31 December 2010

Making Friends At The End of The Year

For my last ride of 2010, I did a few easy miles on the local paths.  On my way to them, a cute stranger crossed my path:

He was roaming around in front of somebody's house, saw me coming and nonchalantly started to cross the street.  Somehow he knew I would stop to stroke him. 

At least it's good to know that someone finds me more interesting than the newspaper--one called the "Observer," yet.  If an observer something and no one pays attention....how does that question end?

So what do I miss most about home?  My cats?  My bikes?  My books?  My friends?  It's really close.  

Happy New Year!

30 December 2010

Bridges to Deja Vu

There are at least a couple of different ways in which you can experience deja vu during a bike ride.

The most common way, of course, is to see familiar sights during along a route you've ridden before.  More often than not, that is a pleasant or at least agreeable situation.  After all, you wouldn't be doing the ride again if you don't get some kind of pleasure from it.

Then there is what I will call, for lack of a better term, situational deja vu.  Any number of situations or other experiences can repeat themselves during a ride. Among them are weather, road conditions, fatigue, exhiliaration or some emotion or another that you're dealing with.

Yet another kind of deja vu is, paradoxically, the most ephemeral yet the one that affects us most deeply.  It's the one in which we recall feelings or memories which may have come to us on rides very different from the one we're on at the moment.  Or we have expereinced those emotions during rides we did much earlier in our lives, or in places very different from the one in which we happen to be riding.

There are other ways, I'm sure, in which we can experience deja vu during a bike ride.  I've just mentioned three I could think of at this moment.  They also happen to be the ways in which I experienced deja vu on today's ride.

Although this is my first visit to, and therefore my first bike ride in, Florida in two years, every inch of today's ride was at least somewhat familiar to me.  I had previously ridden every crack and grain of sand my tires tread, though not necessarily in the sequence in which I rode them today.  But it seemed that the flow of sense memories was all but seamless.

It began when I crossed the bridge from Palm Coast Parkway to Route A1A:

Hannibal is said to have shouted "Excelsior!" after conquering the Alps.  Whatever he was feeling, it has nothing on the sensation I experience as I reach the apex of a bridge that connects the mainland to a strip of land along the sea.  At such moments, I feel as if I'm exhaling for the first time, whether the bridge is the one I crossed today, the one that connects Broad Channel to Rockaway Beach, the one I crossed over the estuary of the Dordogne river to the coast near Bordeaux or the one from Highlands to Sandy Hook in New Jersey. 

It was over that last bridge that I took my first long rides during my early teen years.

And that bridge led, like the one I crossed today, led to a spit of land that stands, almost defiantly, between the ocean and another body of water.  When you ride along Route 36 from Sandy Hook to Long Branch, the ocean is never more than two hundred feet to your left and the Shrewsbury River is no further than that to your right.  When you ride A1A from Palm Coast to Flagler Beach, the dunes of Painters Hill (such an apt name!) and Beverly Beach are practically at arm's length on your left, and you're separated by no more than the width of a grove or mobile-home "campground" from the Florida Intercoastal Waterway.

Even though this is Florida, I'll admit that today's ride is more beautiful than the ones in New Jersey or to Rockaway Beach.  But in the end, I enjoy it--and, more important, it matters to me for the same reasons as those rides, and the one in the southwest of France.  They all are bridges to deja vu.

29 December 2010

Riding A Borrowed Bike On Its Own Time

Dear Reader, I really want you to feel pity for me.

Yeah, I know, I'm spending the holidays in Florida.  And, in doing so, I avoided the Great Christmas Blizzard of 2010 (or whatever the media are calling it) that hit the Northeast.

But where I am, while it's lovely enough, it ain't South Beach.  Then again, I never really wanted to go there.  In fact, I never had much of a yearning to go to Miami, or to come to this state at all.  My reasons are beyond the scope of this post or this blog, but suffice to say that my parents are the reason I come here, to a place that's about halfway between Jacksonville and Orlando--and, for that matter, about halfway between Saint Augustine and Daytona Beach. 

Now, all of those towns except Jacksonville (which, frankly, I don't know very well and--again, for reasons beyond the scope of this post and blog--don't want to know very well), have much to recommend them.  The town in which my parents live is not without its charms, including some nice pedestrian/bike lanes.

So, there's some good riding here.  The problem is this:

Yes, this is what I have been riding.  My parents borrowed it from a neighbor.  While I appreciate that neighbor's kindness, I have to wonder how much she actually rides it.  I saw it two years ago, and it looked no more used when I saw again this week.

It's a very cushy bike: the sort of machine on which you'd float along on a boardwalk or around the golf course.  But try to ride it more than half an hour, or make it go more than about three times your normal walking speed, and this bike will ignore your efforts and continue on its merry but very slow ways.

It's not too bad when ridden on level ground (which, around here, is pretty much the only kind of ground) and with the wind.  But pedal against the wind, which sometimes kicks up along the coastline, and it feels as if you're riding suspended in syrup.

This is giving me incentive to order a Brompton.  Of course, if I were to bring it (or any other) bike down, I'd have to check it in.  Usually, I bring everything I need for a trip down here in a carry-on.

Well, I'm glad I have a bike to ride, anyway.  And this one makes me appreciate my own bikes all the more.

28 December 2010

Cycling Under A Sword of Damocles

This is one way you know you're in The South (and I ain't talkin' about the Bronx):

Between this bike/pedestrian path and the ocean is a strip of land about 200 yards wide, consisting of more trees-- like the one in the photo-- with moss cascading from them, interrupted by roadside ice cream and hot dog stands, biker bars, gated communities and a Publix supermarket.  Between this bike/pedestrian path and the Inland Waterway are a couple of state parks, a couple of convenience store/gas stations, a couple more biker bars and a couple of "professional buildings."

I stopped in one of the convenience store/gas stations.  The latter is owned by Citgo, but the store is part of a local chain called Jiffy.  This part of Florida, like much of the US, has experienced its coldest weather on record for this time of year.  So, I had a yen for something I never craved in my previous trips down here:  hot chocolate.  Also, I started the day with a headache, which I incorrectly thought I could pedal off.  So I also wanted aspirin. 

While there, I got talking with Sharon, the store manager.  I can best describe her as a redneck wife, and I don't necessarily mean that disparagingly.  She's somewhere between my and my parents' age and has lived all of her life in this area.  Business was slow, she said, but that's how it is everywhere: "Nobody has any money." 

She said she'd seen a report saying that the county in which her store is located--and in which my parents live--has the highest unemployment rate in the country. It's hard not to believe that:  Everywhere I've pedalled, and every place I've gone with my parents, I've seen empty stores and condo buildings.  A so-called European Village consists of a pedestrian plaza ringed with restaurants and shops, about half of which were vacant.  When I last saw it, two years ago, all of the spaces were occupied and business, although not booming, had yet to be wracked by the ravages of the implosion of the local and national economy. 

Sharon says she's never seen anything this bad.   In a nearby town, where she sometimes has to go on business, she sees "kids with eighteen siblings, and none of them have the same father."  And, she says, "They're white."

Five years ago, someone with no job, no income and no assets could get a loan to buy a house.  Today, this county and other places are full of young people with no job, no education and no future.  Now, if they had education, they'd be like certain young people in the Northwest of England nearly four decades ago.  What did they do?  They became the Johnny Rottens and Sid Vicouses of this world.  If, instead of education, they had religious dogma, they'd be suicide bombers. 

But those young men and women truly believe in nothing at all.  At least, they're not willing to die for anything, and they're living, not for the future, not for (much less in) the moment, and not even for the present or the Eternal Present.  Instead, they are in a chasm that cannot be filled with anything, not even their own deaths.

You can see it on their faces.  In fact, during the time Sharon and I were talking to each other, three of them--the "rock-heads," as she called them, came into the store.  One young man used the bathroom and left; a girl, younger, tried to buy cigarettes and another bought a case of beer. 

"You've got to watch out for them," she warned me.

"They look pretty scary."

"You're on your bicycle.  You're a woman riding alone.  Around here, that can be dangerous, epecially between here and the bridge."

"What do you mean?"

"They attack people and rob them.  And sometimes they do worse."

I thanked her for her advice and wished her a happy new year. And she wished me a safe trip, which I continued under the trees with moss hanging from them.

27 December 2010

Cycling Where North Is South and South Is North

The local forecasters are saying that tonight we're going to have the coldest weather we've had for this date in at least forty years.  The temperature is supposed to fall to 27 degrees here; with the wind-chill, the "real-feel" temperature will be 20 or less.

Now, if I were in New York, I probably wouldn't give a second thought to this weather.  But I'm in Florida.  Granted, it's about an hour and a half northeast of Orlando, but still...

I guess this weather is Floridian compared to what they're having in New York and, in fact, just about all of the Eastern seabord north of Savannah, GA.  And I did get out for a brief ride this afternoon.  Although it was still chilly and breezy, there was scarcely a cloud in the sky.  Plus, I saw very little traffic.  On the other hand, I did see lots of pine trees.  I've nothing against them, but after an hour of seeing little else, they can get monotonous.  Perhaps I wouldn't have felt that way if they were magnolias or some other trees I don't normally see.

The other day, I described the apparent lack of commuter and utility cyclists in these parts.  That leads to drivers, whether intentionally or not, riding close to cyclists or turning into an intersection as a cyclist crosses.  To be fair, the latter may be due to the faulty timing of traffic signals.

Those same motorists, once they leave their steel cocoons, can be very pleasant and polite, or even charming.  I encountered one such driver today:  He made an uncomfortably close turn and, upon noticing me, rolled his eyes and said "Dang!" or something stronger.  As his window was closed and my lip-reading skills are only slightly better than my navigational or computational skills, I can't be entirely sure.

Anyway, I stopped in "Monkey," one of a local chain of 7-11 type gas stations/convenience stores, to use their bathroom.  On the way out, I picked up a pack of Crysto-Mint Life Savers.  As I walked up to the counter, that same man was chatting with the cashier.  He turned and, upon seeing me, drawled, "How d'ya do, ma'am?" 

"Oh, very well, thank you.  Lovely day, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is, ma'am.  I hope you're having a nice holiday."

"Why, thank you.  And I hope you're having the same."

When I used to come down here in boy-drag, I found that some of the young good ol' boys would run me almost off the road and whoop, yell or make comments about my obvious Yankee-ness.  Ironically, I was born in Georgia, though I spent only the first five months of my life there.  My father was stationed there with the Strategic Air Command, and during my infancy, they moved him, my mother and me back to New York. 

In the visits I've made since becoming Justine, I find that the motorists act more out of neglect or ignorance, or an unconscious sense of entitlement, than out of outright hostility than they did when I was Nick.  And, in my days as the "before" photo,  people were invariably polite and often friendly when they encountered me off my bike.  Now, I still find most of them polite and friendly, though some men are what some would characterise as chauvinistic and sometimes solicitous.

These experiences remind me of what someone once told me:  In Florida, South is North and North is South.  Down to about Orlando, it's very much like one encounters in Georgia or Alabama.  But much of the area south of Epcot Center has been colonized by Yankees and Quebecois.

But as far as today's weather goes, North is North, all right. 

26 December 2010

A Parliament of Fowles By The Sea

This week, I'm posting from a computer that's not my own.  So, for some reason, I'm not able to include more than one photo in any given posting. 

That's a shame, because even the two relatively brief rides I've done since arriving here have given me opportunities to seem like I'm a better photographer than I actually am!

As you can see, Christmas Day was a nice time to be at the beach.  Today, not so much.  Maybe they flew to Bermuda and are celebrating Boxing Day.

25 December 2010

Monet, On The Other Side

No, I'm not taking a cycling trip in France with a stop in Giverny. (I did that once, though!)  This is a good bit closer to home and family.  And I am in a place whose name begins with an "F." 

And, much to my delight, I've found one of the best walking/cycling trails I've seen in a while.  Perhaps even more gratifyingly, it was built within the past two years, in a place with a terribly depressed economy.

Think of the places in the US that have been left on the verge of asphyxiation since the housing bubble burst.  I'm in one of them right now:  a county with an official unemployment rate of 18 percent.  That's where I'm going to be this week. 

Yes, I am in Florida.  The weather was warm today, and I overdressed a bit when I rode.  I guess I was expecting a repeat of yesterday's weather, which was cooler.  Before I came here, Mom and Dad relayed some details of the coldest December this area has experienced in the time they've been living here, and for many years before that.  As an example, my mother said, oranges fell off the tree in their yard because they'd frozen.

Well, whatever it's been here, it's still not Bedford Falls.  Last night, I watched It's A Wonderful Life with Mom and Dad.  It's the first time in many years that I've seen the movie.  It's actually a rather good movie; it is cloying and sentimental, which, I suppose, a holiday movie should be, at least if its makers want to have a large audience.  And it does make a timely and timeless point about the human condition.  However, even though it was worth seeing again, I can't honestly say that I saw anyone or anything in it differently than I did when I last saw it.  Then again, maybe I'm not supposed to.  After all, we're not talking about Othello, from which I learned a few new things when I taught it this semester.

About the bike riding here:  There are actually a pretty fair number of dedicated cycling/pedestrian paths that are set off from the main roads. In fact, one starts just down the road from my parents' house.  The problem with them, as in so many other places, is that they begin and end abruptly, and pick up in other places.  Such has been the case since I first came here seventeen years ago. 

It is perhaps the most frustrating in my favorite place to ride around here.  Route A-1A skirts the ocean from Marineland to Daytona Beach. (It may go further in either direction; I know only about the stretch I've mentioned--and cycled.)  It's as beautiful a ride as one can find anywhere, but it's narrow and full of turns.  And some drivers see cyclists as obstacles--to what, I don't know--even when we're nowhere near them.  Of course, that's no different from the situation in so many other places.  But it's frustrating, and even dangerous, to be cycling along a dedicated path that ends abruptly and to have to pedal out onto a roadway where drivers aren't anticipating you.

I guess the situation I've described is a result of two things.  One is that most of the drivers don't use that road on a daily basis, so they have no way of knowing what to expect.  The other has to do with the fact that almost no one here cycles for transportation.  I've seen a pretty fair number of cyclists in the times I've visited, but they were all riding for recreation.  Of course, I'm not knocking that:  After all, that's what I was doing, too. But, having spent most of my life in urban areas, and much of that time in communities where significant numbers of people pedal to work, shop, go to school, visit museums and to other daily activites, I am convinced that unless there is a critical mass, if you will, of cyclo-commuters, non-cyclists will treat cyclists out of ignorance or with disrespect, or even hostility. Lycra-clad racers and wannabes, of which I was both for long periods of my life, do nothing to change motorists' attitudes about cycling and cyclists.

Now I realize I've stumbled over one of the great paradoxes of cycling in America.  The places where people would most want to ride are the ones with the least (or non-existent) cycling culture.  On the other hand, the places where there are the largest numbers of people who use their bikes for transportation are the most congested and polluted, not to mention the sorts of places where people wouldn't choose to take a cycling trip.

Then again, Monet and other artists often had to get away from the art world in order to create their best work.  Would he have come here?  With his bike or on it?

23 December 2010

Alpina or Grand Cru?

I've decided that I'd like to relieve Arielle of the burden of a triple.  That burden includes extra weight, redundant gears  and shifting that, while precise enough, is tedious. 

So I want to install a so-called "compact" road road double.  Now I'm trying to choose between the Sugino Alpina and the Velo Orange Grand Cru.

My heart says "Alpina" because of its looks.  As I don't do retro for retro's sake, I couldn't care less that the Grand Cru mimics some visual elements of old Stronglight and other European cranksets from the 1960's amd '70's.  That's not to say that the Grand Cru is unattractive; I just prefer the looks of the Alpina.

On the other had, the Grand Cru has a significantly lower tread, or Q-factor, than the Alpina.  That will make it feel more like the Campagnolo and Stronglight cranks I rode in the old days.  I'm not so sure of whether they were more comofrtable than current cranks, or whether I am simply older and not in the shape I was during my racing days. 

Another consideration, for me, is that I've used Sugino products for a long time, while VO is only a few years old and the GC is a new product.  Then again, I've been happy with the VO in-house products I've used.  But those products have included, maninly, accessories like fenders and bells, not central drivetrain components like cranks.  Then again, Chris, the proprietor of VO, stands by what he sells and has always been friendly and helpful to me.

One last consideration is that, whatever I buy, I may swap the chainrings, as I have some 110 BCD 'rings  in different sizes.  So I would be buying mainly for the arms, and the Alpina can be had for a bit less than the Grand Cru.

Decisions, decisions. What do you, dear readers, think?

Marianela Gets Fixed Up

When I rebuilt Marianela, I'd given her an ability she hadn't used--until the other day, when I fixed her up.

All right...If you know the story of Marianela, you know she wasn't fixed up.  But my old orange bike was. 

You see, her new wheels have a "flip-flop" hub in the rear.  Until the other day, I'd ridden her with a single freewheel.  But I decided that if I go through a period--as I just did--of not having time to ride save for my commutes and errands, I at least want to derive as much benefit and pleasure as possible from them.  So I gave  la pobre Nela a fixed gear.

I've only been able to ride it twice.  The drivetrain is surprisingly smooth, especially given the fact that it consists of low-cost parts. 

Of course, the only thing crazier and holding a greater potential for disfigurement and premature death than riding a fixie with no brake on the streets is riding one without some sort of foot retention.  So off came the rubber pedals and on went these:

Talk about back to the future:  These pedals are among the first made specifically for mountain biking.  They date to about 1985 or earlier.  Note that they have very wide platforms, which are great for foot support and comfort.  But they're also terrible for cornering and ground clearance, which is probably one reason why they haven't been made in more than twenty years. 

Also note a feature lacking in today's mountain bike pedals:  provisions for toe clips and straps.  The ones I installed are probably almost as old as the pedals themselves altough, unlike the pedals, they had never been used. 

So tell me:  How many bikes have you seen with those pedals--and Velo Orange fenders and "Milan" handlebars?  Or fixed gears with cyclocross/winter tires?

20 December 2010

Pas de Randonnee

Today's only the first day of winter, at least officially. And I already have a case of the midwinter blues.

This year, we've had colder and windier weather earlier in the season than in any recent year, at least as I recall. But that doesn't usually affect my mood.  It is nearing the end of the semester and, as I told my brother, this time is for college instructors as tax season is to accountants. That means some sleepless nights and little time for anything besides work.

So, naturally, I haven't had much time to ride.  In times past, that's really gotten me down.  Tammy and Eva both used to say that they could tell I'd gone too long (for me, at least) without riding when I got annoyed with everything they said and did.  Of course, I annoyed pretty easily in those days anyway, and perhaps I still do.  But there was no denying that a lack of time in the saddle led to all sorts of moodiness.

In recent years, I've had two fairly lengthy spells without cycling.  One, of course, followed my surgery.  The other came during my first year of living as Justine.

The obvious answer is that I had so wanted to undergo my transition and surgery that I was willing to give up, at least for a time, cycling.  Actually, I didn't stop riding altogether during that first year: I simply did much less, mostly because of circumstance but somewhat out of choice.   I was, for the first time in a very long time, turning into a social creature and was mostly enjoying it.  As it happened, the people around whom I was spending a lot of time weren't cyclists.   And I made no effort to "convert" them.

For about four months after my surgery, I simply couldn't ride.  In the beginning, I couldn't have even lifted any of my bikes, or much of anything weighing more than a  couple of books in a bookbag or knapsack.  Before the surgery, I knew that my recovery would be spent off the bike.  So, I guess, I was menatally ready for it.  

You might also say that my work at the college is an extenuating circumstance.  Indeed it is.  But in some weird way, even though the end of the semester is almost here, it still seems even further away than getting on my bike again seemed the day after my surgery.

I'm not the only one to get the no-biking blues.  Back in my racing days, a fellow racer told me he felt became really depressed when an injury kept him off his bike for a few months.  At one point, the doctor told him that he would never ride again.  At that point, he said, he seriously thought about killing himself.

Recently I did a Google search and found that he's not only still alive; he's still racing in the senior category.  (He's about three or four years older than I am.)  And he's an independent businessman.

Dear Readers, do you get depressed when you can't ride for extended periods of time?  

19 December 2010

Trash Talkin'

One of the things I've learned, in cycling as in life, is that any container you carry will fill up.  The question is:  with what?

Given that there are far fewer trash receptacles on this city's streets than there were a few years ago, it makes sense that people will make do with whatever they find.  Sometimes, though, what they find is a bike with baskets on it.  

I very stupidly deleted a photo I was going to post with this.  In it, the side-by-side rear baskets that hung off each side of a bicycle's rear rack were completely filled with trash.  And I complained about finding a couple of White Castle cartons on the front basket of my LeTour!

And now I also know that New Yorkers aren't the worst offenders when it comes to "trashing" a parked bike.  The above photo was taken in Tokyo.
In addition to White Castle cartons, I've found empty and half-empty beer bottles, boxes from Kotex and religious tracts in my basket.  I wonder pamphleteers were targeting me.

What are some things you've found in your bike basket, or on your rack or any other part of your bike, after leaving it parked on the street?

18 December 2010

Hipsters Go Back To Their Futures

I must say:  The question never crossed my mind.  But I got the answer to it today.  Here it is:  What if there had been hipsters during the '80's?

Might they have ridden a "fixie" like the Schwinn in the middle of this photo?  

If they had, they might have borne the wrath of all the disdain I heaped upon that decade's young and annoying people:  the yuppies.  

Now, I've never been a yuppie or a hipster.  Couldn't have been either, even if I'd wanted to.  But I'll make a confession:  Back in those days, I wore a cycling jacket in a pink just like the one on that bike.  It was a rather nice jacket, actually.  

You know that anyone who ends a sentence with "actually" isn't wearing a jacket in a color like that!  Likewise, on the day I learned, in Sociology 101, that my family was "working class," I was no longer part of it.  Now, what that's got to do with hipster fixies and yuppies and a jacket I wore twenty years ago, I don't know.

All I know is that if I'm rambling the way I just did after seeing a tacky bike in a shop, I've spent too many hours reading way too many student papers.  Some of them were due months ago; I suppose I've been suffused with the "holiday spirit."  Plus, I don't want to deny any student whose "sob story" may actually be true.  I mean, what if some freshman's grandmother died for the fifth time this year?

If she did, she sure won't be riding that bike in the picture.  Me, I wouldn't be caught dead on it.  But you probably knew that already.

15 December 2010

Getting Away, For This Moment

What have I done this week?  Woke, had breakfast, rode bike to work, taught classes, read papers, taught more classes, rode home, read lots more papers, went to bed, woke and started the cycle all over again.

At least I was able to ride to work.  Actually, I came to the conclusion that I had to.  Not to meet some training goal or to fulfill some egotistical desire; no, I had to ride, even if only to work, to keep even a pretense of sanity. And, it was the only thing that was allowing me to do my work.

You see, last week, I took the train and bus on Thursday.  The weather was cold, but not as bitter as it's been the last couple of days.  Rather, I thought I could use the transit time to get some work done.  But I was so tired that I couldn't focus.  Yet, at the same time, I was on edge:  Imagine that you can't keep your eyes open but an electrical storm is flashing inside of you.  Even if I could have concentrated my energies enough to read a few papers, I couldn't have:  Everything was crowded, so I had hardly enough physical, let alone mental, space.  

It also seems that my work load at the end of this semester has been particularly onerous.  I feel as if I never really caught up--in cycling as well is in my work; forget about my personal life!-- after losing a week to my eye infection.  

I apologize for the absence of photos or other images.  I just didn't get a chance to take any pictures.  I take that back:  My mind just hasn't been working in that direction.

But the riding has been good.  And I actually was accompanied, at least for the first two miles of my ride home last night, by one of the full-time faculty members at the second college where I teach.  She saw me pick up my helmet and one of those, "You ride, too?!," conversations ensued.

She may not be the most experienced rider.  But she's a more skilled rider than she realizes.  And, she wants to do it.  Plus, I have to admit that while she was praising the fact that I seemed "unfazed by the cold" (and you all know how good I am at seeming to be one thing or another, as I spent so much of my life at it, until a few years ago!) and that I was keeping up the kind of pace I was (which, actually, wasn't that great, but I didn't care) , I was noticing how good she looked riding her bike.  In my next life, I'd like to look as good as she does when she's riding.  Hey, I wouldn't mind it in this life!

Now, here's the one of the other things I do to keep some shred of sanity:  writing on this blog.  I needed to do this, too:  A couple of days away, and I really missed it.  Whatever its other merits, if any, this blog and my other let me do some writing that doesn't involve comments like "Society can't think anything" or that dyspeptic prose found in the academic world or the narcotic diction of education papers.

Now I'm becoming narcotic.  That's not too strange, though, given what time of year it is

12 December 2010

Bikes Under The Tree

From Tree Hugger

For many people, a quintessential childhood memory is one of finding a bicycle under the  Christmas tree.  One generation dreamed of a shiny Schwinn balloon-tired bikes; the next yearned for three-speed "English racers."  Then there were those who lusted after slick-tired "Choppers" or "low-riders" or cruisers with sweeping curves--and, later, ten-speeds, which seemed as fast and exotic as sports cars.

If you've ever found a bicycle under the tree on Christmas morning, you know that nothing--not even getting that custom frame you'd been dreaming about--is ever quite as exciting.  Perhaps things are different for the current generation, but for mine, and those that came earlier, a new bike was the ne plus ultra of rewards Santa (a.k.a., Mom, Dad or other adult) bestowed upon you for being a good little boy or good little girl.  Not that I was ever either one... ;-]    In fact, as an adult, I was once given a bike for Christmas for being naughty, if you know what I mean!

So, dear readers:  I'd love to hear about the bikes you got, or gave, for the holidays.

11 December 2010

A Cat Crosses My Path

They say it's bad luck when a black cat crosses your path.  How does that affect you if you learn that as a kid?  Well, I guess it could really screw up your race relations, or leave you with a pile of therapists' bills. The latter is a common consequence of being inculcated with just about any superstition.

For the record, I've paid all of my therapists' bills.  That is not to be confused with paying your dues, if for no other reason that if you think you've paid your dues, you haven't.  At least you know whether or not you've paid your therapists' bills.  Trust me: I know from whence I speak!

Now I've really digressed.  To get back to the subject of this post...which was?  Oh, right, a black cat crossing your path.  Well, one didn't cross my path today.  However, this one crossed in front of me when I was riding on Randall's Island:

She's feral, so she doesn't stand still for very long.  However, she did pause from her prowlings when I stopped.  She tiptoed to within a few feet of me, gazed into my eyes and, perhaps realizing that I hadn't brought anything for her to eat, took off.

There's been some material written about how to deal with stray dogs when you're on your bike.  But I have yet to see anything that deals with the subject of stray cats encountered when cycling.

I recall now the time I was pedaling up a narrow mountain road near Briancon, France.  The surface and the sides looked sunbaked, even though the day was overcast.  I'd just made one of those turns from which rocks tumble off the edge of the road when I heard--meowing?  Here?, I wondered.  There were no other animals and no vegetables, or so it seemed.  Well, at least I knew that my soon-to-be new friend (who seemed to be a Chartreuse cat)  didn't get skinny from smoking cigarettes and drinking black coffee.

I didn't have any cat food with me.  However, I did have some butter cookies in my handlebar bag.  I broke up a few and they seemed to end up in her mouth almost as soon as they passed through my hands.

From there, I cycled into Italy.  Ironically, on the way back, I rode down the same road and the same cat crossed my path.

As hard as her life must have been, at least she had a wonderful view.  So did the cat who came my way today:

10 December 2010

Going Stealth In Pink

Some black bike parts are said to have a "stealth" look.  I suppose that on a black bike, they would "fly under the radar."  And, if enough people are riding black bikes,  I suppose that those "stealth" bikes and parts could go unnoticed.

But what if the world were lit by magenta neon?  Seeing the old Rudge-Whitorth in that light in Flushing made me think of this:  That bike, which was black, certainly didn't look "stealth."  That's not to say I didn't like its looks: It had a nice patina on it, and there's something classy about some of those old three-speeds.  But if one wanted to make it less visible, what would one do?

Would these be "stealth" in the light I saw last night?

09 December 2010

Eccentric Rings

Tonight, on my way home, I stopped in Flushing for a bite to eat.  Now, I've never been to Hong Kong, but Flushing is what I imagine Hong Kong would be like if it were transported to Queens.  Or, perhaps, with its ubiquitous neon, it could be seen as an Asian version of Times Square.

I wonder whether the makers of this Rudge-Whitworth ever imagined it in magenta neon light.  In some odd way, bike and light are not incongruous, at least to me.  

One particularly interesting feature of this bike is its chainring cutout pattern:

Is the hand halting or waving? Whatever it's doing, it looks good doing it on this bike.  

I'm guessing that the bike is from the 1940's or 1950's.  At that time there were dozens, if not hundreds, of bicycle manufacturers who made what we now think of as classic English 3-speeds.  (Many of those companies, including Rudge, were bought by Raleigh during the 1950's.) While, at first glance, they seemed almost the same, each model had its own particular set of details that set it apart. An example is in the chainwheel you saw in the above photo. Many other British makers used chainwheels with interesting and sometimes whimsical patterns cut into them.  The Raliegh three-speed I rode last year had a heron--Raleigh, which of course was Raleigh's corporate symbol. 

I've seen other chainrings cut out in interesting patterns. Here's one of my favorites:

It's on an AJ Warrant bike from Austria.  Although there's no earthly reason to use a cottered crankset today, I wouldn't mind having the one in the photo.                                                                       

08 December 2010

Santa's Helper

Last night my commute took me through the great wilderness of the Land of Overdecorated Houses.  

Even after so many years of cycling, I still can't get over how much brighter and gaudier those lights and combinations of green, red, gold, silver tinfoil seem when you don't have two feet of glass and two tons of metal between you and them. And the cold, clear night made them glint and glare all the more, or so it seemed.

We're supposed to have more of this bonechilling clarity through the next week.  I hear even Santa's reindeer don't want to come out in this weather.  Hmm...I wonder...How would the world be a different place  if Santa and his helpers rode bicycles instead of sleighs pulled by reindeer.

06 December 2010

Cozying Up

I've tried to get Charlie and Max interested in cycling.  But they aren't interested in the hard work:  They like to supervise.

Max, at least, makes an effort at looking busy.  (Is that something like acting sincere?  I actually heard someone say that.)  Of course, there's no contract, but there are no rules about sleeping on the job.  Charlie knows that very well:

It was below freezing and, with the wind chill, about fifteen degrees colder.  I got on my bike to go to work.  Now you tell me:  Which species is more intelligent and evolved? 

05 December 2010

Winter Now

From Utility Cycling

It is undeniably winter now.  Or, at least, it feels that way.  The winds of yesterday doth blew today. Hey, I'm teaching a Shakespeare play in one of my classes.  You have trouble with Shakespeare's language, you say?  All right:  Ou sont les neiges d'antan?

What made today really strange, though, at least climatically (No, that's not the word you thought it was!), was the fact that the temperature varied almost not at all.  It felt that way and the recap I heard of the day's weather said as much:  High temp 34 F; Low Temp 30; clouds but no precip; wind speeds from 20 to 30 mph.  Not a day fair and excellent, as the Bard would say.

It's time to get myself out of denial.  Time to take out the wool gloves, the wool shirts and such.  The week I'll spend in Florida will be a mere interlude:  the cold will precede and follow it.  

At least there hasn't been any sleet or slush yet.  I don't mind the cold, and I don't mind precipitation. Both together, though, can make for miserable cycling and can be simply depressing.  Fenders and the proper clothing make such conditions endurable, if not enjoyable.  

I'm not about to stop riding, though.  I never have gone on "winter break" unless I had some health issue or another that prevented me from cycling.  That hasn't happened often, and has never kept me off my bike for more than a couple of weeks every winter.  

At least winter rides make hot chocolate and soups taste really good!

04 December 2010

Into The Wind; Into Life

Today I managed to get out only briefly.  I got up late and had a few errands and other things to take care of.  I wish I'd ridden more (Don't I always!) because it was a nice day, the cold and wind notwithstanding.

Actually, I wanted to ride more in part because of the wind.  Of course, there are two sides of it:  riding facefirst into it and having it blow at your back.  The former is the stuff that builds character and such, the latter is a reward for, I suppose, having your character built up.

Pedaling into the wind is, even among non-cyclists, a poignant metaphor for facing challenges. Not being pushed back is a kind of progress; moving forward is a victory in the same way as surviving another day of a struggle.  With these victories, with survival, comes the hope that accompanies the anticipation of a reward:  the wind blowing at your back.  

I did my first rides of more than an hour along the ocean in New Jersey. I would ride from Middletown, where I spent my high-school years, to Sandy Hook, which is exactly what the name says it is:  a spit of sand that somehow manages not to be submerged by the bay or the ocean that are on each side of it.  From there, I'd ride along Route 36 through Sea Bright and Monmouth Beach--both of which straddle strips of land even narrower than Sandy Hook--to Long Branch. (Later, as I gained more experience, I'd ride down to Asbury Park or beyond.)  

On the peninsula that forms the West End of Long Branch, the wind shifted direction about two o'clock every afternoon. On most days, I would be riding into the wind down to Long Branch.  That, of course, meant that the wind would blow me back home.  

Learning about that wind shift, and how to use it, taught me much more than almost anything else I learned in high school--or any school, for that matter. It took me a long time to learn how to use those lessons, but they are the sorts of lessons one doesn't forget.

Those lessons were even applicable to those times when I had to continue pedaling into the same wind from which I had no respite on the previous day.  There are times like that on most multi-day rides:  I recall now the second tour I took in Europe, from Italy into France.  Late one Saturday I checked into a small hotel in Brignoles, a place that was actually quite lovely and interesting (It is in Provence, after all.) but where I also hadn't any plans to stay.  I stopped there because, by the end of that afternoon, I simply couldn't pedal any more.  The next day was more of the same--wind and climbing punctuated by climbing and wind--but at least every pore, orifice and cell had been awakened by that previous day's ride.  

And, oddly enough, while I was pedaling through those lavender-tinged hills, I began to chant part of a Navajo creation song to myself:

It was the wind that gave them life.  It is the wind that comes out of our mouths now that gives us life.  When this ceases to blow, we die.  In the skin at the tips of our fingers, we can see the train of wind. It shows us where the wind blew where our ancestors were created.

Actually, now that I think of it, those words weren't so incongruous.  In the villages and countryside in which I had been riding, I'd had the sense that everything there was happening in some sort of circle that seemed to begin in the wind.  Everyone knew where their ancestors were created, if you will.  A few days earlier, I talked to an olive grower.  I told him that his trees were among the most beautiful things I had ever seen. While not prideful, he didn't seem surprised. "C'est aussi une cathedrale," he said.  "Il est leve pour longtemps" :  It has stood for a long time, like a cathedral.  Later, he told me, "Quand cet arbre est plante, n'est pas pour son moi; n'est pas pour son enfants ou petit-enfants; il est pour leurs petit-enfants":  You do not plant such a tree for yourself, for your children or grand-children; you plant it for their grandchildren.

At the tips of its leaves, one can also see a train of wind.  It shows where the others have grown and where their fruits have been picked, by the ancestors of those who planted it: The grower told me that an olive tree has to grow a hundred years before it bears fruit.  But, if cared for, it will continue to provide olives for a thousand years.

And it was given life by that same wind into which I would pedal a few days later.

03 December 2010

Korean Woman On Bicycle

Will we see Korean War II?

Technically, the North and South have been at war for the past sixty years.  The fighting ended only with a truce in 1953, and there have been hostilities ever since, including North Korea's most recent attack.

And, of course, we can't forget that the US has stationed thousands of soldiers in Korea since World War II.

No matter what happens there, people go about their lives.  

The woman is riding along the Yalu River, which forms North Korea's border with China.  I stumbled upon this photo when I was looking up some articles about Korea.

No matter how great or powerful any country is, or becomes, it'always full of people like the woman in the photo.  Whether the backdrop is as stunning as the one in the photo or as drab as an empty subdivision, we're really like that woman.