31 January 2012

The Rise And Fall Of Rapid Rise

I forget who told me that there's no idea so bad that nobody will try to revive it.

Here's a case in point:  low-normal rear, and top-normal front, derailleurs. 

On the bikes most of you ride, pushing the right lever forward shifts you to a higher rear gear (top-normal), and pulling the lever brings you to a lower gear.  Conversely, pulling on the left lever shifts your chain to the larger front sprocket, and pushing it drops your chain to the smaller, or lower gear (low-normal).  The derailleurs I'm going to talk about do the exact opposite. 

It seems that every generation or so, someone tries to revive the idea.  Why, I don't know.

This is an early example of the genre:  the Simplex Champion de France, circa 1935.  Believe it or not, it was a technological marvel for its time, even though it couldn't handle much more than a 22 tooth rear cog and a difference of 8 between the largest and smallest cog. 

It is, I think, rather elegant:  In particular, the cage shape makes me think of a part of a piano rather than a bicycle.  However, the shifts of single-pulley derailleurs are inherently imprecise; low-normal operation only exacerbates the problem.

As one might expect, World War II halted derailleur development and all but stopped their manufacture altogether.  The 1950's would see new innovations and experiments, including the pull-chain mechanism (which Shimano briefly revived on its mountain bike derailleurs during the late 1990's) and, most important, a derailleur with a parallelogram mechanism rather than a single arm or cam.  However, Simplex and other companies also revived low-normal rear derailleurs.

To be fair, the first modern rear derailleur (and, some would say, the first that shifted well)--the Sun Tour Gran Prix of 1964--also was low-normal.  But within two years, Sun Tour abandoned that operating principle, realizing that the slant-parallelogram design (which is found on every derailleur of any quality made in the last quarter-century or so) did more to improve shifting than any other idea or innovation.

However, Sun Tour continued to make front derailleurs that were "top normal" well into the 1970's.  I had one such derailleur.  It shifted well enough until the spring started to lose its tension.  With a low-normal front derailleur, you can sometimes adjust the cable tension to make up for the lack of spring tension.  That's not an option with high-normal front derailleurs.

It's also not an option with low-normal rear derailluers.  I briefly rode one on my mountain bike about fifteen years ago:  a Shimano XTR.  Luckily for me, the shop from which I bought it allowed me to trade it in for a more conventional XT rear.  The owner of the shop reasoned that the amount of wear I put on the XTR made it depreciate enough to warrant an XT as a replacement.

I'd say that was an example of addition by subtraction:  I was happy with the XT, as I was with an earlier version of the same derailleur.  On the other hand, I never liked the low-normal XTR, which was one of the most expensive derailleurs made at the time.  It never had the firm, postive feel I like when shifting:  Even when the gear engaged smoothly and silently after a shift, it always felt as if the chain would slip or jump off the gear at any moment. 

Other cyclists with whom I rode--who included hard-core mountain bikers as well as roadies like me who went off-road for a change of pace--felt the same way about that derailleur. And, in looking back at some old magazines and books, it seems that every time low-normal derailleurs come out, the high-mileage and hard-driving riders don't like them.  Even less-experienced riders who thought they were the newest and latest thing soon soured on them.

I see that Shimano has given up on low-normal (or, in their lingo, "rapid rise") rear derailleurs, at least for now.  I wonder whether they, or any other company, will revive them.  Maybe they will in a decade or so, when there's a cohort of cyclists who didn't use rapid-rise and who don't heed this gem of wisdom from Ecclesiastes:  There is nothing new under the sun.

30 January 2012


Now here's some real old-school lugwork.

There's a "mirror," if you will, of the front fork pattern on the rear stay, near the seat cluster.

I tried to get a better image of it, but it's in a display window.  That window is long past displaying anything, with all of the clutter in it.

The shop behind that window isn't much bigger than my living room, so they have to use every available space.  

Gray's, on Lefferts Boulevard in Kew Gardens, has most likely been in business for longer than I've been in this world. Bernice,the proprietess is a very sweet woman who's probably a decade or two older than I am.  Her husband passed on a few years ago.

One thing that makes the shop interesting--and a reason why I stop in from time to time--is their stock of older parts.  Bernice knows what they are, and what they're supposed to fit, but she's not a cyclist herself and doesn't claim to be any sort of bike enthusiast.

She is one of those old-time shopkeepers who, on slow days, chats with people in the neighborhood.  Today, a woman who seemed to be a couple of decades older than her was there, and they were just talking about family, the passage of time and such.

It's one of those shops that opened when the neighborhood around it was very different.  At one time, Kew Gardens--in which George Gershwin lived and Paul Simon and Jerry Springer were born and raised-- was full of neo-Tudor houses and had an almost-suburban feel.  I suspect the shop opened during that time.  Later, Kew Gardens was nicknamed "Crew Gardens," for all of the airline personnel who lived there.  

Many of the private houses have been torn down and apartment buildings have risen in their place.  Now, Kew Gardens is mainly a community of Orthodox Jews and emigres from Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan.  Among them, there doesn't seem to be very many cyclists:  Just about everyone I see riding comes, as I do, from other parts of Queens or from Brooklyn.

What seems to keep the shop in business is that it's near Forest Park.  And the shop is one of the few in the city that rents bikes.  A few cyclists I know are familiar with the shop; apparently, they go there for the old parts and the pleasant atmosphere, even if it's in cramped quarters.  

Gray's isn't what some cyclists would consider to be a "pro" shop, and doesn't try to be one.  It's, more than anything, an old-fashioned family business that happens to deal in bikes. In a way, it's fitting to find an old-school Hetchins there.

29 January 2012

Pancake Rides

This is the time of year for the "pancake ride."

You've probably been on one:  You ride to someplace where pancakes (and foods that go with them) are served.  And then you spend the rest of your ride burning off what you just ate.

In two of the clubs in which I rode, Pancake rides were hugely popular and, certainly, the winter rides that had the biggest turnouts.

The club to which I belonged when I was in college (Rutgers) held those rides every other Sunday in January and February, if I recall correctly.  The rides took us from the urban confines of New Brunswick, New Jersey into the rural areas of western New Jersey.  Actually, many of the club's rides did, but the Pancake ride had a particular destination:  a firehouse that served pancake breakfasts during the winter. I think the proceeds were used to fund the volunteer fire department located in the firehouse, and that everyone who cooked, served, seated people and did all of the other work were family members or friends of the firefighters.

One of the greatest draws of that ride, apart from the complete lack of traffic outside of New Brunswick on a winter Sunday morning and the bucolic countryside, was what we called The Bottomless Plate.  Yes, it was an all-you-can-eat affair.  In addition to the pancakes, the house served hash browns, sausage, bacon and scrambled eggs, as well as coffee, tea and hot chocolate.  It may not have been the best-quality stuff, but when you're cold and hungry, just about anything edible is delicious and hearty.  

As I recall, that firehouse was very welcoming to us.  That's particularly surprising given how much we ate:  Those of you who are better than I am in math can calculate how much Bis-Quick it took to feed thirty to forty cyclists who'd just cycled twenty  or so miles in twenty-degree weather with a wind-chill of about five or ten degrees.  Also, I should add that some of us were young (i.e., college age) males, who typically had bottomless stomachs and empty wallets.

These days, of course, I'm not a young male.  But all of my changes don't seem to have filled in the bottomless pit in my stomach!  

Anyway, I decided, just for the heck of it, to type "pancake rides" into a Google search box.  It seems that they're going on everywhere, and they're not confined to winter.  Still, I'll probably always think of them as winter rides.   I mean, how many other foods feel warmer and cozier after a ride on a cold day?

28 January 2012

As Good As A Tree...Or A Colnago?

One of the most parodied (and most eminently parodyable) poems in the English language is Joyce Kilmer's "Trees."

Hmm...Even though I know it wouldn't have fit the meter or rhythm of the poem, it might've been better if he'd written, "I think that I shall never see/A bikestand as good as a tree."

Certainly a parking meter isn't quite as nice a stand--although it's a lot easier to loop a chain around it:

The paint job tells me someone was trying to make that bike unattractive to thieves.  However, if that was the owner's/rider's intention, something else on the bike counters it:

Now, if you're going to so much trouble to make the bike unappealing, why would you announce, in screaming red letters, that it's a Colnago?

Of course, the bike is not a Colnago. (I know; I owned and raced on one and have seen many others.) Could it be that it's some kind of post-modern irony (translation: a joke)?  Could this cyclist be saying, "Ha, ha, it's not a Colnago?"

Who'd've thunk it--putting the Colnago name on a bike would make it less valuable?  What if people put Mercedes-Benz stars, or blue-and-white BMW shields, on their 10-year-old Hyundais?  Would that make them less of a target for car thieves?  

Actually, the basket almost made me wish it was a Colnago. It reminded me of the bike someone I met once in Williamsburg (where else?) about ten years ago: a vintage Cinelli track bike (not the ones sold today with the Cinelli label), with equally vintage Campagnolo Pista components and Mavic SSC rims--and a flowered basket strapped to the handlebars.

None of those bikes, though, will ever have a stand as good as that tree on which I leaned Tosca today.

27 January 2012

When Hipsters And Hasidim Use The Same Adjective

From Indigo Jo Blogs

When people on opposing sides of the same issue are using "stupid" as a prefix for the same word, the thing they're talking about can't be good.  Right?

I'm thinking now of bike lanes.  Both cyclists and the people who hate us, or merely find us a nuisance, use that same adjective in reference to the lanes.  

I was reminded of this when I stumbled over a site called "Stupid Bike Lanes" and read articles like this, and the comments on them. 

Of course, the velophobes--who include all sorts of (but not all) people whose way of life or business is auto-based--think we're getting in their way of getting to wherever they have to go and believe we're getting "special privileges."

As any number of other bloggers (including yours truly) and commentators have pointed out, the antipathy toward cyclists, particularly in urban areas, is often generational and based on socio-economic or ethnic issues.  Here in New York, non-cyclists hold contradictory views of cyclists: the messenger, the hipster, the Whole Foods customer and the simply rich.  What reinforces these stereotypes is that those who most vociferously oppose the bike lanes tend to come from what remains of the blue-collar class and groups like the Hasidic and Orthodox Jews who have large families that they transport in vans.  So, they are always driving, it seems, from one available parking spot to the next and, as they see it, the bike lanes take away those spots.  

The bike lane-haters who are actual cyclists don't dispute those objections, and in fact cite one basic flaw of most urban bike lanes:  They run alongside parking lanes and, therefore, directly in the path of opening drivers' side doors.  I've been "doored" a few times: on all except one of those occasions, I was riding in a bike lane.

Some bike lanes are badly designed in other ways.  The most obvious flaw, aside from the one I just mentioned, is that many of them go nowhere, end abruptly or in the middle of busy intersections, or are so poorly marked so that only those who already know where they are can find them.  

All of the problems I've mentioned actually make cycling less safe than it is in the traffic lanes of most streets.  And they indicate that those who design them know as little about cycling as transportation, in an urban area, as those who hate cyclists.

26 January 2012


One of the nice things about being my age is that, if you're lucky, you can start to reconcile all kinds of things that seemed irreconcilable. If you're not lucky, they reconcile themselves, though perhaps not in the ways you'd intended--or one might destroy the other.

Where am I going with this?  Well, it's about cycling, but it also has to do with stuff you'd find on my other blog, if you read it.  So consider yourself forewarned.

You see, from the time I found out about John Rakowski, I wanted to do something like what he did.  He cycled around the world, turning his pedals on every continent except Antarctica.  (What would penguins think of some guy with a bike laden with full front and rear panniers, camping equipment and bottles of water anyplace they'd fit on the bike?)  He recounted his adventures in Bicycling! magazine during my teen years.

Rakowski was in his early 50's when he undertook his journey, which lasted three years, if I recall correctly.  As it turned out, he was living not far from where I lived, in New Jersey, at the time.  And, yes I met him, and he signed my magazines.  

Well, the fact that he lived nearby and did what he did would have been reason enough for me to take him as an inspiration, if not a role model.  But there was another reason--apart from the "local boy" and "cycling" aspects of the story--that meant so much to me at that time in my life.

However, as important as his feat was to me, I never talked about it with anybody.  For one thing, no one else in my family, or even in my circle of peers or the neighborhood in which I was living, shared my passion for cycling.   It was as if the so-called "bike boom" had passed them all by.  Everybody predicted that I would "grow out of" my obsession with cycling as soon as I got my driver's licence.  Then again, people said I would "grow out of" all sorts of other things, as if they were tops and shoes.

You may have figured out where this is going: something else I didn't "grow out of."  I'm talking, of course, about my wish to be able to wear bike jerseys and shorts with cleated shoes (in that place and time, almost no one had ever seen them), or skirts and blouses with heels, as a way of life.

The reason, of course, I didn't "grow out of" those desires is that there was more to them--which, of course, I didn't talk about with anybody.  Wearing the clothes wasn't the point for me; I wanted to be the person who was expected to wear them--or, at least, a person who wouldn't face opprobrium for doing so.  

That John Rakowski was a man, and most cyclists were men, was problematic.  How could I want to ride around the world and win the Tour de France and be a woman at the same time?

Today, of course, there are more female cyclists than there were in those days, and women's racing enjoyed a heyday during the late '80's and the '90's.  I could not understand why only men should race, tour or participate in most other sports.  Title IX had been enacted around that time; however, it would take time for women's sports to gain any momentum because the sorts of sports programs, like Little League and Pop Warner football, that existed for boys didn't exist for girls.  

It was a time when many people--including many women--thought sports were "unfeminine."  I recall one girl in my high school who was as an even better athlete than most of the boys.  Her family, which included three brothers who were athletes,  was supportive of her interests.  However, some of the teachers and other adults tried to discourage her, saying that no man would want to marry her.  I couldn't understand that:  She was a very attractive girl who had no difficulty getting dates.

Fortunately for her, she was able to play basketball and a couple of other sports in college.  Of course, I would have wanted to be like her.  Perhaps I could have been:  I played soccer in high school.  However, my real passion always lay with cycling, and only a few colleges had teams or even clubs for cycling.  To my knowledge, none were for women.

Although I repressed my desire to be a woman then, and for most of the next three decades, I always felt, deep down, that there was no contradiction between wanting to ride the world, and to race, on my bike--and being a woman.  What has always drawn me to cycling is the freedom I feel when I ride.  I feel as if my spirit is unchained, that--if you'll indulge me a cliche--I felt as free as the wind and as open as the air.  

And that, naturally, was what the woman in me wanted.  She wanted to be free from what I now realize were the same boundaries that seemed to contain me when I was off my bike.  When I say what I'm about to say, I don't mean to aggrandize myself:  To be a long-distance cyclist at an age after you were supposed to have a drivers license and a car, you had to be an independent spirit.  And, of course, it's impossible to be anything else if you want to live by the imperatives of your spirit rather than the dictates of your school, community and society.  That's doubly true if your subconscious or unconscious gender--the one you are when you're by yourself--is different from the one on your birth certificate, and for which you are being trained by your school, church and other institutions.

I wanted to be free--to be Justine, on a bike.  At least I lived long enough to know that those things weren't contradictory, and to meet people who understand that.  And, just as important,from my point of view, is that I've begun to develop a language to explain my complications, contradictions and complexities.  It makes sense to me, which means that I can also make it make sense to others--well, some other people anyway.  If they don't understand, or don't accept it, that is all right.  

I am Justine, and ride wherever and whenever my time and resources allow.  Hopefully, some day, I'll have more of both.  For now, living my life and riding my bikes are inseparable, and offer me so much.

25 January 2012

Riding Off Into The Sunset Out Your Window

Yes, I've hit Lotto.  Just to prove it, here are photos from my exotic midwinter cycling vacation.

Hey, who wouldn't want to see the sun setting over the ocean on a clear, mild day?

Or see the blue of the sky consumed into the blaze of orange and red and purple, and spreading in waves of deepening blue?

If any of you have not yet entered the workforce, you can look forward to long meetings and workshops.  It's not a sign of a character flaw if your mind wanders during them.  In fact, I'd argue that if you see what I saw out the window, and you pay more attention to it than to what's going on in the room, it's a sign that you're spiritually healthy.

Just don't tell that to the people who were running the workshop.  

I got outside, and on my bike, just in time for this:

In what exotic locale was I?, you ask.  Would you believe Kingsborough Community College, at the southern edge of Brooklyn.  I took the long way back, so in all I still managed to ride about 40 miles yesterday.  And I didn't even have to leave home.  Well, not really, anyway!

23 January 2012

Disraeli Gears

"Campagnolo trying to do mass-market derailleurs was a bit like the British Royal Family trying to do marital fidelity--it was never going to work because, although they knew they should do it, they considered the whole idea inherently beneath them."

So begins Michael Sweatman's page about the Campagnolo Nuovo Valentino extra derailleur on his site Disraeli Gears.  He says it's about half-complete; I almost don't want him to finish it because so many of his entries leave me in eager anticipation of more.  

His pages include his own wry commentaries, as well as photos and technical information, about derailleurs that have been made during the past 80 years or so.  Disraeli Gears is arranged by models, brands, countries and decades, as well as by several of his own themes, such as the ever-popular "A Riot of Colour."

Now I'm going to answer the question some of you are asking:  Yes, Disraeli Gears is named for the Cream album released in November 1967.  According to Ginger Baker, the album got its name when Eric Clapton talked about getting a racing bicycle and Mick Turner said, "Oh yeah--Disraeli Gears."

My guess is that Turner was high when he made that remark.  (For that matter, Clapton and Baker probably were, too.)  I won't speculate on whether or not Sweatman was high when he wrote any of his entries (or whether he ever was).  However, he does reveal one of his food vices in this entry.

Even if all you know about derailleurs is whether or not your bike has one, Disraeli Gears makes for a lot of interesting and entertaining reading.

22 January 2012

"D" For "Dahon"; "F" For "Folding Bike"

Some days, the gray cloudy sky spreads like a shawl over buildings and trees.  But today, it's like the proverbial wet blanket.

So, I thought this might be a good day to talk about a bike I owned and didn't care for very much. In fact, it's part of a genre of bikes I'm not really crazy about, but not because I have anything against the genre. Rather, I find the bikes within them are all wanting.

That genre is folding bikes.  I've often felt I'd like to have one, even though I'm not travelling more than a couple of times a year.  Once, I did give into my curiosity and bought one:  the Dahon Vitesse D5.

Part of my rationale for buying it was that I could fold it and bring it into the office I shared at the time.  I was indeed able to do that, and folding the bike was easier than I expected.  However, the bike was heavier than I thought it would be (I had to climb two flights of stairs to get to that office, and my classes.) though, to be fair, it may have been because of some of the things I added to it.

The bike came in a matte-black finish.  It's not exactly my taste, but I think it was the only color choice available.  Soon after I bought the bike, I swapped out the stock saddle for a Brooks B72 I picked up on Craig's List.  That gave the bike, to which I also added a rear rack, a surprising elegance.

You've heard the term "flexible flyer."  That's what some of us called certain bikes like the Peugeot PX-10E (which I'll write about in another post).  Well, the Dahon was like a Broken Flyer:  When it rolled, it gave a surprisingly nimble ride, albeit on what felt like a broken frame.  Again, in all fairness, every folding bike I've tried--even the Brompton--felt like it was pulled apart in the middle.  I suppose that if I weren't accustomed to high-quality conventional frame, I might be able to accept that quality.  But, after about a year and a half of commuting and running errands on the Dahon, I was still distracted by it.

Another problem I had with the bike was its transmission.  The Sturmey-Archer 5-speed hub that came with the bike was one of the most unreliable pieces of bike equipment I've ever had.  I never could keep it adjusted; nor could the mechanics at the shop where I bought the bike.  Someone suggested that the problem may have had to do with the fact that when the bike was folded, the shifter cable was pulled and twisted. I'm sure that was a contributing factor, but I noticed that even after adjusting the gears when the bike was unfolded, I experienced "ghost" gear changes while I was pedaling.  Even changing the shifter from the twist-grip style that came with the bike to a more traditional "trigger" mechanism didn't make the shifts more accurate or smoother.

But the fact that the frame folded wasn't the only thing that made it an unsuitable ride for me. One one of the last commutes home I took on the Dahon, a small pothole I would just barely have noticed had I been riding one of my larger-wheeled bikes swallowed the front wheel and threw me off the bike--in traffic.  Neither the bike nor I was damaged, and I sold the former soon afterward.

Perhaps one day I'll get another collapsible bike.  But, for now, if I can't take one of my own bikes on a trip (or if doing so is overly expensive or cumbersome), I'll borrow or rent.  Then I'll appreciate riding my own bikes all the more when I get home!

21 January 2012

For Someone Who Has To Ride In The Snow

Today the temperature hovered a few degrees below freezing.  But snow fell; about four inches stuck to the sidewalks and streets.  Even after the snow stopped, the dampness in the air seeped through everything, it seemed, and made it seem even colder.

I didn't ride today because when I did my laundry and some grocery shopping, I noticed a lot of "black ice."  I don't have a pair of studded tires, and I'm not even sure that they would have helped.  Plus, Max, my surviving cat, wanted to spend some quality time with me.  (Yes, he reads all of the self-help and pop-psychology books.;-))

Plus,I didn't see anyone cycling today, and I didn't see any bikes that looked particularly forlorn, pristine or striking in any other way when parked in the snow.  I'd have liked to get a shot of one of the restaurant delivery guys who was carrying General Tso's Chicken and Hot and Sour soup in bags that dangled from the bars of a '90's mountain bike--a Trek, I think--cobbled together with parts from other bikes and stuff that was never meant for bikes.  

I couldn't help but to think of my own days as a messenger.  I didn't have any cats back then; in fact, I didn't have a regular address:  I was living in sublets.  I'll bet that delivery guy is living in a similar way.  Or, perhaps, he's living in a room with four or five other guys.  They might all be making deliveries, too, for other Chinese restaurants, pizzerias, diners and any other kind of place that sells food for people who can't or don't want to prepare it themselves. 

I once delivered pizza when I was a messenger. Two slices with sausage, pepperoni, peppers and onions to an office on the 89th floor of One  World Trade Center (the NorthTower).  Those two slices cost 3.50; the guy who ordered them (or, more precisely, his office)  paid six dollars to the company I worked for. I got about half of that as my commission, and the guy gave me a five-dollar tip.  In those days, that got me a couple of drinks or smokes.  And the man was clearly happy to get his pizza within five minutes of ordering it; the pizzeria's delivery system would have taken at least half an hour.  Plus, I think those two slices weren't enough to make the minimum for a delivery order.

The guy I saw today had to have been delivering an order of at least ten dollars.  That's the minimum at the restaurant for which he works:  Fatima's Halal Kitchen, a Chinese restaurant in my neighborhood.  Their food is excellent; you just won't find ribs or pork there. (Here's a slogan for them:  Making Hungry Muslims Happy.)  On the other hand, they make some really good vegetarian dishes.

Anyway, he has to ride over slush and black ice, which is even more dangerous than rain, snow, sleet or hail.  I wonder whether he'll recall or relive days like this.  Or maybe he'll forget them altogether.  If he does, he probably won't be riding a bike, either.

20 January 2012

Vera's Changes

After losing her saddle and seatpost last month, Vera's had a few changes.

Don't worry:  I didn't give her a "fade" paint job or outfit her with carbon components.  However, I made a few more subtle alterations to her.

The most obvious, of course, is the Brooks B-67 saddle.  I chose it because of another switch I made, which I'll describe.  The seatpost is a Kalloy that looks like the Laprade post that was ubiquitous during the 1970's and 1980's.  It seems decent enough.  However, the main reason I bought it is that, I discovered, Vera takes a 27.0 seatpost. That was the standard diameter for Mercian and most other English bikes until the late '90's or thereabouts.  Around that time, Mercian and other makers switched to the 27.2 size Arielle, Tosca and Helene--as well as most other current road bikes--use. 

I decided to install the B-67 because, as you may have noticed. i"m riding a more upright bar/stem combination.  The flipped-over North Road-style bars (from Velo Orange) I had looked cute on the bike, but I felt cramped on them.  The bent-over position felt neither as comfortable nor as efficient as riding on the "hooks" or "drops" of my road handlebars.  Plus, I was using it with a Nitto Technomic, which made for one of the flexiest bar/stem combinations I've ridden in a while.  That surprised me, as other Nitto stems I've ridden were stiff, and the Velo Orange Porteur bar I've been riding on Helene seems more than stiff enough.

The new bars are Nitto Jitensha, which offer a good upright position for riding in traffic that still has the somewhat-leaning-forward attitude afforded by the bars that used to come on many French mixte bikes during the '70's and '80's.  

I paired the bars with a Velo Orange "constructeur-style" steel stem.  It's much stiffer than the Technomic it replaced.  And I couldn't resist putting that kittie-with-vase decal on the extension.

Then I changed the fenders because the ones I had--Velo Orange stainless steel--didn't fit very well.  I had a difficult time removing and installing the rear wheel because the rounded shape of the fender made it fit more snugly in the stays than the current fenders.  And, paradoxically, they rattled annoyingly, no matter how much I tightened the fittings.

So, I gave those fenders to a friend who's going to use them on a hybrid with somewhat larger clearances than those of Vera's.  As much as I prefer metal fenders, I broke down and bought a pair of SKS Longboards.  Although they're supposed to be the same width as the VO steel fenders, they fit much better.  And they look better than I expected.

Finally...I all but destroyed the Distortion BMX pedals I had on the bike. The bearings were toast, the axles were bent and the platform was caking.  I got a pair of MKS Lambda (the "Sneaker" or "Grip King" model) for 30 dollars.   I thought they just might work for commuting and errands.  They look strange, but the pedals I had weren't going to win any beauty contests, either.

I'll tell you more about those new parts as I ride them and form, I hope, more meaningful impressions.

19 January 2012

A Ton Of...

When you were a kid, someone probably asked you this "trick" question: Which weighs more:  a ton of bricks or a ton of feathers?

The next question is:  Which would be harder to transport on a bicycle? 

Of course, the question "behind" the previous question is this:  Which is harder to transport on a bike:  weight or volume?

In all of my years of cycling, it seems that the questions and concerns I've heard about carrying loads on bicycles had more to do with weight.  Some are looking for ways to carry less of it, while others are trying to carry whatever weight they need to carry in the most effective and stylish manner.  I'd say that my transition from the former to the later  parallels my transition from a  young male racer wannabe to a middle-aged woman riding to work in skirts and heels and on weekends in casual clothes.  I used to do whatever I could to carry nothing, or as little as possible, on the bike. Now I use canvas and leather bags to do the job because I like the way they look.

But, to tell you the truth, I--like most cyclists in the Western/Industrialized world--have thought very little about how to carry pallets of styrofoam on two wheels.

17 January 2012

Leaders On Two Wheels

Last month, French President Nicolas Sarkozy promoted Eddy Mercx to a Commander the Legion d'Honneur.

Can you imagine any American President giving Lance or Greg LeMond the Presidential Medal of Freedom?  As far as I know, the only Armstrong to win the medal was Neil.  And he got it from Nixon!  That's something like being given an ethics award by Bernie Madoff.

Anyway...I think Sarkozy making Eddy a Legionnaire begs the question of what kind of country we'd have with a President who was a cyclist, or who was at least cycling-conscious.

Monsieur Sarkozy is known to be something of a velo aficionado, and has been seen riding on holidays.  I'm guessing that other French, and European, leaders liked to tour on two wheels.

During his campaign, Bill Clinton was seen astride his Merlin titanium bike (They were all the rage during the '90's.) but apparently he lost his time or appetite (or both) for riding once he was in office.  Jimmy Carter became an avid rider and is often seen astride his Rivendell.  However, I somehow can't imagine either of the Bushes, Reagan or Nixon in the saddle.  Of course, FDR couldn't have ridden.  But somehow I don't think it's much of a stretch to envision Teddy Roosevelt, or even Harry Truman or Eisenhower on two wheels, at least before they became President.

To my knowledge, none of the current Republican candidates for the Presidency is a cyclist.  Nor, for that matter, is Obama.

Quite possibly the most famous thing any head of state did with or on a bicycle was when the King of Denmark abandoned his in Tivoli Square when the Nazis decreed that no Jew could own or ride one.

Would this, or any country be better off with a leader who rides a bicycle?  I'd like to believe so.

16 January 2012

The Little Man On The Little Bike That Didn't Fold

In Brooklyn, there's a bike/pedestrian separated from the Belt Parkway only by guardrails (and, on two bridges, not even that) and Jamaica Bay by thin strips of sand and, in places, by small dunes, shrubs and, believe it or not, a few cacti.

About twenty-five years ago, when I first started riding there, I saw a little man on a bike that, to my eyes, seemed too small even for him. He'd stopped to pick some prickly pears and other fruits I didn't even know could be picked from plants that grew so close to cars and urban sprawl.  He motioned for me to stop and share one of those culinary treasures.  It was surprisingly sweet and tasty.

He didn't say much. He never did--not even when, even more to my amazement, he showed up on some organized ride or another that started at Grand Army Plaza.

I haven't seen him in a long time.  However, I still recall his small stature, silence and his bike: a small-wheeled, non-folding bike.

Probably the closest such bikes ever came to the mainstream market in the US was when they were marketed as "polo bikes."  I think that was during the early 1960's, or possibly even earlier; I know that it predated my active cycling life.  In any event, a few years later, in the middle of my childhood, bikes with similar dimensions appeared with "banana" seats and all manner of scaled-down race-car accessories.

But that man's bike looked like a grown-up's utility bike built for a dog or cat.  It even had a rear rack built into its frame, fenders and a rather sober paint job. As I recall, the rack even had pegs for a pump. I used to see bikes like it strapped to the bumpers of RVs in Europe 30, or even 20, years ago.  

I'm not sure of the wheel size:  It looked something like the size that was sold as 20 inches in this country, but with somewhat narrower, lower-profile tires.  However, the tires seemed more like smaller versions of the old French demi-ballon tires than what came on the Raleigh Twenty and Peugeot folding bikes.

Not long after I first met that man, I found a bike like his in some curbside trash.  After rescuing it, I gave it to one of my riding buddies who was something of a tinkerer and liked novel machines.  (If I remember correctly, he owned some version of the MG car that was never sold in the US.) I don't know what he did with it:  Not long afterward, he moved to Idaho or some such place.

Somehow I imagine him the way I always imagined that little man on the little bike I met so many years ago:  in his own world, making his own way on his own little bike that doesn't fold.

15 January 2012

Ride On Ice

Lakythia and I had planned on going for a ride today.  But the temperature didn't rise much higher than my (American) shoe size and the wind gusted to speeds not much lower than my age.  So we opted for brunch--dim sum in Chinatown, to be exact--instead.

Now I am going to reveal one of the mysteries o the human race.  Or, perhaps, I'm simply going to tell you something you'd always suspected.  You've probably noticed that it's usually the men who think it's too warm and the women who think it's too cold.  Well, I've noticed that my sensitivity to cold, while still not as acute as that of other women I know, has certainly increased since I started taking estrogen, and intensified after my surgery.  Before I underwent my transformation, I was one of those guys who, it seemed. always felt too hot.

It's definitely hormonal.  I've read that estrogen increases sensitivity to cold and testosterone to heat.  I noticed that my sensitivity to cold increased after my estrogen dosage was increased about three months after I started taking it.  And, since my surgery, the level of estrogen in my body at any given time has increased, and most of the testosterone is gone.  

At least I know that neither training nor diets, nor anything else, will return me to being someone who cycled in shorts on all but the coldest days.  However, I'm hoping that increasing my mileage will bring back some of the strength I lost.  I've been told that I would have lost some of the hill-climbing ability I once had simply from age. but I don't want to use that--or the hormones--as an excuse.  

Then again, I enjoy my rides more than I did.  Perhaps that has to do with the changes, too.

Anyway, if the wind dies down, I think I'll go for a ride tomorrow:  It's a holiday.  Perhaps I can make it a memorial to Charlie.

14 January 2012

Charlie R.I.P.

I really wish I didn't have to say this:  Charlie died last night.

No, I wasn't there when it happened.  However, I feel pretty certain that he died some time around 8 p.m.  

I was pedaling home from work when, all of a sudden, I burst into tears.  I was crying so deeply that I could barely see in front of me, much less control my front wheel. 

I spotted an ATM I sometimes use, opened the door and wheeled my bike in.  I sat in a corner of the vestibule, my tears rolling from my cheeks, down my neck and onto the collar of my jacket.  I don't know how long I was there and I don't think anyone came in to use the machines, in spite of its location in the middle of a commercial strip that remains busy well into the night.

When I thought I had my crying under control (a completely unrealistic assumption after my operation and years of taking hormones!), I wheeled out of the vestibule and stepped over the bike's top tube.  I rode about two blocks before I saw a tortoiseshell calico in a store window.  Even though she looked nothing like Charlie, the faucet was turned on once again.  And my legs developed the firmness of tapioca pudding.

Fortunately, there was a subway station only another block away.  When a middle-aged woman starts crying on New York City transport, some  passengers will look away or pretend not to notice (or, perhaps, will actually not notice), others will give you the widest berth they can, and one or two will give her looks of sympathy.  Now, if you're a middle-aged woman with a bike and a helmet dangling from the handlebar, some will react as if a giraffe got on the train, or like Agent Scully from the X-Files.  

A Latina who looked about ten years older than me gave me a tissue.

By the time I got home, Charlie was lying on his side, with his rear legs crossed as if he'd taken a tumble.  He may very well have done just that:  he was lying on a blanket and sheet I used to leave for him on my sofa, and they--and he--were on the floor.  I'm guessing that he might have tried to climb on the couch, and when he clawed the sheet or blanket, they slipped off the cushions.  I don't know whether that is what killed him, because he didn't look as if he had wounds caused by such a fall.  However, as weak as he was, he may have simply not gotten back up.

Anyway...What's the point of playing detective now?  He's gone, and I can't stop crying.  He's been in my life for six years.  Even though I had two other cats, whom I loved dearly, for much longer, I think I developed a bond with him that I have not developed with any other animal.  Part of it has to do with the time of my life in which he accompanied me:  He came into my home about two years after I started living as Justine, and was with me through all manner of change in my life.  And, he curled up by my side, in my lap, or even on my belly when I was lying down, during those days when I was recovering from my surgery.

That he never showed me anything but affection is all the more remarkable when I consider how he came into my life.  My friend Millie rescued him from the street.  How such a loving--and handsome--cat ended up on the street is one of those mysteries I'd rather not ponder:  If someone abandoned him, I don't want to think about the sort of person who would do such a thing.

When I think about that, I think that in my next life, I'd like to have a farm with a bunch of animals, especially cats.  When animals attack each other--something Charlie never did, by the way--they are only doing what they are made or hard-wired (or whatever you want to call it) to do.  They are not capriciously cruel, they don't maim or kill for fun or profit, and they don't invade other countries whose citizens never harmed them.

After being, possibly, abandoned on the streets, Charlie was always sweet-natured and never wanted anything more than to be fed, stroked, spoken to gently and cuddled.  People sometimes come from far more fortunate circumstances and are pointlessly mean and avaricious.  Or they simply think only about their own happiness, others be damned.

As I sit and write this, I have my shoulder bag in my lap.  It just doesn't feel right.

13 January 2012

The Wind And Back

When you commute, you think a lot about timing.  You know that leaving a few minutes earlier or later might put you into, or keep you out of traffic, on some stretch of your ride.  You may also notice a temperature difference.  In my case, I had completely different weather than I'd've had had I left fifteen minutes earlier than I did.

When I'd originally planned to leave, rain was falling and the temperature was about to fall below 45F, where it had been (give or take a degree or two) through the morning and the previous night.  And the air was still calm.

However, I misplaced a couple of papers and searching for them put me about fifteen minutes behind schedule.  By then, the rain had stopped and temperatures below freezing were forecast for my commute home.  I can live with such conditions, so I decided to chance the weather.

I hadn't counted on one other condition mentioned in the forecast: the wind.  I must have had a steady 15MPH (25KPH) stream at my back for the stretch from Woodside all the way to my job.  Gusts of at least double that speed turned my back into a sail by the World's Fair Marina.  So, in spite of leaving late, I arrived at work early.

I'm still there now, dreading/anticipating riding into the wind that blew me here.

11 January 2012

Classy Commuter

At this early stage of 2012, it probably wouldn't surprise you to know that most of the miles I've pedalled this year have been on my commutes.  That got me to thinking of some bikes I've ridden to and from jobs past.

Here's a bike I haven't thought about in a while:  a Miyata three-speed.  I'm guessing it was the 1981 model shown in the catalogue page above because it matches, in every detail, the bike I rode for about two years. 

It actually was a classy-looking bike:  Were I wearing suits to work, I would have had no difficulty riding it--or the ladies' (non-mixte) model were I wearing skirts and heels.  However, I was working jobs that had no dress codes, and even by those standards, I didn't dress particularly well.

Still, I recall enjoying the ride of the bike very much.  I think it had a somewhat tighter geometry than other three-speeds like the ones made by Raleigh, Peugeot and Schwinn.  Equally important, the frame was made out of lugged chromoly tubing, which was considerably lighter than the frames on those other bikes.  Plus, most of the components--including the rims, cranks, handlebars, stem, fenders and chainguard--were made from aluminum alloy rather than steel. 

Back then, 3-speeds (or any other commuter-specific bikes) weren't "hip:" thus, I was able to buy mine when it was about two years old for about 50 dollars.  (If I recall correctly, it sold for about 300 dollars new.)  Occasionally, someone would compliment it on its looks; more often, though, I found myself defending it when someone wondered aloud why I didn't get a racing bike (which I had, in fact, in addition to the Miyata three-speed).  And I enjoyed knowing that I was riding something not many other people--at least in America--were riding.

However, the bike shared one shortcoming with many other Japanese bikes of the time:  its wheels.  Japanese rims and spokes of that time were heavier but not as strong as their European counterparts, and the Japanese "stainless" spokes often corroded, even on bikes that weren't ridden in the rain and were stored indoors.   Within a few months, I had to re-spoke the rear wheel with a new rim.  In fact, it was one of the first wheels I laced myself. 

In lacing a new Weinmann concave rim to the hub, I discovered that the largest-gauge DT spokes available were too small for the spoke holes in the Shimano three-speed hub.  Fortunately, I hadn't tensioned the wheel, so it was relatively easy to unlace them and re-fit the hub and spokes with washers between the spoke heads and hub.  

Then I discovered that the Shimano three-speed hub simply wasn't as strong or reliable as the Sturmey-Archers on the old English three-speeds.  I don't know how many models Shimano made then, but the one I had seemed to be the only one exported to the US. This was in the days when Shimano was notorious for not making spare parts available.  So, unless you knew someone with a pipeline to the factory in Japan, you were SOL if something wore or broke down in the hub. And it happened to mine within a year after re-lacing the wheel.

I should also note that those were the days when Sturmey-Archer's quality declined precipitously, and I'm not sure whether SunTour was still making three-speed hubs.  Sachs, common on bikes in Germany and Benelux countries, was all but unavailable in the US.  So, if I wanted to keep the bike a three-speed, my best option would have been to find a Sturmey-Archer from the 1960's or earlier.   I never took on that project, for someone made an unsolicited offer of 400 dollars for the bike.  Being the Starving Artist I was then, I took him up on it.

But having that quick but classy commuter probably had more of an effect on me than I ever realized it would:  It's probably the reason I ride Vera to and from work now.  She's even quicker and classier than that Miyata could have been.