31 August 2012

Surf's Up: Ride Your Bike, Dude!

The past few days are the longest I've gone without posting in quite some time.  Part of the reason for that is that the semester started this week.  And, at the same time, I found myself teaching French to an FBI agent.   That's a story--a happy one--unto itself!

Today I finally got out for a ride.  It wasn't very long, by my standards:  to Rockaway Beach.  It seems that every year I see more surfers there.  And, for about the past year or two, I've seen surfers ride bicycles to the beach.

What that means is that more surfers are carrying their boards on their bikes.  I have never done anything like that myself, so perhaps it;s not surprising that, until recently, I couldn't understand how one would.  I suppose that if I'd spent more time in, say, California or Hawaii, I'd have a better idea of how such things done.  Can you imagine what Dutch cyclists would come up with if more of them surfed?

I've seen a few  bikes with "sidecars" for their 'boards:

This setup reminds me of what a fisherman rigged to his bike so he could carry his poles, buckets and other gear:

Clever as those setups are, I don't think either of them has anything on the way this board is hooked up to its bike:

From The Surfing Blog

All of these 'maritime mules are homemade or made by very small operations.  I wonder whether there'enough of a market for Burley or some other manufacturer of bicycle trailers to consider making them. 

Or...I could just imagine what the Cannondale Bugger might have looked like had it been designed by surfers!

Original Cannondale "Bugger," circa 1972

26 August 2012

A Crash I Just Missed

I had just pedaled up the ramp on the Manhattan side of the Queensborough (a.k.a 59th Street) Bridge.  Two men and a woman, abreast each other,  spread themselves across the pedestrian side and into the side marked for bikes of the bike/pedestrian lane.  One of the men was stretching and craning his neck to snap photos of the city's skyline and the Roosevelt Island finiculaire; the other man and the woman were neither doing nor paying attention to anything in particular.  

As I had pedaled up the ramp from a dead stop at the bottom (courtesy of a man who was texting somebody and crossed into my path), I was riding slowly.  From the opposite direction, three young-looking, lycra-clad young men pedalled and spun at a much faster speed.  Still, I figured I had enough time and space to pedal around the photographer and his friends and that, by the time the three young cyclists were ready to ride around them, I would be well past the midpoint of the bridge.

My highly unscientific calculations proved to be entirely correct.  I was well past the photographer and his friends when the young male cyclists rode around them.  And I probably never would have thought about them, or the photographer and his mates, again.

But then I heard the thumping, clanging and clattering of metal and human flesh colliding as if sucked into a vortex or carbon fiber.  The cyclists were a few wheel lengths past the photographer and his travelling companions, but I don't think they had anything to do with the pileup.  To their credit, the male friend helped the cyclists--who didn't seem to be hurt--up.  I did a U-turn (fortunately, no other cyclists were approaching from either direction) and went to see whether the cyclists needed any help.  Two declined, and thanked me for my offer.  But the other, upon seeing that his bike was wrecked (It was carbon fiber.), punched and kicked the fence on the side of the bridge, picked up his bike and flung it. I got out of his way.

The bridge's lane is just barely wide enough for a couple of pedestrians walking abreast and a cyclist riding alone or in single file.  Plus, parts of the paving have been torn away (It's supposed to be re-paved), leaving half the width of the lane unusable for a significant part of the path's length.  That, at a time when more people are walking and pedaling across the bridge than perhaps at any time in its history.

23 August 2012

Twenty-Five Years After We Stopped A Bike Ban

Twenty-five years ago this summer, cyclists in New York City staged a rebellion.

In a way, that such a thing would take place in the august days of the Reagan Administration seems ironic.  Then again ACT UP held its first demonstrations that year, and the following year,a riot in Tompkins Square Park rocked the city.

The difference between those demonstrations and the ones cyclists staged during the summer of 1987 is that the latter seemed, on its face, even more improbable than the other two.  By the time ACT UP first met, large numbers of gay men had organized, politically and socially, in response to the AIDS epidemic, which would wipe out whole blocks of San Francisco and downtown Manhattan.  Meanwhile, residents of the neighborhood around the park agreed that the park had become a de facto homeless shelter and a haven for drug dealers, vagrants and loud musicians who had no other venue.  Those residents were deeply divided over what had to be done.  But after the city instuted a 1 am curfew, nearly everyone agreed that officers of the NYPD's Ninth Precinct routinely overstepped their boundaries and, in some cases, committed outright assault and battery.

In contrast, cyclists in New York were scarcely organized at all, save for whatever club affiliations they may have had. Least organized of all were the bike messengers, who were an even larger presence on the city's streets than they are now.  As great as their numbers were, they had absolutely no political clout because nearly all of them were poor (as I was, several years earlier, when I turned to that line of work) and some were homeless.  It wasn't a job for the hipster-equivalents of that time; rather, as one of my colleagues in that business said, we were "the rejects of society," whether or not through our own doing.

Why am I mentioning that?  Well, the impetus for that summer's demonstrations was an action then-Mayor Edward Koch (after whom the Queensborough Bridge is now named) aimed squarely at the messengers.   On 22 July of that year, Hizzoner stood on the steps of City Hall to announce a ban on bicycling in an area of Midtown bounded by 59th and 31st Streets, on the north and south, respectively, and by Park and Fifth Avenues on the east and west.  The ban would take effect six weeks later, in early September, after the signs had been posted and legal niceties dispensed with.

What is truly remarkable is that cyclists who weren't messengers--and people who weren't cyclists at all--actually expressed outrage at the proposed ban.  New York cyclists who weren't messengers weren't nearly as numerous or diverse in those days; to see as many of them unite with messengers--with whom they had almost nothing in common aside from the fact that they pedaled astride two wheels--caused even media outlets like the New York Post, which did much to foment anti-bike hysteria, to take notice,and even to portray messengers' routes as "the sweatshops of the street."

For the next few weeks, hundreds of cyclists--I was among them on a couple of occasions--gathered at around 5:30 pm (just after most messengers' workdays ended, spread across Sixth Avenue and paraded from Houston Street to Central Park, a distance of about three miles.  We pedaled at a snails' pace--about five mph (eight kph) so that passerby could look at us and walkers, joggers and runners could join us. We stopped at red lights and let pedestrians cross in front of us, which showed that we were "friendly" and prevented the police from using the pretext of "blocking traffic" to bust our permit-less rides.  

During that long, hot summer, there were other actions, such as the time when cyclists wended through the East 40s and 50s on foot to show how the ban could lead to pedestrian gridlock.  It had another effect: It mixed gritty messengers with, not only other kinds of cyclists, but with executives in bespoke suits on their way to lunch meetings in posh restaurants.  This increased understanding of, if not sympathy for, cyclists:  While tension between messengers and cabdrivers has never entirely abated, at least they started to see each other as fellow "working stiffs", which helped to create support for safer conditions for cyclists and better working conditions for messengers.

I can't help but to think that the contact between cyclists and non-cyclists led to public denunciations of the ban, which the New York State Supreme Court invalidated on a technicality (The city hadn't published official notice.) for an additional 45 days.  That meant the ban couldn't take effect until mid-October.  At that point, Mayor Koch, who prided himself on his taste for a good fight, threw in the towel.

It will be interesting to see what future historians and biographers say (if, indeed, they say anything at all) about this episode of the Koch regime--and cycling in New York City.  A bas l'interdiction!

21 August 2012

We Can Get There; Now We Need To Cross

Sometimes I'm thankful for small things.

No, this post won't be about cream colored ponies and crisp apple strudels, although those things are quite nice.  Instead, I'm going to show you something that, I hope, will make one of my rides a bit safer and more pleasant.

I frequently cycle the promenade by the World's Fair Marina, which rims Flushing Bay to the north and east of LaGuardia Airport for about a mile and a quarter.  Until recently, the lane ended rather abruptly at an especially apocalyptic-looking yard that seemed to serve mainly as a parking lot for New York City Department of Transportation trucks.  There, the lane turned into a dirt path that looked--and, when you rode on it, felt--like the Ho Chi Minh trail if it had been on the moon. That is, if you were lucky.  If you weren't, you had to dodge whatever parts the trucks dropped or a hose some cement-mixing company left behind.

Well, the dirt path has been cleaned up, and a concrete sidewalk built on it.  That has improved access to the Northern Boulevard Bridge, which you must cross if you want to continue into Eastern Queens.  But, as nice as the sidewalk/lane extension is, it still has one problem:  It leaves you at an entrance ramp for the Grand Central Parkway.  

Sometimes there isn't much traffic, but at other times, especially on game days (It's near Citi Field), it can be all but impossible to cross.   The worst part, though, is that the point at which you cross is at the end of a curve in the ramp.  So, while you may  not see any cars or trucks coming, they could come zooming from the other side of the turn.

I don't know whether the Department of Transportation plans to install signs or a signal at the crossing--or, for that matter, how much good such things would actually do.  From what I've seen, not many cyclists or pedestrians have been using the bridge.  However, I can't help but to think that it has had to do with the perilous crossing, the until-now-poor condition of the access lane and the narrowness of the bike/pedestrian lane on the bridge.  

Well, at least one part of the trip has improved.  Perhaps there is hope for the rest.


20 August 2012

What If They Had Critical Mass Back Then?

In its early years,  Saturday Night Live  episodes included a bit called "What If" History.  Perhaps the most famous episode was "What If Eleanor Roosevelt Could Fly?"

Now, here's something the SNL writers never considered:  What If Critical Mass Had Existed In 1949? 

I don't know how the world would be a different place.  But I would imagine that their rides might have looked something like this:

From SF Gate Photo Archives

  These cyclists were rolling along Market Street, where it met Fulton Street, in San Francisco on 7 April 1949.  This intersection no longer exists:  the UN Plaza now stands in its place and, as a result, Fulton no longer meets Market.

The first Critical Mass ride commenced in San Francisco, not far from where this photo was taken, in 1992.  I wonder whether that ride included any of the cyclists in the photo.

17 August 2012

A Crash By Any Other Name

This happened at a bicycle race in Matamoros, Mexico on 1 June 2008. One cyclist was killed.  Ironically, "Matamoros" means "Kill Moors" in Spanish.  (From VeloWorld)

A few years ago, a man used his SUV to run over five people on Long Island after getting into a fight with one of them.  He fled the scene of the accident.

Tell me:  What's wrong with the above passage?

It's in the last word:  accident.  The last time I checked my Oxford English Dictionary, none of the definitions of the word "accident" included intention, volition or causality.  Perhaps I should look again, just in case my memory is getting fuzzy.

Yet no less than the New York Times--and, presumably, the Nassau County Police Department-- used that word to characterize the incident.

Now, you might say that my perceptions are colored (clouded?) by being a writer and English instructor. Still, I contend that words are powerful, and the ones that are chosen shape the way people perceive whatever is being described.  And people's responses, or lack of them, are a result of their perceptions.

The Long Island man's use of his SUV as a weapon of mass destruction certainly wasn't the first--and probably won't be the last--time such an incident is referred to as an "accident."  It's also not the only kind of non-random collision that has been, or will be, so misnamed.

About two years before the Long Island incident, rapper Foxy Brown is said to have hit two cyclists on West Houston Street in Manhattan.  She originally claimed that her former friend, Ayesha Quattara, was at the wheel, but the testimony of the cyclists who were hit--and Quattara--indicated that the rapper (who is said to be losing her hearing) was the real culprit.  Quattara and the cyclists also said that Brown yelled, "Get out of my way, you dumb white faggots!"

That incident was also listed as an accident (and her friends claimed that she is neither a racist nor a homophobe).  Now, she probably didn't intend to run them down.  However, Brown herself admitted she was agitated as she was racing from one Louis Vuitton store to another before it closed.  So the incident can't be called an "accident" that "happened."

Calling such incidents "accidents", by implication, lessens the culpability of the drivers involved.  It also, I think, causes detectives and others charged with investigating such incidents to think that they are simply terrible fates that could not have been avoided.  I can't help but to believe that anyone who thinks that way will take their investigations less seriously and, perhaps, to be less diligent in them.  

On the other hand, if such incidents were classified as (attempted) homicides or negligence, the cops would be right on them.  Even classifying what Foxy Brown or her friend did as a hate crime would have gotten it more attention than it got as an "accident".

16 August 2012

An Atala In Another Life

In my previous life--many years ago--I saw an Atala bicycle for the first time.  Then, it was as exotic to me as African masks and Japanese prints must have been to French artists in the middle of the 19th Century.  

Even next to other racing bikes I'd seen, it seemed almost other-worldly.  For one thing, it was probably the first bike I saw that was equipped with Campagnolo components--although I had no idea of what they were, let alone why they were so revered.  Hey, I didn't even know that the frame was made of Columbus tubing, which was the only equal to Reynolds 531.  

One thing I knew for certain was that the bike was pretty (even prettier than the one in the above photo):  painted in a kind of coral color with white bands and chromed lugs and dropouts, if I recall correctly.  In fact, I probably thought it was the prettiest bike I'd seen up to that time.

As I came to know about and ride other bikes, I was less impressed with Atalas.  Whatever awe I had for them was all but destroyed after I worked on a few in bike shops:  Other bikes, from Italy as well as other countries, had much better workmanship.

But seeing that Atala important for me for one other reason.  Atala was probably the first bike brand I encountered for the first time through its top racing model.  I knew of Royce-Union, Schwinn, Raleigh and a few other manufacturers through their three-speeds, baloon-tired bombers or their kids' "Chopper" or "Sting-Ray"-style bikes, and would later encounter their road bikes.  I first learned of Peugeot, Gitane and few other French makers through their lower-level ten-speed bikes, which seemed to appear like toadstools after a rainstorm during the early years of the BIke Boom.  A couple of years later, I would encounter Japanese bike makers like Fuji, Nishiki and Miyata in a similar fashion.

It wasn't until years later, when I went to Italy for the first time, that I saw an Atala city bike.  Back then, such bikes were all but unavailable in the US:  Bike shops would stock a model from, say, Peugeot or Kabuki; it wouldn't sell and everyone would conclude there was no market for such bikes.

Over the past two or three years, I have been seeing more city bikes from European and Japanese companies that, for decades, have been making them for people in their own countries.  One of those bikes is the Atala I saw tonight, parked just a few doors away from the apartment of a friend I was meeting.   

I'll bet that whoever rides that bike has never seen that Atala racing bike I encountered a long time ago, in another life. 

12 August 2012

WE BIKE at Smorgasburg

Yesterday I promised to tell you about the event where I saw the Pashley Mailstar, which is used by the "posties" of Royal Mail in the UK.

Liz (R) showing two cyclists how to repair an innertube.

Liz Jose, the founder and president of WE Bike (Women Empowered through Bicycles) used the bike to transport a table tools and various WE Bike schwag to a repair workshop/recruitment drive held at Smorgasburg in Brooklyn.  

We volunteered our own bikes for "the cause"!

Actually, some might argue it wasn't a full-blown repair shop.  What we did was to teach some female cyclists (and, in a few cases, men who accompanied them) how to fix flats.  If a cyclist--especially a female rider-- learns to do only one repair, this should be the one.  If nothing else, knowing this basic skill can keep you from getting stranded.

Erin (facing to the side), Shelley (in pink t-shirt) and Liz (seated).

The fear of getting stranded by a deflated tire, and not knowing how to fix it, is one of the most common reasons why people won't take longer rides or use their bikes for transportation.  I think this fear is greater among female cyclists, for we (well, many of us, anyway) have more reason to fear for our safety if we are stuck in the middle of an unfamiliar or unsafe area by ourselves.  Also, I think that many women have been taught, implicitly or explicitly, to distrust their own abilities to fix even very basic things, not to mention to be self-sufficient in any number of other ways.  

Having been raised as male, I wasn't inculcated with that same distrust of my abilities.  Of course, I did not understand that until I started the transition that has culminated in living in the female gender of my mind and spirit.  I suppose that, in addition to some skills that I possess, that self-confidence might be what I can offer the women and girls who join and ride with WE Bike.

I hope that doesn't sound condescending, or as if I'm some well-intentioned  but misguided do-gooder.  I have been known to do things at least partially for altruistic reasons, and I can say that joining WE Bike is one of those things.  But the most important reason why I've decided to involve myself with it is that, since my transition, I've come to feel out of place in both the formal and impromptu men's cycling groups in which I've participated.  Even the so-called co-ed groups are dominated by males.  Not that I have anything against them:  I simply feel that I want and need other things now, as my motivations for (and, most likely, style of ) riding have changed.

Plus, so far, I'm enjoying the company of the women in WE Bike.  Isn't that the real reason to be involved with any group, whether or not it's formally organized?

As for the dilemma I faced: I managed to look presentable enough, I suppose, for the writing workshop.  I don't know whether anybody there noticed, but I was wearing a cardigan/jacket over the sundress in which I rode to the workshop--and to the WE Bike workshop.  But once I got to the latter event, I covered the top of my dress with something else:

I'd say that the fit might've been a bit snug, but the color worked!  And somehow I managed not to smudge the T-shirt or sundress in spite of the grease and dirt on my hands!

11 August 2012

A Postie Bike In Brooklyn

Here's a bike we don't see every day, at least not in the US:

It's a Pashley Mailstar bike.  "Posties" all over the UK use them to deliver cards, letters, packages and whatever else can be sent through Her Majesty's service.

Liz, who rode it, bought it from a friend in South Africa.  It's come in very handy for her, as she has to lug a lot of equipment to various events, such as the one at which I saw this bike. The first time she rode it, she says, she found the riding and handling more responsive than she expected from such a bike.  That, from someone who rides classic road bikes and whose stable includes a Mercian.

It's not hard to imagine workers at the Olympics in London using this bike, or something much like it, to bring equipment to different venues of the Games.

I'll tell you more about that event tomorrow.  I'm getting sleepy:  a sure sign I didn't use enough sunscreen!  

10 August 2012

All In A Day: Drafting Proposals And Patching Tubes

Tomorrow I will face a bit of a dilemma.

No, it's not about what to do with the rest of my life, although I've been thinking (and not feeling very encouraged) about that lately. Rather, it's something a bit more mundane, though the way I resolve it might affect other things in my life.

It's like this:  In the morning, I'm leading a writing workshop.  It's in a business environment, so I have to look more or less professional, even though it will be a Saturday. That means, among other things, no shorts, tank tops, T shirts or flip-flops.  I don't think sneakers would be such a great idea, either.

Once that workshop is done, I'm going to co-lead a bike repair workshop for WE Bike NYC (a.k.a. Women's Empowerment Through Bicycles).  This workshop will be a bit different from others in that people will bring in their bikes and we will show them how to make repairs or do maintenance they need.   Professional attire is, of course, not required. 

The logical thing--which, believe it or not, is what I'll probably do-- would be to pack clothes I wouldn't mind smudging with grease or staining with other substances and to change--either in the bathroom of the office building where I'll be doing the writing workshop or at Smorgasburg, where the repair workshop will be held.

Then again, a part of me wants to show up for the repair workshop in a skirt and heels.  I'm thinking of the day Velouria and I rode, when I switched the pedals and made a couple of other adjustments while wearing what I'd worn to work that day.  Somehow I managed not to make a mess.  But I don't know how long I could sustain that.  

But for all of those people who are intimidated by the prospect of working on their own bikes, I could send a message by showing up as a "working woman".  On the other hand, whatever I change into won't be bike clothes (i.e., no spandex), so I won't be projecting the image of a "bike jock" or "shop rat."  

Or would I?  I've just had a manicure and pedicure today.  

Note:  Photos were taken by Velouria and are on her blog, Lovely Bicycle!

07 August 2012

How Do You Cross This Bridge When You Come To It?

As a bridge--indeed, as a structure--the Atlantic Beach Bridge is not at all remarkable.  It opened in 1950; like so much else built at the time, it was built from steel and concrete in thoroughly prosaic forms.  (Did I just sound like some pretentious architecture "critic"?)  And, as one might expect from such a span built on a shipping lane that was once widely-used (and is still used for that purpose), it's a drawbridge.

I have ridden over it any number of times, as have other New York cyclists I know:  If you're going to Long Beach, Lido Beach or Point Lookout, there aren't many other ways to go.  Crossing it is pleasant enough:  There are beaches, boat docks and houses along the Reynolds Channel, which the bridge spans, and the ocean is just a few swim strokes away.  

I had long assumed that the bridge connected Far Rockaway--which, as its name indicates, is the New York City neighborhood farthest from midtown Manhattan--with Atlantic Beach, which is in Nassau County.  However, the line between the city and the county is actually a few feet away from the entrance to the bridge, at the end of Sea Girt Boulevard.  

Why does this matter for cyclists?  Well, on most bridges in New York City that have pedestrian lanes but not dedicated bike lanes, cyclists routinely ride without a thought.   This happens even on those bridges where signs command cyclists to walk their wheels over the span.   There seems to be a kind of understanding, or at least a truce, between cyclists and pedestrians and, it seems to me, confrontations between the two are rare.  At least, I've never seen, or been involved in, one!

On the other hand, Nassau County--or its police, at any rate--doesn't always have such a laissez-faire attitude toward cyclists.  There is a command post right next to the tollbooth (Interestingly, cyclists were charged five cents to cross until 1975, when the bridge's bond was retired.) and, every once in a while, the gendarmes decide to use their powers on cyclists.  Lately, that has been happening with increased frequency.  In fact, about two weeks ago, as I was entering the bridge, another cyclist who was riding in the other direction warned me that officers were handing out tickets on the other side of the bridge.  So I walked, which added about another ten minutes to my trip.

Indeed, I saw two of those officers.  Fortunately, I had walked across.  Today, I was thinking about whether or not to ride across when I saw two middle-aged male cyclists walking their steeds from the middle of the bridge.  When I turned my head, I saw the reason why:  Two officers were standing by a police van just outside the command center.  

Being the upright citizen that I am '-), I walked.  I saw no other cyclists besides those middle-aged men, which surprised me, given that it was neither oppressively warm nor humid, and there was absolutely no threat of rain.  Then again, today is Tuesday, so one wouldn't expect to see as many pedestrians or cyclists as one would see on a weekend day.

Sometimes, when the weather is warm, the bridge's path is thick with pedestrian traffic on weekends, particularly on Saturdays--especially when they come during a Jewish holiday.  There are fair-sized Orthodox communities on both sides of the bridge and, as they're not allowed to drive (or, depending on how their rabbis interpret Halakhik law, ride bicycles), they all walk.  So, to be fair, I can understand more enforcement of the mandate for cyclists to walk their bicycles at such times.  On the other hand, on a day like today, when both pedestrian and cycling traffic are much lighter (I only saw one pedestrian each time I crossed the bridge, and on my way back, I didn't see any other cyclists.), I should think that enforcement would be less of a priority.  After all, even on that relatively narrow walkway, cyclists and pedestrians can easily steer clear of each other.  And, as on the New York City spans, most are respectful and courteous.  

Then again, from what I understand, Nassau County is in far more dire financial straits than the city is in.  Call me a cynic or conspiracy theorist if you like, but I can't help but to think that's a reason why I (and others) have been seeing more constables on the Atlantic Beach Bridge lately.

05 August 2012

A New Olympic Cycling Event: The Omnium

During the past week or so, I haven't posted much.  One reason is that I've been watching the Olympics.

For some reason, I'm more interested in them this year than I was the last time around (2008) or the time before that (2004).  It may have to do with my having spent some time in London and knowing  of some of the venues in which the Games are being held, as well as other landmarks.  It may also have to do with the fact that I've been home, whereas during the previous two Olympiads, I was away:  visiting old friends in France in 2004 and my parents in Florida (for the first time since I began my transition) in 2008. So, I guess, you could say I was occupied.

While I'm always glad to see cycling, I wish there were more coverage of it.  I guess the networks figured that there would be more interest in the road and track races and the time trial than in some of the other events.  I'm sure that a lot of casual cycling fans wanted to see the time trial because it was contested by, among others, Bradley Wiggins--whose victory in the Tour de France a week earlier was the first by a British rider--and his countryman and teammate/rival Christopher Froome.  And, a lot of Americans probably tuned into the road race because they thought Kristin Armstrong, who won a gold medal, was Lance's ex.

One event that seems to get almost no attention outside of the Olympics--and is unknown to nearly all Americans--is the omnium, in which Lasse Hansen of Denmark won the gold medal today.  (French cyclist Bryan Coquard won the silver and Britain's Edward Clancy took the bronze.)  One could think of it as the hepathlon of cycling, except that, instead of seven events, it has six:

  • A flying lap--This is a race against the clock.
  • Points race--Cyclists score points for sprints that occur every 10 laps.
  • Elimination--This race includes an intermediate sprint every two laps; the last rider is eliminated after each sprint.  Think of it as a kind of Musical Chairs for cyclists.
  • Individual Pursuit--Riders start at opposite sides of the track and race against the clock. (4000m for men, 3000m for women)
  • Scratch Race--This is a straightforward race to the finish line: 16km for men, 10 km for women.
  • Time trial--Each competitor rides the course, aiming for the fastest time.  (1km for men, 500 m for women)
Now, I can understand why most Americans have never heard of it:  It's a new sport in the Olympics and was added to the World Championships Program only five years ago.

It will be interesting to see whether the omnium will be part of future Olympiads.  Even bronze medal winner Clancy says that although it's "great entertainment" and was good for him personally, he feels that winning depends on luck more than it does for other events.  "I don't know whether this fits in with the 'higher, stronger, faster' ethos of the Olympics," he explained.

He may be right about the role luck plays in it.  Then again, the same could be said for nearly all sporting events:  How many winners and runners-up were decided by injuries, illnesses or even weather conditions? Or how many times have people gotten jobs, promotions and even the loves of their lives simply because they were--sometimes unwittingly--"in the right place at the right time?"  Heck, even my students' grades have been determined by factors beyond their--or my--control.

02 August 2012

What's New? Old Brakes

To get your bicycle to do what you want to do, have to listen to it--especially when it's telling you it likes, or doesn't like, something.

A corollary to that pearl of wisdom is this;  Just because something fits on a bike, that doesn't mean it will work well --for the bike or you.

So it was with linear=pull (a.k.a. "V")brakes on Vera.  I never could get them adjusted quite right.  They had lots of stopping power--as long as I pulled my brake levers all the way.  In other words, I experienced the "all or nothing " response some people experience with V brakes.  I couldn't decelerate with them; I could make only "on the dime" stops.

Also, I simply could not keep them centered, especially on the front.  Instead of standing vertically from the posts on which they were mounted, the brake arms stuck out at one- and eleven=o'clock angles.  That was more than an aesthetic concern:  It made the brakes difficult to adjust.

Finally, even when I unhooked the cable, it was difficult to remove the front wheel because the brakes and pads fit so closely.  The likely reason for that, and possibly the other problems I mentioned, is, I discovered, that V-brakes are designed to be used on frames and forks with the brake bosses spaced further apart than they are on Vera.  In fact, most older touring and cyclo-cross bikes, and road (or roadish) bikes made for cantilevers, have brake bosses that are more narrowly spaced than they are on mountain or post-1996 hybrid bikes.

I installed the V-brakes (Shimano Deore LXs) to replace the low-profile cantilevers that came with the bike.  Those brakes just seemed weak, at least compared to cantilevers I had back in the day.

So, guess what I did?  I found a cantilever brake like the ones we used back in the day:

I found these vintage 1985 Shimano Deore XT-MC70 brakes on eBay for a reasonable price.  While they protrude from the frame more than the other brakes, they have more power than the low-profile cantis--and better modulation than V-brakes.  I also found them surprisingly attractive on the bike.  

Of course, I changed the pads:  Even if they look OK, twenty-year-old pads have dried out at least somewhat.  Plus, Kool-Stop (Mathauser) salmon-colored pads are kinder to lightweight alloy rims than the old Shimanos.

(The current Tektro 720s seem to be patterned, at least to some degree, on these brakes).

One other benefit--at least from my point of view--of the cantilevers is that they allow me to use inverse (bar-end) brake levers like the ones I have on Helene.

I'll try to give a follow-up report on how these brakes work with Vera.  So far, everything seems good.