30 June 2011

At The End Of The Day

OK, for the 300th post on this blog, I will reveal all of the secrets of the universe, at least as they relate to cycling.

All right...Now that I've got your attention, I'll do something a little more mundane.  (Did I just do a bait-and-switch?)  I am going to show you, at least in some way, what it means to cycle home from work on a Thursday night in my neighborhood.

Astoria and neighboring Long Island City are the Queens--and New York City--neighborhoods in which one can come closest to living in Manhattan without actually living in it.  So, even though the streets and houses have the feel of a smaller urban area, everything seems to point in the direction of Manhattan, directly to the west.  

So, depending on the time of day, one can see the sun setting directly ahead, as I did today.  

And, of course, no ride home from work is complete without stopping for something to eat, or the ingredients to make it.  Today that meant ciabatta and anisette biscotti:

I blame Marianela. She claims the light in that place--and the block at the end of the day--brings out her natural glow.  How come that line doesn't work when I use it? ;-)

Czeching Out My Options

Some of the more interesting experiences I've had were results of plans that changed unexpectedly.  Something like that seems to be happening again.

I had expected to teach a short course for July and part of August.  However, that course has been cancelled.  C'est la vie.  Also, the plans of a friend I was going to visit in Paris changed.  I could have gone there anyway and spent my time walking or cycling the streets and lingering in the museums (especially the Rodin, Picasso and d'Orsay) and galleries.  But, as I've lived in the City of Light and returned several times, I would have preferred to have done those things with my friend.

So, deciding I wanted some adventure in the time I had off this summer, I booked a trip to Prague. 

Now I am trying to make a decision.  You might have already guessed what it is.  Should I:

  • bring one of my bikes with me,
  • rent a bike 
  • buy a bike there (I even thought about buying a cheap one and selling it or giving it away when I leave), or
  • buy a cheap bike, bring it with me and leave it there?

I returned from my last European bike tour--in the Alps--a few weeks before 9/11.  That was also the last time I brought a bike on a flight.  Things were relatively simple then, at least on international flights.  Passengers were allowed two checked pieces of luggage, with a maximum weight of 44 kilograms (70 pounds.)  A bicycle in a box or carrier was counted as one of those pieces of luggage.  Air France and KLM, in particular, were accommodating to cyclists (Are you surprised?) but I never had trouble on other carriers I used, including Air India, Tower Air (remember them?) or Laker Skytrain (R.I.P.)

Lately, though, I've heard some horror stories from people who brought their bikes on flights.  They don't include what airlines charge for doing so.  It seems that policies regarding such things are made in situ by whoever happens to be on duty.

As I'm spending ten days in Prague, and don't plan to spend all day every day on a bike loaded with panniers and such, I'm not quite as fussy about what I'll ride.  I want it to more or less fit, of course, and to be at least reasonably satisfying (to me, anyway) to ride. 

This is one time having a Brompton might have been handy.  I thought about buying one a while back.  But Hal, who set up my Mercians said that while he is satisfied with the quality of the bikes (Bicycle Habitat, in which he works, sells them.), he doesn't like the fact that they have proprietary parts that are necessitated by some of the nonstandard dimensions of the bike.   Also, while some Brompton riders have told me they like their rides, what they and others have told me indicates that the bikes still have some of the qualities I disliked (some of which have to do with the ride) in folding bikes I've owned  and ridden.

I guess I could stretch (and hopefully not blow) my budget and buy a Brompton. Or I could buy some less expensive folding bike.  Or I could do one of the things I listed earlier in this post.  Or I could stop beginning sentences with "or."  Seriously, if you have any suggestions, please let me know.

P.S. I had intended to post this last night.  But I had trouble with my Internet connection.  I guess that's the price one pays for being cheap:  My Internet connection is free.

28 June 2011

After Work: A Ride To The Concrete Plant

What kind of person goes to a factory after work?  (No, I'm not talking about The Factory!)

Better yet:  What kind of person rides her bike to a factory in a skirt and heels?

All right, you know the answer to the second question.  And if you know that, you know the answer to the first question, too.

Today, after work, I got on Marianela and didn't give a thought to anything else besides riding home.  However, as they say in the old country, a funny thing happened along the way.  I made a couple of "wrong" turns but still ended up within a few blocks of my place.  But I wouldn't get there for another couple of hours. 

The next thing I knew, I was climbing the stairs to the concrete ribbon that parallels the Randalls Island-bound traffic lanes on the RFK/Triborough Bridge.   From there, I pedalled the asphalt and concrete maze to the Bronx-bound spur of the bridge, where I rode along the metallic-hued water and through a couple of parks that were more crowded than they normally are on a weekday, even at this time of year.  

Somehow or another, I ended up at the Concrete Plant Park.  I didn't object, even though I had no say in it.  You see, Marianela wanted to go there.  I don't take her on such long rides very often, but I know that her primary motive wasn't to stretch her downtube and spokes.  Instead, I think she listened to Arielle, Helene and Tosca talk about the rides they took there, with me.  Marianela knows that they're all really pretty in their Mercian paint color number 57 with white lug striping.  But she was convinced, I think, that she would look even better than they did by the old concrete plant:

She may just be right.  (Did I actually say that?)  At any rate, it is one place where, I believe, she looks good.


26 June 2011

When Getting Lost Leads To Finding A Hot Pot

If your navigational skills are anything like mine, even rides in familiar territory become adventures.  Of course, I don't share  that "dirty little secret" about myself when people tell me I have a sense of adventure.  

The malfunction of my mental GPS came when I was trying to bring Lakythia to the promenade by the World's Fair Marina.  I sometimes ride it on my way home from work.  But we were approaching it from the opposite direction from  my commutes.  So, after a couple of wrong turns, we were riding in front of the Delta and American Airlines terminals at LaGuardia Airport.

We finally got to that promenade, though.  And, at the end of it, we pedalled over a bridge that spans one of those bodies of water where a body or two might've been dumped among old car parts and wastes from the small factories along that body of water.  

At least the bridge ends in Flushing, where there might be more good Asian food than in any other place in North America or, at any rate, the East Coast.  

We shared a Korean hot pot containing, as you can see, lots of vegetables and some seafood.  I found myself thinking about having fondues and raclettes at the ends of days spent cycling in the Alps.  I saw two women, who appeared to be a mother and daughter, dipping pieces of vegetables and meat into the roiling stock.  

The restaurant was not shy about using spices.  That was fine with both Lakythia and me.  Actually, at first I found myself complaining that the food was too hot--temperature-wise, not in terms of spices.  But she pointed out something it doesn't take a college instructor to figure out (ha, ha):  If you let the food cool a bit, eating it becomes easier.  And the food is actually tastier.

My only complaint is that the sauce spattered on my tank top that matches the colors of my Mercians:

Well, that's what it looked like before it got spattered. Hopefully, the spots will come out in the wash.   If they don't, I guess I'll have to go to Old Navy and hope they have another of these tops.

I'm not sure whether Lakythia didn't get spattered or was simply smarter in choosing the T-shirt she wore:

25 June 2011

Ride, Interrupted

Have you ever had your ride interrupted--or detoured--by some chance event? 

I'm not talking about bike breakdowns, injuries or other emergencies.  Rather, I'm thinking about more serendipitous--or at least pleasant--happenings.

Today I stopped at Parisi's Bakery as I embarked on my ride.  I'd bought a couple of sfogliatelle, figuring that I could eat one as a snack during my ride or save them for later.  I also figured that by the time I got back from wherever I rode, they might be closed or not have much left.

As I exited the bakery (Yes, they let me bring my bike in!), I looked to my left and saw a rainbow flag flying.  Seeing a rainbow flag wasn't itself so unusual, especially on the day after same-sex marriages were legalized in New York.  However, the flag I saw seemed especially prominent and conspicuous, especially given that it's on a rather drab block:

I couldn't get a better photo of the house because it's on a street underneath elevated train tracks.  That means, among other things, that traffic is usually fairly congested on that street because the posts of the train trestles take up a lot of space on that street.   

I've cycled or walked that street only a few times, even though I've been living in the neighborhood for more than eight years and I don't know how many times I've boarded that train.  Living in New York is funny that way:  Lots of people have lived even longer in one neighborhood, even in one apartment or house, than I've lived here.  Yet they, too, haven't walked, and may never walk, down some streets near them. 

Perhaps I can rationalize not cycling or walking that street because it's not along any route I normally take for work or pleasure, and, as I've mentioned, it's not a particularly attractive street.  But today I decided to take a look at that house:

I'd never seen the  "Religion ruled during the Dark Ages" and "Atheism is myth understood" stickers anywhere else.  The others, I'd seen in one version or another.  How many people would line their houses with bumper stickers of any sort, much less ones that so proclaimed their beliefs?  

As I snapped those photos, the owner poked her head out of a window.  "Whose side are you on?"  I could just barely hear her over the clatter of an approaching train.  

I pointed to the train.  She held out her hand.  I waited; just after the train passed, she opened her door and poked her head out.

"You look like a friend," she said.


"Bring your bike in."

We sipped iced tea while we waited for a friend to meet her for a night out.  I'd had the impression that she was either a hippie or a dancer.  Turns out, she was both.  "Now I'm just a senior citizen with a tenant from hell.  But I need her if I'm going to keep this house."

"That's too bad..."

"What's the use of complaining?"

Then we had one of those conversations that veered into more topics than it seemed possible to discuss in a short time.  Not surprisingly, we talked about gay marriage, Stonewall (She wasn't there, but friends of hers were) and about the prejudices and hate some of us still experience.  "I've known people who were beaten up, fired, kicked out of apartments for being gay."

"People have been killed for it," I reminded her.

"My brother was."

I clasped her hand. "I'm so sorry..."

"Thank you.  It was a long time ago, but it never leaves you."

"Well, I can understand.  There's no shame in that."

"My brother is Julio Rivera."

"The one who was killed in Jackson Heights twenty years ago?"

She nodded.   I remember his killing, in part, because of things that were going on in my life at that time. But it was also one of the events that led to the passage of "hate crime" legislation in New York.  It seemed that around that time, there were a number of crimes committed out of one kind of bigotry or another.  As an example, less than a year before Rivera's murder, Yusef Hawkins was beaten to death by a group of white teenagers when he went to look at a used car in Brooklyn.

She reminisced about Julio and showed me some photos of him and other members of her family.  Then her friend arrived.  We exchanged phone numbers and I left.

"Enjoy your ride.  And be safe."

24 June 2011

A Bike Lane Through The Clouds?

Rain and drizzle, then drizzle and rain.  Repeat a half-dozen or so times throughout the day.  In between, fill the streets with mist that thickens each time the rain stops.  

I don't know whether such a recipe exists, but the weather-makers seemed to follow.  Just because you think someone is making the weather, it doesn't mean you're a conspiracy theorist.  Now, if you think the CIA is doing it, you're a Paranoid Conspiracy Realist.  If such a category of people didn't exist before today, I take credit for inventing it.  

All right. The weather really wasn't what most people have in mind when they envision the ideal beginning to a summer weekend.  But there was something rather nice about it.  At least I think so.

This photo was taken by Asterix 611.  I didn't have my camera with me, and I didn't like the images I captured on my cell phone.  But this one gives you a good idea of what I saw today.  And I just happen to like it as a photo.

Judging from what I saw, the clouds hovered around 300 to 400 feet above street level.  It's ironic for me to realize that the clouds today were even lower than the ones through which I pedaled in the Alps, Pyrenees and Green Mountains.  Instead of a Stairway to Heaven, I'll ask the city to build a Bike Lane Through the Clouds.   Then Portland will have nothing on this city!

23 June 2011

Warning Label

Last week, Steve A. of DFW Point to Point posted about locking his bike

The interesting thing about his security system is that it's actually more solid, or at least more effective, than it would appear to be at first glance.  He does concede, however, that the bike is 40 years old and is parked in a place where most people know it's his.

On the other hand, Steve's security system (or any other, for that matter) has nothing on this:

From: Stick Figs Warning Stickers
This sticker was listed on eBay, along with others from Stick Figs Warning Stickers.  As much as I enjoyed seeing it, I have to point out two problems.  

First of all, as I am a writer and an English instructor, I notice that the warning contains a comma splice.  If the comma were changed to a colon, and the "s" at the beginning of "Stay" were capitalized, the text would be fine. 

The other problem is in the drawing.  I have no problem with the art:  It makes me think of Keith Haring, possibly on crack, in a dark alley.  But if the standing figure is swinging the bat in the direction shown in the drawing, how would the other figure fall (float?) in the direction it's going?  Did the bat strike the bike and make it (him?) pop off the seat and into the air? If that's what happened, how would he (it?) fall backwards?  

I admit that I took Physics before many of you were born, and some things about it have probably changed.  But the movement in the drawing just doesn't make sense.  Still, I like the sticker, even though I'm not a violent person.

Well, I never used actual violence to stop a bike from being stolen.  I did, however, use the threat of violence to prevent  a bike theft--or, if you want to be more dramatic, to stop a bike thief in his tracks.

One warm evening about twenty or so years ago, I went to the Paris Theatre, which is across the street from the Plaza Hotel.  After seeing a film--I think it was "My Left Foot"--I walked along West 58th Street.  A wiry young guy lifted a Motobecane Grand Touring by its fork and rear stays and was turning the frame clockwise, trying to break the U-lock that clamped it to a bike rack.  

In those days, I was riding, on average, about 50 miles a day. (Yes, every day!)  I was also lifting weights.  A female friend used to say that I was always either glowering or scowling.  Whether or not that was true, I knew this much: Complete strangers used to cross to the other side of the street when they saw me. 

And that is what that would-be bike thief did, faster than anyone I've ever seen, when I planted myself, with my hands in my pockets, in front of him.  Even so, he just barely avoided getting hit by one of the taxis that zipped down 58th Street when the light turned green at Sixth Avenue.  I'm ashamed to admit this now, but I was actually more proud of how much I scared that guy than I was of keeping someone's nice bike from being stolen.  Maybe I would've felt differently if the bikes owner had shown up.  

Would I have been as effective if I'd had a warning label?

22 June 2011

You Never Know When It Will Come In Handy!

"Why do we have to learn this?"

"You never know when you can use it."

I couldn't begin to count (I'm an English instructor, after all!) how many times I've had that conversation with a student. 

Truth be told, we learn lots of things we never use.  If I haven't used trigonometry or calculus by this point in my life, I doubt that I ever will.  Then again, I doubt that I know very much, if any, of it at all because whether or not I actually learned those things is certainly debatable.  I took classes in them, yes.  But I didn't do well, and I don't think I retained a whole lot of either of them.

Tonight, for my commute home, I used a skill that I learned as a Boy Scout(!) many, many years ago.  No, I didn't start a fire by rubbing two sticks together or weave a lanyard.  What I did was to forecast the weather.  Well, OK, I didn't predict the storm that came our way.  But I managed to avoid it.

One thing I learned during those hikes and camping trips is that most weather patterns--at least in the continental United States--move from west to east.  So, after my class, when I saw the sky darkening and heard that heavy rain and hail were falling in New Jersey, I knew enough to wait before riding home.

The ride from my class to my apartment--at least via the least-trafficked route, which I took today--is about twelve miles.  That includes a somewhat circuitous route through Kissena and Flushing Meadow Parks.  And, as it happens, the class is east-southeast of my apartment.

So I stayed for two hours after the class to read some papers and do a small piece of online research.  So, by the time I left the campus, the rain had already passed over the campus, as well as my Astoria neighborhood.  That meant I didn't have to ride in the rain (or hail!), although the streets ranged from slick to swampy, and there were large pools of murky water on the paths in the parks.  But I didn't care, as Marianela has fenders; the one on the front has a long mudflap.  

Who could have known that a skill I learned as a Boy Scout could help me to ride home in a skirt and blouse without getting doused!

Hmm...Might I actually use calculus or trigonometry one day?  Will I ever fix a tubular (sew-up) tire again?

21 June 2011

Something I Didn't Know I Missed

I just remembered the stars
I love them, too
whether I'm floored watching them from below
or whether I'm flying at their side.

Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet wrote those lines in his wonderful poem, "Things I Didn't Know I Loved."  Think of what "My Favorite Things" might have been like had Julie Andrews been Turkish, lived in Russia and spent a decade or two in prison for opposing her government and advocating world Communism.

This evening, you might say that I experienced Something I Didn't Know I Missed.  I took an early evening ride with a new friend--yes, the new riding partner I've mentioned--and got home invigorated.  

Back when I was at Rutgers, I used to ride a couple of evenings a week with a group of cyclists from the local club. We finished our day's work or classes at around the same time and, since we were within a few-mile radius, it was fairly easy to meet early enough so that we'd have a couple of hours of daylight, or non-darkness, at least at this time of the year.  We'd put in anywhere from 20 to 40 miles, depending on when and where we started and what kind of pace we kept.  

Sometimes the rides took us along the turbid river; other times, we pedalled up the foothills of the Watchungs, which poked out like the aged but not dulled edges of the teeth of an old woman who had lived through anger and melancholy.  I had some vague notion, then, that I was looking at the future, if not my future.   A few times, we even took late-Friday rides to the ocean, where, if we were lucky, we'd see reflections of stars on darkening blue waves, and we'd spend the weekend with someone or another who had a rental or time-share in one of the nearby bungalows.

I didn't merely enjoy those rides at the end of the day; they were a kind of jeu d'esprit for me.  Perhaps that is the reason why they would, in time, become the first rides I would ever lead.  

Then I graduated, moved, moved on and didn't think about those rides for a long time.  I did not get into the habit of late-day or early-evening rides again for another two decades or so.  By then, I was living in Park Slope, Brooklyn. I was training regularly in Prospect Park, so I was always hooking up with someone or another.  In those days, I rode mainly with other male cyclists because I was still living as male and was in the best condition of my life, so it was difficult to find a female cyclist who could challenge me. The exception was Tammy who, of all of the people with whom I was ever in an intimate relationship, was the only one who even came close to sharing my enthusiasm for cycling.

I didn't know, until today, how much I missed those twilight rides with someone who shares my enthusiasm for them.  I have taken such rides by myself, as I like to ride alone sometimes.  But a ride into the sunset, if you will, becomes even more interesting with someone else because it allows you and the person accompanying you to let down the defenses, or simply release the stress of that day.  It's sort of a healthier version of taking a cigarette break with someone.

Tonight Lakythia and I met at the little park with the big statue where we'd met for our previous two rides.  Near the end of our ride, I half-jokingly pointed out that we had done le Tour de Brooklyn Juif:  the tour of Jewish Brooklyn.  We'd pedaled through back streets of Williamsburg that would not have looked out of place in the Warsaw stetl during the 1930's; from there,  between rows of grand houses on and near Eastern Parkway that, as elegant as they are, seem to reflect the graying post-Hapsburg skies of Mittleuropa. From there, we rolled down a couple of streets with long, slow inclines to  the modern homes of modern Orthodox Jews in  Midwood and Flatbush.


After all of that, we ended up in Sheepshead Bay, which looks more like a New England fishing village.  And we'd done about 30 miles, all told. 

I never knew I missed ending a day in this way.

20 June 2011

Going For A Ride--Or Walk?

Bikes have often been compared to shoes.  I can see it:  They're used for transportation, if you will. They both cover ground and wear out rubber.  And, some of us are always shopping for bags and other accessories to go with them.

Hmm...I'd never thought about combining them.  It must make for an interesting ride, or walk.

19 June 2011

Accidental Gatsby

As so often happens when I'm riding alone, I didn't exactly go where I'd planned.  Then again, sometimes my plans aren't firm when I'm riding alone.  I can't say they were today.

So...I had a vague idea I might take another ride to Point Lookout.  (Can you tell it's a favorite of mine?)  And, well, I took a "wrong" turn--accidentally, in a Freudian way, if you know what I mean.  I found myself riding underneath an Air France plane that I could've sworn I could've touched.  That meant, of course, I was even closer to JFK International Airport than the union is to management at my job.  (You would really appreciate that comment if you saw what I wrote yesterday on my other blog.)

From there, I rode through a few neighborhoods that I have been to a couple of times before, and a couple of more I haven't seen in years, all of them on one side or the other of the Queens-Nassau county line.  What those places had to recommend them were that they were quiet and traffic-free, which is no small virtue on a nearly perfect day for cycling.  

I passed among residential areas that ranged from cookie-cutter suburban to ostentious in the way of a 1970's Lincoln Continental.  I also passed by and through a couple of rather lovely parks, the Belmont racetrack, then some neighborhoods with increasingly interesting architecture, all the way to the North Shore.

Now, that wasn't the most opulent or architecturally distinctive house I saw.  But I think that if I had lots of money, I'd want to live in something like that. I imagine that the rooms would be full of light undulating in waves like the water that's only about 100 feet away.

I get the feeling Arielle wouldn't mind it at all.  After all, she's the one who led me here.

Some people--and bikes--like the beach. But I think Arielle really loves the light and water and waves.  

Surprisingly, I saw only one other cyclist along that road that skirts Long Island Sound.  However, I did see a fair number of couples--mostly middle-aged and older, though hardly looking worse for it--taking leisurely or romantic strolls.  All of them smiled, waved or said "hello" to me.  

I don't suspect, though, that they'd buy flowers in this place:

To be fair, that florist is nowhere near the Gatsby shoreline I reached by accident.  It's in Richmond Hill:  one of those places where I took a "wrong" turn.  The florist is in business; I've passed it any number of times because it's not far from where I work. Whatever happens to that florist, I hope someone preserves that sign:  If you remember when FTD used the "Mercury" logo in all of its ads, you're old, or at least of my generation.  As you can see, that sign had neon lights on it at one time.  I don't know when they were removed, but somehow I suspect that the sign is from the 1940's, or even earlier.  In those days, the neighborhood was populated mainly by the children and grandchildren of Irish and German immigrants; later, second-generation Italian-Americans (including some relatives of mine) moved in, only to be replaced by the current Indian and Guyanese residents.  

One of the neighborhood's most noted residents was Jacob Riis. But I doubt Gatsby ever went there, even by accident.

18 June 2011

Do You Ride A "Fixie" Or A Bike With A Fixed Gear Into The Sunset

If I count the miles I pedaled going to and from yesterday's ride, I did about 45 miles all together--on Tosca, my fixie.

Of course, I've cycled many more miles than that in one ride.  However, it's been a while since I've ridden that many miles on a fixed gear.

Today I rode only a few miles, albeit on a fixed gear.  Notice I said "a fixed gear" as opposed to "my fixie."  A few months ago, I fitted a fixed gear to Marianela.  However, I don't think of it as a fixie:  I think of it as my commuter/utility bike, which I just happen to be riding with a fixed gear.

I think the difference in the way I think about each of them has to do with the fact that Tosca is a bike that's made to be used with fixed gears, while Marianela started life as a late '70's ten-speed bike.

Anyway, Marianela seems to have this thing for sunsets.  So after a brief late day ride, I found myself having a picnic in Astoria Park.  The food consisted of a hero sandwich from Sal, Kris and Charlie's of Astoria.  It's one of those old-school Italian-American sandwich shops that seemed to be everywhere in the NY Metro area when I was growing up.  You probably wouldn't want to go there if you are a vegetarian.  I might become one, some day.  But not tonight.  I ordered something called "The Bomb."  (I mean, how could I not, with a name like that!)  Let me tell you, it was worth every damn calorie, gram of sodium and whatever of cholestrol I downed.  I didn't order it with mustard or mayo, but I did get oil and vinegar, which were perfect on this sandwich!

I almost feel guilty for not having shared, even if these people were enjoying each other's company:

After eating that sandwich, I probably could have attached a chain to my bike and pulled this train into the sunset all by myself:

The light inside that train alone would be worth the ride.  Heck, I wouldn't even mind being inside the windows of that building underneath the trestle, even if it is a water treatment plant.  But I got the best view of all--after riding my bike.

17 June 2011

Riders In The Storm?

Today I went for another ride with my new riding partner.  We got out later than we'd originally planned because she was summoned, at the last moment, to a second interview for a job that she really wants.  

As we did on our previous ride, we met at a little park with a big statue that stands almost exactly halfway between my place and hers.  And the clouds that covered the sky grew darker and thickened.  Times like that remind me of at least one of the reasons I cycle:  Somehow I manage, in such situations, to believe that the rain will hold off long enough for me to do my ride.  Or, sometimes I like to "play chicken with the rain," as if I could dare it. Some of the rides I've enjoyed most are the ones in which I "held off" the rain long enough to finish my ride, and the first drops fell just after I got home--or just before.

There have been times in my life in which those rides were the only occasions in which I could muster up any sort of optimism, much less the defiant kind that motivates me to "play chicken with the rain."  

Today we did get caught in the rain.  As a matter of fact, we got soaked by a sudden downpour.  As it was a warm day, I didn't mind; in fact, I rather like getting rained on during a summer ride.  On the other hand, she doesn't care much for riding in the rain, although she didn't complain.  

But we both agree that we're willing to take a chance on a heavily overcast day when there's a possibility of precipitation, although neither of us wants to start a ride in the rain.  I've ridden with people who went out and rode no matter the conditions, and with others (including a ride leader in a club to which I belonged) who literally wouldn't ride if there was a single cloud in the sky or the temperature was below 40 degrees F. 

How do you feel about riding in the rain?  Are you one of those riders who will go out even when an old guy with a long beard is gathering animals into a boat?  Or are you a rider who won't ride if there's even the slightest possiblity of rain? (If you are, what are you doing in the Northeast or Northwest?)  Or are you like me:  willing to chance that "stray" shower or the passing storm?

16 June 2011

If You Build Your Bike In Italy from Reynolds Tubing, Name It After A French Town

Today I saw a listing for a Frejus bicycle that was made in "Torino, France."

I wrote to whoever listed the bike to correct his/her geography:  Torino--known in the English-speaking world as Turin-- is, of course, in Italy.

One of the ironies of that listing is that the town of Frejus is actually located in France.  Granted, it's not far from Italy and was, at different times in history, ruled not only by Italy, but also by several Italian city-states as well as the King of Sardinia and the Dukes of Savoie (Savoy).  

And it was part of the Roman Empire.  That is evident in the ampitheatre in middle of the town.  In fact, when I was there, I recall reading something (a brochure?  a plaque? a book, maybe?) that said it is the oldest surviving Roman ampitheatre, not to mention one of the  oldest surviving structures, in France.  There are also the remains of an acqueduct as well as a number of other Roman structures.

Perhaps they built chariots back then.  However, nothing that I've read in French, English or Italian indicates that any bicycle, or even any part for one, was ever produced there, though--it being in the south of France, after all--quite a few people ride bikes for recreation as well as transportation. Well, at least they were when I was there.

Even if we never rode or owned one, Frejus bicycles are special to cyclists of my generation or the one immediately before us.  As Sheldon Brown points out on his page, they were often ridden by the few active racers in the US during the Dark Ages of the sport in this country.  And it was one of the bikes of choice for relatively well-heeled enthusiasts in the early days of the Bike Boom.

Accounts vary as to their ride qualities. And, as pretty as many of them were, the workmanship was actually pretty mediocre, even on their best Campagnolo-equipped models. But, for many of us, they defined what an Italian racing bike was.

They were imported and sold by Tom Avenia, who was also one of the first importers of Campagnolo equipment.  I met him when he was a very, very old man.  (He lived to be about 95, if I'm not mistaken.)  Frail as he was, he still rode and could tell stories about the Six Day Races in Madison Square Garden during the 1930's (which would be the last most Americans would hear of bicycle racing for about another half-century) as well as his own participation in such races as the Somerville Classic.  I could see how the man all but singlehandedly kept the torch burning, or at least flickering, on his zeal alone.

And he rode a Frejus track bike, equipped with a front brake, nearly to the end of his life.

And, yes, he reminded me that Frejus is actually a town in France, even though the bikes were made in Italy--of Reynolds 531 tubing.

14 June 2011

On A Bunch Of Strings

Have you ever come to the end of a workday feeling as if you'd carried the weight of the world on your shoulders?  

Well, all right, I didn't today.  And, truth be told, I never identified much with Atlas, even in my weight-lifting days.  I'd say that I identified more with Tiresias, though I could do without the blindness.  

Anyway, carrying the world on one's shoulders doesn't grab my fancy.  But suspending (or dangling) it on strings is fascinating (and pretty sexy, if you ask me). I think the people who design suspension bridges, and built certain kinds of boats, understood that:

I saw that "bridge" as I cycled through the World's Fair grounds on my way home.  Could they really be holding up those trees?  

Some kids think God works that way.  (At least, some of the kids I worked with twenty years ago thought so.)  And, I would suspect, more than a few adults think something like that, too, though in a less benevolent way than the kids see it.

So what were those strings supporting?  Well, I don't know whether they were actually supporting it, but they are attached to the skating rink in Flushing Meadow Park.  The rink is at one end of the park, which is probably as big as Manhattan's Central or Brooklyn's Prospect parks.  At the other end of the park is the Kissena Velodrome.

OK, there's my "string" to cycling.  I now feel I've rationalized the fact that this is in a cycling blog.  That's a huge weight off my shoulders! 

13 June 2011

Easy-On, Easy-Off Carradice Bag

Today I'm going to tell you about one of the DIY projects I did over the past rainy weekend.

Since September, Marianela, my old LeTour III, has sported a Gyes Parkside saddle.  On the whole, I've been happy with it, and given that Brooks prices are rising again, it's a good value.

It's very similar to the Brooks B-66 and -67 saddles:  The dimensions and shape of the leather top are similar, and so are the coiled springs.  Another feature it shares with their English forebears is its bag loops:

They are almost triangular-shaped, with rectangular cutouts for bag straps.  The bag loops on the sportier Brooks and Gyes models are more slit-like.  Also, the bag loops on B-17s, Swallows and the Gyes models inspired by them are integral with the carriage plate that's riveted to the rear of the leather top.  However, on the Parkside the bag loops are inserted between the top plate and the springs, and everything is bolted together.  I believe the B-66, B-67 and Champion Flyer have the same, or at  least a similar arrangement.

I decided that I want to start using one of my Carradice saddlebags--a Nelson Longflap--for commuting.  It can hold lots of papers and books and a layer of clothing, not to mention my lunch--and still have room to spare.  Also, I'd like to use it if I ever start to carry a laptop with me to work because there's plenty of room for it with a sleeve, and even more protection.  Plus, I trust the quality and construction of the Nelson more than most bags of any type on the market.

(I'm sure the Zimbales are excellent bags, as Velouria and other bloggers have said. But Carradice can still be had for considerably less if you order from Wiggle in England. And, I've read good things about Acorn bags, but they're next to impossible to buy.)

But, as much as I love Carradice bags, I found their mounting system troublesome, at least for a commuter bike that's parked outside for long periods of time in a marginal neighborhood (where my main job is).  Peter White--and Carradice, I believe--recommend looping the attachment straps so that they buckle inside the bag.  That makes for a more stable and secure mount, as it allows the top of the bag to sit neaerly flush with the bag loops.  But it doesn't make for easy dismounting.

So what did I do?  Well, I unbolted the springs and bag loops from the rear plate on the Gyes.  And I substituted keyring clamps for the loops:

Notice the tabs at the top of those clamps.  I push them toward the saddle, which opens them.  And when I let go, they close very securely:

I simply looped the regular mounting straps a couple of times through rectangular coupler links.  I screwed down the clamps very tightly after treating the treads with blue Loctite. (I gave the undercarriage bolts the same treatment.)

And, instead of attaching the bottom of the bag to the seatpost with the provided strap, I looped an old toestrap onto the bag and around the front of the rear rack:

I'm still thinking of other ways to make that connection quick-release.  I didn't want to use a clamp like the ones I used on the saddle because I thought the bag could sway too much with the bag mounted on such a small point.  Looping the strap around the front of the rack makes it much more stabe.  Plus, toe straps have a roller and clamp that can be adjusted--or allow the strap to be removed--quickly.  I think it will work well: Today I was surprised at how quickly I could mount and dismount the bag.  And it remained remarkably stable as poor Marianela got bounced over some stretches of streets that were more like the Ho Chi Minh trail.

Oh, one more thing:  I figured out a way to attach a shoulder strap so I could carry the Nelson off my bike:

All of the Carradice bags I've seen--as well as a number of similar bags--have leather tabs like the one you see in the photo.  They're usually at or near the top of the bag, on the corners.  I got two heavy-duty keyrings from a local hardware store and looped them onto those tabs.  Those rings allowed me to clip a padded shoulder strap from EMS onto the bag.

If you want to do something like this with a B-17, you could probably attach those clamps to the seat bag loops with hose clamps.  Or you could attach those clamps to the rails of a saddle that doesn't have bag  loops.  

In a few weeks or months, I'll write a follow-up to let you know how this system is holding up.