31 July 2012

Colors At The End Of The Day

On my way home yesterday, I rode the promenade at the World's Fair Marina.  It runs just to the northeast of LaGuardia Airport.

While it isn't the Big Sur, it does have its own local color, especially at the end of the day:

A long, long time ago, one of my science teachers told us that we don't actually see anything; instead, our eyes collect the light reflected from it and form an image that is projected onto our retinae.  I hadn't thought about that in a while, until I saw this photo, which captures, not the sun, but a reflection of it on the water.  

Amazing, isn't it, that even the murky waters of Flushing Bay can provide such a palette of hues?

Isn't it also amazing that cell phones these days can record stuff like this?

30 July 2012


A month ago, I ranted and raved about electric bikes.

As "Ailish" and other commenters pointed out, bikes with motors, or other non-human assistance, are nothing new.  In fact, there have been motors of one kind or another on bicycles for almost as long as there have been velocipedes.  

So, as ironic as it may seem, it's really not surprising that some bicycles have "motor" or some similar term in their names even though the bike's only engine is human.  Perhaps the most famous example of this is the French line of Motobecane bicycles.  "Becane" is a colloquialism for "bicycle" in France, so, in essence, "Motobecane" means "motorized bike."

(Note:  Bicycles currently sold in the US with the Motobecane name have absolutely no connection to the company in France, which no longer makes bicycles.  The company that markets the current Motobecanes simply purchased the right to use the name in the 'States.')

Other bike makers have used automotive motifs, particularly on models intended for pre-teen boys.  I think now of the "Chopper" and "Krate"-style bicycles, which had stick shifters meant to evoke the ones found in race cars, as well as racing stripes, checkered flags and such.

Schwinn actually made a model that was called "Motobike." As a kid, I remember seeing one in the basement of my great-aunt's house; if I remember correctly, my great-uncle or their son (my mother's cousin)--or, perhaps, both--rode it when they were boys.

I have no idea of where that bike is now.  But I found a photo of one in an eBay listing.  According to the seller, the bike was made in 1938.  

Another eBay listing revealed the perfect accessory for that bike:

Believe it or not, it was made in the USA--in Illinois, to be exact.

Isn't it interesting that the box reads "Bicycle Ignition"?

29 July 2012


On any given day--especially in an urban area--one is bound to see a pre-1980 three-speed bike from Raleigh or another English maker.  In fact, I've owned a couple and ridden a few more in my time.

Now I'll show you one that I owned for about three days.  I didn't ride it home, even though I could have. In fact, I rode it only once.

The bike is just like this one--same color and, I believe, even the same size.  But mine was in even better condition when I got it than this one appears to be.

It's, of course, a Raleigh Superbe with a Dynohub generator on the front and a Sturmey-Archer AW 3 speed hub on the rear..  Mine was made in 1956; this one probably came from the Raleigh factory within a year or two of that date.  

The only reason I didn't ride it home is that I found the bike while I was riding down Surf Avenue in Coney Island, near the New York Aquarium.  So I wheeled the bike I'd been riding with one hand, and my new find with the other, onto the D train, which took me to Park Slope, where I was living at the time.

That was about fifteen years ago.  By then, the faded glory of the Coney Island boardwalk had faded; Surf Avenue, like nearly all of the rest of the neighborhood, was as splintered as driftwood and, at night, as desolate as the ocean that stretched from the sand in front of the boardwalk.  

Still, it had a certain charm--though not of the discreet sort of the bourgeoisie.  And, at that time, there were a bunch of semi-abandoned storefronts and warehouses across from Astroland that became impromptu flea markets on weekends.  The men--they were all men--who operated them were even more weathered than the wooden planks on the pier and, if you couldn't read their body language, could be just as treacherous.  

So, with my best poker face, I entered one of those storefronts and, among books and records that were forgotten the day after they were released and clothes that were out of fashion but not yet "vintage" (which wasn't quite hip at that time), I stumbled upon my unexpected treasure.

The old man asked forty dollars for it.  I shuffled around, and pretended to look at his other wares.  "Thirty," he rasped.

"I'll give you twenty."

We settled on twenty-five; if I'd waited a bit longer, I probably would have gotten it for twenty.  

A couple of days later, I rode it to Emey's Bikes, then located on East 25th Street. Although my steed consisted of two road bikes (one of them a tight custom criterium frame) and a hard-tail mountain rig, I was taken with the ride of the Superbe.  However, the shifting wasn't quite right and the Dynohub wasn't working at all.  I was going to ask Emey to work on those things.

He looked like a young  Dick Van Dyke with a pot belly, and talked with E.G. Marshall's voice and Jack Klugman's accent (at least, the one he had in The Odd Couple).  In addition to those qualities, Emey Hoffmann had other eccentricities that were, well, not quite as charming.  Still, the guy knew from Raleigh three-speeds:  People came from out of town to have their vintage Sturmey Archer-equipped bikes serviced.  

After I described the shifting and lighting problems, he asked to ride it.  That didn't surprise me; I used to do the same thing when I was working in bike shops.  

He came back about half an hour later.  "What do you want to do with this bike?"

"Fix the gears--overhaul the hub if you need to.  Same thing with the Dynohub."

"Hmmm..." He puffed on one of the little, unfiltered cigarettes he always smoked.

"Think you can do it?"

He took another puff.  "Wanna make a deal?"

"What do you mean?"

"I'll make you a trade."

"You mean for the repairs?"

"No, for the bike."  

He offered me a mid-level road bike--a Fuji, I think--from the early '80's or thereabouts.  I hemmed.

"Well, what would you like?"  

I glanced toward a Specialized racing bike from around the same time the Fuji was made.  It was a model I knew: I put a couple of bikes just like it together when I worked in Highland Park Cyclery.  

The tomato-red paint had faded only slightly:  The bike hadn't been out much.  The frame was made from a high grade of chrome-moly steel, double butted.  And the components were a combination of Cyclone and Superbe (but not Superbe Pro) parts.  If I remembered correctly, it was the second bike in  Specialized's road bike lineup.  

"Get us a slice of pizza and let me think about it."

One of my favorite pizzerias at that time--Mariella's--was about five blocks from Emey's shop.  I bought a medium pie; 
Emey and I each ate a slice. So did his son, who happened in.  I left the rest "for the house."

He gave me the Specialized racing bike, which I rode home. I thought about keeping it, but a couple of days later one of my riding buddies saw me on it.   The bike was nicer than the one he had; he asked whether I wanted to sell it.

"What's it worth to you?"

He offered three hundred; I asked for five; we settled on four Benjamins.    

I never told him how I got the bike.  Maybe he's reading this now.

26 July 2012

Cycling In Traffic: Perceptions Vs. Realities

If you ride your bike to work, someone--a co-worker, a friend or possibly a supervisor--will inevitably ask, "Isn't it dangerous to ride on the streets?"

The short answer I give is, "Well, everything is dangerous on the streets!"  That is true epistemologically and, I suspect, empirically.

The more accurate answer is that doing anything on the streets is dangerous if you're not careful.  Crossing some streets is probably even more dangerous than driving or cycling on them, if you don't pay attention to signals and other things in your surroundings.

Now I think I know why, after so many years, I hear the same question from non-cycling commuters.  An article someone sent me opened with this insight: "A bike accident, unlike a car wreck, tends to live on in the memory even if you didn't see it happen."

I can't count how many times the question about safety is followed by some anecdote about so-and-so's brother or friend who was maimed in a clash between bike and car.  On the other hand, I've never heard anybody tell a friend or co-worker a gruesome story about an auto accident when someone is about to drive somewhere.  

Part of the reason for the discrepancy between bike and car anecdotes, I believe, has something to do with the fact that in most places, we're vastly outnumbered by the number of people who drive their cars to wherever they're going.  Because there are fewer of us, there are fewer bike accidents overall, as well as per capita.  Thus, any story about one of our mishaps stands out and is thus easy to magnify.  And, as Ben Szobody, the writer of the article, points out, anecdotes stay in the mind longer than facts.

More than one study has shown that, statistically, you have less of a chance of getting into an accident, let alone incurring injury or meeting your demise, on two wheels than on four.  Such is even true in South Carolina, where Mr. Szobody reports and which has the second-highest (after Florida) bicycle fatality rate in the US.  

Still, people's fears and stereotypes trump realities.  (That is one reason why there are so many poorly-designed and -constructed bike lanes.)   I guess that is the condition of being a minority, albeit one that is growing.  The best we can hope is , if we can't get more people out of their cars and onto bikes, that we can at least have a motoring population that better understands the realities of being a cyclist.  

25 July 2012

Waiting At The Bridge

What do you do when you're riding and have an unexpected roadblock?

Normally, you go around it by taking a slightly different route.  But, sometimes that's just not possible, or feasible. Such was the case when I was crossing back into Queens on the Pulaski Bridge:

Just as I got onto the bike lane, the gate swung shut and warning bells clanged.  This meant, of course, that the drawbridge was about to open.  

It's far from the first time I've encountered a bridge opening when I wanted or needed to ride across it.  At least, today I wasn't really in a hurry. I had moderate time constraints: I'd had to attend to a few things later in the day, so I had to get home, shower and prepare myself.  But I'd budgeted more time than I thought I would need.

The wait for the bridge didn't seem particularly long.  At least, the weather was nearly perfect, and even the normally turbid (and sometimes rancid) waters of the Gowanus Canal were nearly a reflection of serenity as the boat churned through it.

What was interesting about this wait, though, is something you may have noticed in the photo:  I was far from the only cyclist there.  In fact, I can scarcely recall seeing so many other bikes and riders at any other opening of a drawbridge.  As it turned out, there were just as many cyclists, if not more, waiting on the other side of the opening. 

That there were so many cyclists makes sense when you realize that the Pulaski connects what have become two of the greatest concentrations of cyclists in the NYC Metropolitan Area: the neighborhoods of Greenpoint, in Brooklyn and Long Island City in Queens.  I can remember when both of those communities were blue-collar enclaves in which almost nobody rode two wheels.   It seemed that the only time I saw other cyclists, besides myself, in those neighborhoods or on that bridge was when the Five Borough Bike Tour transversed them.

Some of the cyclists I saw today weren't even born then.

24 July 2012

Is This What The Vikings Had In Mind?

Today I am going to create a post that will get lots and lots of views for all of the wrong reasons.  I will express shock and moral indignation. (What other kind of indignation is there, really?)  I will protest some more...and more.  And, well...we all know what happens when the lady doth protest too much.

Sometimes I think a good working definition of the word "model" is "someone who is better--or, at least more attractive--than the product he or she is being employed to sell."   Such is the case with the young woman in the ad for Crescent Bicycles, which appeared in Bicycling! in 1975 or thereabouts.

The bicycles she was trying to entice young men into buying were made in Sweden and bear no relation to velocipedes bearing the same name that were made in the USA at the end of the 19th, and the beginning of the 20th, centuries.  The bikes looked cool in a funky '70's sort of way:  orange paint with checkerboard (that, I think, was supposed to represent a checkered flag) graphics.  That, actually, was fairly surprising for something that came out of the land of Queen Christina.  

Even more surprising was the workmanship--or, should I say, the lack thereof.  This was even true on the higher models made from Reynolds 531 tubing.  I worked on a few of those bikes and found, not only fairly sloppy braze works around the lugs, but globs of molten metal that cooled into unfinished edges of metal at the points where the bottom bracket shell and seat lugs met the frame tubes.  This made it difficult to fit parts such as bottom bracket cups and seat posts accurately.

Perhaps the worst problem of all, though, was the toe clip overlap.  Mind you, I don't mind some toe clip overlap.  But I think that had my shoes been any bigger, I could have flicked the quick-release lever on the front wheel with my toes.  All right, that's an exaggeration.  But I don't recall any other bike--not even the most extreme track machine--that placed a rider's lower digits so close to the front wheel spokes.  As Michael Kone and Sheldon Brown wryly noted, most of these bikes probably "met untimely deaths in commuter hell accidents."

Those young women really should have been wearing helmets and using foot retention!

23 July 2012

Hitched And Kickstanded By Stephen Baird

One of my favorite non-cycling blogs is Nikon Sniper.  In it, photographer Stephen Baird showcases his beautiful and, at times, touching photographs.

Apart from the visual lushness (Is that a word?) of his images, I find myself drawn to his blog, in part, because it is so different from my own.  His posts consist almost entirely of his photos with occasional brief comments; mine are lots of words (I'm a writer, after all) interspersed with images that are nowhere near the quality of his.  

When I fist started following Nikon Sniper, most of Stehen's photos seemed to be of natural settings:  sunsets on bodies of water and in canyons, flora and fauna (although, thankfully, they didn't fall into the sentimentality that is a peril of such photos), mountains and the like.  That makes sense, as Steve is obviously an outdoorsman.

However, lately, Steve seems to have branched off into "slice of life" and shots that are the still-photo equivalents of cinema verite.  Or, perhaps, he'd been making such photos all along, and simply decided to start sharing them.

"Hitched And Kickstanded" by Stephen Baird, In Nikon Sniper

In any event, I decided to post a photo he posted today.  Not only does its content appeal to me, but also the feelings it evokes in me.  It reminds me that, in at least one way, a bike is a metaphor for life:  It doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful and useful, and to make its owner happy.

Plus, as wedded as I am (for now, anyway) to city life, I'd love to be able to park my bike with such a thin cable lock!

22 July 2012

The Tides And A Perfect Ride

Some would say today was a perfect cycling day in these parts.  It was certainly one of the prettiest we've had in a while.  Nary a cloud hazed the blue sky; the air was warm and dry.  The sea was calm; by the time I got to Point Lookout, the tide was out, but not did not leave us.

I can never get over those long sandbars exposed when the waves recede.  The tides usually leave things, and sometimes people, to the sand or rocks.  But when they leave, those people can roam, and sometimes play.

When the tides retreated, Arielle and I came in.  We'll be back. And so will the tides.

John Forester As Literary Critic

In a previous post, I mentioned that a new edition of John Forester's Effective Cycling has been published.

Not long after learning that, I stumbled over an essay he wrote but which, to my knowledge, isn't in the book.  It's about a topic that I have never heard discussed in any English or Literature department--or, for that matter, in any educational institution.  

In his essay, Forester asks why cycling has played only an incidental role in literature, and why there are so few works of literature about bicycling or cyclists.

This is not to say, of course, that there is little writing about pedaling two wheels.  As Forester points out, there are any number of "travelogues" about bike tours and races, most of which center on the locales rather than the rides.  There are also any number of books, magazines and blogs, some of which include some very good writing.  However, as he points out, they are not literature because very few, if any, non-cyclists could find anything of interest in them.  That is because none of them connect cycling to the overall human condition and quotidian life as most of us know it.  Plus, most such works "get it wrong" about the way cyclists actually ride.  Even the "major" authors, some of whom make cycling a part of some of their stories.

20 July 2012

Allez Eddie!

If you were following bike racing in 1974, when this photo was taken, you'd know that the racer in front is none other than Eddy Mercx.  I mean, who else had muscles like that in his legs?

Now, the question:  Was this photo taken in le Tour de France, which he won that year?

Well, from what I'm told, the fans were shouting "Allez! Allez!" to Eddy.  That would probably rule out le Tour, as French cycling fans actually weren't very fond of him.  

So let's see...Where else would people have been shouting 'Allez!  Allez!" ?  Specifically, where would they be directing it at Eddy?

Hmm...His home country of Belgium, possibly?  Of course, it would mean the race was in Wallonia, or possibly around Brussels, which is a bilingual city.  Either one is a possiblity:  He seems to have been popular in those areas, though not as well-loved in his home region of Flanders.

Switzerland is a possiblity.  After all, there's a mountain in the background.  And, he seems to have been more popular in the Francophone Helvetian provinces than he was in France.  

We could rule out the French-speaking African countries, as Eddy never raced them.  Ditto for French Guiana and the departements in the Caribbean.  

Saint Pierre and Miquelon?  We're getting closer:  At least we're on the right continent (more or less).  If we go a few hundred miles west, we come to a city whose flag is a white field with a clover, thistle, rose and fleur-de-lys.

You guessed it :  Montreal.  A few weeks after his fifth (and final) Tour de France victory, Eddy won the first World Professional Championship held in North America.  In the photo, he's ascending Mount Royal (for which the city is named), a climb he described as one of the most difficult of his career.

Now that we've placed it geographically, there are a few clues that tell us that the photo was indeed taken in 1974.  One, of course, is that Eddy is still young.  Also, the bike he's riding is a give-away.  But most important of all, in my opinion, are the clothes of a fan near him.  I mean, he wouldn't have gotten away with wearing them--especially those pants!--a year or two earlier or later.  

19 July 2012

Excuses On A Lazy, Rainy Day

He doesn't have opposable thumbs.  He can't balance on two feet.  He doesn't know how to use foot retention.  The top tubes on all of my bikes are too long.  (So, for that matter, are the seat tubes and cranks!)  He's doesn't like Brooks saddles.  And it's raining.

Oh, the excuses he has....

And you know why he gets away with it?  Marley is just unbelievably, ridiculously cute, even when he squints.

Of course, I could say the same thing about Max.

And he has one more excuse than Marley:  He's older (in cat-years, anyway) than I am.  

18 July 2012

Just Ahead Of The Storm

From Traveling Two

This morning I managed to get in a ride just ahead of one of the worst storms we've had in a while.

Just after I got home, I could hear the raindrops pinging like BB's against the awning.  We may have had hail, as some other parts of the NYC Metro area did.

Whatever the precip was, a sudden, fierce wind drove it.  Some people on Long Island said they saw a funnel cloud; I know that a lot of trees came down.

When I'd finished riding, the temperature was near 100 F (39C).  The one good thing about the storm was that it dropped the temperature by about 20 degrees F within an hour.  But I could just barely see out my window, so I didn't go for another ride.

But, as brief as my morning ride was, it gave me a pretty good workout.  And I felt a sense of victory, however small, over having beaten that storm!

17 July 2012

Build It And They Won't Let You Ride On It

You win a few, you lose a few...

Today I rode to the Steeplechase (a.k.a.Coney Island) Pier.  For years, it's been ravaged by storms and tides; the section that meets the boardwalk literally had beach sand "growing" through it. 

Well, it's been re-boarded.  (Roads are re-paved; I figure that boardwalks and anything else with planks on it is re-boarded. )  Thankfully, actual boards, and not concrete substitutes, were used.  

So far, so good.  But I got about fifteen meters onto the pier (It's about 150 or so meters long.)  when an earnest young woman in a green Parks Department polo shirt blew a whistle.  "Miss! Miss!"  I turned.  "You have to walk the bike!"

Well, that was a first.  And how did she know I'm not married, anyway?

Given that it was so hot (The temperature was close to 90F, or 32C, when I left my apartment at 9:30 this morning), I expected to see more people on the pier.  If nothing else, it offers, in addition to views (and good fishing, if you're into that sort of thing), nature's first air conditioning:  sea-breezes.  It was--or felt, anyway--about ten or fifteen degrees (F) cooler than it did when I left my apartment.

But, in addition to the fisherpersons (Yes, I've seen women casting lines into the surf!), you see some interesting, if solitary characters:

Nothing like having the whole city--let alone the whole world--to yourself, eh?

Note:  I apologize for the lack of detail in these photos.  I took them with my cell phone.

16 July 2012

An Early Morning Ride, Because I Could

Today I did something I haven't done in too long:  I took an early-morning bike ride, and I wasn't going to work.

There was a time in my life when, if such rides didn't constitute the majority of my cycling, they were at least routine.  On days when I worked in the afternoon or evening, I took such rides, and on weekends I got up early to take my long rides.

But I can't recall the last time I did such a ride.  Part of the reason is the work schedules I've had. I also can't help but to wonder whether the hormones and other changes have made me into more of a night person:  I stay and get up later than I used to.  At least I can say that, as often as not, I'm writing or doing some other necessary work when I'm "burning the midnight oil."

Today I made a point of getting out early.  For one thing, I wanted to avoid the heat this part of the world would experience later in the morning and afternoon.  But I also wanted to remember what it was like to take such a ride.

Back in the day, my early-morning rides were solitary or in the company of other hard-core cyclists, all of them male.  The latter kind left me pumped with adrenaline and testosterone:  If I went through a day cocky, it was a result of such a ride.  On the other hand, the early-morning rides I did alone left me feeling a peace with--if not within--myself and the world around me that I rarely, if ever, attained in any other way.

Today's ride--a little more than an hour and a half on Tosca, my "fixie," left me feeling contented and ready for the rest of the day.  That was definitely a good thing on a day which is not structured by outside forces.  I needed to do laundry (which I did), but there was nothing I absolutely had to get done today. But I managed to accomplish a couple of other things I could just as easily have put off. 

I say this, not to congratulate myself, but to show what a wonderful thing it is to be able to ride early in the morning without going to work.

15 July 2012

Along The Way

While riding to Randall's Island last week, I passed the block--9th Street, from the Noguchi Museum to a construction-supply store-- on which I lived before I moved to my current locale.  

The day I moved there, nearly a decade ago, was almost frighteningly clear and blindingly hot.  I had just left the last long-term relationship in which I'd been involved; I knew I was going to embark upon a part of my life I'd spent my life avoiding but which was absolutely necessary to become the person I've become, for better or worse.

I was struck by how much the light and shadows looked like the ones I saw the day I moved there:

When Velouria came to town for the New Amsterdam Bike Show, we rode down this block.  It just happened to be along the way.

14 July 2012

Turning Into Noir In The Bronx

I made a wrong turn in the Bronx...

It sounds like the title of noir film, doesn't it?  If such a movie were made today--in Hollywood, anyway--someone would tack a "happy" ending on it and the critics would call it "life-affirming" or some such thing.

Anyway, after teaching a class, I took a spin along the East River and into the Bronx.  (Sounds so idyllic, doesn't it?)  Because of construction (Why do they call it that when they're tearing something apart?), I had to take a detour.  I found myself under the ramp for the Willis Avenue Bridge.  If you've ridden the Five Boro Bike Tour, you've rolled across that bridge.

Underneath that overpass are some interesting old industrial brick buildings. It's sort of like DUMBO.  From one of those buildings hung one of the more interesing--and, unless you know the area, incongruous--signs I've seen:

When I first saw that sign, I thought perhaps someone was making a film.  Turns out, the place tunes, repairs and stores pianos.  In fact, they've probably tuned at least some of the Steinway pianos that are made in Queens, not far from where I live. 


That's all the more reason for me to be surprised if someone hasn't made a film (or part of one) there.  It's hard to find a locale that looks more Victorian, in a shadowy sort of way, than that spot where Bruckner Boulevard begins.

13 July 2012

A French Dutch City Bike Leads To Romance

Can you guess what comany made this bike, or even where it was made?

At first glance, it looks like a Dutch bike, doesn't it?  And, in many ways, it resembles one.  But it's at least a few pounds lighter.

I'll show you the men's version of this bike:

Its owner added braided cable housing,toe clips, a TA one-clamp water bottle cage and a Brooks saddle bag.  Even if you can't see the decals, there's one detail that should give you a clue as to where these bikes were made.

The headlight has a yellow lens.  Until recently, the bikes (and cars) sold in a particular European country came so equipped.  That country is, of course, France.

Now do you know who made these bikes?  Clue:  They were the largest bicycle manufacturer, and one of the leading auto-makers, in Gaul.  Oh, yeah, and they made those great pepper mills.

Yes, those bikes were made by Peugeot.  When I worked at Highland Park Cyclery, I actually sold one of the women's version.  Back in 1982, there was practically no demand for such bikes in the US.  And, no "serious" cyclist rode anything but a diamond (a.k.a. "men's") frame. But the customer wanted a stable, upright, sturdy bike.  Plus, she liked the style of it.

She wore a skirt when I was fitting the bike to her.  She mentioned, just casually (ahem!)  that she had long legs for a woman her height.  As if I hadn't noticed...

Our relationship lasted, if I recall correctly, about a year.  Looking back, I'm surprised it held as long as it did:  I was in my early 20's and she was about a dozen years older.  She was a surprisingly durable rider, and was a writer. However, beyond cycling and writing, we didn't have much in common.  Plus, as the self-help folks like to say, each of us  had our issues.  

Still, I have some rather fond memories of riding with her.  And, I am responsible for the only sale of the women's version of that bike--the Peugeot VX-40--at Highland Park Cyclery.  In 1982, that was no small feat, if I do say so myself!

12 July 2012

Smooth Sailing

On a hot day, one of the best ways to end a bike ride is with a boat ride.  That I did today on the Staten Island Ferry, after a ride on Helene that took me up the Bronx cliffs, across Manhattan, down the New Jersey Palisades into Hoboken, Jersey City and Bayonne, then, finally, over the bridge into Staten Island.

One of the nice things about riding on a hot day with low humidity, as I did today, is that the weather isn't nearly as oppressive as it is with high humidity.  On the other hand, if you're like me, you drink anything and everything in sight.  Still, I think I got to the Ferry less fatigued than these guys:

Helene is in front; the bikes behind her were ridden by the two recliners.  At least nobody can be accused of reading over this guy's shoulder!:

As befitting a high-class English lady with some French culture, Helene was her usual modest self:

With her, the ride was definitely smooth sailing:

10 July 2012

L'Enfer du DUMBO

I've been to Hell.

All right.  I confess (Do you still go to Hell if you confess):  I wrote that first sentence to get your attention.  I didn't see lakes of fire or papal prelates or industrial/military plutocrats with encased in ice up to their necks.  And I didn't have an out-of-body experience.

But I did ride over something that, on a fixed-gear bike, can very closely resemble Hell:

Riding over this street made me think of the Paris-Roubaix race, often called L'Enfer du Nord (The Hell of the North).  Every year in April, the race organizers look for the roads in northern France and Belgium with the pointiest cobblestones or with all sorts of other hazards.

Bernard Hinault is a five-time Tour de France winner and very old-school racer:  Unlike, say, Lance, he used to ride--and, very often, win--all sorts of races all over Europe.  But he flatly refused to ride in L'Enfer.  It's hard to blame him:  He had chronic tendinitis in one knee, a condition that caused him to abandon the 1980 Tour de France while he was wearing the leader's yellow jersey.  Finally, the following year, he rode Paris- Roubaix--the only time he would do so--and won.  

Wouldn't you like to see a race like that run through DUMBO, where I took the photo?  From there, such a race could spin through other nearby industrial areas along the Brooklyn waterfront.  There are also other areas--most of them industrial or post-industrial--with Belgian cobblestones like the ones you see in the photo.  

When I had a mountain bike with shocks, I used to ride over those streets for fun.  The experience was still jarring, because most mountain bike shocks are designed to keep the bike stable rather than to cushion the rider.  It's the kind of joyously harebrained thing you do when you're young--or, as I was, full of testosterone (and, possibly, other substances).  

After bouncing along the DUMBO cobblestones, I stopped in Recycle A Bicycle, where I have been volunteering.  The young woman there was working on this bike:

She assured me that the paint job was as it appeared to me; I was not seeing an optical illusion induced by the ride I'd just done!

09 July 2012

Effective Cycling, Revised

The latest edition of John Forester's Effective Cycling has been published.  I plan to obtain a copy, in part because I am curious to see what has changed.  Also, given Forester's age, it might be his last revision to his book.

I have one of the early editions of the book, from 1985.  It may have been the first publication--at least in this country--to advocate and explicate the concept of Vehicular Cycling.  This means that cyclists should ride as if their bikes are vehicles--which, in fact, is what they are for many of us.  That means, among other things, taking and using lanes in similar ways. In turn, he says, motorists and policy-makers should treat bicycles as if they are vehicles.  

At the time the first edition of the book came out, Vehicular Cycling seemed like a radical idea.  Even more radical was his notion that there shouldn't be separate infrastructure for cyclists because if cyclists acted more like vehicle operators, there wouldn't be any need for separate bike paths and such.

Almost everything urban planners have done to promote cycling and make their cities more "bike friendly" runs counter to what Forester says.  One reason for that is that most planners are not cyclists; even the ones that are labor under the same misconceptions the non-cycling public has.  Also, it seems that cities can get money for building bike lanes, but not for Effective Cycling courses (or any cycling courses, for that matter).

I don't entirely agree with Forester's idea that there should be no infrastructure for cyclists.  If Vehicular Cycling became the norm, there wouldn't be as much need for paths and such.  There are a few areas, I think, in which such lanes make sense.  However, I would rather not have any lane at all than lanes that are poorly conceived- and -constructed and therefore even more dangerous than the streets from which the lanes are supposed to protect cyclists.  

Still, I think the fact that such questions are being discussed at all is perhaps Forester's greatest contribution.  

08 July 2012

Sun, Rocks, Waves And Arielle

Yesterday was brutally, if not frightfully, hot and humid.  Today was merely hot, and less humid.

 So, during my ride to Point Lookout, I didn't sweat as much as I normally do on such a ride.  And I didn't even feel tired until after I'd had supper.  Now I realize why I'm ready to fall asleep:  I rode 65 miles in direct sunlight.  Even though I stopped twice to replenish my sunscreen (and did so when I reached PL), my skin must have absorbed a pretty fair amount of solar radiation.

The "rocks" at PL are, as you can see in the photos, concrete blocks.  That means, among other things, that the "beach" looks different every time I see it.  If I were a painter or better photographer, I could do all sorts of interesting things with the lines and light that present themselves.

Somehow, even my bikes look different whenever I ride them there

07 July 2012

From The Land Of The Rising Sun To L'Arc de Triomphe

In perhaps no other nation is track racing more closely followed than it is in Japan.  At least, one could easily have such an impression upon seeing how much money is bet on the keirin races and how many people watch them.

Also, more bicycles are equipped with components from Shimano than from any other company.  In fact, Shimano's offerings displaced their Campagnolo counterparts as racers' equipment of choice for much of the 1990's and in the early 2000's.

So, perhaps, one might wonder why so few Japanese cyclists have raced outside of their own country.  I thought about this today, when I watched the sixth stage of the Tour de France on NBC.  One of the commentators (not Phil Liggett) pointed out that two of this year's riders, Yukiya Arashiro and Fumiyuki Beppu, are among only four Japanese racers who have completed the Tour de France in its history, which has spanned more than a century.

Fumiyuki Beppu (l) and Yukiya Arashiro.  From Velo News

Now, to be fair, for a variety of reasons, through most of the Tour's (as well as the Giro d'Italia's,  Vuelta d'Espana's and the Milk Race's) history, nearly all who rode in it came from a handful of countries in western Europe and, to a lesser extent, the British Isles.  In fact, no American rode it until Jonathan (a.k.a. Jacques or Jock) Boyer entered in 1981.  He didn't make it to l'Arc de Triomphe that year, but he finished a more-than-respectable 12th two years later.

Since Boyer competed, the American contingent has become a significant part of the peloton in le Tour as well as other European races.  Also, increasing numbers of riders have come from the former Soviet bloc countries as well as Latin America and Canada.  However, Japanese cyclists have remained conspicuously absent.

Part of the reason for this may be that road racing isn't nearly as strong as keirin racing in Japan.  That almost seems paradoxical in a country where parents often tell their children, "The nail that sticks out is hammered down."  One would think that road racing, in which most riders participate as members of a team, would be more popular than track racing, which tends to be more individually focused.  Then again, non-team sports like sumo wrestling are wildly popular, while sports like soccer have nowhere near the following they enjoy in Europe, Latin America or even in other parts of Asia.

I can think of one reason which might, at least partially, explain the relative lack of popularity of road racing in Japan:  It's a country about the size of California with about four times as many mountains and five times as many people.  In such a place, I imagine, suitable roads for racing are scarce, and if the logistics of devising a course from them are daunting in European countries that have a century-plus history of racing, things must be even more difficult in Japan.

On the other hand, the Japanese are noted for overcoming difficulties.  For that reason alone, they may become even more of a presence in international racing in the future.  Perhaps Toshiba, Panasonic, Shimano and other Japanese companies will sponsor teams that will carry the Rising Sun around l'Arc de Triomphe.