.  At the beginning of the ride, organizers read the names of dozens of cyclists who have been killed while riding in the Florida Panhandle as bagpipers played "Amazing Grace".

The riders wore armbands--black for those who'd never been struck by a car, red for those who had.  I couldn't find a count, but from the photos I saw, the red bands were numerous.

Oh, by the way....The driver was so immersed in his texting that he didn't realize what he'd hit until the police stopped him.  He was cited and fined but never apologized to Roger Grooters' family.

16 May 2018

A Ride Through History And Culture

If you've been following this blog, you know that I sometimes, oh, digress a bit into subjects like culture, history, politics, the arts and literature.  

Now the Museum of Ventura County in California has opened what, from the description I read, sounds like what this blog would be if it were an exhibit.


"Pedal Pushers!  Bicycling in Ventura County" is running until 17 June.  It will, among other things, contrast utilitarian bikes of the late 19th Century with sleek modern racing bikes--and highlight all sorts of machines in between.  In addition to bikes, the exhibit will include catalogues, photographs and various kinds of art work related to bicycles.





The purpose of the exhibit, says Charles Johnson, is to show the evolution of the craft and art of bicycle-making and to demonstrate the ways in which bicycles are a reflection of their times.  "We realize what the bicycle has meant in culture over time, and it has meant different things to different people," explains the Museum's research library director.


One of the best illustrations, if you will, of what he means is one of his favorite photographs.  It shows members of the Ventura Bicycle Club assembled on Ventura's Main Street in 1898.  Club members are dressed in their "Sunday best."  Johnson finds that, and the fact that there are so many women in the photo, interesting.  It shows that "bicycling was not an Everyman's sport at the time," he elaborates.  "Bicycles were like $20 and up to $100.  This is not a working man's salary in 1898.  You had to be very wealthy."


That photo would make an interesting contrast with another in the exhibit.  It was taken a century later, in 1998, and shows the California State Championship cyclists zipping past Ventura's City Hall.


If I were in the neighborhood (which,to Californians, means anything within a two-hour drive), I would definitely go to that exhibit.



15 May 2018

What Kind Of Clouds?

Is it fog?  Or is it smoke?



When it swirls around the arches of a bridge, I think most people would say it's fog.




But when it's at the Gate of Hell--or Hell Gate--it seems more like smoke.



But what about when it drifts over the city




or clouds the view of the prison?

Whatever you call it, I have pedaled through fog and smoke on my way to work.

14 May 2018

It Was Always The Future--Until Now?

A sportswriter once joked that soccer (what the rest of the world calls football) will always be the sport of the future in America.

And an economist once said, only half in-jest, that Brazil will always be the country of the future.

Likewise, back in the '70's Bike Boom, bicycles were being touted as the "transportation of the future."  Around 1979 (the time of the second American "gas crisis") I saw, in a shop window, a touring bike with a sign hanging from it proclaiming it "the RV (recreational vehicle) of the '80's."

Then, of course, Ronald Reagan was elected and put the kibosh on anything--except nuclear power--that might've reduced this country's dependence on fossil fuels.

Through the '80's and '90's, bicycle sales in the US basically flatlined, with a few upticks in the middle of each decade.  Anecdotally, I don't recall seeing many more cyclists on the road in the late '90's than I saw around 1983, when I first moved back to New York.  When I was mountain biking in the mid- and late '90's, I would sometimes see new faces on the trails, but they never seemed to do any other kind of cycling.  I wonder how many of them still ride.

I got to thinking about these phenomena after I came across Clive Thompson's article in Wired. "The Vehicle of the Future Has Two Wheels, Handlebars and is a Bike," exclaims the title.   I checked my cynicism at the door and read it.  He made one really interesting point:  The same technologies that are bringing us driverless cars and other things that seemed like the stuff of science fiction not so long ago are bringing us back to a reliable technology that's more than a century old, i.e., the bicycle.


Photo by Noah Berger

One of the main drivers, if you will, of that would-be trend is bike-sharing programs.  As he pointed out, they were tried way back in the '60's but, with no way to track the location of the bikes, the programs quickly died.  When the first of the modern share programs started just over a decade ago, the technology that gave rise to "smart" phones and their apps made it possible to track bikes--and, in the early programs, to create docks where bicycles could be secured.  Newer programs are, of course, dockless because they rely on another technology--phone apps.

Thompson didn't intend any pun when he said that to see the future, we don't have to re-invent the wheel.  And I don't mean a pun when I say that perhaps technology is bringing us full circle.

Bicycles just might be the transportation of the future--right now.