29 April 2011

Motorists With Spring Fever

Today was one of those spring days when the wind, brisk as it was, felt like a form of light and the mild, almost warm, air held nary a hint that there could be strife in this world.

We, as cyclists, live for days like this.  Actually, I can't think of anyone who wouldn't look forward to such a day.

But every year, on the first definitively Spring day (as opposed to the first day with spring-like weather), some people lose their grip on themselves, especially when they're driving.  Some might be young and have just fallen in love; others simply are intoxicated, perhaps. 

So, along with the lovely weather came some absolutely crazy drivers.  You know the kind I mean: the ones who cut across lanes and make turns without signalling, or simply don't pay attention to the road ahead or beside them.  Or the ones that drive close enough to you to scrape the crochet backing off your gloves and let their dogs bark, drool or chomp out of the back windows. "Awww...isn't he the cutest thing you ever saw..."

I think that such weather, and the beginning of spring,  coming later than usual affets people, including me, in all sorts  of ways.  Sometimes it's fun, but when someone cuts across the lanes, not so much

Oh well.  I made it home from work.  And tomorrow we  will have more l

28 April 2011

Kneecapped by Walmart?

It's a conspiracy, I tell ya.  The other night, my flight from Atlanta was delayed by almost three hours.  So I got home late Monday night and didn't feel like doing much of anything. (When I go to my parents', I usually fly to Atlanta, then to one of the NY Metro area airports.)  

Then, last night, I didn't have any internet connection.

Ya no, I got to thinkin' that Sam Wall himself was behind everything.  Mr. Wall, I'm sorry about all of those terrible things I said about your fine retail establishment.  I will never, ever use the name "Wal-Mart" in the perjorative, ever again.  Yes, I promise (as I use Catholic school birth control, a.k.a., I cross my fingers).

So now you think I'm a conspiracy theorist.  Well, not really.  I haven't said anything bad about Obama since he showed his birth certificate.  (All right, I never was a "birther.")  But sometimes I think certain people-- e.g., certain retail plutocrats--have it in for me.  Or could it be that the gods of something are angry--or crazy?

And I haven't done any cycling since I got home.  Something's afoot, and it ain't my old Detto Pietro shoes with TA Anquetil cleats (the kind that nailed onto the sole).  

I know.  I'll get to ride again.  At my age, I should know that.  Still, I worry that I'll lose this spring, the way I lost most of last spring.  Well, not quite:  Last spring, I had infections and other illnesses.  At least this year, my excuses are Life and the weather.  (For a few moments just after noon, the sky grew ominously dark and  I thought we might see another tornado here in NYC.)

At least for the last couple of days I had memories of a couple of pleasant, if short, rides from my parents' house.


25 April 2011

Buying A Tire at Wal-Mart

I promise:  This won't be merely a rant against a corporate monolith.  However, I am warning you that this post will contain one.  So proceed at your own peril.

Yesterday, as I mentioned, I got a flat.  Since Mom and Dad don't ride, and the bike was borrowed, there was no spare tire or tube in the house.  So Dad took me to Wal-Mart, which was the only store open, to get them.

I bought a mountain bike tire and two tubes.  The total cost, with tax, was $25.88.  That doesn't sound bad, except that I know that I could have gotten something of better quality online, or even from my local bike shops, for less money.  And these tires and tubes were the only ones offered in the store.

The tire and tubes were from Bell, which seems to have become a generic brand of bike parts and accessories without being, or admitting to being, generic.  I've used Bell helmets, which were fine. But I see, at best, a tenuous connection between whoever is making the tires and tubes and whoever is making the helmets. 

So, it seems, Wal-Mart is now taking advantage of the apparent lack of competition in the area by offering a limited selection and inferior quality at whatever prices they can get away with charging.  

And don't get me started on the way the company treats its employees.  That they were working on a holiday, for minimum wage,  was bad enough.  But the workers--even the young floor manager--didn't seem very healthy.  And the cashier--one of those wonderful Southern women of a certain age who calls everyone "hon" and "darlin'"--was missing nearly all of her teeth.

She probably couldn't have afforded the tires and tubes I'd just bought.

24 April 2011

Not A Swamper

I've never pretended, even for a moment, that I could be a "swamper."  Even though I was born in Georgia, which has more than its share of swampland, I spent only the first few months of my life there.  And I know that, as much as I love Sweet Home Alabama, I will never have the same feeling for the places figure into that song as the ones who wrote and performed it.

However, spending a few days in Florida, especially when I have the opportunity to ride, allows me to appreciate the beauty of the wetlands I see here.  For one thing, they're full of flora and fauna one simply doesn't find on drier lands, or any lands north of the Potomac.  And, for another, these swamps glisten in the sunlight in ways that no other kind of landscape can.  I suppose that if I spent more time in and with it, I could describe it better.  For now, all I can say is that their perpetual greenness somehow makes the water seem bluer, and gives everything a feeling that is pristine and ancient at the same time.  It's as if those lands, and the water and plants that cover them, could neither reflect nor belie the ways in which the human race has or hasn't touched it.

But when you're out in the middle of one of these swamps--or even riding a bike lane that cuts through it--in the middle of a bright summer today, like the one I experienced today, it's just plain hot.  And it's even hotter when you get a flat and there's no shade to cover you when you're fixing it.

Now, having fixed it and eaten an Easter dinner (ham, baked sweet potatoes, Italian-style asparagus and tomato and mozzerella slices drizzled with olive oil, among other things), I can sit here and celebrate the beauty of what I saw. 

23 April 2011

Route A1A and The Nomclemature of Two Wheels

It wasn't exactly jet lag.  But when I got to my parents' house last night, I was exhausted.  And as much as I appreciate you, dear reader, I wanted to spend whatever waking moments I had with my parents.  After all, they're getting on in years.  Then again, we all are, I guess.

Anyway...Today was very much a summer's day:  the temperature reached 90F (32F).  And the sun lit a nearly turquoise sky and a sea that was only slightly more opaque.  The temperature was a few degrees warmer than normal for this time of year in this part of Florida, but some brisk winds tossed flags about, particularly along the ocean.

Along the way, I stopped at Flagler Beach, where an outdoor market filled with people who shopped the produce stands and whose kids had just hunted for Easter eggs in a nearby park.  In the market, a woman who makes jewelery from beads and shells was selling her wares at discounts because it's going to be her last day at the marketplace until the fall.  Naturally, I bought a few items and got into a conversation with the woman, who says she's going to spend her summer in Wyoming, where she is going to manage the Native American jewelery section of a National Park's gift shop.  She can't sell her work there, she says, because it would be a conflict of interest.  However, being there will give her the opportunity to collect some Native beads and other items, as well as some ideas, she might use. And she'll be able to hike and camp in the mountains.

After shopping, I ate a banana, a pear and a Lindt dark chocolate bunny and washed them down with a bottle of spring water while sitting on a bench facing the ocean.  Another woman on a bike walked by; we exchanged pleasantries about what a beautiful day it was.  Her cell phone rang and her family said that they'd finished doing whatever they were doing, so she was going to meet them. 

She motioned to a bar across the street.  "I'm going to the bikers' bar," she explained.  "The one for the real bikers."  Of course--given that we were on Route A1A, about halfway between Daytona Beach and Saint Augustine, she was referring to the ones whose motorcycles, mainly Harleys, were parked outside that bar.

From "Motorcycle and Bicycle Illustrated, July 12, 1917

I didn't have the chance to ask her what made them "real" bikers, as opposed to us.  Now, if she'd said that they were "bikers" and we are "cyclists," that would have made some sense to me because I've never referred to myself as a "biker" and most other people I know who ride bicycles reguarly refer to themselves as "cyclists."  

Not so many years ago, "cyclists" were referred to as "wheelmen" and the first club to which I belonged was affiliated with what was then known as the League of American Wheelmen.  That organization dated from the days of penny-farthing or high-wheeler bicycles and, I guess, hand't yet heard about feminism.  Then again, if they had, what would they have called themselves?  "Wheel men and women?"  "Wheel people?"

Can you tell that I got more sun today than I've gotten in the past four or five months?

21 April 2011

The Navy Yard Bike Lane

If you've been reading this blog, you know how ambivalent I feel about bike lanes, especially ones that are next to parking lanes.  Now I've seen something that makes me feel more ambivalence on top of what I already felt about bike lanes:

This lane, which runs alongside the westbound lanes of Flushing Avenue in Brooklyn, has a  three-foot high concrete wall separating it from the rest of the street. It parallels the southern boundary of the old Brooklyn Navy Yard.  

Most of the Yard is fenced off, but it's possible to catch a few glimpses of some of the old buildings.  Yes, they do have a sense of history to them, as do many buildings that were used for the purpose of war.  On one hand, I feel about them the way I do whenever I'm on the any site where death reigned:  A combination of anger and grief over the sheer futility and waste of lives.  On another hand, I find it interesting in the way old industrial areas are:  Such places represent ways of life that have come, or are coming to an end and skills and knowledge that are, or are becoming obsolete but that were once indispensable to large numbers of people.  In other words, they're a bit like the nearby docks of Red Hook and Bush Terminal, where male relatives of mine worked in jobs and trades that, for all intents and purposes, no longer exist.  For that matter, neither do the jobs my mother and grandmother worked in the factories that once operated very near the Navy Yard. 

I sometimes think that the only real advance the human race could make is to realize that war is obsolete, or at least ultimately useless.  But, of course, that would also mean the end of large parts of the economy as Americans and many other people in this world know it.  

All right...I'll get off my soapbox.  Standing on them is risky when you're wearing high heels, or bike shoes with Speedplay cleats.  (Look cleats are somewhat less risky.) Besides, what I've just said about the military-industrial-financial complex is not the only reason why I'm ambivalent about the bike lane I just found.

I decided to ride the lane on my way home from DUMBO.  It's narrow, but as long as you're looking ahead of you, the oncoming cyclists won't be a problem.  The problem I found is the lack of a connection between the point where the lane meets the exit ramp of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and the bike lane that parallels Kent Avenue along the Williamsburg waterfront, just north of the Navy Yard.  The gap between those two sections of bike lane isn't more than a hundred meters, I'd guess.  But cars are exiting the highway, and I'd bet that most drivers don't know about the lane.  And any cyclist who is riding the lane for the first time probably won't know that there's a point where the lane meets, but doesn't cross, the highway exit ramp.

Perhaps, in another post, I'll tell you about something that happened to me along that stretch of Flushing Avenue before the lane was built.  Don't worry:  It wasn't terrible, just ironic.

18 April 2011

Beware of Indian Three-Speed Bikes

I should've known something wasn't good when I saw this:

Even though I haven't worked in a bike shop in at least fifteen  years, I still have nightmares about this bike. 

It's a made-in-India replica of the traditional English roadster--specifically, the Raleigh DL-1.  Like the erstwhile velocipedic pride of Albion, this made-in-India machine has three speeds, rod brakes and one of those rear kickstands that lifts the rear wheel of the ground.

Someone once said that the Yugo took the worst features of the Fiat 128 and made them even worse.  I would say something similar about the relationship between this bike and the DL-1.  It's well-known that rod brakes don't do a very good job of stopping, and that steel rims give poor-to-nonexistent stopping in the rain.  Well, the bike in the photo has inferior versions of those parts.  

And while the DL-1s weren't much fun to work on, the Indian bikes were downright scary.  Pieces broke and threads stripped under a normal amount of torque from riders' bodies as well as from bike shop tools.  Seeing as much rust as you see on the bike in the photo wasn't unusual; what was scary was that brand-new bikes were already rusting from the inside when they were brought into the shop.

Plus, as much as I like pink, the shade of the bike in the photo looked a little too much like Pepto Bismol for my tastes.

The bike was parked in front of a pizzeria where I hadn't gone in some time.  I used to stop there when riding along the Long Island City and Greenpoint waterfronts; sometimes I'd buy a slice or two of pizza and pedal over to the Long Island City piers, which are directly across the East River from the United Nations and directly in line for a nearly perfect view of the Empire State Building. 

The pizza slices from that place were always pretty good.  So was the one I had today.  And the dour middle-aged proprietor who made the pizzas the first time I went there, at least a decade ago, is still plying his trade though, I suspect, he may be a senior citizen by now.  That wouldn't be so bad if he didn't seem so worn, and the place sadder, shabbier-looking and not as clean as I recall from earlier visits.  

Maybe the now-old man senses the end is near.  Several storefronts around his are vacant, with "For Rent" signs in their windows.  I'm not sure of whether they're the result of the economy, which has claimed a lot of restaurants, bars and stores, or of the changing neighborhood.  The places that closed looked like their best days were past when I first saw them, around the first time I went to the pizzeria.  I wouldn't be surprised if I learned that the now-closed bar specialized in Boilermakers.

I wonder whether that Pepto Bismol-colored Indian bike parked in front of that bar, or any of those other places that have closed, will be unearthed by some future archaeologist--from another planet, perhaps.  What would that person/being make of them?

17 April 2011

A Japanese Moulton from Bianchi?

Paint your bikes green, call them "whites" and they'll sell like hotcakes all over the world.

Believe it or not, a company has actually been doing what I've just described. 

I'm talking, of course, about Bianchi.  Time was when a Bianchi was a Bianchi, and you couldn't buy them everywhere.  They were available in a few countries outside Italy and in the US, a relatively small number of shops sold them.  The Bianchis available outside Italy were almost all mid- to high-range road bikes, and they were all made in Italy.

Things started to change during the 1980's when Bianchi had some of their bicycles manufactured for them in Japan.  As far as I know, those bikes were sold only in North America, and were--intentionally--much like the better Japanese bikes of that time from makers like Miyata, Panasonic and Bridgestone.  Bianchi's finest racing machines were still made in Italy, but they apparently realized that in the less-expensive road bikes (I'm talking about the real ones, not the ones that mimicked their paint schemes), Japanese frames were offering arguably better workmanship and clearly better components, particularly in the drivetrains, than the Europeans were, or could.

That was the beginning of a major shift for Bianchi.  Up to that time, you sought out a Bianchi if you were a racer or other high-mileage cyclist who cared at least somewhat about speed.  And you knew that getting a Bianchi meant getting a particular kind of Italian road bike.  If you weren't the type of cyclist I've just described, you had probably never heard about Bianchi at that time.  But, from the 1980's onward, Bianchi became, in essence, a number of different bike-makers in a number of different countries.  As an example, they marketed one of the first hybrid bikes in the US, where that type of bike first appeared.  They also offered mass-market versions of high-performance mountain bikes made by the pioneer mountain bike builders in the US. Later, they would make and sell one of the first mass-market fixed-gear bikes--and helped to spawn, if unintentionally, the "hipster fixie."  And they have sold various types of utility and recreational bicycles in other countries.  Those bikes are tailored to the needs and tastes of the local markets.

I've never been to Japan.  So, in all honesty, I couldn't tell you what cyclists ride there.  All I know about the Japanese cycling community and markets, I've read in bike magazines or heard from people familiar with Japanese cycling.  And, oh, yes, from seeing what the Japanese buy on e-Bay.

I never would have guessed that their tastes ran to bikes like these:

Martin, the owner of this bike, brought it and himself from Japan.  He says it's a kind of bike the Japanese call the "mini-sprinter":  a machine with a relatively tight wheelbase, straight fork and small wheels (on this bike,  20 X 1 1/8).  He tells me that when people see it, they ask him how to fold it.  I remarked that in some ways, the bike--which is called the Mini Velo 9 Drop--reminds me of the original Moultons.  

According to Martin, Moultons are sought by collectors in Japan, where they fetch even higher prices than they do here in the US.  And, he said, a lot of Japanese believe that it's possible to go faster with the smaller wheels.

I've always wanted to ride a Moulton just to experience it.  If I had money to burn, I might buy one even though I'm not a collector.  I'm sure that the ride of Martin's bike is different, however subtly.  If I had more time, I might want to try both a Moulton and Martin's bike.  I wonder which one I'd like better.  In any event, I'm sure that the shifting and braking are better on the Bianchi than they were on the Moulton.  My love of vintage (and vintage-style) bikes, bags and other accessories doesn't extend to components. 

However, Martin does have two things on his bike that, if they weren't standard equipment on Moultons, were almost certainly installed on many of them.  He has a nice brass Japanese bell like the ones Velo Orange sells.  More important, he has a nice brown Brooks B-17 on his Bianchi.

16 April 2011

In-Your-Face Gray

It's been a gray, rainy day.  You know the kind of day I mean: one in which you just can't escape the gray. It's not about my mood; I've actually been feeling good these past few days.

Here's another example of gray that you can't escape--or, more precisely, something gray that somehow manages to be in-your-face:

Now, of course, the bike seems even more in-your-face with an orange bike behind it.  Of course.

Just having the name "Giant" on a bike is pretty audacious.  Now, I've never owned one and have only test-ridden two.  I don't mean to disparage the bikes:  One of the Giants I tried was actually a nice ride.  I don't remember which model it was; I recall only that it was a mountain bike.

Anyway...I never realized a gray bike with black trim could be such an eclat to the senses!

15 April 2011

The Last Bike Standing Follows The Moon On Friday Night

Until recently, there was a TV show called Friday Light Nights.  I never watched it (I watch little to no TV) but the title is apropos of tonight, at least for me.

I was the last one--well, the last cyclist, anyway--to leave the college tonight. 

After getting something like a real night's sleep last night, the ride today felt really good.  It was a few degrees cooler than it was yesterday, so the ride in was brisk, as was the ride home.  I was almost underdressed for the latter:  At times, I wish I'd worn a light jacket over my sweater and blouse.   I did, however, wear pantyhose under my skirt, which felt right--at least temperature-wise.

Today was the last day before Spring Recess.  At least it was for my classes:  Tomorrow, Saturday classes have their last meeting before getting a week of for the holidays.  The students in today's class are normally an interesting and stimulating group; today, they didn't seem as eager to leave as I would expect students to be the day before a recess.  I showed them the filmed version of Shakespeare's  Othello in which Lawrence Fishburne plays the title role.  Othello is one of my three favorite Shakespeare plays (The Tempest and Macbeth are the others) , and I'd say it's probably the one which I've had the most success teaching.  

Now, you may ask, what do teaching Othello and cycling to and from work have to do with each other?  Well, I think that, if nothing else, my experience today led me to a circle of questions:  Do my rides feel good because I feel good?  Or is it the other way around?  And was the confidence I felt on my bike and in my class a result of both going well?  Or did things go well because I was feeling confident and happy?

And when is my enjoyment of cycling enhanced by my enjoyment of other things?  Or does my enjoyment of other things enhance my enjoyment of cycling?

I guess that's a bit like asking whether cycling leads us to follow the moon or following the moon leads us to cycle.

13 April 2011

Bike and Bed, or Bed and Bike

So why didn't I post yesterday?  Let's see...Should I be creative?  Or tell it straight?  Ha!  Me, doing anything straight.  What a concept!

Anyway...After my first longish ride of the year--which I did on my fixed gear--instead of taking a bubble bath or doing something sensible like that, I did some work.  And got about three hours of sleep.  No, I take that back:  That's how much time I was in bed.  And then I went to work.

So, when I got home last night, late, I went almost immediately to bed...and to sleep, even after having eaten a takeout dinner with way too much sodium and having drunk some tea.

I couldn't have slept any better-- not in my grandmother's arms, not in the plushest bed in Buckingham Palace, nor even in the Bed and Bike Inn--than I did last night.  I slept so deeply that the fog didn't have to come in on little cat's feet (This is probably the only time I will ever quote Carl Sandburg; Do you forgive me?).  It could have echoed in one of the horns of the boats in the harbor and I would have dreamt through it--and not remembered what I dreamt.

Nights like last night make me believe that nothing's better than cycling-induced sleep. 

11 April 2011

When The Best-Laid Plans Lead To A Lane To Reverend Ike

Hopefully, you have all had an experience of not "getting the guy (or girl)" but ending up with The One.  

I'm not going to describe anything quite as momentous as that.  But I am going to relate a tale of things not going according to plan and turning out better than I'd planned.

I didn't work on any of my bikes yesterday.  The rain didn't materialize.  However, I did other things that took more time than I expected.  So I got to spend only half an hour on my bike.

On the other hand, today I didn't have classes due to a scheduling quirk.  And the afternoon turned into the nicest one we've had in months.  The morning fog and clouds burned away in the afternoon sun; within a couple of hours, the temperature rose from the mid-50's to near 80.  After sending off my state tax return and a birthday card for my father, I gulped down some green tea and yogurt with almonds and raisins and took Tosca out for a spin.

The route I followed today was the same as the one I took last year, when I did my first post-surgery ride of more than an hour.  It's also the route that I took for one of my last rides before surgery.  From my place, I took the RFK Bridge to Randall's Island and Manhattan, where I pedaled through upper Manhattan to the George Washington Bridge.  On the New Jersey side of the bridge, I rode atop the Palisades, along the Hudson River, to the edge of Jersey City, where I descended to the Exchange Place waterfront.   Then it was a matter of following, glancing away from, then following again, the waterfront through Jersey City and Bayonne (the hometown of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons) to the bridge bearing the latter city's name to Staten Island, where I took the Ferry.

It's an interesting combination of urban neighborhoods, cookie-cutter suburbs, blue-collar and yuppie havens, and views of the river, skyline, bridges that reflect the color of the morning mist and trestles that put the rust in Rust Belt.

Just before the GW Bridge, there's an interesting or hideous (depending on your point of view) theatre that was probably built during the 1920's.  It now serves as a pulpit for the ex of a famous singer/performer who has done some of her best-known work since splitting up with him.

Said preacher is Reverend Ike.  Yes, that Rev. Ike:  the one who was Mr. Tina Turner.  Of course, he never saw the relationship that way, though sometimes I think that, deep down, he must have known it would come to that.  Quite possibly the worst thing for the long-term prospects of a marriage is a wife who is obviously more talented than the husband.  (Somehow marriages stay together when the man is more talented.  That's a story for another post, or more precisely, another blog, or some sort of study by the NIH.)  At least Sonny Bono admitted as much about Cher; from what I understand, Rev. Ike was very abusive toward Tina.  

Hmm...Are politics and preaching the last refuges of husbands who can't make it on their own and whose wives get sick of them riding on their coattails?

I digress, again.  About half a mile south (downtown, to New Yorkers) of Rev. Ike's temple, I saw something I hadn't seen since I last rode up that way:

It's the shortest bike lane in New York.  Well, maybe I'm exaggerating a bit.  But it does serve a purpose:  It guides cyclists through one of the trickiest intersections in upper Manhattan, if not all of the city.  When St. Nicholas Avenue (on which the lane is located) crosses West 163rd Street, it also intersects with Audubon Avenue which, like St. Nicholas, is one of the main thoroughfares of that part of town.  

If the intersection were a clock and you were riding on St. Nicholas from the six o'clock position, the traffic from Audubon would be coming at you from the two and eight o'clock position, while the 163rd Street traffic would be coming from somewhere between the two and three o'clock position, and somewhere between the eight and nine o'clock positions. So, from St. Nick, you would cross 163rd and Audubon as if they were an eight-lane highway.  

The new path leads to a couple of concrete islands where there are signs, and from which the path continues to 165th Street.

After that and Rev. Ike, the rest of the ride was a piece of cake!

10 April 2011

Rainy Day Projects

It's supposed to rain on and off today.  I suppose I could play chicken with the rain again.  However, I somehow feel that I wouldn't be so lucky in daring the weather as I was in chancing it.  Actually, I wasn't even chancing it:  I just had enough dumb luck to be able to ride between rainfalls.

If it does rain, I'll probably do some bike work I'd been planning.  Maybe I'll even build the wheels I had planned for Marianela.  I'm not using any fancy components on it, save for the DT spokes.  (They're going to connect Sun CR-18 rims to IRO hubs which look like they're made by Formula.) But I think that, and the care I'll take in building it, will make it a better wheel than some of the stuff they sell on e-Bay.  

What else?  When I swap the wheels, I'm going to put street tires on it rather than the cyclo-cross tires I've been riding.  They still look good, so I'll save them for next winter.

I also just got a pair of shifter pods from Velo Orange.  Those aren't for Marianela, though; they're for Helene.  I was going to get a pair of Paul Thumbies.  But I found out that the road version works only on the part of the bar that bulges near the clamp.  And the mountain version would be too narrow to fit on the grip area of the Velo Orange Porteurs that Helene has.  The VO pods are made to fit either road or mountain bars, and they'll work with the Dia Compe Silver shift levers that are on the bike.  And I just happen to have a pair of cable guides I saved from the last set of Ergo levers I used.

Now...Which do I do first?  Of course Helene is more fun to work with (not to mention ride); Marianela is my "beast."  But Marianela's rear wheel popped a spoke a couple of weeks ago.  That's usually a sign that a wheel needs to be rebuilt or replaced.  Then again, no spokes have broken since.  I find that on dying wheels, spokes tend to break pretty frequently.

Plus, it's been quite a while since I built a pair of wheels.  I used to do it in one of the shops in which I worked, and I've built a few wheels for myself.  But since I haven't done it in a while, I wonder whether my skills have deteriorated?  I know how to do it; I just wonder whether i've lost the "touch" I might have (or merely imagined) I had.

Oh well.  This is probably one of those decisions I should make after I've made (and eaten!) a crepe or two.

08 April 2011

Into A Cherry Blossom Sunset

Somehow I get the feeling I might've better appreciated today's weather had I been English.  Then again, upon realizing how much of the Empire consisted of warm climes, one could just as easily conclude that some English people weren't so crazy about their own meteorological conditions after all.

The day remained overcast.  I thought I felt a few drops on my way home.  I kept my fingers crossed:  I received a very important document in the mail at my second job.  And I was bringing it home in a tote bag with an open top that I carried in one of my bike baskets.  Perhaps if the rain had gotten heavier, I could have stopped in some store and asked for a plastic bag.

But the sprinkle seemed to end not much after it started.  While the sky didn't clear, I was treated to an interesting "sunset" as I pedaled through Flushing Meadow Park.

Now, even if you absolutely detest pink, how can you not love a cherry blossom "sunset?"

07 April 2011

Playing Chicken With The Rain

The past few days could teach anyone the meaning, if not the precise etymology (Oh, shit, did I just sound like a linguistics professor?) of the phrase "April showers."

Yesterday rain began to fall when I was a couple of blocks from my class.  Today I woke up to tires hissing on slick pavement that was nearly dry by the time I rode to my first class.  But, when I stepped outside between classes, a glaze of rain clung to the concrete and pavement like a honey drizzle on a baking ham.  And, by the time I left for my other job, the streets were once again dry.

However, I could tell that the rain had gone in that direction and left just before I got to my other school by the fresh, dewy scent in the air, which was still pretty chilly.  I haven't seen new flowers on either campus.  But on my second job, I saw this sign of rain that passes over several times a day:

That's The Pinarello, which I saw for the first time since December.  And the cycling colleague in my department also had a "shower cap" on her bike:

And, yes, I saw everything glistening with raindrops when I went outside after class.  But, once again, I had just missed riding in the rain--or it missed me.

06 April 2011

It Looks Like A Lane Now

It looks like a real bike lane now.

Last week, I mentioned the construction I saw on the Queens side of the Edward Koch/Queensborough/59th Street Bridge.  (At the rate it's going, the bridge'll have more names than God has in the Old Testament!)  Well, I don't know whether they've finished it.  But at least now the path is useful, and takes you to a practical destination.

More important, it doesn't force cyclists into this:

This is where the lane from the bridge used to end.  Just beyond the orange barrels, 27th Street dead-ends under the elevated tracks of the #7 and N lines of the New York subways.  Most of the traffic on 27th (which is one-way in the direction of the truck in the rear of the photo) merges onto the bridge ramp; a few vehicles turn right onto Queens Plaza North, where you see the black sedan.  Sometimes those streets are completely full of vehicles, and their drivers aren't known for patience.

So, when a cyclist coming off the bridge can turn left onto the lane, which intersects with 23rd, 22nd and 21st Streets. All of them continue underneath the tracks.  Or one can take 23rd in the other direction to go to Astoria.  That street passes through an industrial area and the traffic on it is usually light.   Twenty-Second is one-way in the opposite direction from 23rd, and 21st is a major artery that serves as part of the route for several bus lines.  

I would love it if the path were extended to Vernon Boulevard, which skirts the Queens bank of the East River.   That would offer cyclists relatively easy and safe access to PS 1, Socrates Sculpture Park and the Noguchi Museum, among other things. 

One can always hope.  For now, I'll suspend my cynicism and be grateful for something that's better than what we had.

05 April 2011

They Need A Few Good Bikes. The Women, Too.

A counselor at my second job is a volunteer with Neighbors Link, an organization that helps recent immigrants. He is asking people to donate bicycles and sturdy clothing and footwear (such as jeans, overalls, T-shirts and work boots) to that organization, which will give them to recent immigrants.

The idea intrigued me for several reasons.  For one, I notice that more and more immigrants--mainly from Latin America and Asia, and mainly men--are using bicycles for transportation. I'm not talking only about the guys who make deliveries for various restaurants, cafes and diners.  Others are riding their bikes to work at construction sites, warehouses and other places where native-born degree-holders fear to tread.  Some, I suspect, are also riding to classes at the community colleges, language institutes, trade schools and GED centers in the area.  

As you can imagine, they're not always riding the best of bikes.  Sometimes they're on cheap department-store bikes, most of which are not assembled properly (in addition to being of poor quality).  Others are used bikes of just about every genre.  These days mountain bikes from the early and mid-90's seem to be the most common pre-owned bikes to find their way into the immigrant communities, and there are large numbers of "vintage" ten- and twelve-speed bikes, in addition to some English (or English-style) three-speeds.  (Do you know what makes me feel old? Knowing that I rode "vintage" bikes when they weren't vintage!)  All of these bikes, even the best of them, are in various states of disrepair.  

Image from "The Urban Country"

I think the counselor who's coordinating the collections is doing a great thing. If you're in the NYC area and have anything to donate, I can refer you to him, and he will arrange a pick-up.

But now that I've undergone changes, I've become a radical feminist.  (Ha, ha!) So I notice that these immigrant bike riders are invariably male.  That is not a stereotype or sweeping generalization; I can't recall the last time I saw a Latina or female Asian immigrant riding a bike for any reason.  Every female cyclist I've met here has been native- or European-born.  

So now I'm thinking about why that is.  It seems to me that bicycling, like education, can make such women less dependent on men and less isolated.  I have had many female immigrant students, some of whom were single mothers and others who were married to abusive men.  Even those who seemed to be in happy marriages and families were living in a kind of isolation I can just barely imagine.  I mean, I've lived in a culture different from my own, and I've traveled to others. But I realize now that, when I was living abroad, and in my travels until recently, I had a great deal of freedom simply from being a single American, and from living as a guy named Nick.  But even when I went to Turkey five years ago--as Justine, but still three years before my surgery--I was able to move about in ways that I never could had I been a Turkish woman.

Oh, and I didn't see a single woman on a bike when I was there.  And I wasn't riding, either.

Anyway...Let me know if you want to make, or know anyone who wants to make, a donation to the program I described.  I'm also interested in hearing any thoughts you might have about the situation of immigrant women I've just described.

04 April 2011

The Birth Of A Sophisticated Cycler

Back in the dot-com boom, the young, hip and on-the-make talked about "getting in on the ground."  That meant investing in a company or trend as it was about to become popular and highly profitable.   Everyone, it seemed, spoke of wanting to be in on "the next new big thing."  

Of course, some of those "next new big things" have become mainstays of today's world: Think of Google,as an example.  On the other hand, some were comets that flared brightly and briefly before crashing.  Do you remember Pet.com?

Well, I don't think very many of us are going to get rich, even for a moment (as so many of those former dot-com millionaires were), by finding the next hot new blog as it's starting its run.  I missed the start of "Lovely Bicycle!" by about five months and "Bike Snob NYC," "DFW Point-to-Point," "Girls and Bicycles," "Urban Adventure League," "1410 OakWooD" and a few other great blogs by a couple of years.   (Sorry to all of the ones I haven't mentioned:  Simply listing them would be a post unto itself!)

However, I think I might have witnessed the birth (well, OK, I caught it on its second day) of an interesting new cycling blog.  I'm talking about The Sophisticated Cycler.

In it, TSC is documenting the building--or, rather, making--of a bike that suits his particular needs and tastes.  It's fascinating to follow his process, from his research and decision about what type of bike to buy to the ways he's customizing it.

He's only on his fourth post, so you can still be there for the "birth," as it were.  

03 April 2011

Scapes and Escapes

Today's ride was pleasure without revelations, or epiphanies--at least regarding bicycling or The Meaning of Life, anyway.  And those are all you really care about if you're reading this blog, right?

All right...My ride, which took me up by Throgs Neck, led me through an industrial area of the South Bronx.  I've mentioned it before:  I enjoy cycling there on weekends because there's absolutely no traffic.  But sometimes I see things, too, that I hadn't been expecting.

From a block away, I thought I saw the kind of sand-art-in-a-bottle that was so popular in the 1970's, rendered in the entropic colors of dystopia:  just what someone might see if he or she were to watch Miami Vice while coming down from an acid trip.  

Then I could swear I saw someone--trying to escape? or simply "losing it?"  

I couldn't help but to think of the woman in the pattern of the yellow wallpaper of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's story, which I've read and assigned to my students more times than I'll admit!

The "prisoner" or "captain" or whomever you see in the second photo was actually in the window of a factory.  The other photo is of another window on that same building.  As best as I could tell, some sheet or something that was used to black out the windows was falling off or wearing away.

I guess I could rescue him (or her) by climbing on this:

I'm pretty sure that both are still used by trains; it's been a couple of years, at least, since I've seen a train pass over either of those trestles. Then again, that's about how long it's been since I've seen those trestles on a weekday, and I suspect that those trains run when the factories are open.

But if they aren't in use, I'd love to see them become the next High Line or Viaduct des Arts--except, of course, that bicycles would be allowed on it.