29 September 2011

A Fellow Alum Does Good

Today I did something I've never done before, and may never do again:  I actually read an article in Rutgers Magazine.

Why does that matter?  Well, I am an alumna (I was once an alumnus...) of the school on the banks of the Raritan.  I graduated a long, long time ago.  And I've been back to the school maybe three or four times--the last time about twenty years ago.  That, even though through most of my adult life, I've lived within a day's bike ride of the place. 

The day I graduated, I wanted to get as far away from it as I could.  About the only thing I liked about being there was that there was some good riding--and New York--nearby.

Today the latest edition of the alumni (Don't they realize they're being sexist when they use that term?) magazine arrived in the mail.  As I normally do, I flipped through it during a potty break.

A pretty picture of a pretty shiny thing got my attention:

It's quite possibly the first photo of a bicycle ever to appear in the magazine since the days of the six-day races, if indeed Rutgers had an alumni magazine back then.  I am sorry I couldn't reproduce the quality of the image in the magazine.  But I think this shows how warm and eye-pleasing the color combination is.

One Jay Zand, Class of '82 (I'd never heard of him, or anyone else in the magazine, until today.  Now you know why I don't read it.) purchased the bike from Eddy's Cycle City in Bayonne, New Jersey  (the hometown of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons).  Zand, who's an optometrist, paid 300 dollars for the bike, which was in pretty rough shape, with the intention of restoring it.  He had never undertaken such a project before.

He sent the bike to California for repairs and refinishing, and even had tires custom-made for the maple rims.  The bike, as it turned out, was made over 100 years ago by the Middlesex Motor Company of New Brunswick.  Eddy's purchased it from the Metz Bicycle Museum in Freehold (Bruce Springsteen's hometown).  Metz is dedicated to the heyday of cycling--around the time the bicycle in the photo was built--in New Jersey.  Turns out, Jersey was a veritable hotbed of racing, and Newark even had a well-regarded velodrome.

All the bike needs now is a honey-ish brown saddle to go with the grips and rims, although I think it looks really nice as it is.

It's nice to see fellow alums doing good things.  I might even start referring to Rutgers as "my alma mater."  Now, if I start attending tailgate parties, then you should worry about me!

24 September 2011

A Cyclist Who Definitely Has Her Own Style

Today, on my way to meet Lakythia for a ride, my rear tire blew out.  I cursed my own stupidity:  I tried to milk a battered tire for whatever miles I could get from it, instead of replacing it as an older, wiser cyclist (which I'm supposed to be, hence the title of this blog) would.

Lakythia was a sweetheart about it:  She met me at B's Bicycle Shop on Driggs Avenue.  There, I bought one of the cheaper tires they had (a wire-bead Vittoria Randonneur).  As I installed it, Lakythia test-rode a Fuji single-speed/fixed gear bike.  (See what a bad influence I am on her?) Then, we were on our way.

Well, not quite.  As we were about to set off for a ride along the New Jersey Palisades, someone who doesn't look like any other bike-shop customer you've ever seen rode in. Well, actually, she walked her bike in because she had a flat.  Either way, getting to the shop was a respectable feat, in part because of what she had on her feet.

You know you've spent too much time in bike shops when you ask whether a pair of stiletto heels is SPD or Look compatible.  Sheryl (a.k.a. "Bitch Cakes), as you can see, doesn't ride either kind of pedal.  Her Hello Kitty-mobile has classic cruiser pedals, which makes sense when you look at the bike.

Although I usually ride in skirts, and sometimes in heels, to work, I am a slouch compared to her.  Last week, she rode 120 miles in the dress and shoes, and on the bike,  you see in the photo.   The Transportation Alternatives-sponsored ride took "all day," she said, and included "all kinds" of people.  I did a few of their rides back in the day and I don't doubt what she says.

I must say: Back then, my fantasies included looking something like her, or at least exuding style and being a memorable presence in a similar sort of way.  To tell you the truth, I still wouldn't mind it, although I'm not sure I could pull of her look.  And, frankly, I'm too much of a scaredy-cat to get all of those tatoos, even if they would go with her Hello Kitty purse--which, of course, went with her bike.

We only got to talk briefly because, after her flat was fixed, she had to go to a photo shoot.  But I enjoyed talking with her, as I found her to be friendly and articulate.   

So, of course, is Lakythia, which is one of the reasons I enjoy riding to her.  Plus, anyone who can put up with my scatter-brainedness and complete lack of navigational ability is exactly the sort of person I want and need as a riding buddy, and friend!

Actually, she's checking her GPS just in case!  Me, I prefer riding off into the sunset, even if it's seen through a gate!

22 September 2011

One For Vera? Or Is It An Internal Matter?

I promise:  Vera will not end up looking like this:

However, she may end up with a fixed gear or a "flip-flop" hub.  Now that she's become my regular commuter, I'm really thinking about dispensing with the derailleur.  

Some of you will tell me to consider an internally-geared hub (IGH).  I am. However, I haven't had the best of luck with the ones I've had.  Hal, the Bicycle Habitat mechanic who's built any wheel I ride and haven't built myself (and who set up Arielle, Tosca and Helene) says the only IGH he likes is the Rohloff, which costs more than my first ten or so bikes.  

And, I'll admit that I like the elegant simplicity of fixed gears, and even single speed freewheels.  But don't worry:  If I go that route, or give in to an IGH, I won't do anything silly like cutting off the derailleur mounting "ear" on the rear dropout.  In fact, I don't want to cut, drill bend or otherwise mutilate the frame for any modification.

19 September 2011

Bike Thieves and Squeegee Men

Just before I got home, I stopped at Tony's Bicycle Shop in Astoria.  Even before I moved into the neighborhood, I used to go there whenever I happened to be riding that way because I liked the old proprietor and they had all sorts of then-unfashionable parts that would soon come to be known as "old school."

Anyway, I didn't have my camera with me, so you will be spared from one of the more hideous sights I've seen in Tony's shop.  A Pinarello racing bike was clamped into one of the repair stands.  It had one of those awful 1980's fade paint job.  Strangely, it was tricolore, but in (from the rear) blue, white and red.  

To tell you the truth, I've seen worse fade jobs, and, ironically, the addition of another color--yellow--in the saddle and the bands of the tire treads made it almost tolerable.  However, one of the mechanics was in the process of turning the bike into a real aesthetic monstrosity:  He was wrapping the handlebars with Cinelli "Italian flag" cork tape.  I know, the bike is Italian, and some guys just want to flaunt the Italian-ness of their bikes.  But, please, have some respect for a country that produced Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Botticelli and Titian!

However, I noticed something even more disturbing while at Tony's.  It had nothing to do with anything any of the shop employees did.  Rather, it echoed and confirmed an impression I've had lately:  Bicycle theft is on the rise.

Another customer came in looking for something she could use to keep her wheels and seat from being stolen.  Several of her friends had already lost those items on their bikes, one of them in the hallway of the building in which she lives.  She also mentioned that a friend of hers caught a thief in the act; when the friend confronted the thief, he cursed the guy out and went about his business.

I found the above image on "A Short Introduction to Cycling,"  a British cycling blog.  As the author points out, it's unusual to get such a good shot of the perps in action.  Most of the time, as he points out, we have only grainy images from security cameras.  And, the thieves in those images are usually of hooded young men, and the graininess of the images renders them even more non-descript.  

Lots of people would say something like, "Those guys don't look like bike thieves."  What I find even more remarkable, though,is that they did it in an open public area of London, not on some shady venue.  Seeing that photo reminded me that bike theft, and crime generally, is becoming more brazen as well as more frequent than they have been in a long time.

The image also brought to mind something from around 1990--around the time bike theft and all sorts of other crime were at their peak here in New York.  I had gone to the Paris Theatre, which is right across West 58th Street from the Plaza Hotel, to see a film--I forget which, exactly.  

I think I was upset about something or another that day.  That was when I was living in my previous identity:  I was, of course, Nick.  I was two decades younger and riding my bike much more than I do now, and I was lifting weights every day.  Plus, even if I weren't upset about something specific that day, I carried the sort of anger--Some people who knew me said they could see it in my shoulders--that caused complete strangers to cross the street when they saw me approaching.  

Anyway, I left the theatre and turned left on 58th Street.  In front of one of the buildings was a bicycle rack.  A guy who was built about the same way I was lifted a Motobecane and began twisting it, expecting to break the lock.  I approached him from behind and tapped my finger on his shoulder.  He turned, took one look at me and bolted.

He wasn't trying to steal my bike.  But the fact that he was trying to take anybody's bike--possibly someone's transportation or simply someone's pride and joy--did nothing to quell whatever rage I was feeling.  

I would love to have a photo of that, though I hope not to see anything like it again.  And I still hope that we won't have anything like the tide of theft we had in those days.  However, things haven't been looking good:  The squeegee men are back.

18 September 2011

Going Dutch When It Gets Ugly

In today's post on Lovely Bicycle!, "Velouria" presents the Trek Cocoa, which seems to be Trek's "take" on what is commonly called the Dutch-style bicycle.

Way back in 2000, Tammy and I took a trip to France.  We talked about buying two bikes like those and bringing them back.  Buying the bikes wouldn't have been so expensive, at least relatively speaking as, in those pre-Euro days, the dollar enjoyed a favorable exchange rate almost everywhere on the Continent.  However, we figured out that we would have had to buy another plane ticket to get them back.

They might have worked for us as commuters or "town" bikes, and they certainly would have been conversation pieces, as almost no American who hadn't spent some time in Europe knew what a "Dutch-style bike" is.

But I digress.  I agree with Velouria that the Cocoa is a lovely bike. So was the Belleville, Trek's take on the traditional mixte bike.  I was tempted to buy one of the latter, which seems to have been discontinued, before I decided to save my money for Helene.  However, two mechanics at a shop that sells Treks talked me out of buying a Belleville.  Of course, one shouldn't infer that the Cocoa isn't a good bike:  Perhaps Trek learned from something from making the Belleville.

I will admit that both are very nice bikes to look at.  It seems, though, that Trek applies Newton's First Law of Motion to the aesthetics of its bikes:  For every pretty bike they make, they make a really ugly one. (One might also say that it's a Hegelian dialectic.)  To wit:

In case you're a glutton for visual punishment, here's a detail:

It used to be that bike makers' racing bikes were their prettiest.  That was especially true of the Italian bike makers but was also the case for nearly all makers, big or small, in the days when nearly all quality frames were lugged steel.  

Then again, at the same time Trek introduced the Belleville, they also came out with this monstrosity:

The graphics and color scheme reminded me of a Huffy, circa 1978.  Why anyone would emulate a Huffy in any way is beyond me.

11 September 2011

A "Duck" Bicycle Rack And Two Interesting Shops

This might be the very first "duck" bike rack I've ever seen:

So what does this bike rack have to do with ducks?, you ask. Well, as you'll notice, the rack is made of bike frames--or, at least that's what they appear to be.

On seeing it, I couldn't help to think of the "Duck" building on Long Island:

Built during the 1930's, it was located on the site of a onetime duck ranch. (That seems almost oxymoronic,doesn't it?) For decades, duck and other poultry were sold from it.  After the owners of the duck farm retired during the early 1980's, the state bought the building and moved it a few miles from its original location.

As corny as the building might be, I daresay that it's aged better than almost any piece of Brutalist architecture ever has. 

But I digress.  Mark, the owner of Zukkie's Bicycle Shop, told me that a nearby metalworking shop made the rack for him. It's apt for his store which, until recently, was a vintage/thrift shop.  He still has some of those interesting, old and odd items he had in his emporium's earlier incarnation, but he is expanding his bike line.   The main emphasis seems to be on repairs and used bikes, though I did see a new Raleigh single speed there.  

The store is on Bushwick Avenue, near the point where the eponymous neighborhood borders on hipster haven Williamsburg.   It's still an ungentrified area; housing projects stand only three blocks away.  His emphasis on used bikes and repairs, and the shop's lack of "bling"--along with its reasonable prices--show,if nothing else, an attempt to fill the divergent demands and needs of the neighborhood.

Lakythia and I went there after the rear tire of her GT mountain bike flatted twice.  I didn't have a spare tube in the size she needed and, as it turned out, even if I'd had one, she'd have gotten another flat because the rubber rim strip wouldn't stay in place.  Mark fixed that problem and, while we waited, Lakythia took a quick spin on Tosca.  It was her first experience of riding a fixed gear; she seemed to see it as a challenge.  I've a feeling she's going to try it again, if for no other reason that she was amazed at how responsive the bike is, especially after riding a mountain bike.

Anyway, after she and I parted, I stopped in another bike shop on my way home.  I had an excuse:  It opened only recently, and my curiosity got the best of me, as it often does.  

Silk Road Cycles is found just past the end of the Kent Avenue bike lane in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.  An unprepossesing sign that reads "New Bicycle Shop at Calyer and Franklin" is the only indication of its existence.  However, the space, though small, is clean, uncluttered and very inviting.  The last quality has, in part, to do with Eric, the manager and Brendon, the owner.  They are very good about answering questions and can discuss bike-related (and non-bike-related) subjects intelligently.  And, in their interactions with other customers that I observed, they are not condescending and have none of the wannabe-racer or hipster attitude one finds in many other shops.

What I liked best, though, is that their emphases seem to be on quality and practicality.  While they had a couple of racing bikes, most of what I saw on the floor were bikes and accessories meant for transportation, day-tripping and touring.  There weren't any 'hipster fixies." Most of the bikes were steel, and they stock a number of parts and accessories from Nitto and Velo Orange.  I have been looking for a front rack for Vera; given their selection, I think I'll give them some business.  (Don't worry, Bicycle Habitat, I'm not abandoning you!)

08 September 2011

Hopefully, Not Only On Sundays

On Sunday, I took Tosca out for a ride with Lakythia her friend Mildred.  It's the first time I've seen Lakythia since I got back from Prague, so of course there was lots to talk about.  One of the things I like about Lakythia is that she's a great social rider:  I never feel as if I'm sacrificing the "social" part of riding with her, and I also don't feel as if I'm sacrificing the quality of my ride to be social.  And I felt the same way about Mildred.  In some ways, she's my opposite:  She's petite, wiry and very athletic-looking, yet she has one of those gamine oval-shaped faces that allows her to wear her hair close-cropped and look absolutely great.

I can't help but to wonder what kind of a cyclist, and person, I might be if I had ridden with them, or people like them, earlier in my life.

I've had too much time to wonder a lot of things, in spite of all of the work I've had to do. It's rained, torrentially, almost nonstop since my most recent ride.  The weather we've had during the last few days actually feels more like what I expected when everyone was warning us that Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene was going to level, inundate and otherwise annihilate this city.  

You know you're not riding enough when...You plan on making an equipment change on one of your bikes and start to think maybe you won't do it after all, even though you've bought the parts you need for it.  I've tweaked the levers on Helene a bit, and the brakes feel a little better.   I'll need to test-ride them a bit more.  On one hand, I like the idea of keeping the bike as it is because, well, that would  be easier.  Plus, the dual-pivot sidepull brakes are simply easier to adjust and maintain than centerpulls, and have a "cleaner" look to them.  They also are chunkier, and I get the feeling the centerpulls might actually look classier, in a retro sort of way (especially if I install the mini-rack on the front) on the mixte frame.  Finally, they just might give me better modulation, and they will almost certainly fit better around the fenders.

Oh well.  I just want to get in a bunch of good miles before we get some snow, slush and other wintry delights.

03 September 2011

I'm Back: Say Hello To Vera

The semester has begun and, as you probably can imagine, I've been busy.  To those of you who expressed concern for my safety:  Thank you.  I was hardly affected at all by Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene, save for the fact that I had to stay indoors and miss a few days of cycling.  


But, as you've seen from my last couple of posts, I've begun to commute on Miss Mercian II--who will henceforth be known as Vera.  I could get all literary and scholarly on you and say that I named her after some character in a Restoration play, or some such thing.  Truth is, I decided on the name after listening to Pink Floyd's "The Wall."  You know the song I'm referring to. 

I'll write about her ride after I spend some more time on her saddle.  Her wheels and tires, as well as much of her other componentry, are heavier than those on Helene, my other Miss Mercian mixte.  Plus, the geometry is a bit different.  Finally, I'm still tweaking a few things on Vera.

Speaking of which:  I'm going to install a set of centerpulls on Helene.  I've always felt that they were better for bikes with long clearances.  They fit better around fenders, for one thing.  Plus, on bikes with long reaches (more than about 60 mm), traditional sidepulls feel mushy, while dual-pivot brakes (like the Tektro 556s Helene now has) seem to have an "all or nothing" feel to them.  It may well have something to do with the levers (the Tektro inverse levers that are styled like the old Mafac bar-end levers)  I'm using with them.  They seem more suited for a centerpull or cantilever brake.  

On the front centerpull,  I'm going to install one of those little TA-style front racks (made by Dia Compe and purchased from Velo Orange).  I could use a small basket or rack bag--or, of course a handlebar bag.  Perhaps I could also strap my purse or handbag to it.

There is a "casualty" in all of this.  Yes, you guessed it:  Marianela.  She went to a good home this week.  A woman who's my height and whose legs are the same length as mine is going to ride it to graduate school, which she is starting this week.  I realized that if I had simply given away or donated Marianela, she could have ended up with someone who was too short for her, or simply wouldn't have appreciated her.  By the same token, I didn't expect to get much money by selling her, and I didn't.  I asked for a low price in my Craig's List ad, and after the woman and I talked, I lowered that price and threw in a few "extras." 

I sold the bike with the Gyes Parkside saddle.  I wasn't going to part with the Brooks saddles on my Mercians, all of which are somewhat to significantly narrower than the Gyes.  And I had only one other saddle:  some cheap, hard and narrow no-name nylon thing with thin padding, which I know Marianela's new owner wouldn't have liked.  

I felt good about the transaction:  Marianela and her new rider are right for each other, I think.  And I think Vera will make my commutes more fun.