31 March 2012

Classic Beginnings To Spring

Now we're having the sort of weather we normally get in the latter parts of November or Feburary.  So many people in this part of the world are wondering whether or not we had winter.

Officially, Spring began about a week and a half ago.  Of course, we all know that the beginning or end of a season hasn't much to do with an equinox. Or so it seems. 

Some Irish people argue that Spring begins on St. Patrick's Day.  Some old Sicilians say it starts with the feast of San Giuseppe (St. Joseph) on the 19th.  (I don't think it does; however, it's a great excuse for eating a sfingi.)  However, other Italians argue that the season commences with the Milano-San Remo race.  In fact, the race is commonly nicknamed "La Primavera." Other Europeans think la primavera or le printemps begins on the day of the nearest one-day "classic".  

One-day classics usually highlight a particular aspect of road racing such as sprinting (e.g., Milano-San Remo), climbing (La Fleche Wallonne) or the sheer ability to endure pain and torture (See the Paris-Roubaix, a.k.a., "L'enfer du nord.").  As one might expect, the first ones are held in Italy and, from there, they move northward to France, Belgium and the Netherlands.  

In times past, it was important for even the top racers to place well, if not win.  Cycling, which until the 1980's was sponsored mainly by bicycle-related companies and other mom-and-pop businesses, didn't pay as well as other sports like soccer/football.  Even Eddy Mercx built up his bank account--along with his muscles and his reputation--by winning more classics than any other racer in history.  That is one reason why, Lance's seven Tour de France wins notwithstanding, Europeans still hold Mercx in higher esteem--more than three decades after his retirement-- than just about any other racer.

Ironically, Australians won this year's and last year's Milan-San Remo.  In the native country of Simon Gerrans and Matt Goss, autumn was beginning when they won the race, as it was in 2009 when their countryman Mark Cavendish won.

29 March 2012

Celebrating Everyday Rides

I actually studied poetry with Allen Ginsberg.  In addition to what I learned about my own writing, the experience furthered my appreciation for the poetry of Walt Whitman and--although he never mentioned his work--Pablo Neruda.  They, and Allen, are poets who celebrated common things and people.  So did Vachel Lindsay, but I never caught Allen's enthusiasm for his work.

Although Allen himself was never a cyclist, I feel that in some way, it was appropriate for me, as a cyclist, to have worked with him.  After all, cycling brings us closer to the common things (and people) those poets celebrated.  That is probably the reason why my bike tours of the French countryside are among my most treasured experiences.

However, even on a normal commute--or a wide to "unwind" after work, we can see beauty in the quotidian:

Last night, I managed to take a spin down to Sheepshead Bay after work.  I arrived to find these regal and mysterious-looking swans.

And, just a little while ago, I was treated to this sight at the end of the day:

If cycling didn't help me to appreciate everyday sights, I don't know what could have!

28 March 2012

Through The Sprinklers

From RocBike

Today's commute turned into a game of "playing chicken with the rain."  Sometimes those commutes are the most fun because, when I do manage to dodge the rain, I feel like a kid who's gotten away with something.

The first half-hour of my commute felt like a ride across a big lawn lined with rotating sprinklers.  It seemed that, as soon as dewy drops evaporated from my nose and hands, I'd get spritzed with another quick round of moisture. 

However, about half an hour into my ride, heavier rain dropped from the sky.  Suddenly, I could just barely see ahead of me.  I ducked under a canopy in front of a store.  What kind of a store it was, I wasn't exactly sure.  The sign advertised photo finishing and passport service; inside I saw a jewelery case, a couple of fax/copy machines and a couple of desks.  And, although the store appeared to be open, I didn't see anybody--not even an employee--inside.  I wanted to thank somebody for providing such a good canopy exactly when I needed one!

Anyway, the rain stopped, but I saw lightning flash about a mile or so away.  I trusted-- for that moment, anyway-- the wisdom in the old wives' (how sexist!) tale of how lightning never strikes twice in the same place. 

Then it was back to riding in and out of the invisible rotating sprinklers.  It wasn't raining when I got to work.  About an hour later, the sun was shining and my students were staring out the window as I was teaching them the most important things anybody would ever teach them.  Well, I probably wasn't, really, but I have to make them--and myself--believe that.  Right?

27 March 2012

Winter, Interrupted--Until Last Night

This has been a strange season, to say the least.  We had our only real snowfall at the end of October.  There have only been two, maybe three, stretches during which the temperature remained below freezing for two or more days.  Last week, the temperature reached 75F (24C) on consecutive days.  And, yesterday, the temperature dropped from 52 at the time I rode to work to 27 at the time I rode home.

I knew that the temperature was going to drop, but I wasn't prepared for such a large drop.  That has, in part, to do with the fact that I stayed about two hours later at work than I'd planned.  Also, the wind, which blew briskly when I pedalled to work, grew even stronger by the time I pedalled home--and I was riding into it for part of the way.

Really, though, I shouldn't complain.  Well, all right, I will anyway.  I bought some nice wool stuff this year that I never used! 

26 March 2012

How Much Would You Pay For Bicycle Parking?

The number of bicycle commuters here in New York is certainly growing.  Even auto-centric public officials admit as much; I know that I see many more people riding to and from work than I did even a couple of years ago.

While this has helped to raise, however slowly, public awareness of the viability of cycling for transportation, it is also causing us to experience what NYC motorists have long complained about:  the lack of available parking, and the expense of off-the-street parking.

To its credit, the city is building more parking racks and stations.  And, two years ago, it passed a law requiring commercial garages and parking lots to provide parking spaces for bicycles.  

That all sounds really good.  But commuting cyclists have encountered another drivers' dilemma:  parking spaces in prime commuter destinations are very expensive.

The garage whose sign appears in the photo is at the low end of the price scale.  The only problem is that, while it's in a neighborhood (Prospect Heights, Brooklyn) where many cyclists live, not many work there.  On the other hand, prices for bicycle parking spaces in prime midtown Manhattan areas rival the fees for parking cars.  As an example, one garage at Bowery and Canal Street charges $221 a month.  Another near Columbus Circle charges $189 a month.

What's truly galling, though, is that some garages charge the 18.375 percent parking tax, which is supposed to apply only to motor vehicles.  Given that the city never has enough inspectors for restaurants and such, it's easy for unethical garage and lot owners to charge the tax with impunity.

Still, I'm glad that such parking facilities exist, even though I haven't had to use them myself.  But, who knows, one day I might.  Hopefully, there will be other improvements to the lot of bicycle commuters by that time!

25 March 2012

What If Ripley Had Written A Book About Bicycling?

Perhaps you've never pondered the question posed in the title of this post.  Now's your chance.  Actually, I'll give you one possible answer I stumbled upon.

It seems there's a particular kind of whimsy that only the English can do.  And, as best as I can tell, the Brits are the only ones who've applied that sort of mirth to cycling.

And then there is the kind of humor that only the Curry Cycle Co. of Leicester could do.   

Curry placed a series of cartoons called "Strange But True" in British cycling magazines during the early part of the 20th Century. Those cartoons were compiled by a correspondent with the nom de plume of "Wheeler" and were drawn by well-known Leicester artist Frank Layton.  He also designed Curry's head badge.

One of my favorite of the series in No.2, which includes the high-wire cyclist and one of the best epitaphs ever written:

On this spot at half-past nine o'clock, after watching the glorious sunset of Aug 3rd 1904, Thomas Gilbert Smith, M.D., aged 56, fell dead from his bicycle.  Thunder and lightning immediately followed.

Henry Curry started building bicycles in 1884. His brothers joined in the business, and they continued building until 1932, when they began to sell Hercules cycles badged as Currys. They continued with the latter arrangement until some time during the 1960's, when Hercules, along with most British bicycle manufacturers, were absorbed by Raleigh.

24 March 2012

On A Clear Road You Can Ride Forever?

Even the most jaded of us are marveling at the weather we've been having.  Yesterday and the day before, the temperature reached 75F (24C), which is more typical of what we have in June.  And not so much as a wisp of cloud smudged the blue skies.  Such clouds gathered over the course of this day; the air grew cooler and the wind blew harder.  Still, it was a fine day to ride.

These few days have followed one of the mildest winters most of us can recall. Strangely, the only significant snow fell at the end of October; since then, we've had a couple of bouts of flurries but no accumulations.  In spite of this lack of snow, the season has not seemed unusually dry, though I can't recall any long stretches of rain.

This weather, needless to say, has been a boon to those of us who ride bicycles.  However, it has brought another benefit that I noticed as I rode today.

I can't recall seeing the streets so clear at this time of the year.  Last year, in the aftermath of the seemingly endless procession of snowstorms we had, the streets were full of sand and salt.  The weather, and the sand and salt, meant that there were even more potholes and other breaks in the pavement than one would normally find.

What made things worse was that there were also other kinds of debris:  everything from broken bottles to car parts.  The snowstorms hindered, or even precluded, trash pickup.  So, refuse left at curbside took flight when the wind gusted, or simply got pushed or brushed aside from passing cars and pedestrians.  

This year, I've noticed that the only streets that have a lot of problems with potholes and other instructions are the ones that carry a lot of truck traffic.  In most of the residential areas, like my neighborhood, the streets seem fairly smooth.

Hmm...I wonder if I should be saying all of these things.  If City officials are reading this, they might think they can cut the street cleaning and maintenance budget.  And, although I know, rationally, that I have no influence on the weather, something in the back of my mind tells me that I'm going to "jinx" us for next winter.

What can I say?  I'm glad for what we've had and wouldn't mind more of it.

22 March 2012

Leaving In A Fog

She is British.  She lived her entire life in England before I brought her over in July.  So it makes sense that Vera would be accustomed to weather like we had last night.

Upon leaving work, I encountered the densest fog I can recall having seen in New York.  I literally could not see from one corner to the next, a distance of about 150 metres.  Yet, I didn't feel I had to make much of an effort to get home:  She seemed to be able to find the way.  All I had to do was pedal, and that wasn't so hard.


21 March 2012

Spinning Wheel Size

It seems that the debate about wheel size won't ever go away.  I'm not talking only about 650 vs. 700:  I'm thinking about those sizes vs. 20 inch or smaller sizes.

There has always been a contagion of cyclists, bike designers and marketers who've maintained that smaller wheels are actually faster.  Alex Moulton went so far as to "break" records with his bikes.  (As it turned out, he rode against records that hadn't been challenged for years, or even decades.)  Whatever you think of his bikes, recumbents or other small-wheeled bicycles, they do have loyal followings, particularly in Japan and a few other countries.

My experience with smaller-wheeled bikes (apart from what I rode early in my childhood) is limited to a couple of folding bikes.  Perhaps I'll have the opportunity to ride others and, if I'm feeling ambitious, make a comparison with my own and other 700C bikes.

Or I could borrow this bike:

From:  Austin 360

19 March 2012

Portraits of New York Cyclists

From Amsterdamize

I've just stumbled across another bike site I like:  #BikeNYC.

It's photographer Dmitry Gudkov's series of portraits and profiles of New Yorkers who ride bicycles to work or simply to get around. 

Included is a portrait of what I'd like to look like, on and with my bike, in my next life.  And there are lots of images of attractive, stylish people who ride. But Gudokov's photos aren't just "fashion shoots" with bikes as props.  His subjects work in diverse fields (lawyers, janitors and everything in between) and live in a variety of neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs.  One of my favorites is a guy named "Jamaica," who lives in the eponymous neighborhood in Queens.  I think I've seen him; I work not very far from where he lives.

I haven't replicated any of Gudkov's phots here; he doesn't allow anyone to copy and paste them.  Given that he is a photographer, I can understand his wish (and, possibly, need) to do so.  So I'll just encourage you to visit his site. While you're there, check out this portrait of Hal, the longtime mechanic of Bicycle Habitat.  He's the one who turned me on to Mercians, and who built the wheels for the ones I ride.

18 March 2012

Springing Forward

It's hard to beat athletic events for displays of intense concentration.  I don't think the competitors are being melodramatic when they grimace, shout or contort their faces and bodies, and focus their eyes, in ways that do not allow for the recognition of anything but the task ahead.

It was especially striking to see on a clear early spring (more like mid-spring, weather-wise) Sunday in a Corona park.

I try not to think or talk too much about teaching when I'm away from it. (Goddess knows that I have to spend lots of time reading and grading papers and tests, and preparing lessons.)  However, I couldn't help but to think of a comparision-and-contrast exercise: between the kinds of intensity displayed by the bocce player in the first photo and Bernard Hinault in this one:

Although my ride was leisurely, the bike that got me there seemed to be focused on getting me there and wherever else I wanted to go.  Track bikes, I think, are rather like that:  The fixed gear wastes little energy to flexing or bending, or to the friction of the mechanisms that would be necessary to allow the bike to coast. This also means the rider can't waste motions, even when riding in the meditative way I was.  

17 March 2012

Being Green

All right. Since it's Saint Patrick's Day, I'll show you a nice green bike--one that's not Vera, anyway.

I found this image of a Freddy Grubb track bike on Megadeluxe Sports.  You'll find other interesting stuff there.

16 March 2012

Must It Have Rust?

If you're involved in any sort of endeavor or follow any sort of passion for long enough, you see all sorts of trends come and go.  So it is for me (and, no doubt, some of you) and cycling.

What inevitably happens is that some people cop the style rather than the substance of the trend. That turns the trend into a parody of itself.

I fear that may be happening with Porteur bikes and racks.  When I first started seeing them here in the US, I thought "Great! People are actually going to ride to work and shop."

I'd say that more people are doing those things, at least here in New York, than were doing them a few years ago.  Also, not everyone who commutes or rides to the farmer's market is a racer or wannabe, or simply a "bikehead."  I see more and more people who are primarily commuters and who might, on occasion, ride for fun.

But then the look of Porteur bikes and accessories became fashionable, and those items became fetish objects for some.  Now, if someone has the money and really intends to carry the loads, I can understand spending over 200 dollars on a Porteur rack.  On the other hand, the fact that such racks and bikes are now fashionable makes them more inviting to thieves.  I'm not so sure I'd want a fancy rack on a  bike that was going to spend large portions of every day parked on the streets.

Perhaps the solution is this:

The bike is a Bridgestone from, as far as I can tell, the early '80's (pre-Grant Petersen). I think the rack came off an old pizza delivery bicycle.

For me, that begs the question of whether something can be called "Porteur" (or even "utility") if it's shiny and new.

15 March 2012

The Bikes Stop Here--And There

A series of neighborhoods dangles along the banks of the East River like a cedille from Astoria Park to the Williamsburg Bridge.  They include Astoria and Long Island City in Queens and Greenpoint and Williamsburg in Brooklyn.  There may be more cyclists, per capita, in this corridor--in which I happen to live--than in any other part of New York City. In fact, I doubt many American urban neighborhoods outside of Portland (and, perhaps, Seattle) can rival the concentratration of bicycles and cyclists found here.

So I guess I shouldn't have been surprised to see this near the Long Island City (Queens) side of the Pulaski Bridge.

The first time I saw it, I wondered what all of those bicycles were doing in a bus kiosk.  Then I saw the sign.

On the block before it, there is a row of bike racks that's almost always full.

The bike at the front makes me wonder just how good an idea unsecured open-air bike parking facilities actually are.  On one hand, I'm glad to have dedicated bike-parking spaces. On the other, I can't help but to think that maybe they're targets for bike thieves and cannibals.

Maybe I'm just too accustomed to locking to parking meters and such--or not parking my bike and not doing business with stores that don't allow me to bring my bike in.  

Anyway, I got in a quick ride after work the other day. At times like that, I'm thankful for Daylight Savings time, and Tosca likes rhe photo ops available on the Greenpoint (Brooklyn) side of the bridge:

13 March 2012

When I Was A Guinea Pig: Riding An Early Cannondale

Today I am going to reveal one of my dim, dark secrets.  Yes, even at this late date, I still have them.

Here goes:  I actually owned--gasp!--a Cannondale racing bike.  One of the very first ones, in fact. 

One might say it was one of my youthful follies. The year was 1984.  I was working for American Youth Hostels. Back then, the organization was located on Spring Street, near Wooster, when the neighborhood (Soho) still had some halfway interesting art galleries and eccentric stores and cafes.  At that time, AYH had an store and mail-order service that sold bicycling, camping, hiking and other outdoor equipment.

Back then, Cannondale was known mainly for its bags and outdoor wear. Their bike bags were actually well-made and reasonably priced:  I used a few in my time. And I used one of their backpacks for the longest time.  AYH employees were able to buy Cannondale goods at their wholesale prices.

So I became, in essence, a guinea pig.  I bought their original model racing bike, with a full Campagnolo Nuovo Record component grouppo, for something like $500. 

It was one of the first--and last--times I succumbed to the urge to be the "first kid on the block" with some new item. 

The photo doesn't do justice to just how ugly that bike actually was.  The welds were cobbly; later Cannondales have the smooth joints you see on today's models.  Plus, the oversized aluminum tubes were very in-your-face, especially if you were used to steel-tubed frames. 

Being a snot-nosed kid with something to prove, getting such a bike wasn't enough for me. I wanted to be really badass, so I got it in black. I don't remember what kind or color bar tape came with it; whatever it was, I replaced it with red Benotto cellophane tape. And, I got cable housings to match.

Aside from its proportions, another thing that struck me was how much lighter the bike was than others I'd ridden.  Also, it was--as advertised--the stiffest bike I'd ridden up to that time. Maybe it's still the stiffest bike I've ever ridden.

What that meant is that the bike could go very fast. However, it also meant that it rode like a jackhammer.  Even my young, sevelte self felt beat-up after a ride on it.  I think that it actually slowed me down, ultimately:  I can ride only so hard or so long when every bone in my body is aching.

A few people swore by those bikes.  It's hard to imagine that anything Cannondale--or any other bike maker, for that matter--has made since then could be any stiffer.

Those early Cannondales came with CroMo steel forks--Tange, I think. I'd ridden the bike for close to a year when those forks were recalled.  After I got my replacement, I stripped the Campagnolo components off  the bike and replaced them with other stuff I had lying around or that mechanics of my acquaintance filched fetched from their shops' parts bins.  And I gave that Cannondale to my landlord for a month's rent.

Those Campy components went on to bigger and better things (ha!) I'll describe in another post.

Note:  The frame in the photo is larger than the one I had.  Plus, it has different components. 

12 March 2012

In The Beginning (Of The Season)

It may not officially be Spring.  Not yet, anyway.  But even with the mild weather we've had yesterday and today, it feels like the beginning of spring.

Or, could it be that riding just felt so good?  Yestersday I took one of the first seashore rides I've done in a while.  One thing about such a ride early in the spring (or on a mild day at the end of winter) is that you know that you're approaching the water because it's noticeably colder.  You see, even though the temperature neared 60F yesterday and 70F today, I don't think the ocean temperature has reached 40F yet.  So, a maritime breeze--let alone a wind--will let you know that you've underdressed, even if the sun feels good on your skin.

But the real essence of a first-of-spring ride is, for me, the feeling of emerging from a cocoon or a shell.  Of course, that might mean an ache or two if I ride a little harder or longer than I'd ridden during the winter.  But, still, it's an energetic feeling--or, more precisely, one of emergence, like a flower groping its way up from the barren earth.

In the spirit of the first of spring, I want to pay homage to someone who's been an inspiration to me over the past couple of years.  In that spirit, here is a "first ride of spring" photo from one of my favorite bloggers:

Velouria, I mean no disrespect or condescension when I say that this photo of you made me think, not only of the first of spring, but of evolution.  After all, according to Darwin's theory (and Genesis, for that matter), all life began in the sea.  So, in a real sense, cycling begins in the sea, or at the water's edge, at any rate. 

As it happens, her blog--Lovely Bicycle!--began in the Spring three years ago.  Coincidence?

10 March 2012

Pink Bicycle Springs Ahead

Here's a friendly reminder to "Spring Ahead" for Daylight Savings Time:

Pink Bicycle With Springs, by Neil Heeney

This photo comes from Neil Heeney's photostream.  

09 March 2012

Riding Across The Sea?

When I was a teenager, I went to Universal Studios in California.  One of the things I still remember about the visit is riding the tourist trolley through the "Red Sea."  Of course, I'm not talking about the body of water that separates Africa from the Arabian Peninsula.  What "parted" in front of me was the re-creation of it that was used in The Ten Commandments.

Because of the movie, which my family and I watched every year (If I recall correctly, it always aired on Good Friday.), whenever I hear or read the name "Moses", I think of Charlton Heston.  Having the "sea" part in front of me without the aid of Mr. Heston left me with an even crazier idea:  If I could part the Atlantic, I could ride to France and Italy.  

Of course, even if the logistics of parting the sea could be solved, there would be other issues.  The distance from New York to France or Italy (or England, Portugal or Spain) would be roughly the same as the distance from New York to California.  However, when you cross the country, there are all sorts of things to see and, more important, places to stop and eat,sleep, wash and take care of other needs.  Somehow I don't think such amenities would be available on a trans-Atlantic crossing.  And, as much as I love water, I'm not sure of how I'd feel about seeing nothing else at least until I got to the Azores (assuming, of course, my route went that way).

Now, having cycled in Europe several times, I'm not quite as taken with the idea of a trans-Atlantic bike ride as I once was.  (Also, I am older and, I would like to believe, have a firmer grip on reality.)  Still, if it were possible to do such a ride, I just might try it.

Maybe that's what the young man in this video had in mind:

08 March 2012

Enforcing The Law Without Knowing It

The New York Police Department (NYPD) is notorious for its capricious enforcement of traffic rules.  What's even worse is that too many officers don't know what the rules are for cyclists.

Evan Neuman found that out the hard way.  He was cycling up Allen Street in Manhattan's Lower East Side when a cop pulled up and ticketed him for not using the bike lane on that street.

Allen Street Bike Lane, New York City

The thing is, he had been riding on the Allen Street bike lane.  He left it to make a turn onto Ludlow Street.  He got his ticket shortly afterward.

New York State law requires that cyclists ride in bike lanes when they're available.  It also stipulates that we can't ride on the left side of the road (against traffic) or more than two abreast.  A number of New York City cyclists have been ticketed for alleged violations of this law. However, these laws (like many State laws) do not apply in New York City.

Instead, the New York City code says the following: Whenever a usable path or lane for bicycles has been provided, bicycle riders shall use such path or lane except under the following conditions:  (i) when preparing for a turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway, (ii) when reasonably necessary to avoid conditions (including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, motor vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, pushcarts, animals, surface hazards) that make it unsafe to continue within such path or lane.  

My guess is that many police officers--and members of the general public--believe that cyclists must use the lanes, no matter what.  That may well have been the case of the one who ticketed Evan Neuman.  However, given that a fair number of "New York's Finest" patrol on bicycles, I would expect them to be more familiar with the law.  

Neuman has fought the ticket.  So far, he's lost in Traffic Court and a Department of Motor Vehicles appeals board has rejected his appeal.  Now he's filed a motion in State Supreme Court to have the ticket dismissed.

07 March 2012

They Weren't Wearing Bike Outfits

On my way home tonight, three guys stumbled off a curb and nearly tumbled in front of my wheel.  I would have cursed at them, but they were dressed in very gaudy outfits that were somewhere between robes and dresses.  And they wore wigs, or what looked like wigs.

Instead of yelling at them, I thought, "Hmm...They look like they're doing a Chasidic version of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.  Or maybe La Cage Aux Folles. The loud but lilting music that echoed off the houses made it seem even more like a campy drag revue.

Turns out, I wasn't too far off.  At sundown, a couple of hours before I left work, the feast of Purim began.  Some people refer to it as "The Jewish Mardi Gras," which also isn't too far off.  

It commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people from destruction in the ancient Persian Empire.  Hamman, a high-ranking advisor to King Ahaseurus, conceived of the plot, which is revealed to the king by Esther, who became his favorite concubine and, finally, his wife. Until the moment she tipped the king off, she did not reveal her Jewish identity.

It's a complicated but fascinating story, which is related in the Magillat Esther, the only book of the Torah in which G-d* isn't mentioned by name.  However, everything about the story, including Esther's concealment of her identity, shows G-d working in mysterious ways and in various guises.

That is one of the reasons why people wear costumes for the feast and it is the only day on which the prohibition against men wearing women's clothing is not observed.  

Hmm...Imagine if I'd run one of those guys over.  Can you just see the next day's New York Post headline:   Wrong Place, Wrong Time or Wrong Clothes:  Chasidim Dragged Under Tranny's Wheel.  Or something like that.

I am using the name of G-d in the way an Orthodox or Chasidic Jew would.

06 March 2012

Before Nashbar

Ou sont les neiges d'antan?

If you've seen "The Glass Menagerie," you might recall seeing "Ou sont les neiges" projected on the stage.  It's comes from a line in Francois Villon's Ballade des Temps du Temps Jadis (A Ballad of Ladies of Times Past), which is part of his Testament.

When you're around anything long enough, you might start to wonder where its "snows of yesteryear" have gone.  There is the bike on which you took a particularly memorable or important ride, or some part or accessory you liked but hasn't been available in ages.  

Also, as in any other endeavor, some cyclists miss the old catalogues and brochures.  Sometimes people think everything was better in the "good ol' days"; the truth is, the forgettable stuff is mainly, well, forgotten.  But it's hard to deny that some things had a style that simply can't be emulated (without seeming to be a parody, anyway) today.

A while back, Bike Snob wrote a post in which he said, in essence, that even if the world were to end and you were in an underground bunker, a Nashbar catalogue will find its way to you. Of course, he was being his snarky self, but we all know that snark works only when there's at least an element of truth in it.

Believe it or not, I can remember a time when Bike Nashbar catalogues weren't as difficult to evade as bill collectors or Inspector Javert.  In fact, in those days, the catalogues, and the company itself were very different.

For one thing, it was called Bike Warehouse.

They indeed offered some of the lowest prices on bike-related stuff, as they do now. However, in those days, they sold mainly current-model, high- (or higher-) end equipment, such as Campagnolo Nuovo Record components, SunTour Cyclone derailleurs and rims from Super Champion, Mavic and others.  

If I recall correctly, Bike Warehouse was the first mail-order company from which I purchased any cycling equipment.   I had just begun reading Bicycling! magazine on a regular basis, and Bike Warehouse advertised in it. Like many other people, I was drawn in by their selection and prices.  

Plus, believe it or not, they had a particular kind of quirky charm that you don't see today. 

 This page comes from one of their 1976 catalogues.  By then, they'd been in business a couple of years.  Even if I didn't give you a year, you probably could have guessed the era from which it came by its graphics. Actually, those graphics were even a bit dated by that time.

There is one aspect of that catalogue that added to its quirky charms but which, alas, I cannot render on this site.  You see, those early Bike Warehouse catalogues were printed on newsprint.  Almost no newspapers in those days had color, as the technology was prohibitively expensive.  So those early Bike Warehouse catalogues had all of the black-and-white glory of a pre-WWII film.

As the saying goes:  Ils ne font pas comme eux pas plus.

04 March 2012

Bike Lanes Don't Make People Ride More

I have long suspected that the construction of bike paths and lanes has very little to do with how much cycling people actually do, at least here in the US.

Of course, my belief was based on nothing more than my own observations and experiences.  One thing I've always noticed is that racers and dedicated cyclists tend to ride whether or not there's a bike lane, or even a well-paved road that doesn't have much traffic.  (The latter category includes routes departmentales, on which I did much of my cycling in France.)  On the other hand, there are lots of people who say they'd "love" to ride to work or for pleasure, but feel that "it's too dangerous" or that it's inconvenient.  Such people never seem to be swayed--with good reason, I've come to realize--by the construction of a bike lane, even if it takes them door-to-door from their homes to their workplaces or wherever they shop or entertain themselves.

Don't get me wrong:  I appreciate the efforts of governments to improve conditions for cyclists.  As an example, I am very happy that lanes were constructed on the Queens side of the Edward I. Koch/Queensborough/59th Street Bridge. I often cross that bridge. Its entrance at Queens Plaza is also a conduit for traffic to and from the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and Long Island Expressway. Getting to and from the Bridge could be, until the construction of the bike lane, a harrowing experience.

On the other hand, I've seen a lot of poorly-conceived and -constructed bike lanes that were actually more dangerous for cyclists than the nearby roadways.  Or, they simply went from nowhere to nowhere and were therefore not practical for any cyclist who actually had to go someplace.

To be fair, we have a lot of impractical bike lanes and paths in the US because we don't have the history of cycling that many European nations, Japan and other places have.  Or, to be more precise, our cycling history was interrupted for about three generations or so.  The result is that American transportation experts and urban planners are still learning things their French, Dutch, British, German and other counterparts have long known.

Funny that I should mention the Dutch.  They have long been seen as the avatars of bicycle commuting.  It's been a while since I've been to Amsterdam, but I'm told that one still sees bikes everywhere in that city.  In spite of the increasing numbers of Dutch who drive, the bicycle remains one of the, if not the, main means of transportation in that city.

I'm thinking about what I've just mentioned because I've stumbled over some studies that argue, in essence, that what's happened over the past two decades in Amsterdam parallels what I've seen in New York and other parts of the US.  That is to say:  Ridership has almost nothing to do with the construction of bike lanes and paths.

According to the studies cited, the (relatively small) increase in the number of cyclists over the past two decades has as much to do with the increase in population (fueled more by immigration than, shall we say, the noncycling recreational activities of the Dutch) as anything else. There has also been an increase, however slight, in the length of cyclists' commutes and the distances ridden for other purposes.  The authors of the studies in question argue that the increase really has had to do more with the warmer-than-normal weather in the Netherlands during that time than it's had to do with other factors.  

Of course, one can find flaws in that argument.  The most obvious is that other nearby countries (e.g., France) have also seen unusually warm weather, but no increases in cycling, during that time.  Also, whatever increases in population the Netherlands have seen are mainly a result of immigration from the Middle East, Africa, Indonesia and Suriname.  If anything, those immigrants are actually less likely, for a number of reasons, to ride bikes to work or weekend picnics than the descendants of longtime Dutch people.  

Still, the argument that bike lanes and paths have little or nothing to do with whatever increases in cycling or the number of cyclists are quite plausible, especially if you understand what motivates cyclists to ride.  One might say that there simply isn't that much room for cycling to grow in the Netherlands, which is one of the most bike-intensive nations on Earth.  There, even more than in other places, bike paths won't have much impact on who rides and doesn't ride, and when they ride and don't ride.  

Still, I think that those studies hold important lessons for American planners.  One is that simply constructing bike lanes isn't going to get people to forsake their cars and pedal to the Home Depot.  Rather, there has to be a cultural as well as a physical infrastructure that supports cycling as a practical alternative to driving. That is what the Dutch have long had and the US will need another generation or two to develop, if indeed such a thing will develop on this side of the Atlantic.

02 March 2012

Real Bike Porn

Usually, when cyclists talk about "bike porn," we mean images of drop-dead beautiful bikes with sinuous lines and lustrous colors.

However, I discovered a site called "Bike Porn" in which the term takes on new meanings.  It doesn't have pictures of Paola Pezzo and Filippo Pozato  in non-cycling positions.  It's all about art.  Really.

01 March 2012

On Our Heads

I'd been cycling about a decade when the issue of helmet-wearing became, as Cardinal Dolan might say, one of the "settled questions" of the cycling world.  By that time, even old-timers who'd been cycling--and, in some cases, wearing "leather hairnets"-- before I was born were wearing the "tortoise shells" that Bell and a couple of other companies made. 

I started thinking about those days when I saw this photo: 

We all know that the lovely young lady would be safer in a helmet.  But she certainly wouldn't look any better.  In fact, this might be one of the few times in my life that I speak in favor head scarves.  

Hmm...I don't know anything about Sharia law, so I don't know whether she could wear a helmet over her scarf.  Now I'm thinking about a guy with whom I used to train. He wore a helmet over his yarmulke; when I was "drafting" him, I could see the fringes of his tallit dangling below the hem of his jersey.

I wouldn't see anything wrong witht that young lady wearing a helmet, as long as its color doesn't clash with that of her scarf.  I don't know whether the imams would share my opinion, though.