26 February 2012

Why I Stopped Wearing Lycra

After I had been cycling a few years, I began to see lycra clothing.  That was around the early 1980's.  It seems that everything people of my generation have grown to hate, like synth-pop and techno music, shoulder pads and big hair, started around that time.

It was truly a case of apres lycra, la deluge or something like that. The old wool and cotton jerseys had their own distinctive styles:  Although they bore the names of sponsors, and were quite colorful, they could never be mistaken for anything but bike jerseys.  They were not billboards or movie trailers, or imitations of other kinds of clothing (including team jerseys from other sports).

I stumbled upon a page showing just how awful bike clothing graphics have become.  I think they've become so garish because lycra holds more different kinds of colors and dyes, and is easier to work on, than cotton or wool.  Anyway, here is my vote for the worst jersey--actually, the worst bike outfit--of all time:

And I certainly wouldn't want to wear the uniform of this team:

If I ever get married, I forbid my husband from wearing this:

And I promise not to wear this on our honeymoon:

25 February 2012

Into The Wind, Again

In places like southern Italy and Greece, spring began a couple of weeks ago.  At least, it usually begins about the middle of February or thereabouts.

Here in New York, winter began yesterday.  At least, that's how it seemed.  We've had only a couple of cold (by the standards of NY winters, anyway) days, and practically no snowfall since, ironically, the end of October.

However, today the temperature dropped from its early-morning high of 45F (8C) to a couple of degrees below freezing.  As the temperature dropped, the wind picked up speed so that it was blowing steadily at about 20MPH and gusting to 50.

I did a couple of errands on Vera today.  Of course, that meant parts of the ride were absurdly easy, while other parts felt like a series of still photographs

From:  http://brucefong.wordpress.com/2012/02/20/9272/


It got me to thinking of a couple of times when I spent entire days riding into the wind.  One in particular was particularly grueling.

Provence is noted for its mistrals, which come literally out of the clear blue sky.  One day I learned that the mistral, as we say in the old country, actually lives up to the hype.

I had been pedaling out of Arles after, of course, visiting everything that had to do with Van Gogh.  Perhaps it was endorphins--I'm pretty sure that the effects of the wine had worn off--that caused me to see something I hadn't seen, or at least noticed, before in my life:  The air was so clear that everyting seemed almost surreal.  The lavender fields were no longer simply plants growing from the earth, and the windows and grain fields didn't merely reflect the bright sunshine:  They all became forms of light and wind that filled me so that I felt, for a moment, that I was not inhabiting a body, much less riding a pannier-laden bicycle; rather, I was a wave of that light and wind.

And then, in a seeming instant, I was pedaling into a wind that whirled like the mirror image of a cyclone.  There were moments when I literally could not pedal at all; for much of the rest of the time, I moved slower than the snails in the ground.  I stopped in a solitary boulangerie in the countryside, in part for a respite from the wind and in another part to feed myself so that I could continue to pedal into it.

As tasty as the bread was, I couldn't digest it; my entire body, it seemed, had formed a knot.  Over the next two hours, I think I pedaled about five kilometers.  Even though I was young and in really good shape, it seemed like an accomplishment, given the relentless wind and that I seemed to be making one climb, however short, after another.  

Finally, I ended up in a town called Brignoles.  I had never even heard of the place; I don't think it was even mentioned in the guides.  What it had, in addition to a castle and narrow cobblestoned streets, were a some shops and a cheap, clean place to lay my head.  

When I set out the following day, the once-again-clear skies were preternaturally still, as if the winds of the previous day had never blown.  

24 February 2012

Bike Electronics, Then And Now

One of my favorite cycling blogs, along with Lovely Bicycle! and Girls and Bikes is Urban Adventure League.  

Today's UAL post is typical in that reflects the creativity and humor of the blog's author, Shawn.  The post contrasts bicycle touring electronics of the 1970's with their counterparts today.

Actually, "counterparts" isn't quite an accurate term.  For one thing, cyclists today use many more electronic devices, on as well as off their bikes, than we did "back in the day."  I never had a transistor radio attached to my bike, but I carried one on rides that lasted more than a day.  They were the best one could do for weather reports and such.  

As for lights, the post accurately depicts their state in those days: bigger and boxier.  What it doesn't, and couldn't, show is that they were also far less effective than today's lights.  Halogen bulbs were available only in the larger sizes used in headlights for motor vehicles; they were not yet re-sized and otherwise modified for bicycle lights.  And, if I'm not mistaken, LED's hadn't been invented. 

One of the better lights I used was made by British Ever Ready Electric Company (BEREC).  

It took, if I recall correctly, two D batteries, which meant that it weighed a seeming ton.  But it did provide a brighter and broader beam than most other lights available at that time.  Plus, it came with hardware that allowed you to mount it in a variety of positions (including the built-in fork mounts found on most bikes sold in Great Britain at that time) and to remove it when you parked.  The latter, of course, was a useful feature for commuters who had to leave their bikes in urban combat zones as well as for cycle-campers.

BEREC also made what was, for that time, a nice, if heavy and clunky, tail light:

At the time this light was made, the only available flashing tail light was the Belt Beacon.  It was a great light, even by today's standards, but it was difficult to mount  and rather flimsy. (I broke two before giving up on them.)  On the other hand, the BEREC tail light, like the headlight, was solidly constructed and gave a good beam.

The other alternatives, in those days before halogen and LEDs, were Wonder battery lights as well as various generator-powered lamps.  Wonder lights were bright, given the standards of the time, though not as bright as the BEREC lights.  They also were much lighter and more streamlined.  However, they took a battery that only Wonder made.  If you were in France, that wouldn't be a problem, as it and the lights were made there and most shops in the country stocked them.  However, their availability was more sporadic in the States, which meant the batteries were considerably more expensive than the D-size batteries that powered the BEREC lights.

The first pieces of bicycle electronics I recall seeing that didn't have to do with lighting were computers that measured distance, speed and, in some cases, cadence.  They also measured the time elapsed on your ride.  The first such computer, to my knowledge was marketed by CatEye in 1981.  

Looking at it makes me think of the portable phones the Miami Vice cars. They are to today's "smart phones" as incandescent bulbs are to LEDs.  But they, like this original Cateye and the Commodore personal computers, were the the highest technology of their time.

What I'd really like to see are LED head lamps with the style of 1890's carbide bike lights.

I think there'd be room in it someplace for a cycle-computer with all of the modern functions!

23 February 2012

Good Fences Make Good Bikes?

I am old enough to remember when just about all bike frames were made of steel tubes.

Actually, that statement is a bit misleading.  Long before I started cycling--or was even born--bikes were being made of all sorts of materials.  Aluminum bicycles may have become popular during the 1980's (largely due to Cannondale) and titanium during the '90's, but bicycles were built from those materials--and others-- nearly a century earlier.  Even carbon fiber appeared on the scene further back in cycling history than most people realize.

The problem with aluminum, titanium and carbon fiber was that until about 25 years ago, nobody (in the bike industry, anyway) knew how to use them.  So frame tubes of those materials were of the wrong diameters and were overheated or otherwise improperly joined. That is why the Lu-Mi-Num bicycle of the 1890's, and the Speedwell and Exxon/Grafton  frames of the 1970's, are displayed in museum halls and on collectors' walls but are not ridden on the roads.  

There also have been bicycles made from bamboo and other woods, and a myriad of other materials.  Now, a Brazilian artist/inventor is making bicycle frames from recycled materials, including shampoo and beverage bottles. 

And then there is this bike:

After the cops took down their barricades, this guy rode off into the sunset, I'm sure.

22 February 2012

Soho Fixie

Today, after classes, I had a physical therapy session.  My therapist is literally down the block from Grand Central Station.  I actually enjoyed the session, but I'm also happy to know that next week's session will probably be my last.

Afterward, I took a spin down to Bicycle Habitat.  When I went there a couple of weeks ago, I got to chatting with the folks there and forgot why I went:  for the free touch-up on a pair of wheels they'd built for me. Well, today I got that done.

While waiting for my bike, I wandered around Soho.  About a block and a half from Habitat, I spotted this bike in the process of being locked to one of those Soho boutiques that operates from an old factory building:

The bike itself is a good, though not terribly unusual, one.  However, I liked the way it looked on the railings and brick, and in front of that window.

Vishnu, its owner, was locking it up when I arrived on the scene. He was very gracious, if in a bit of a hurry.  So he was happy to let me photograph his bike.  However, he had already locked his bike before I asked whether I could photograph him.  That's too bad:  He's not a "hipster" or wannabe; he is a very handsome, youngish man who happened to be stylishly (though not self-consciously so) dressed.  Oh well.  I'm glad I got this photo, even if I could only get it on my cell phone.

21 February 2012

Downhill With Animals

Auburndale, in Queens, is one of those neighborhoods you've never heard of unless you've lived in it.  It's also the sort of neighborhood people don't normally associate with New York City:  Along its quiet, leafy streets, late-model sedans are parked in front of detached houses not unlike those found in suburban Long Island.

One thing that makes it even more unusual for a New York City neighborhood is that people actually let their cats roam free in their yards.  As sometimes happens, one scampered across my path.  However, this time I very nearly had black and white fur entangled in my spokes.  I don't recall the last time a cat came so close to my wheel.

It got me to thinking about other "near misses" involving animals I've had on my bike. 

Two of the scariest such incidents, as you might imagine, happened along mountain roads.  In the first, Jonathan, with whom I took a lot of rides during my college years, and I had just crossed back into New Jersey, near Flemington, from Pennsylvania.  

According to the US Geological Survey, there are no mountains in New Jersey:  High Point, near the point where New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York State meet, misses that designation by something like ten feet.  Even so, in that part of New Jersey, there are some steep climbs--and descents.  The reason for that, as I understand, is that many of the roads in those hills were built during the American Revolution and were simply paved over in macadam and, later, asphalt.  Because roadbuilding techniques weren't as advanced, and because roadbuilders didn't have dynamite or modern machinery, in those days, they usually followed the path of least resistance when building roads.

Jonathan and I weren't feeling much resistance as we barreled down those old roads.  As we were about to begin one descent, we saw a "Deer Crossing" sign.  One of us--I forget which--said something like, "Wouldn't that be some shit if a deer crossed in front of us?"

Well, you can guess what happened.  Worse, that deer crossed near the bottom of the hill--after we, of course, had built up speed.  We must have been riding 50 MPH (80 KPH), or close to it:  That was the speed limit and we passed two cars that were at, or possibly above, the limit.

That deer bolted a hair or two in front of the tip of my nose, or so it seemed.  Those of you who are physicists can calculate the damage that would have ensued had a cyclist travelling at 50 MPH crashed into an animal that weighed a few hundred pounds more than my bike and I weighed.  You don't have to be a physicist to know which party would incur the damage.

The next time I had such a close encounter on a downhill, it was a bit more exotic, and dangerous, to say the least.  Earlier that day, I'd crossed the border from France, just southeast of Pontarlier, into Switzerland.  It seemed that for the previous couple of days, I'd been pedaling up and down inclines, so I wasn't surprised when I did both immediately after crossing the border.  And, because my bike was laden with full panniers and a handlebar bag--and I was a mile or so above sea level-- you can imagine how fast my wheels were spinning.

Well, about two-thirds of the way down, I flatted--on the front tire, naturally.  Imagine your bike going "thump, thump, thump" at what seems to be twice the speed of sound. All you can really do is to continue riding in a straight line, as any sudden stop or sideways movement will send you into a nasty tumble!

And, as I'm trying to keep my bike in a straight line and my shoulders from flying apart with the vibration, what should cross my path but one of the world's rarest species:  an Alpine Ibex.  At least, I'm very sure that's what it was. That night, I described it to the hostel-keeper, who said it most likely was.  Still, she was as surprised as I was:  An ibex, from what she said, very rarely goes near a roadway because he or she usually sticks to the steepest rocks, which is where they find the herbs on which they subsist.

Somehow, I always imagined that Ibex going back to his Ibex  buddies that night and having a good laugh:  "Those silly humans think they're such good climbers."  On the other hand, I don't think deer have such a sense of humor.  In any event, I didn't hit either one--or the cat that crossed my path today.

20 February 2012

Say Hello To Marley

Did a little bit more riding than I did the other day, without pain.  I think I'll be ready to resume regular riding soon.

Yesterday, though, I didn't ride.  I was welcoming the newest "addition" to my family.

Stephanie, who rescued Marley, brought him to my place yesterday.  So, naturally, I spent the day home so I could welcome him and ease the "transition."  Actually, Max is taking it pretty well.

Right now, my new family member seems to have two speeds:  sleep and "charge!"  As soon as we released him from his carrier, Max tried to play with him.  And, all through the day, Max tried to make friends with him.  It's been a bit more than a month since Charlie died, and Max seems to have been starved for feline attention ever since.

As my new friend is a "rescue" kitten, I can understand the nervousness and skittishness he felt yesterday.  I can also understand his need for sleep.

When Stephanie kept him in her apartment, she called him "Charlie."  Not only is that the name of my recently departed; it is also the name of a cat--also gray and white!--I had before him. So, I think I'm going to rename him.  For now, I'm calling him Marley.  I've read and seen "Marley and Me," but more important, I have recordings of just about everything Bob ever did.  My new friend doesn't particularly remind me of him, but I figure neither of us can go wrong with that name. Plus, I like the sound of it.

Speaking of sound:  I thought I heard a mouse squeak.  Turns out, it was Marley crying.  I've raised only one other cat from kittenhood--my first Charlie--and remember him crying that way, too.  What do they say? Big boys cry because they are always, at heart, little boys.

I don't know whether I'll ever try to carry Marley in a basket.  I never tried that with Max or my second Charlie  because they were big when I adopted them.  However, I took my first Charlie on a couple of rides when he was still small.  When he got bigger, he wasn't too keen on riding in a basket.  But, his being home was one more thing for me to look forward to at the end of every ride!  That's how I see Max's presence now, and how I will most likely see Marley's.

18 February 2012

In The Saddle Again, With Or Without Yogurt

Oddly, I think that might have been the reason why I didn't feel any pain in my knee.  Riding fixed forces you to spin at a more or less even pace; sudden power surges are difficult and even dangerous, especially in traffic.  Now, my ride was flat, but still, I felt good about it.

Perhaps even odder, the pain I felt was around my lower back.  I'd been doing some excercises the physical therapist recommended for loosening up the muscles in my leg and hip.   Then again, those exercises had been about the extent of my physical activity until today's ride.  So, perhaps, my body still has to re-adjust to normal activity.

Well, I'm glad I got out, anyway:  It was a mild day for this time of year.  So my ride was pleasant, even under a threat of rain that didn't materialize until I got home.

However, there was one disappointment.  Along the way, I hoped to pick up some fresh Greek-style yogurt from Kesso Foods, which makes the stuff.  Alas, they were closed by the time I got there.  I knew they closed earlier on Saturday, but I didn't know how much earlier.  Oh, well.

 Fage yogurt is nice, but Kesso's stuff is like creme fraiche by comparison.  Even people who dislike yogurt will eat Kesso's:  I think yogurt-haters dislike the slimy texture of other kinds of yogurts sold in stores.  Kesso's sells the stuff plain, or with various toppings.  (My favorite is their sour cherry with almond slivers or crushed walnuts.)  They also sell various Greek and other Mediterranean foods that you won't find in your local Pathmark or Safeway.

All right..enough about culture for now.  I did, as a celebration, treat myself to one of my favorite takeouts:  The King of Falafel and Shawarma.  Life is good, again.

P.S.  I'll soon have more posts about the bikes of  my past!

Today I took my first ride since going down last Thursday.  It was a short ride--only about seven miles.  But I did it on Tosca, my fixed-gear bike.  

17 February 2012

Before Martina, There Was Nancy

Every once in a while, an athlete comes along who completely dominates his or her sport, at least during his or her career.  I'd say that in my lifetime, there were four such athletes:  Eddy Mercx, Martina Navratilova, Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan. 

(With all due respect to Lance, I think Eddy was the most dominant cyclist because he won every type of race that existed while he was competing.  Like Mercx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain also won the Tour de France and a variety of other races.  However, they never seemed to have the same aura of invincibility Mercx had in his prime.)

Of the four, perhaps Navratilova's timing was the most fortuitous.  She came along during the 1970's, when women's sports first started to achieve anything like a wide audience, and was at her peak during the early and mid 1980's.  

Recently, I learned of another great athlete who may have been on the other side of the mirror from Navratilova.

Nancy Burghart accepting the trophy for her 1964 National Championship from USI President Otto Eisele Jr.

Nancy Burghart (now Nancy Burghart-Haviland) won eight US National Championships during the 1960's.  She was one of the most versatile riders of her time, as she also won pursuit and sprint championships.  Nearly any time she mounted a bicycle, people expected her to win, much as they did when Navratilova entered a tennis court.

Some would say that Burghart had the misfortune of racing at a time when relatively little attention was paid to cycling, and to women's sports, in the US.  However, she garnered great respect from both the men and women in her sport, and even got some overseas press, which was no small feat in the conditions I've described, and in the absence of the Internet and 24-hour news cycles. 

During Burghart's career, the traditional cycling powers of Europe and Japan did not take American racing very seriously.  However, one could argue that, even then, American female cyclists were among the world's best.  In countries like France, Italy and Japan, bicycle racing, and the media that covered it, were focused almost entirely on male racers.  This could only have stunted the development in women's racing in those countries.  On the other hand, bicycle racing in the US during the three decades after World War II was entirely an amateur affair.   Some have argued that this is a reason why male and female racers were on more or less equal footing, and may have been what allowed women's cycling to gain more prominence in the years before Greg LeMond won the Tour de France.

In my research, I found another interesting detail about Ms. Burghart:  She was born and raised in the Jackson Heights section of Queens, barely a couple hundred pedal spins from the Kissena track--or my apartment.  That track, of course, is where any number of American racers have trained as well as raced.  And it's also where the trials were held for the 1964 Olympic team.

In 1957, when she was 12 years old, she won the Girls' Midget title.  Her twin sister Melissa also competed in the race, and others Nancy rode and won.  It would have taken plenty of determination for an American boy to pursue a bicycle-racing dream at that time:  Imagine what it must have taken for two girls!

From what I've gathered, Burghart-Haviland now lives in Maine.  Given her role in cycling, and American sports generally, I am surprised she isn't better-known.

15 February 2012

Times Square For Two

Today I went to my physical therapist.  It was strange, in a way:  I had gone to him in the summer and early fall of 2007 for another, non-bike related, injury.  But, it seems, a whole lifetime has passed for me since then!

Anyway, he did a few tests, had me do some stretching exercises (My pelvis has become rigid during my inactivity), iced my knee and gave me a printout of the exercises I should do at home.  

I could actually feel my knee getting better--or at least giving me less pain--through the course of the session.  I've scheduled another session for last week, and he believes I may not need another after that.

His practice is literally around the corner from Grand Central Station.  So, after the session, I went for a walk through the area:  by the Chrysler Building and New York Public Library (two of my favorite buildings in this city) and into Times Square, the theatre district and Restaurant Row. Along the latter, I saw this curiosity locked to a parking meter.

It reminded me of the difference between a tandem and a two-seater.  People often use the terms interchangeably.  But this bike shows me that they're two different animals, so to speak.  To me, the bike I saw today is a two-seater.  It's not a bike built for two, which is more or less how I would define a tandem.  Also, the rear rider is a passenger, not a "stoker," or someone who pedals along with the "captain," or rider in front.

That said, I don't mean to denigrate the bike.  It's a rather nice Marin mountain bike from, I'm guessing, some time in the early '90's.  I feel confident that my guess is educated, for I had a Marin mountain bike around that time.

Anyway, the way rear setup is interesting:  A threadless stem is clamped around the seatpost, and there is a "platform"  on top of the Blackburn-style rack in the rear, as well as "guards" along its sides.  I suspect that the usual passenger is a small child.

Interesting as it is, I'm not sure I'd want to ride the rear or have anyone else ride it if I were pedaling.

14 February 2012

Bending It, Though Not Like Beckham

Tomorrow I'm going to see the physical therapist about my knee.  It actually feels better now:  At least I can bend it, if not "like Beckham."

I must say, though, that it was weird to see a cycling colleague park her bike as I got off the bus.  And, of course, she asked why I wasn't on my bike, though not in a condescending or sarcastic way.  "I was really worried to see that you didn't ride in," she said.

Tonight her husband came by to accompany her home.  We have ridden together a few times, and I was sad to miss out on that tonight.  Then again, it is Valentine's Day, so maybe they wanted and needed the time to be together,without distractions.  I must say, though, with her in his life, I don't know how much of a distraction I can be!

Anyway...I'll try not to whine too much more before I'm on my bike again!

13 February 2012

For All Seasons

Today I had the day off from work.  (Happy Birthday, Abe!)  However, I am still not quite ready to ride.  So, I spent the day reading, doing some course-related work, I installed the new handlebars, brake levers and shifter on Vera.  I'm not finished, though:  I still have to install new cables.  I'll probably do that after work tomorrow.

And I did a little web-surfing.  The last couple of days have seemed, well, wintry:  The temperatures have been below freezing and the wind has gusted to 30 MPH.  After the spring-like weather, we've been having, it seems frigid.  However, it can't compare to what I saw on Alaska All Season Cycling:

11 February 2012

Not The Bee's Knees

Since I'm not Eric Rohmer, I'm not going to make this post about Le Genou de Justine. And it may not be the bee's knees, either.  Where did that expression come from, anyway?

Anyway...My knee doesn't look particularly bad:  a couple of cuts and some swelling.  As my doctor said, it feels worse than it actually is.  Still, I don't think you want to look at it.  So, instead, I'll show you what happened to Vera:

Thankfully, the real damage isn't to Vera herself--well, not to the frame, which is to the heart and soul of the bike.  The front wheel is only slightly out of true; the rear is unscathed.  All else seems fine, except for the handlebar.  The right side is bent downward, and there are stretch marks at the point where the main body of the bar meets the center sleeve. It had actually been bent more; I bent it back as much as I could so I could ride the bike home.  But, of course, I'm not going to take any chances with it.  I once broke a handlebar and I was fortunate not to have broken anything else!

I'd been riding the bar--a Nitto Jitensha--for not much more than a month.  It had the nice, solid feel of the Nitto drop bars and stems I ride on Arielle and Tosca.  And they gave me a good position--upright, with a somewhat leaning-forward attitude--for commuting and city riding. They were a bit wider than other city/upright bars I've ridden, which gave me a bit more steering power, but were a bit more difficult to maneuver in tight spots.  That brings me to the one and only complaint I had about the Jitensha:  Given its width, I expected the grip area to be longer. Plus, the hand position it affords is something of a cross between that of a flat bar (which I find is hard on my wrists) and that of the flats or "hooks" of a dropped or "moustache" bar.  I like the drop/moustache position better.  But that, and my liking of a longer grip area, are my personal preferences; if they're not yours, the Jitensha is a nice bar for commuting and other kinds of urban riding.  

I've decided that I'm going to replace it with a bar on which I've ridden more, and like:  the Velo Orange Porteur.  It's the same bar I've been riding on Helene, and I rode it on another bike on which I commuted for a time.  However, I'm not going to use it with inverse levers, as I have on Helene, because they won't work with the brakes that are on Vera.  

Finally, when I install the Porteur bars, I'm going to try a shift lever I found on eBay.  More about that later.  Now all I have to do is heal my knee.   Will Eric Rohmer make a movie about that?

10 February 2012

A Fallen Woman (On Her Bike)

Had a bit of a mishap yesterday.  On my way to work, a driver pulled out of a parking lot and into the street, about twenty feet in front of me.  I made a panic stop. Fortunately, the driver and I didn't collide.  However, I took a tumble.  

Except for a bent Jitensha handlebar, the bike incurred no damage.  However, my left knee hit the pavement.  So, it's swollen and bruised, and I feel pain when I bend it.  I feel it when I bend to sit down, but not once I sit down. However, it's painful to cross my legs.

I've been to the doctor.  He said, "It feels worse than it actually is."  That's good to know.  A few days of staying off it as much as possible should heal it, he says.  

So, if we get the snow, sleet, hail, slush and everything else the meteorolgists have forecast for this weekend, I won't mind, really.  I'll read, write, play with Max and do some cooking.  Maybe I'll make some soup: I haven't done that yet this "winter."

Oh well.  If I get some miles in before the season starts, at least I can be in something like reasonable shape.  Meantime, I'll keep on posting!

09 February 2012


It's about a year old.  I'm linking it because it describes the very antithesis of what I want in this blog, or for my life.

The BBC News item talks about Mamils--Middle-Aged Males In Lycra.  According to the article, those men are trying to fight back the passage of time--and divert themselves from the mundanness of their lives--with expensive racing bikes and overpriced team bike wear.

What I am going to say next may seem to reflect my own biases as a cyclist.  I'd say it's better--for those men and for everyone else--that they're riding bikes, even if they're over the top, rather than squiring around girls half their age in sports cars.  For one thing, cycling is better for their health, even if they're not climbing Mont Ventoux.  For another, a man who has the discipline to train and who will ride long distances or intense sprints, let alone up mountains, can be something of a role model to his kids and others in his life. 

Plus, as expensive as the bikes and team kit are, they're still far less expensive than new red convertibles or services rendered, if you know what I mean.

The only real problem I have with men like that is that many of them leave their wives alone on weekends and at other times.  Then again, men (and not only those in midlife crises) do the same thing, and worse things, when they abscond with their female accessories in their racy new cars.  For that matter, golf, fishing and any number of activities in which men engage leave a lot of lonely wives in their wake.

Still, I'm glad I didn't become a MAMIL.  Why do you think I'm Justine, and not Nick, now? ;-)  Perhaps now I can call myself a MAWRIH--a Middle Aged Woman Riding In Heels.

08 February 2012

Suicide Machines

I don't want you to infer anything about my current state of mind from this post.  Its topic just sort of happened when I stumbled over something on eBay.

I haven't seen one of these in person for some time.  Apparently, Simplex- made this front derailleur--commonly referred to as the "suicide" front derailleur-- almost to the beginning of the "bike boom"  of the early 1970's. When I first started riding distances, as a teenager in the mid-1970's, I actually saw a couple of them.  They were ridden by cyclists whose bikes were made before I was born and who most likely started cycling some time before my parents were born.

If you don't like downtube shifters, you'd hate this derailleur because you actually have to bend over enough for your head to touch the top tube of your frame (if it's a diamond-style) in order to turn the lever.  

Probably the one good thing about it was that it eliminated the stretch and flex of cables that are used on nearly all shift levers.  On the other hand, modern designs have made that flex less of an issue.

Other companies, including Campagnolo, made similar front derailleurs.  But it is most associated with the French manufacturer SImplex because they invented it and it was the most prevalent type of front derailleur during the 1940''s and 1950's, when Simplex ruled the derailleur world in much the same way Campagnolo, SunTour and Shimano would in future decades.

If you were riding this "suicide" front derailleur, there would have been a good chance that you were riding another "suicide" part--a stem.

Track racers--particularly in the days of the Six-Day Races-- used these stems, which were usually made of forged steel, because different events called for different riding positions.  I've known a few people to ride them, and nobody was hurt from them. That may be due to the fact that they were all highly experienced and trained riders who knew enough to keep the pinch-bolts tight, or had someone else do it for them.  

Sometimes shops and teams used "suicide stems" for fitting and positioning purposes.  Usually, after the shop's fitter or team's trainer figured out the right position for the rider, the stem would be replaced with a solid one in the proper size.

If you were riding a "suicide stem," you may also have been riding on Cinelli's M-71, a.k.a., "Suicide" pedals.

Introduced in 1971, they are the forerunners of modern clipless pedals.  However, they have one distinct disadvantage vis-a-vis Look, Time, Speedplay and SPD's.  Those pedals are like modern ski bindings:  When you step into them, they click and grab your cleat.  To disengage, you turn your heel outward and your foot away from the bike.  On the other hand, to get out of the Suicide Pedals, you have to bend over--in a very similar way to which you would have to bend for the "Suicide" front derailleur--and flick a lever on the pedal.  I simply can't imagine using these pedals in a peloton and, I believe, nobody ever did.

If you were riding "suicide" pedals, front derailleurs or stems, chances are you weren't riding this item:

During the bike boom, many people bought bikes with dropped bars because they were fashionable.  Most, who weren't cycling much beyond the local park (if they cycled at all) found they didn't like riding in a bent-over position.  So, brake-maker Dia Compe invented these levers to fit on Dia Compe's road levers, and similar ones like those from Weinmann.

Why were brake extension levers bad?  Well, they cut down on how far you could pull a brake lever, which cut down on the amont of leverage you had when braking.  Also, the hardware that connected the so-called "safety levers" to the regular levers tended to come loose quickly and often, which led to the risk of those levers coming off altogether when they were used in an emergency.

Do you know of any other bike parts nicknamed "suicide"?  We are going to use them to build the velocipedic equivalent of Bruce Springsteen's "Suicide machines"!

07 February 2012

Sunset Pinup

Today is Charles Dickens' 200th birthday.  Although I can't connect it to anything I've posted here, I thought it is worth mentioning. 

And exactly one year ago yesterday, I wrote what has been, by far, my most widely-read post to date:  "Which Bike Was Pinned Up?".  All those people read it because of my wit, erudition and knowledge of bicycling. Right?

On the other hand, yesterday's post, "When All Ways Lead To The Sunset" may not ever be as widely-read.  But writing it, and putting up those photos I took, felt good.

Now I am going to do the seemingly-impossible, thanks to a serendipitous discovery on the Internet.  I mean, how can you not love this?:

06 February 2012

When All Ways Lead To The Sunset

Today I did something I don't normally do:  I rode Tosca to work.  I had no particular reason; I didn't have much to carry today, so I thought it might be fun.

And I took a slightly different route home from the one I'd been taking.  I had just passed through Flushing Meadow-Corona Park when I saw how I was going to ride the rest of the way (well, most of it, anyway) home:

It was enough to make me ride alongside the railroad tracks.  The tracks are lined with, well, what one expects to see along railroad tracks: some warehouses and dirty, sad-looking dwellings facing the concrete barriers by the tracks.  But even they, and the wires over the tracks, felt serene, bathed in the simmering orange light:

As you know, my bikes are very well-trained, so Tosca knew exactly what to do.

And, yes, by the time I got home, everything was just starting to turn to dusk.  And Max, my dusty orange cat, greeted me.

05 February 2012

Real Football

Today is Super Bowl Sunday.  So, being the sort of person I am, I am going to do something fairly subversive:  I'm going to post about the "other" football, a.k.a. soccer.

How does that relate to cycling?, you ask.  Well, I didn't think it did, except that they are both sports that make extensive use of a person's legs.  However, I found a connection between cycling and football, believe it or not:

Bicycle Football World Cup, 2010

Believe it or not, this is a UCI-sanctioned sport.  That, of course, proves the NFL has nothing on the UCI!

04 February 2012

Banana At The End Of Christopher Street

If you are of my or Steve's or Gunnar's generation, you probably remember when bananas were "energy bars."  That's what we ate during rides before there were Power Bars, Clif Bars and such.

If you're of our time, you might also remember the movie "Bananas."  That came out a couple of years before a Presidential adviser tried to tell people that a dip in economy was a "banana."

But if you're a cyclist of our generation, apart from the association with the original cycling snack, you probably connect the word "banana" with "seat."  

From about the mid-1960's to the mid-1970's, banana seats were found on a variety of kids' bikes on which kids did "wheelies". I'm thinking of the Schwinn Sting-Ray and Apple, Orange and Lemon Krates as well as the Raleigh Chopper and other bikes.  

Those bikes, and seats, had all but disappeared by the early 1980's.  There are several explanations as to why.  There were rumors circulating (Remember, this was before the Internet!) that there were lawsuits involving people who got hurt when seat struts broke.  That seems plausible enough, given that, as often as not, those seats were carrying two kids at a time, and those seats weren't designed for that.

But the more widely-believed reason for the disappearance of banana seats were the rise in popularity of BMX and, later, mountain biking.  Smaller seats and lighter frames are better suited to those kinds of cycling, for a variety of reasons.

Also, the kids who rode those bikes simply got older.  Some of them moved on to road or mountain biking, but most put bicycling aside altogether once they got their drivers' licences.

I understand that banana seats are enjoying something of a resurgence in popularity.  Today I saw one where I wasn't quite expecting it:

Susan says she "loves" the banana seat on the rear of her otherwise utilitarian Giant hybrid bike.  I can only imagine what it's like to pedal from back there.  Come to think of it, I'm not sure I'd want to.  I also don't think I'd want to pull a "wheelie" on that bike!

Anyway...I've seen bananas at the end of Christopher Street--just not banana seats!

03 February 2012

Is It English Or American?

Today, if someone has heard of AMF, he or she is most likely a bowler.  AMF remains one of the main manufacturers of pin-setting machines and other equipment used in kegling.

However, not so long ago (I say things like that to make myself feel young!), AMF was actually one of the world's largest bicycle manufacturers.  Around the same time, they also manufactured Harley-Davidson motorcycles.  But AMF bicycles never inspired the sort of loyalty that HD motorcycles have long enjoyed, and with good reason.   Most AMF bikes--which were sold under the "Roadmaster" name--were sold in department stores and were inferior even to other department-store brands like Murray and Columbia.

Roadmaster was a free-standing bike brand before AMF took them over in 1950.  A few years later, AMF would sell another line of bikes made for them in England--in Nottingham, no less.  You may well have seen one of those bikes, sold under the name "AMF-Hercules".  I saw a pretty fair number of them when I was growing up.

Those bikes bore all of the hallmarks of an English three-speed:  the same kind of lugged frame made from mild steel, the steel sidepull brakes, handlebars, stem and cottered cranks--and, most important, the same Sturmey-Archer three-speed hub.

In fact, if you stripped away the AMF-Hercules decals and badge, you'd probably think you were looking at a Raleigh, Rudge, Robin Hood or one of any number of other English three-speeds from that time.

However, the AMF-Hercules bikes differed in a few details from their Anglo peers.  It seems that AMF marketers thought that the bikes would sell only if they were given some of the same baroque flourishes found on American balloon-tired bikes (like the Schwinn Phantom and Hollywood) of the time, which in turned echoed the fulsomely-fendered and lushly-chromed cars of the time.

I mean, look at that chainguard.  Would any bike maker in Albion come up with something like that?  Or look at the two-toned seat and matching bag.  I don't recall seeing anything like those in the Brooks catalogues!

So...Was it an English bike trying to be American? Or was it an American bike in the body and soul of an English bike?