30 September 2012

To A Rainbow: The First Ride Of A New Season

I know that autumn officially began a week and a day ago.  However, the ride I took today felt like the first of the season.

In part, it had to do with the weather:  The temperatures were almost exactly on target, maybe a couple of degrees cooler than normal.  The air had that cool crispness you normally associate with the season (at least in this part of the world).  But most telling was the particular kind of haze one sees in the distance at the seashore when clouds gather at this time of the year:

This is not the "hothouse" haze borne of humidity you can't escape on a summer day.  Nor is it the light, almost linen, haze you see on a mid- or late-spring day.  This is the kind of haze that brings colors into focus yet diffuses light.  If I were a painter or even a photographer, I would want to render the subtle differences in tones between these kinds of haze on my canvas, paper or screen.

As I started my ride home from Point Lookout, the sky quickly grew brighter, almost as if in a flash.  Then, almost as quickly, clouds gathered and grew darker and heavier than the ones in the first photo.  About half a mile from the Atlantic Beach Bridge, what I like to call a "Florida Shower" fell from the sky:  an intense rain that cut visibility to nearly zero--but, strangely, was not accompanied by thunder or lightning. Also, it wasn't steamy, as the ones in the Sunshine State usually are.  I took refuge under the awning of a church that, it seemed, had completed its services and breakfasts or lunches for the day.  

Within fifteen minutes, I was back on the road again.

29 September 2012

Bikes Along The Way

On my way home today, I saw two interesting bikes.  Both are European.  I know that one is from the 1970's; I believe the other is.  Beyond that, though, they are interesting for very different reasons.

I espied the first one when I stopped in Greenpoint Bikes on Manhattan Avenue, near the Pulaski Bridge.  There I was greeted by a friendly young man who didn't mind my browsing or photographing this bike:

Actually, it's the bike in the middle.  As in many shops in the area, space is at a premium, so I didn't ask whether I (or he) could move the bikes, although I think he would have obliged me.

The green machine is a TMS.  At least, it's the only brand marking I could find.  The friendly young man believes it is German and from the 1970's, which makes sense, given what I know about such bikes.  The lugwork was clean and neat, and the paint well-applied in an attractive color scheme.  What really caught my eye, though was a particular detail:

It looked as though the white stripe was painted (or otherwise applied) to the fender at the factory.  That detail is even more striking, I think, on the rear fender:

The bike, as one might expect, is solid and sturdy, not light.  Those characteristics are typical of German bikes of that time:  They were well-made and often attractive, but utilitarian rather than sportive.

The second bike I saw, parked near PS 1,  clearly belongs to  the "sportive" category.  In fact, it was one of the better racing bikes available in its price range in the early to mid-1970's.  

If I'm not mistaken, it's a Gitane Tour de France from sometime around 1975 to 1978.  I make this judgment based on the paint finish and decals, which look original and are consistent with that time:

Also, the bike is made from Reynolds 531 tubing and has a Stronglight 93 cotterless crank, which was original equipment on that bike (as well as the Peugeot PX-!0E).  It was actually quite nice:  strong, brightly polished and lighter than even Campagnolo's offerings.

 (I apologize for this image and the others; I took them with my cell phone.)

One extremely interesting detail is the way the brake cable "tunnels" are brazed to the top tube:

On most bikes, the "tunnels" are brazed down the center (top) of the top tube.  However, Gitane brazed them to the right side, which allows for a more direct line to the brake (a Campagnolo sidepull).  Of course, the advantage of this would be lost if a brake that pulled on the right side, or a centerpull, were used.

The tunnels lead me to believe this is a later-production Tour de France, as the earlier-production TdFs use the clips you see on so many old racing bikes.

It seems that every time I ride through "Hipster Hook," I see more and more interesting bikes that aren't variations on the "hipster fixie."  And the area is about as rich in bike shops as any I've seen:  Within blocks of Greenpoint Bikes are about a half-dozen other shops, including B's Bikes, which has become one of my favorites.  Greenpoint looks very promising as well.  

Not so long ago, there weren't any bike shops in the area at all:  If you were to ride from Astoria to Brooklyn, you wouldn't see another shop until you got into the neighborhood around Pratt Institute, a distance of about seven miles.  And you wouldn't see very many cyclists. Now it's turning into Amsterdam on the Hudson.  It will be interesting to see what happens when those cyclists--most of whom are in their 20's or 30's age.  Will they stay in the neighborhood and continue to ride the bikes they have?  Or will they stop riding, or move?  Or will some as-yet-unenvisioned  type of bicycle be invented and sweep as-yet-unborn cyclists off their feet (or pedals)?  

Whatever happens, I expect to see more interesting bikes--and cyclists--along the way.

28 September 2012

From Motor Parkway To Bike Lane

In France, I did most of my cycling on Routes Departmentales.  They are designated with "D" or "RD"  and a number on road signs and Michelin maps.

Route Departmentale 618 in the Pyrenees, which I cycled in 2000.

The Departmentales wend along rivers, climb mountains and transverse sunflower fields, vineyards and all manner of verdant landscapes and villages in every part of the country.  Most were built early in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries; a few were built by paving over roads that date to Roman times.  

They were constructed while bicycling enjoying enormous popularity and as the automobile was in its early stages of development.  As automobiles became more common (though still not as common as they were becoming in the US), a new system of roads--Routes Nationales--made their way through the country and connected the cities.  The Departmentales then fell into disuse in many areas.

A similar process occured during the 1950's and 1960's, when Autoroutes were built to connect the cities.  Then, even more Departmentales lost whatever traffic they previously had.

Although not intended as bicycle lanes,  Deparmentales became wonderful venues for two-wheeled travel through the French countryside.  In spite of how little traffic most of them see, they are remarkably well-maintained.  Many of them run more or less parallel to Nationales or even Autoroutes.  So, getting around is relatively easy, even for someone who is as navigationally-challenged as I am!

I was thinking of Departmentales when I came across this photo taken in July 1939:

No, they're not in the Dordogne.  They are commemorating the conversion of two and a half mile stretch of the Long Island Motor Parkway--which had been closed down three months earlier--into a bike lane.  

Financier and railroad mogul William K. Vanderbilt Jr. built the Parkway early in the 20th Century as a racecourse.  By World War I, it had been turned into a toll road used mainly by wealthy socialites en route to their weekend and vacation homes on eastern Long Island.  However, after the Northern State Parkway opened in 1929, it fell into disuse and was closed three months before a stretch of it re-opened as a bike path.  

In time, about eight miles (13 kilometers) of the Motor Parkway would re-open as a bike path. It's a very pleasant ride that meanders through some of the nicest parkland in eastern Queens.  I sometimes ride the westernmost part of it--which ends near the Kissena Velodrome--during my commutes.  

What made it an innovative road when it was built is also, in part, what makes it a nice bike lane now.  In addition to having lovely settings, the Parkway was one of the first concrete-paved roads in the United States (Asphalt was not yet in use.) and the first to use bridges and overpasses.

In an earlier post, I proposed turning the roadbeds of no-longer-used railroad tracks in Queens, and other parts of New York, into bike lanes.  Now I wonder whether there are some similarly-disused roadways that could also be converted.  I can just imagine pedaling through the urban, industrial and pastoral landscapes of New York, and the rest of the country, the way I cycled along the departmentales in the French countryside.

27 September 2012

Verdant Verities And Vera

A few trees in this area--such as the ones I saw on the Canarsie Pier last week--have begun to change color.  A few leaves seem to have fallen, but most of the trees are still green and full.  

However, I noticed another kind of "fall" along the World's Fair Marina promenade as I cycled to work today:

A lot of branches have fallen--or, more precisely, were ripped and broken from their trunks--during the recent storms.  I saw some of the arboreal debris scattered across the path last week; now, it seems, they are being gathered.  In addition to what fell. other limbs have been cut from the trees because they were weak or ready to come off.

Soon these trees will be yellow, orange and red, then brown.  Then they'll be bare.  But one part of my commute will still be green:

Why do you think I call her Vera?  Well, to tell you the truth, the eponymous Pink Floyd song played while I was cleaning her up just after I first got her.  But, still, you have to admit it's an appropriate name--unless, of course, I decide to paint her.  

26 September 2012

Two-Wheeled Leaders

Please don't take this post as a statement of my politics, or even on which lever I'll pull in November.

Now tell me, would you vote for this man?

He doesn't look half-bad on a bike, eh?

He is none other than current Republican nominee Mitt Romney. Here he's riding in France, where he was a Mormon missionary for two years.

Can you tell this guy lost?:

He might be a good rider. But he doesn't even have enough of a sense of style to be a Fred!

Whatever you think of his presidency, you have to admit that there's something very appealing about Jimmy Carter on a bike:

From what I understand, he's still an active cyclist at age 88.  I think he actually looks younger in this photo than he did on the day he left office 31 years ago!

Somehow it's hard to imagine this President as young, or even on a bicycle, but here's Nixon with his wife and daughter, about two decades before they moved into the White House:

I was surprised at how in-character this shot of George H.W. and Barbara Bush seemed:

Finally, here's a glimpse of Bill and Hill:

You can see more photos of Presidents and candidates on bicycles on this Daily Caller page.

25 September 2012

Another Song At Sunset

This may not seem terribly bike-related, save for the fact that I saw it while riding by the pond in Prospect Park yesterday:

Somehow the loneliness of the long-distance runner doesn't seem so terrible.  In fact, it's quite beautiful, even in an image taken with a cell phone and my photographic skills!

24 September 2012

Elswick: Sheldon's Bike

If you've read any of Sheldon Brown's writings, you might recall his joy at getting an Elswick Tour Anglais when he was a teenager.  At that time, derailleur-equipped bikes were all but unknown in the US; any bike with dropped bars was likely to be a modified three-speed bike.

As a cycling enthusiast--and fan of Sheldon--I felt his joy.  It made me want to see a Tour Anglais, or a Lincoln Imp, another Elswick he would later own and ride.

Until today, I had never seen any Elswick bike--at least that I recall.  But, as I was riding near Pratt Institute, I saw one parked by one of those lovely Victorian houses that abound in that neighborhood.

It looked like other English three-speeds of the same period, which neither surprised nor disappointed me.  Instead, it seemed absolutely fitting:  To a teenaged Sheldon in the 1950's, such a bike, however common it may have been, would have seemed otherworldly.  It's not likely that he would have known there were a whole world of bicycles like the Elswick.

That is not to say that the one I saw today wasn't lovely:  With its dark brown paint and white fender panel, it's actually rather elegant.  And you have to love that headbadge. 

Still, you have to wonder what this sticker was doing on the seat:

23 September 2012

Don't Even Think Of Parking Here!

Today I rode with my friends Lakythia and Mildred.  If yesterday felt more like the first day of summer than the first day of autumn, today reminded me of everything that is great about the new season:  Everything felt cool, clear and crisp.

When we decided we wanted brunch, we were in my neighborhood, more or less.  So I suggested a couple of places I frequent.  I also thought it would be better to leave their bikes--and, of course, mine--in my apartment rather than to lock it here:

22 September 2012

Coasting Through The First Day Of Fall

Today I took my newly-built old Trek on a joyride.  Well, I also intended my journey as a shakedown ride, to see what needed changing or fixing.  But, as often happens, business mixed with pleasure.

Before setting out, I made a few small adjustments to the saddle and handlebar positions, and topped off the tires.  I also made use of some leftover handlebar tape:

My trip took me through some familiar haunts:  Astoria Park, Randall's and Ward's Islands, the Bronx and upper Manhattan.  The bike, as I've set it up, seems streetworthy:  I can accelerate and maneuver it quickly, but it doesn't seem too delicate for the almost-lunar texture of some streets I rode.

Some of the ride quality may well have to do with the tires. They're Panaracer Ribmos, though not the same ones as I have on Helene. For one, the tires on Helene are all-black, in contrast to the white sidewalls and red tread on the ones I rode today.  More important, the ones I rode today have non-foldable steel beads, in contrast to the foldable Kevlar beads on Helene's tires.  Also, the red treads and white sidewalls seem to be thicker than the black ones, although the width of each tire is the same. What the beads and thicker rubber mean, of course, is that the tires I rode today are significantly heavier than the ones on Helene.  But, I would also expect them to be more durable.

Today is the first day of fall, at least officially.  However, the weather made it feel more like the first day of summer:  Warm and somewhat humid, though not unpleasant.  But, some of the leaves are starting to turn, so it is starting to look like the season.  And, the brick buildings of the Bronx industrial areas (which were entirely free of traffic, as they usually are on weekends) and the Concrete Plant Park always look rather autumnal.  Somehow the bike looked like it belonged.

And I felt almost as if I belonged on the bike. It doesn't fit like my other bikes, but the size might actually work for me.  I have had other similarly-sized bikes, and rode them gingerly.  Also--I've actually ridden both Arielle and Tosca in a skirt.  I think I could do the same on the Trek, as long as the skirt isn't very close-fitting (I have a couple of skirts like that, which I've never worn on a bike.) or long.  I think about that because I have envisioned using this bikes for errands and as a sometime commuter, as well as a winter bike.  (On winter joyrides, I'll probably be wearing wool tights or sweats, depending on the weather.)

And, yes, I'm getting used to the coaster brake.  

21 September 2012

"Marley's" Wheel Finds Its Home--For Now

As you may have guessed, the wheel Marley "helped" me build has found a home--for now.

Yes, it's on the Trek 560 frame I "rescued."  Today I took it out for its first run--a visit to the doctor's office, with a stop at the Donut Pub on the way home.  The trip is about six miles each way.

About half a mile from my apartment, I had to make my first stop, for the traffic light before the entrance to the Queensborough Bridge.  I had to think for a split-second:  I don't ride coaster brakes regularly, so I had to "re-learn" the impulse to pedal backward.  Obviously,it's very different from stopping with a handbrake, but it's also not as much like coming to a halt on a fixed-gear bike as one might expect.  On a coaster brake, you backpedal for about an eighth of a crank rotation. Once the brake engages, you can't backpedal any further.

 On the other hand, when you want to stop your fixie (without hand brakes), you actually tense your legs up and shift that tension backward and downward, toward your heels.  You can't really backpedal unless you're unbelievably strong or are willing to live with two broken legs for a long time.

Once I got used to the backpedaling motion, it wasn't hard to control my stops:  The Velosteel brake works quickly and smoothly.

As for the bike itself:  The jury is still out.  Not surprisingly, it's accelerates pretty quickly, as the wheelbase and chainstay lengths are about the same as those of Arielle and Tosca.  However, the frame is made of heavier tubing and, more important, the seat tube is about 1 cm longer, which I noticed somewhat on dismounting the bike.   The most significant difference, size-wise, between the Trek and my diamond-frame Mercians is that the top tube is about 2.5 cm longer.  One consequence of that is that I'm using a stem with a shorter extension, which makes the steering less sensitive than it is on any of my Mercians except, possibly, Vera.

I have no doubt this could be a very good errand, city or winter bike.  I just wonder how comfortable it will be for me.  And, of course, I will have a more difficult time riding in a skirt than I would on Vera or Helene.  

Whether or not I keep the bike, I'm going to hold onto the wheel I just built, as well as the front one. I'd also probably take the saddle, and possibly the handlebars, off the bike before I sell it or otherwise give it up.  But I'm not going to make that decision before I ride it at least a few more times.

20 September 2012

Velosteel: My First Coaster Brake In 40 Years

Now I'm going to tell you a little more about the wheel I was building--and Marley was "inspecting."

As you may be able to see, the appendage hanging from the hub is a coaster-brake arm.  (That's the kind of brake you backpedal.)  The wheel I built with it is going on the rescued Trek frame

I don't know what possessed me to go and buy the hub--one of two new parts I've bought for the bike--or to decide that it was going on the Trek frame.  After all, I haven't owned a bike with a coaster brake in about 40 years.

At least I know that I will end up with a very simple bike.  In fact, the only way I could make the bike simpler would be to use a fixed-gear wheel in the rear--without brakes, of course.  I had such a bike in my youth, and rode it on the streets.  There's no way I'll do that now!

Anyway, the hub is a Czech-made Velosteel.  From what I understand, the owners of Velosteel purchased the machinery used to produce the classic German Fichtel-Sachs coaster brake hub before SRAM bought out Sachs.  

Three things are immediately noticeable about the Velosteel hub:  the weight (definitely more than a Shimano coaster-brake hub), the shape and structure of the shell, the lush chroming and the way the cog is attached.  

On most coaster brake and internally-geared hubs, the cog is splined, slides onto the hub body and is held in place with a snap ring.   In contrast, the cog screws onto this hub in the same way as a track (fixed-gear) cog.  Another feature this hub has in common with a track hub is the reverse-threaded lockring.  In other words, the cog screws on one way (clockwise) but there is a second set of threads on which the lockring attaches counterclockwise.  This prevents the cog from unscrewing when you backpedal or do a "track stand".  

And, yes, you can use track cogs and lockrings--as long as they're not Campagnolo or Phil Wood. 

While looking at the above photo, I'm thinking of the very first fixed-gear bike I ever had:  a converted Peugeot UO8.  In those days, very few people (at least here in the US) were riding "fixies," and I couldn't find any instructions on how to do such a conversion in any of the books or magazines I owned or borrowed. (Remember, we didn't have the Internet in those days!)  So, I screwed a track cog onto the Normandy hub that came with the bike and tightened a bottom-bracket lockring as hard as I could against the cog.  

I got away with riding it for about a year before I did an unintentional "track stand" while stopping for a light.  Whomp!  I just-as-unintentionally found myself spread over the frame's top tube after the cog unscrewed and my legs imitated those of a collapsible table!

But I digress.  The Velosteel cogs and lockring look to be well-machined, if not as nicely finished as the hub.  Another interesting feature of the hub body is that it's cast as one piece, as the better road and track hubs are.  Most other coaster-brake hubs have flanges that are pressed onto the hub shell.   I once had a rear hub (non-coaster brake) with pressed-on flanges that collapsed into each other.  While this may have been an unusual occurence, I've never heard of such a thing happening to hubs with one-piece shells.  

And one-piece construction makes for a more elegant shape, and allows the nice chrome finishing you see on the Velosteel. 

I built the hub onto a Mavic rim that had previously been laced to another hub and sat in my closet for I-don't-know-how-long.   It has the older grey "hard anodized" finish which, to my knowledge, Mavic no longer uses.  So I had no "mate" to this rim, which is one of the reasons it's been entombed in my closet for so long.

To mate the Mavic rim to the Velosteel hub, I used Phil Wood spokes.  Guy Doss of Elegant Wheels--from whom I bought the hub as well as the spokes--recommends Phils for the Velosteel hub because, like other steel hubs, it has thinner flanges than alloy hubs, so spokes designed for alloy hubs (such as DT and Wheelsmith) won't fit as well.   If you build a steel hub (whether Velosteel, Shimano or an old Sturmey-Archer, SunTour or Sachs three-speed hub) with one of those brands of spokes, you should use spoke washers under the spoke heads.

In time, I'll find out how the hub works and lasts.  For now, I like the look of the wheel and it seems to fit nicely into the old Trek frame.

By the way:  I highly recommend Guy Doss.  He's very helpful and personable, and can also build you a wheel from  a Velosteel hub if you've neither the skills nor the inclination to do it yourself.

N.B.--Apparently, Velosteel offers a coaster-brake hub with a cog that slides on and is held in place with snap ring:  the same configuration most other coaster-brake hubs, and most traditional internally-geared hubs, use.  However, I don't know whether Velosteel's slide-on cogs and snaprings are interchangeable with those of other brands.  At least the "track" configuration I bought can use cogs and lockrings from a number of other manufacturers.



19 September 2012

If Old Barns Could Be Turned Into Bikes

Given that Summer is turning into Fall, I thought I'd share an image of some bicycles that look positively autumnal:

These classic cruisers were photographed at last year's Fall Bicycle Swap Meet in Tuscon, Arizona.  

I think of them as the old red barns of bicycling.  They're lovely and peaceful in a similar way, if not quite as melancholy.

18 September 2012

A Cat's Curiosity

First he said, "Vous ne passerez pas!"

As if Marley speaking French weren't astounding enough, his next utterance really made me take notice:

He wants to learn how to true wheels.  Now, why he would want to learn that, I'll never know.  But how can I say "no" to a face like his?

First he is learning how to check side-to side-trueness.  He's very polite:  He said, "I see wobbles" and not "That thing's wiggling like your belly!"

Now he is checking vertical trueness.  There are no "hips" or "hops" in the wheels, he reported.  I explained that the wheel has a different kind of rhythm.  He understands rhythm very well!'

"What's that thing hanging off the center of the wheel?"

"You mean the hub?"

"So that's what it's called?"

Now he's taking another look.  He sees how the wheel is more rideable than it was a few minutes earlier.  Of course, he'll never experience that rideability for himself--unless, of course, I put him in a basket or carrier.

Marley is definitely curious.

Max, on the other hand, couldn't care less.

17 September 2012

A Ride In Two Seasons

I know that Fall "officially" begins on Saturday, the 22nd.  However, I think I saw some signs of when I rode out to the Canarsie Pier late this afternoon:

On some of the trees, the tips of the leaves are turning brown:

And, on others, entire leaves have turned:

A few leaves have already fallen to the ground.

I used to look forward to the fall:  I always enjoyed riding in the cool, crisp air.  Although it was a bit warm for a fall day (about 26C), the air felt autumnal because brisk breezes from the sea swept over the streets.  Somehow, this day, which straddled summer and fall, made me a bit sad.  For one thing, the days are growing noticeably shorter.  And three seasons have passed; a year is passing.  

All right...I'll make this lighter, and bring it back to cycling. Here's a sign for which I wouldn't dare not to stop!: