31 May 2011

Hasidim and Hipster Fixies

Today I took one of those "no destination" rides.  Helene and I just sort of wandered from one place to another, doing about 30 or 35 miles in total without getting more than a few miles from my apartment.  Such is an enjoyable way--for me, anyway--to spend a warm, humid afternoon after waking up late.  

Along the way, I stopped in an Old Navy store. (They didn't stop me from bringing my bike in.)  I was looking for at least one nautical-stripe T-shirt.  For the longest time, I wore one that I bought in France. You've probably seen them:  the kind worn by Breton fishermen and Marseille dock workers and, for a long time, by sailors in the French Navy.  They are white, with horizontal navy stripes.  For a long time, it was the only white article of clothing I owned.  

I also used to have a wool sweater that was the inverse of the T-shirt:  navy with cream stripes.  It was one of those sweaters with buttons on the left shoulder.  I actually wore it on many a cold-weather ride, as the wool was of a very nice grade and tightly woven, and the sweater was of just the right weight and thickness for a variety of conditions.

There are imitations of them available in this country.  For all I know, they're not even being made in France anymore.  In any event, as I expected, Old Navy didn't have the originals.  But they didn't have any imitations, either.  On the other hand, I found interesting tank top with a tied back in a kind of "fade" from blue to green to purple.  And the green and purple just happen to be the shades, more or less, of Helene as well as Arielle and Tosca, my other Mercians.  So of course I couldn't pass it up.  One of these days, I'll post a picture in which I wear it--and, of course, I'm riding one of my Mercians.

I also rode to someplace I haven't been in quite a while.  It's one of the neighborhoods in which I spent my childhood:  Borough Park, in Brooklyn.  This is the church in which I was an altar server:

And, diagonally across the street is the school I attended. Here is a section of it:

They are the Holy Spirit parish and school.  Between them, I saw this:

Even if I hadn't seen that, I would have been surprised that the school, and even the church, were still open.  Even though the temperature rose to just above 90F, all of the females I saw on the streets were wearing thick hosiery (some with seams running down the rear) and long skirts, while all of the males were wearing even longer coats.  If they noticed me, I can only imagine what they might have been thinking.  For one thing, I was alone and riding a better bicycle than most of them even know exists. Plus, I was the only one riding a bike who was more than about ten years old.   And I was wearing a short (by their standards, anyway) denim skirt and a tank top.

I know, from an earlier experience, that the Hasidim don't like to be photographed. Of course, I respect that.  But at the same time, I wasn't about to ask any of them to take a photo of me with my bike!

You've seen Hasidim if you've been Williamsburg, another Brooklyn neighborhood. (In fact, shuttle buses run between the two neighborhoods.)  What's ironic is that they're in the hipster-fixie capitol of the universe. That makes for some very interesting visual contrasts.  One is between the black of the males' coats and hats and the females' skirts, and the day-glo or neon colors of the bikes rolling down the Kent Avenue bike lane or parked in front of the book and music stores, "retro" boutiques and self-consciously funky coffee shops and restaurants of Bedford Avenue.  The other contrast, of course, is between the presence of hipsters and their fixed-gear bikes in Williamsburg and the absence of same in Borough Park.

If I could have found a way to photograph what I've just described while respecting the wishes of the Hasidim, I would have done so.  All I can do is hope that I've described it enough for you to visualize, at least somewhat.

29 May 2011

A Looker On Lookout At The Beach

In another two months or so, a day like today will be considered perfect, or nearly so.  As it was, it was very nice:  about ten degrees F warmer than normal for this time of year, and almost preternaturally bright and sunny.  I used a lot of sunscreen today!

And there was a slight breeze.  It was just enough to billow the tank top I was wearing.  I swear, that's what the "bulge" in my midsection. 

All right, I admit:  I'm not skinny.  At least not now.  But I can also assure you that I'm not pregnant and have been riding.

Arielle felt like a veritable rocket underneath me today.  And I had the wind at my back from about twenty miles to about five miles from home.   So she certainly deserves to have a couple of "beach babe" photos here.

28 May 2011

The Gates To The Concrete Plant Park

My ride today was positively perilous.  I had to wade through raging streams.  Worse, I had to fight off the dreaded Randall's Island Salamander.

Here, it (Now that I'm at a safe distance, I don't have to worry about riling it up, so I can refer to it as "it" and avoid all sexism!) is, underneath the Bronx spur of the Robert F Kennedy Memorial (nee Triboro) Bridge.  I guess now that Randall's Island's been getting fixed up, the Salamander can't afford to live there anymore.  The Bronx is still relatively affordable.

And I blame the Parks Department for everything.  They're rehabbing the island, and their work forced me to detour. 

I've taken a couple of photos underneath that trestle.  You've passed over it if you've ever taken Amtrak or Acela (Amtrak Customers Expect Late Arrivals) trains between New York and Boston.  It's called the Hell Gate Bridge.  I guess I should be grateful to the Parks Department for thinking of the well-being of my soul, and those of other cyclists, and preventing us from passing under the Gates of Hell.

Actually, the cost of travel might prevent me from seeing that Gate of Hell this year.  But the Gate under which I couldn't pass is, while not quite as breathtaking as Rodin's Porte de l'Enfer, actually lovely:

At least, I like it.  I also like something else I saw while riding through the Bronx on my way back from Westchester County:

Have you ever, in your wildest dreams or worst nightmares, ever imagined you would ride to a place called Concrete Plant Park

This plant operated from some time during World War II until the late 1980's.  It drew its water and power from the Bronx River, which parallels the path you see.  The path is not yet complete, though it is open.  

Those of you who live in New England might see something familiar in that park.  On the other side of the Bronx River are other plants and warehouses, some of which are still operating.  Their red bricks have absorbed decades, or even a century or more, of soot and rain and wind.  They, the the red-rust structures like those of the cement plant, and the river itself are bound by a number of bridges and other spans made from various combinations of steel and concrete.  I imagine it all would be even more attractive in October or November.

Quite a few people, including a number of families, were there today.  A couple of kids climbed the chicken-wire fence surrounding the old plant fixtures; you might have been able to see one of them in my photo. 

Speaking of boys at play, here's one, albeit a good bit older, flying his kite by Throgs Neck, where the East River meets the Long Island Sound:

27 May 2011

Why American Bike Designers Should Spend A Year In The Netherlands

The other day, for a change, my bike wasn't the only one parked at my main job.

Two of them were the kinds of bikes you buy in Costco.  The other was a current Schwinn hybrid.  Seeing it made me happy that I essentially turned Marianela into a hybrid-cum-city bike when I could've bought a new bike.

Aside from the workmanship, which is better even on the fairly low-end LeTour that became Marianela, there were a number of other things that reminded me that change isn't always progress, and progress isn't always for the better.  

Now what, pray tell, is a low spoke-count wheel in an impractical pattern doing on a hybrid bike?  The people who buy those bikes aren't racer wannabes, so there's really no "cool" factor in having such a wheel. 

(I admit I've fallen for a fad or two in my time.  But I never went for anything like these wheels.) 

Bike-industry types--and cyclists who don't recall a world without clipless pedals, STI or Ergo--often say that today's rims, especially ones with a "Deep V" section, are stiffer (and so, they believe, stronger), than older rims and therefore require fewer spokes.

I'm not an engineer, so please forgive (and correct) me if I misuse any terminology.  I'm going to explain my reasons for disliking lower spoke-count wheels in terms of more than three decades of cycling and about seven years of working in bike shops.

A strong or stiff rim will give a wheel lateral strength or stiffness.  So, yes, it will need less to support it in order to carry a given amount of weight.  However, this is not the only factor in the reliability of a wheel.

For one thing, fewer spokes means less bracing for the hub and rim.  This is particularly important to consider if you're riding a fixed gear, especially if you are riding with fewer than two brakes, as the hub flange and spokes are torqued more than on a bike with a freewheel.

That means, among other things, that it is easier to break a spoke because each spoke has to take more weight, tension and shock than it would if it were sharing those stresses with a greater number of spokes.  

It also means that there is more space on the rim between each spoke.  Even with a very strong or stiff rim, that means the rim is more likely to flex between spokes.  I especially noticed what I'm describing when I borrowed a pair of tri-spoke wheels like the ones pictured in the above link.  And, when I rode those wheels, I was younger and a good bit lighter than I am now!

Finally, the more spokes you have on your wheel, the more likely you (or your mechanic) will be able to repair them, if need be.  If you have 36 spokes and one of them breaks, for whatever reason, it will not cause as much of a problem as it would if that spoke were one of 24 or 18 or 3.  Actually, the spokes of tri-spoke wheels can't be repaired at all.  And, yes, they did fail on occasion.  What's more, the fewer spokes your wheel has, the more likely those spokes are to be of some proprietary design or another.  So are the other parts of the wheel.

All of my rear wheels have 36 spokes.  I've been advised that I could ride fewer spokes and, indeed, I have.  But for the extra twenty grams or whatever those additional spokes weigh, I like the more solid, secure feel they offer.  

When I first started cycling, nearly all bikes had 36 spoke w
heels.  Some bikes had 36 in the rear and 32 on the front; Arielle, Tosca and Helene, my three Mercians, all have wheels so configured.  Many English three-speeds had Sturmey-Archer rear hubs with 40 spokes and front hubs with 32; others had 36 and 28.   

The cynic in me says that manufacturers started to equip mid- and lower-priced bikes with low spoke-count wheels because they're less expensive to make.  More than one "in the know" person has confirmed my belief.  

I guess I should be thankful for small things.  After all, the rims on that Schwinn weren't in some "hipster fixie" neon hue!

26 May 2011

Basket Case

Nearly two weeks ago, "Velouria" of Lovely Bicycle! wrote about parking her Gazelle commuter bike outdoors.

Well, I've been keeping Marianela (a 1979 Schwinn LeTour III turned into a "fixie" with a fixed/free "flip-flop" rear hub) outside for about a month, after keeping it indoors during one of the snowiest winters this area has ever had.  While Marianela is probably not as heavy as "Velouria"'s Dutch bike, and therefore not as difficult to maneuver in and out of my apartment, it's still more convenient to have the bike waiting outside for me, especially if I'm taking it on a short errand.

I've kept bikes outdoors before.  But, today, I was reminded of one of the consequences of doing so:

Now, I've had all sorts of things left in my front basket or on my rear rack:  beverage bottles, fast-food bags and containers, condom wrappers and things even less mentionable.  But nothing so far has been quite as interesting as this Lincoln hubcap.

One man who chanced by as I unlocked the bike stopped and looked.  We both had a good laugh.  I mean, what else could we do?  

I left the cap on a nearby fire hydrant.  When I returned tonight, it was gone.

25 May 2011

Three Ladies

On the day of Oprah's last show, it seems somehow fitting to write about "women's," "ladies'", "girls'" or "female" bikes. 

Yesterday morning, on my way to work, I had the feeling I was going to see something interesting.  And I did, only four blocks from my apartment:

Do I sense some jealousy from Marianela?  Just look at the way she's standing there and looking at this cute young thing.  Well, all right, she's not so young.  Even if the style and rust didn't tell me so, I know this bike has to be about 40 years old, possibly even older.  Then again, they say "forty is the new twenty."  

But I know the bike has to be forty, or even older, because of its style.  When was the last time you saw top and frame tubes that looked like these?

The top tube is really a pair of twin parallel tubes, as one finds on a mixte frame. But it has that long, sinuous curve found on the old Schwinn "Hollywood" and other "girls'" bikes from the 1960's and earlier.

Another give-away to the bike's age is the color:  a kind of metallic blue-green that was popular during the early and mid-1960's, at least on kids' bikes.

It was also a color Rollfast used on many of its bikes throughout its history.  In a previous post, I wrote about this brand, which was made right next to the site of the former World Trade Center.

Today I had a day off because none of my classes had exams.  And it was like an early summer day, at least weather-wise.  So, in spite of waking up late and doing laundry, among other things, I was able to spend a couple of hours with Helene:

I think she wanted to show off her new accessories more than anything.  Now she has a Carradice Barley.  What girl doesn't like a new bag?  

Plus, she has pink Cinelli cork tape.  I had to replace the tape I'd originally installed after I mounted the shift levers on the Velo Orange handlebar pods.  

Even when she's showing off, she's still a proper lady.  And she's an even better one when I ride with her!

23 May 2011

A Good Girl Crosses The Bridge

I was a good girl yesterday.  Really!

So how good a girl was I?  Well, I actually obeyed this sign:

All right.  You might argue that I wasn't really such a good girl; I was motivated only by thinking about what I'd have to give up in order to pay a 250 dollar fine.  Or you might say I thought about the other things I could do with those 250 dollars.

Truth is, yes, I did think about those things.  I really was a good girl.

OK...I'll admit it:  I'd just passed by two cops in a patrol car when I snapped the photo of that sign.  They were lurking right by the toll booth, and it looked like they were actually watching us.

And they weren't just any old cops.  They were Nassau County constables.  I'm not so sure they're better or worse overall than members of the NYPD.  (As a matter of fact, some NCPD officers got their training from, and worked for, the NYPD before moving on to Nassau.)

I can't say that they become stricter or change in any other way when they cross the county line.  I have heard, though,that many of them don't like cyclists or people from the other side of the county line.  So, I don't want to think about what might happen if I have to show them my ID.

I should also mention that the bridge indeed lies entirely in Nassau County.  I used to think that it connected the Far Rockaway area of Queens to the town of Atlantic Beach on the other side of an inlet.  However, someone pointed out that the city/county line actually lies at the bridge entrance.

In any event, I entered, and left, Nassau County as a model citizen.  And I didn't have to pay 250 dollars!

22 May 2011

Arielle in the Picture

The day began with a fine mist and remained overcast.  I don't think the air temperature rose above the water temperature.  

But the day was actally better than it sounds for cycling.  And Arielle wanted to go to the beach.

She got into a coy and flirtatious mood:

And she simply demanded that I take some close-ups. 

And another:

And she simply had to show some leg:

For the record, we did about 65 miles together:  to Point Lookout and back, via Rockaway Beach.  It felt really good.

21 May 2011

A Cyclist's Senses At The End Of The Semester

It's probably just as well that it rained almost nonstop for the past week. I suppose that if I were more religious, or at least more willing to take wonders for signs or signs for wonders, (or, for that matter, was still a college sophomore with a copy of The Waste Land--you know, the old paperback with the grey and black cover--in my hip pocket) I might've thought this week's weather was some sort of prelude to the Apocalypse.  But the rain kept me indoors when I would've been anyway.  

So, not being the superstitious sort, and no longer owning any garments with hip pockets, I just took the weather for what it was and read from that pile of papers that seems to grow no matter how much time I spend reading them.  This is one of those two or three times of year when, if you're a college instructor (especially in any sort of writing or writing-intensive course), you simply have no life beyond those papers.  

But late this afternoon, the weather was so beautiful (or maybe it just seemed so in comparison to what we've had) that I took Tosca out for a ride.  We were out for a bit less than an hour, but it made me feel so much better.  And, of course, I was more productive when I got back to work.  Isn't that the point of recreation--at least in a capitalist economy, anyway?

And I find that even on such a casual ride as I took today, my senses are sharpened.  I'm thinking now of the day last week when, a few blocks from my main job, I passed someone who was selling fresh fruit from a cart on the sidewalk.  Even with a lane of parked cars between me and that cart, I could smell how fresh the fruit was--especially the strawberries. I was going to buy a one-pint carton until the guy offered me two cartons for three dollars.  

Today, when riding near PS 1,  I thought I smelled cat fur.  And I just happen to have a good sense of smell:

As you may be able to tell, Mojo is a shy kitty.  And she's big.  I mean, huge.  People often comment on how big Max is, but Mojo has to be at least half again as big.  

Woodside Animal Rescue was offering her--and a few other cats--for adoption.  I would have taken all of them.  Maybe I really do have to buy a farm some day.

The representative from Woodside said that Mojo had gotten so big because she doesn't get any exercise. That came as no surprise, but the reason the rep--I didn't catch her name--gave me wasn't what I expected.  "She's afraid of the other cats.  So she doesn't play with them; she hides."

Hey, if she came home with me, she could hide behind that pile of papers that just keeps on growing.  That same pile of papers makes me want to take off on my bike and not come back until Memorial Day, at least.

20 May 2011

Rain: Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tommorow

This week has been the kind of week that can make just about anybody echo Macbeth when he says, "Tomorrow and tommorrow and tommorrow."

It's been raining non-stop, it seems.  And when I turn on the weather forecast, they could be saying "tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow it will rain again and again and again."  

Is this what we have to look forward to?

This was the high point of my one bike ride this week--into and out of Manhattan, a grand total of about eight miles, to and from my class at the technical institute.    Well, I guess any ride in which I can take a photo like that isn't all bad.

18 May 2011

Packing Light

Back when I first started cycling and hiking, the accepted wisdom was to buy the smallest backpack or bike bag you could get away with using.  Then you would trick yourself into carrying less.  I can say that it worked for me:  I carried less with me on my first European trip, which lasted for almost three months, than I did on my first 25-mile bike ride.

I was thinking about all of that when I saw this bike parked on West 18th Street in Manhattan:

That basket really is too big for the coffee cup.  This would be more appropriate:

I'd love to meet the design team that came up with that!

I'd also like to meet whatever design team came up with this bike:

Its wide cantilever brakes and color made me think, for a moment, of the bike "Somervillan" recently converted.  But, of course, this is a completely different bike:  It's from Elektra.  It does have some interesting touches, like the hammered fenders and this crankset:

I'm guessing that it has the same chainring bolt circle diameter as the old TA touring crankset.   And the fluting on the arms is an attempt to evoke some of the classic Campagnolo, Stronglight and TA cranks.

It may well be a great bike.  But for simplicity and sheer utility, it doesn't hold a candle to something I saw three blocks from my apartment:

17 May 2011

Monsoon Blues

It rained throughout today, except for brief interludes.  In fact, at times we had near-torrents, and it's going to be worse tomorrow.

But the rain isn't the only reason I didn't ride to or from work today.  (What's the point of riding in a monsoon if you don't have to?)  It's almost the end of the semester, and I have lots of reading to do.  I do some of it on the bus and train, and I curse myself for the extensions I gave students on their papers!

On days like today, I think about going home and curling up with Charlie and Max.  I also think about riding Arielle again on a sunny day:

16 May 2011

How Does It Become "Retro?"

To see more about this bike, go to http://rhp3.com/Scwinn_Superior.htm

When she commented on my post from the other day, "Velouria" of Lovely Bicycle! raised an interesting question. She says longtime bike mechanics joke about Ross bikes and say things like "we couldn't sell them the first time around, but now kids are buying them second hand."  

So, I wonder, how and why does something become "cult," "classic" or simply "retro" when it was scorned, dismissed or ignored when it came out?

One example of what I mean is a Schwinn model that was sold as the "Superior" during the early 1960's and mid-to-late 1970's, and as the "Sports Tourer" during the intervening years.  Particularly in the final years of the bike's manufacture, it didn't sell well because other similar bikes from Europe and Japan were lighter, and to many consumers, its filet-brazed joints were indistinguishable from the flash-welds on Schwinn's less expensive models like the Varsity and Continental.

Now I see lots of "wanted" listings for Superiors and Super Sports.  I guess one reason why is that they're among the very few filet-brazed frames to be mass-produced.  And, although somewhat heavier than the bikes they're supposed to compete against, they were solid, and can be made into good, responsive bikes with modern tires, rims, derailleurs, cables and brake pads.  Even though they have long chainstays, and therefore longish wheelbases, they still have a "solid" feel in the rear, where many lightweight bikes (like my old Peugeot PX-10E) could feel whippy.  That is no small consideration if you install a rear rack and load it up. Plus, the Superiors and Super Sports had larger tire clearances than most current road bikes, which makes it easy to install fenders and convert the bikes to commuting and touring machines.

Some of what I've just said about those old Schwinn models apply to the Rosses--and, for that matter, many other bikes of their era.  Perhaps that's one reason why they're sought-out now.

But sometimes you just can't understand why some things aren't consigned to the dustbin of cycling history after being ignored or scorned the first time they came around. One example is some handlebar tape we threw away in the first bike shop in which I worked.  It was shiny; it was slippery; to most of us, there was no rationale for using it--at least then.

Fast-forward a few years.  I'm working in another bike shop, and we have to back-order that same tape because our order of it sold out within a day of our receiving it. The difference was that,by the time I was working in my second shop, the Seventies had turned into the Eighties.  And we all know what happened to bike finishes:  Those elegant silver Cinellis and constructeur bikes, not to mention the understated but meticulous work of American and British framebuilders of that time, was falling out of favor.  In its place came what we now call the "dreaded Eighties paint jobs":  lots of neon colors and fades.  

That tape we threw away at my first shop was now in demand because it was shiny and came in a lot of different colors.  Those of you who recall that time know that I'm talking about Benotto tape (which, by the way, was made in Mexico, not in Italy, as is commonly thought).  

Even when it became popular, it could be found for less than two dollars. These days, it sells for many times more than that on eBay.   If I'm correct,  it hasn't been made in some time, which might account for the prices people are paying for it.

Those Rosses, Superiors and Super Sports are no longer being made, either.  Yet there are other long-extinct marques of bikes and accessories that aren't sought-after these days.  And some of those other bikes and parts have some of the same attributes and assets I've described, as well as others that should make them attractive to somebody.  So why do they continue to languish in obscurity while other products, like Ross bikes, are sold within hours of appearing on Craigs List?

15 May 2011

The Wonder (Light) Years

If you've been reading this, you know that I love the looks--and sometimes function--of older bike accessories.  Not for nothing do all of my bikes have brass Japanese replicas of the bells used on French constructeurs.  And all of my bike bags are canvas.

Now, of course, there is absolutely no earthly reason to buy some of the other bike accessories from le temps perdu. I don't know whether to laugh or cry when I see someone spending half a paycheck (for me, anyway) on a model of pump that folded when I used it in my youth, or for a model of fenders that cracked or broke the first time I rode them in cold weather.

Still, one retains a soft spot for some things from one's youth.  And today I came across one of them on eBay:

For years, I kept one of these in whatever bag was attached to me or my bike while I was riding. It had a red lens on the rear and white on the front; both lenses were bounded by a translucent red band.  This light was sold as an "armband light," and many runners and hikers, as well as cyclists, used them that way.  

However, I found that they were more effective (if a bit less comfortable) when strapped onto my leg, just below my knee.  Motorists and pedestrians who saw that light bobbing up and down  gave me some strange looks from (though, truth be told, I can't blame them all on the light), and I'd bet some cyclist in New Mexico or some place like that was mistaken for a low-flying UFO.

So...The light definitely did its job, which was to make its user more visible.  And it did so cheaply:  The light didn't cost more than a couple of dollars and took two "C" batteries.

The only problem with it--or, at any rate, the version in the photo, which is the original and was made in France--was that it often broke off at the point where the head screws onto the body.  A Japanese near-clone corrected this problem but wasn't quite as bright as the original; it was sold under Schwinn, Raleigh and other names and, if I remember correctly, made by Sanyo.

Of course it, like nearly all bike lights made more than a decade or so ago, is functionally obsolete.  Remember, the light in the photo was made before halogen bulbs, let alone LEDs, were available in bike lights. But, given that comparatively primitive state of bike light technology, the Wonder and Sanyo arm/leg lights were actually very good options.  In fact, it is the only light Tom Cuthbertson recommended in Anybody's Bike Book and Bike Tripping.

I'm tempted to buy that light.  I mean, even though it's plastic (albeit with a canvas strap), it just reeks style.  It almost makes me want to jump on the  next Peugeot PX-10 or Gitane Tour de France I see and take a moonlight ride.

14 May 2011

Ross: The Ramones' Lament?

If there is a cycling Nirvana, would all of the ugly places be airbrushed out of it?

A fact of life, at least in this part of the world, is that to ride to a beautiful place, you sometimes have to pass through some blighted spots.

Here is one I sometimes pass on my way to or from the Rockaways (as I did today) or Point Lookout:

In any industrialized country, you can find thousands (or even more) places like this. It's hard in the shadow, literally, of the MTA's Rockaway trestle, on which the A train rumbles and clatters.  Yes, that A train:  Duke Ellington's A train.  (I chose the link I included because on it, Ella Fitzgerald sings.  The slide show, ironically, shows pretty much every kind  of train except for the titular one.  It doesn't even show a NYC subway train!) This is nearly the opposite end of the line, literally and figuratively, of the subway route Ellington made famous.  Stay on the train for about an hour and a half and you'll be in Harlem, just a couple of stops from the line's terminus at the very northern end of Manhattan.

On the other side of that trestle are bungalows in various states of disrepair and the beach.

That beach is one you've heard of if you have even the most basic knowledge of 70's popular music:  It's the Rockaway Beach of the Ramones' eponymous song.  It sounds like a Beach Boys song as Brian Wilson might have played it while in withdrawal from something.

So, why should you care about any of this if you're a cyclist?

Well, not so long ago, the site in the photo was a rather important part of American cycling:  It was the home of the Chain Bicycle Corporation.

Now, if we'd had bicycle companies called Sprocket, Derailleur, Crank, Wheel or Frame, American cycling history might have been different.  How, I don't know.  But I digress.

You've probably seen, and you may have ridden,a bike that CBC made or sold.  CBC was the parent company of Ross bicycles.  Those bikes were sold in the first two bike shops in which I worked.  While I was working in my first shop, Ross bikes were at the lower end of the market:  sturdy bikes, mainly for kids, but also a few utility bikes.  They didn't have the cachet of Schwinn although many of their bikes were similar, and were aimed at similar audiences.

   If you're of my generation, you might remember a show called "Wonderama."  It was an extravaganza, marathon or ordeal, depending on your point of view, that aired all day Sunday, or so it seemed.  The show featured, among other things, games and competitions involving kids from the studio audience.  Ross Apollo bicycles were often given as prizes.

Anyway, after the vogue for "chopper" or "muscle" bikes passed, Ross started to aim for the more dedicated (and affluent) adult cyclists.  So, by the time I was working in my second shop, Ross was offering its "Signature" series of bicycles and frames, which seemed to be designed to compete with Schwinn's Paramount line.  The very best signature bikes were actually very nice.  They were built by Tom Kellogg, considered one of the best American custom builders of that time.  Most of those frames were constructed from Reynolds 531 tubing, though he occasionally made frames from Columbus and Ishiwata tubings.

I actually had one of those frames for a time.  It had been built as a kind of sport-touring frame.  But it, like the other "signature" bikes, was even more expensive than other premium bikes from top builders.  And people who were buying high-end touring bikes usually wanted cantilever brakes.  The frame did not have bosses for them.  So the owner of the shop sent the frame to Ross to have the bosses brazed on.  By that time, Tom Kellogg was no longer working for Ross.

The frame had been made for 700C wheels.  Ross, in its infinite wisdom, brazed on bosses for 26 inch wheels.  So it was even less salable than it had been; as a result, the shop's owner was willing to let me take it as pay for a couple of days' work, if I recall correctly.  I proceeded to build it up into a sort of cross between an audax/randonneuring bike and a mountain bike with slick tires.  

I rode that bike whenever I wasn't riding my racing bike.  It was a lot of fun:  I took it on trails, on the streets and in lots of other places.  Unfortunately, the fun didn't last very long:  About two years after I got it, I crashed it into the back of a taxi by the backside of Madison Square Garden/Penn Station.

By then, most, if not all, Rosses were being made in Taiwan.   I'm not sure whether they're still being made at all.  And, these days, it seems that anyone who's cycling through the Rockaways doesn't live there.

13 May 2011

Arielle Couldn't Wait To Get Back In The Picture

I really wondered whether I would ever get to write in this blog again.  Last night, as you know if you follow blogs, Blogger was shut down for maintenance.  There was no advance notice and the outage lasted well into this afternoon.

Anyway...Not much else has happened. So, for tonight, I'll leave you with a shot of Arielle:

10 May 2011

Only Gear Syndrome

Is Tosca suffering from Only Gear Syndrome?  You know what it is: When they don't have to share their single gear with any other bike, they think they're always the center of attention.

Truth is, everyone does pay attention to her, especially when she's at the beach.

People are always peeping at her.  But she loves being the center of attention.  It's really her world.

The evening is young. That's Tosca's time. She's getting ready now.

Well...Even if she suffers from Only Gear Syndrome, she's given me a lot of good times.  And, I hope, she will give me more for a long time to come.