30 November 2012

A Parts-Bin Bike That Changed The World

The Trek I recently sold was a "parts bin bike."  That is to say, most of the components I hung on the frame were ones I had lying around after being stripped from other bikes--or acquired in swaps, or given to me.  

Practically every bike mechanic has put together at least one such bike for him or her self, and possibly for someone else.  Sometimes I think a true bike mechanic will not ride any other kind of bike.

Every once in a while, a "parts bin bike" gains some sort of significance beyond its maker's life.  Such was the case of this machine:

In the immortal words of Tom Cuthbertson, if you had a grand of cash and dreams of riding the Appalachian Trail on a bicycle, you went to Joe Breeze and he built you a bike like this one.

I have always liked the look of it:  an apparent cross between a diamond and French mixte frame.  (In fact, his first bikes were usually equipped with mixte bars.)  There was a reason for this design:  When Breeze, Gary Fisher and others who have claimed (or have had others claim for them) the title of the Inventor of the Mountain Bike were barreling down Marin and Sonoma County fire trails, their frames broke with alarming regularity.  The short life-spans of their bikes had to do with the abuse they incurred, to be sure. However, those pioneer mountain bikers were using bikes they picked up in thrift shops and garage and yard sales.  Some were not terribly strong bikes to begin with, but others were old bikes that probably had hairline cracks and other damage when the Downhill Dudes bought them.  Also, the old Schwinn and Columbia cruisers--which, in those days (late 1960's-mid 1970's) could be found for as little as $2--were made of mild steel.  That is why they were so heavy:  A lot of metal was used to make up for its lack of strength.

Back to Breeze's bike:  The frame was built from tubes and other pieces from wildly differing kinds of bicycles.  For example, take a look at the dropouts, fork, cranksets and brakes:


A mountain bike with track dropouts?  Or a fork from a newsboy-style bike of the 1950's?  How about a crankset and brakes from a tandem or touring bike?

When Joe Breeze built that bike nearly four decades ago, there were, of course, no mountain bike-specific parts.  The TA Cyclotouriste was one of the few cranksets available that could handle the kind of gearing needed.  And the Mafac cantilevers were, by far, the strongest brakes available at that time.  As primitive as those parts may seem to some people today, they were the best Breeze could find for his purposes.

I have to admit that I get a kick out of seeing a Brooks B-72 (which was standard equipment on many English three-speed bikes) on Breeze's rig.  What mountain biker rides such a seat today?

Whether or not Joe Breeze "invented" the mountain bikes, many agree that the bike pictured was the first to be built specifically for the nascent sport of mountain biking.  If nothing else, it's a parts bin bike (sort of, anyway) that changed the world.

29 November 2012

Lighting The Way Home

Well, it's that time of year again.

Whatever route I take home from work, I pass through a couple of residential neighborhoods in eastern and central Queens that feel more like they belong in Nassau County than New York City.  In those neighborhoods, many of the homes are decorated:.  Some are gaudy, others are stunning.  

Then there are ones that are distinctive, even in an image taken on a cell phone by yours truly:

28 November 2012

Another Blast From My Past: A KHS Aero Track Bike

Here is one of the wildest bikes I've ever owned:

If you've been cycling for 15 years or more, or if you live in a city with a lot of messengers or hipsters, you've probably seen this bike:  the KHS Aero Track bike.

Mine came in the shade of orange, and with the translucent blue panels, you see in this photo.  The frame was built from True Temper Cro-Mo steel.  Most of the components were basic, entry-level stuff from Taiwan, with one exception:  the Sugino 75 track crank.  Had I known better, I would have taken the crank off before I sold the bike!  

(The crank was nice, but it was bolted on to a cheap bottom bracket and, in turn, a cheap chainring was bolted on to it.)

The model you see in the photo is from 1999.  I got mine late that year, and rode it for about three years.  Mainly, I took it on training rides in Prospect Park, which was just up the street from where I was living at the time.  I took a few rides on the street with it--without brakes.  I was in really good shape at that time, but I was going through a kind of midlife crisis that would end when I began my gender transition.  In other words, I was going through one last "macho" phase of my life and I'd convinced myself that only sissies rode fixed-gear bikes with brakes.

But I digress.  My KHS might have been the most responsive bike I ever had.  When you look at the geometry, you can only wonder how it could not be so.  On the other hand, in riding it, I'd feel bumps and cracks I couldn't see in the road.  And, in addition to being harsh, it had that "dead", non-resilient feel a lot of oversized aluminum bikes have.

Still, I had some fun rides on that bike.  The reason I sold it, ultimately, is that it never fit.  It seemed that the Aero was offered in three or four sizes that did not correspond in any way to the proportions of a human body.  And there were large gaps between the sizes.  

A couple of years before my bike was made, KHS made the same model with a curved seat tube that made the rear chainstays and wheelbase shorter.  I never rode it.  But I knew other riders who did; one told me it was more comfortable (!) while another said he liked the response of it.  Chacun a son gout.

In addition to the ride qualities I've mentioned, and its distinctive looks, I will remember my KHS Aero for another reason:  It was one of the last bikes I had in my life as a guy named Nick.

27 November 2012

A Very Tall Vintage Bike

This might well be the biggest mass-produced bike ever made:

During the late 1970's and early 1980's, Panasonic built the model shown here, the DX-2000.  It was a step up from their entry-level bikes in terms of performance.  Panasonic offered the bike in perhaps a greater range of sizes than any other bike maker at the time.

This bike is a 71 cm.  To put it in persepctive, I, at 5'10'' (177cm) with a 32" (81 cm) inseam, generally ride 55 or 56 cm (depending on the geometry of the bike) road frame.

In a way, it's ironic that Panasonic made such a tall bike:  The Japanese, at the time, were some of the most diminutive people in the world.  Very few, if any, Japanese people could ride such a frame.  So, it's safe to say that the bike was made for export.

And, for a time, it worked out really well for Panasonic:  Their bikes, which combined meticulous workmanship with conservative but sound design, became very popular with in-the-know cyclists.  (Several riders in the club to which I belonged when I was at Rutgers rode Panasonics).  

It would have been interesting to see Panasonic become the official bicycle of the NBA!

26 November 2012


 I hope yesterday's post didn't depress you.  That wasn't my intention, though much of what I saw made me sad.  Rather, I was just trying to portray a bike ride that was--by intention as well as by accident--different from others I've done, even though it traversed routes I've taken many times before.

Plus, it put a few things in perspective.  At first, I wondered--as I always do when I see a favorite bike route damaged--when things would be back to "normal".  But I soon realized that "normal", at least as I'd defined it, no longer existed.  Even if everything that was damaged or destroyed were to be rebuilt or reconstructed to a semblance of what was before the storms, things wouldn't be the same, for there would be the memory of what was.

But, more to the point, what is "normal" now for the people who lost homes or simply had their lives disrupted?  A few might relocate.  However, most, I suspect will stay.  But even if their homes and communities were (or could be) restored to what they were before the storms, their lives have changed,and will change more.  

Save for my bikes, books and cats, I may not have had much before the storm.  But at least I didn't lose any of those things, or people who are in my life.  I still could ride to the Rockaways; I have a wonderful bike to ride.  Compared to the people I saw yesterday, I am indeed privileged.

25 November 2012

Cycling After The Tide

This sign should have given me some idea of what I was getting myself into:

From 91st Street in Howard Beach--where I saw the inverted sign--I took the bridge into Broad Channel and the Rockaways.  

Broad Channel is a bit like the Louisiana, with colder weather.  It's only a three to four blocks wide, with Jamaica Bay on either side.  Some of the houses are built on stilts; many of the people who live there have never been to Manhattan.  In Broad Channel, it seems, there are as many boats as there are cars or trucks.  Some of them were torn from their moorings and were "beached" in the middle of streets, or in front of houses:

But, not surprisingly, there was more to come.  The retaining wall that separates the bay from the entrance ramp for cyclists and pedestrians of the Cross Bay Bridge was gone.  So was most of a restaurant that stood beside it.

When you arrive in Rockaway Beach, you come to a McDonald's.  You know how powerful the storm was, and how much desperation there is, when you see this:

But the contents of that restaurant weren't the only things gone from Rockaway Beach:

This sandy lot was, just four weeks ago, a community garden and flea market.  But something that had been a part of Rockaway Beach for much longer was also gone:

There was a boardwalk here. It extended from Far Rockaway, near the border with Nassau County, to Belle Harbor, about five miles  along the beach.  Gone, all of it, gone:

Much of Riis Park was cordoned off.  But the part that was still open felt utterly desolate:

There were dunes along this stretch of beach.  I don't know how long those dunes stood, but given the force of the storm, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that they were destroyed in an instant.  

At Riis Park, I met another cyclist. Together we rode to a beach club to which he'd once belonged.  Its parking lot was full of sand, and doors of cabanas were pulled off their hinges.  

He had to go home to his sick wife, but I continued toward Breezy Point.  In normal times, it's a sort of gated community:  One enters it through a kind of tollbooth where security guards stand watch.  Normally, when I ride my bike, they barely notice me at all.  Today, though, a female NYPD officer was checking people who entered.  "Ma'am do you live here," she intoned.  I probably could have lied that I did, or said that I was a volunteer who was meeting other volunteers.  But that didn't seem right:  I could only imagine how residents might have felt about an interloper like me.  

What I had seen up to that point was worse than what I'd seen in the news accounts.  I'm sure it was even worse in Breezy Point; for now, that assumption will have to suffice.

I'll close this post with an observation:  It was, or at least seemed, much colder than I expected.  Of course, that would be par for the course in an area, especially on a day as windy as today was.  However, I also realized that many of the houses and other buildings were empty and still had no electricity or heat.  Perhaps it really was colder due to the loss of ambient heat that normally radiates from buildings.  (It's one of the reasons why, on summer days, central city areas are usually hotter than the "ring" neighborhoods or suburbs.)  So it's not hard to understand why people who are sleeping in tents or in the open air are coming down with frostbite and other ailments.

I hope they can all go home soon.

24 November 2012

America's First Bike Path

A running joke among New York City cyclists (particularly those in Brooklyn) concerns the Ocean Parkway Bike Path:  It is the world's first bike path, and looks it.

In other words, maintenance seems to have been deferred ever since it opened in 1894.  

The Ocean Parkway Bike Path when it opened in 1894.

Still, it's an interesting--and even fun--ride for all sorts of reasons.  For one, you can use it to ride from Prospect Park to Coney Island, as I have often done.   For another, it's separated from the pedestrian path and rows of benches by an old railing.  If it's not raining, some of the last remaining Holocaust survivors will share bench space with Hasidic and Orthodox Jewish women and their children, wizened Russian men and Middle Eastern people in various states of being covered up.

Plus, the Parkway is a cross between one of those grand Boulevards you find in European cities, and an urban highway.  That is not surprising, when you consider that Frederick Law Olmstead--who designed Prosepect Park (as well as Central Park, Fairmount Park in Philadelphia and Mount Royal Park in Montreal)--took those boulevards as his inspiration when he built the Parkway. Whereas most European boulevards lead from one grand square or plaza to another (as the Champs-Elysees leads from la Place de la Concorde to l'Etoile), Olmstead's parkways led to or from one of the parks he designed.

Ocean was thus the first Parkway ever built; Olmstead followed it with Eastern Parkway which, as its name indicates, radiates from the park to the eastern edge of Brooklyn.  

Olmstead designed those boulevards in the 1860's, before bicycling became popular.  So, of course, he wasn't thinking about bicycles, let alone automobiles, when he planned his parks and routes.  However, he seems visionary in that it was relatively easy to incorporate bike paths into the Parkway routes as well as in the parks he designed.

But I don't think he planned on the kind of maintenance they would--or, more precisely, wouldn't--receive!

23 November 2012

Two Wheels In The Parade

I've been to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade twice:  once with Eva and the other time with Tammy.  The time I went with Eva was one of the coldest Thanksgiving Days since the first MTDP in 1927; the time I went with Tammy was one of the warmest.  

But I digress.  It's usually the balloons that get most of the attention.  Sometimes an unusually elaborate or extravagant float will show up on the evening news, but the most air time is devoted to the newest and most impressive-looking balloons.

Little attention is paid to the participants on bicycles.  I'm not talking only about the floats that are propelled by one or more pairs of pedals:  I'm thinking about the costumed people on two wheels.  Occasionally, someone will ride a single bicycle or tricycle, but it seems that couples on tandems are the most common velocipedic  parties to the parade.

22 November 2012

Working Up An Appetite

How's this for a new category:  an "appetite-enhancement bike ride"?  Apparently, such a ride was organized for today in Sacramento, CA.

Sacramento "Appetite-Enhancement Ride"

I took such a ride--on Tosca, of course-- after family members and I called each other and before I went to my friend Millie's house. It's not the first time my Thanksgiving has followed such a pattern.  Also, not for the first time, I felt that neither the ride nor the day with Millie and her other friends and family was long enough.  

Who said Thanksgiving Day was a time for grueling centuries (although I'm sure some cyclists did them today!) or dietary restraint?

Somehow I don't think these guys took an appetite-enhancement ride:

Stephanie's (see below) boyfriend Tony, his son  Jason and Stephanie's son Stephen.

For that matter, I don't think these folks did, either:

Millie (on left) with her husband John, her friend Joanne, her daughters Stephanie and Lisa, and  Lisa's friend Louis.

21 November 2012

When A Favorite Bike Ride Is A Disaster Zone

I think I just figured out the reason (or, at least, a reason) why I've been tired and have had bouts of crankiness and melancholy.  I haven't been on a ride of more than 20 miles in more than a month.  

In Point Lookout, NY.

On the 21st of October, I rode to Point Lookout; the following day, I did a ramble with Lakythia through parts of Brooklyn and down to the Rockaway Peninsula, including Breezy Point. That was the weekend before Sandy struck, and the weekend after the Tour de Bronx.

The destination of many of my rides.

Also, part of the reason for my sadness is having helped, in small ways, the storm's victims in those areas.  Before I went, I had a hard time imagining those places I associate with cycling pleasure as scenes of devastation.  Now, having been to the Rockaway peninsula--one of the most ravaged areas--I'm having a hard time seeing it as the route of a pleasurable bike ride.  That is not the same thing as having memories of riding there:  Of course I will recall many moments and days of serenity and joy.  Perhaps I will have such times there again.  But, for now, I almost feel guilty when I think about riding those seaside streets and lanes again.

From The Daily Beast

I have no doubt that, in time, roads will be cleared and repaired and, perhaps, boardwalks rebuilt.  If homes can be fixed, their owners will; if not, perhaps new ones will be built.  People who live in places like Breezy Point and Rockaway Beach don't give up on them, at least not easily.  I'm sure many will be there if and when I ride there again.   Even though many of them simply would not live anywhere else, I can only wonder how they'll see their native land, if you will, in light of Sandy.  And--perhaps selfishly on my part--I wonder how it will feel to pedal one of my Mercians there again.

20 November 2012

Commuting Among The Ruins

Today I commuted along the route that includes the promenade along the World's Fair Marina.  I went there, in part, to see the condition of the path.  It was surprisingly good.

However, the shore it skirts didn't fare quite so well.

Nor did the Marina.

Still, I was able to commute with Vera.  In short, I could still ride my bike.  There are some things for which I am grateful.

19 November 2012

Who Rides The Lanes?

Whatever their flaws, dedicated bike lanes seem to increase the number of cyclists, particularly commuters and utility cyclists.  At least, that's what I'd conclude from my own observations, however representative they may or may not be.

I, along with WE Bike, are going to do some research on the topic.  We'd like to know not only whether (and, if so, by how much) the number of cyclists increases after bike laned are constructed or set aside.  Also, if the number does indeed increase, we'd be curious to know what types of cyclists are increasing in number.  Are they mainly commuters, recreational cyclists or some other kinds of riders?  Also--as you might expect from WE Bike--we'd like to know whether the number of female cyclists increases as a result of lanes opening.  

From Cyclr

Why does that last question matter?  Well, even though the number of female cyclists has certainly increased, the vast majority of pedalers one sees, at least in this city, are male.  Are there actual or perceived barriers to cycling for women (and girls) that are, at least partially, eliminated when lanes are opened?

18 November 2012

Going To The Gym

Although there was a time--in my days as Nick--when I was lifting weights and doing other kinds of training in addition to my cycling, I don't think I ever became a "gym rat."  In fact, I have not spent much time in gyms since I was in college.  The atmosphere in most is oppressive, albeit in different ways:  Some gyms are simply physically depressing, others were little more than glorified singles bars and still others--the ones used mainly by young men--were just terrifying to me.  

In other words, I never felt the safety or solitude that I have on my bike.  Riding a stationary bike in a gym never had the same appeal for me that the open road or trail has.

I guess other people feel something like I feel.  That might be the reason why someone invented this:

From The Bicycle Forest

I guess the inventor of this figured that if one couldn't bring a bike into the gym, one could instead bring the gym to the bike!

17 November 2012

Real Good Fall Twilight

It seems--at least in this part of the world--that the colors of October are celebrated more than those of any other month.

Reverence for the hues of that month are certainly just.  However, some of what I saw on today's ride left me absolutely stunned.

I saw this on the wooden bridge in the Randall's Island nature preserve:

Oh, but the visual feast didn't end there.  Barretto Point Park was closed, probably because of flood damage and weakened trees that might fall at any given moment.  However,through the fence, I saw this:

and this:

I know that the hues of autumn sunsets are particularly rich.  But lately it seems the skies are outdoing themselves.  I wonder whether it has anything to do with the recent storms.

My ride today was short.  But the name of this park, about three miles from my place, says it all:

This piece of real estate is in Rego Park, a Queens neighborhood that is currently home to thousands of emigres--many of whom are Jewish-- from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Russia.  It gets its name from the Real Good Construction company, which developed most of the neighborhood in the early 20th Century.

If you are visiting the neighborhood for the first time and it seems familiar, you've probably read Art Spiegelman's graphic novel Maus.  The scenes with his aged Polish Jewish father are all set in the neighborhood, where Spiegelman grew up.

Anyway, as you can probably tell, today's ride was short but Real Good.

16 November 2012

Bowery Boys Bike

People don't usually associate the hustle and bustle of New York City with the past, much less with history.  However, the only major American cities that have as much to offer history buffs are Boston and Philadelphia.

It makes sense: After all, New York, Boston and Philadelphia are among the oldest major cities in the United States.  Also, in part because of its size and location. all sorts of people have found their way here.  As a result, all sorts of interesting events have happened here.

So it probably wouldn't surprise you to know that one of my favorite non-bike blogs, The Bowery Boys, is devoted to the history of this metropolis.  

Today's post features a podcast about a nearly two centuries of bicycles and bicycling in The Big Apple.  Human-powered two-wheeled vehicles have played some rather surprising roles in some of this city's happenings, and some people you wouldn't expect to be involeved with them, are and were.

Sometimes the younger generation doesn't believe me when I tell them that there was a time when messengers and others who rode fixed-gear bikes weren't hipsters.  In case you don't believe me, I'll give you this image from The Bowery Boys:

You have to admit, though, he is stylish.  

15 November 2012

Vera Helps Sandy's Victims

OK, so I didn't load Vera like this:

From Uphaa

But I did carry a good bit more than I usually take on my daily commutes.  I took a cell phone photo and accidentally deleted it!

I carried an old Compaq computer, which I strapped to my new Civia Mission rack.  On top of that, I strapped a yoga-type bag filled with half a dozen cans of tuna, two boxes of pasta, a box of raisins and some gloves, scarves, skull and watch caps and head bands.

And I attached one of my Carradice Barley bags to my saddle.  I didn't strap the bottom to the seat post. Rather, I let the bag rest horizontally on top of the stuff I'd lashed to the rack.

And, on the front, I carried a small parcel, which I'd intended to mail on the way but didn't until after my last class had ended.

So why did I carry so much?  At the college where I work, there's been a collection for victims of Superstorm Sandy.  In such emergencies, non-perishable foods are always in demand.  And, when the weather turns colder, people need warm clothes and accessories.

Finally, someone had put out a call for older laptop computers for students who'd been affected by the storm.  The tech support people at the college are going to update them with contemporary operating systems.  

I know, I could have taken the train or bus.  But I wanted to ride my bike, well, just because I could.  It's nice to know that Vera can handle it so well.

14 November 2012

If It's A Low Trail Bike You Want....

Yesterday, "Velouria" , the author of Lovely Bicycle! posted about a possible trend-in-the-making for low-trail bikes.

Briefly, trail is the distance between the point where the "rubber meets the road" and the point at which the steering axis intercepts the ground.  Racing bikes usually have more trail than touring or randonneuring bikes; that's why their steering is more sensitive.  On the other hand, tourists and randonneurs have traditionally preferred the stability a shorter-trail bike offers, especially if they are carrying loads on the front.

I suppose that if I did loaded touring or randonneuring regularly, or if I hadn't spent so much time riding road bikes, I'd prefer a lower-trail design.  That said, I won't try to dissuade anyone who actually prefers the ride of a low-trail bike and doesn't want it merely as the latest fashion accessory on which to hang a $200 front rack that will, as "Ground Round Jim" caustically comments, never carry anything more than a vegan croisssant. 

Now if you really want low trail, take a look at this:

From Izismile

13 November 2012

Henry Miller's Best Friend

In an earlier post, I mused about the relative lack of serious literature about bicycles, bicycling and cyclists.  

What's puzzling is that such a void exists even with the number of well-known writers of the past 120 years or so who were cyclists.

Among them is Henry Miller:

From "The Daily Bike" in Adventure Journal

In My Bike And Other Friends, he wrote, "After a time, habituated to so many hours a day on my bike, I became less and less interested in my friends.  My wheel had now become my one and only friend.  I could rely on it, which is more than I could say about my buddies.  It's too bad no one ever photographed me with my friend.  I would give anything now to know what we looked like."

12 November 2012

A Brief Post-Storm Ride

I'm still not feeling that great today.  But I did have the day off from classes, so I rested.  When I got tired of that, I took a late bike ride.

Along the way, in Ozone Park, I made this interesting find:

I'm trying to find more information about the rather attractive but otherwise unremarkable building:

At least it seems to have weathered Superstorm Sandy and last week's Nor'easter.  The same cannot be said for a house I saw about three miles down the road:

Like many houses in Howard Beach and Lindenwood, it incurred more damage on the inside than out.  The exteriors of most of those houses didn't seem much changed by the wind and rain; it probably would've been difficult to tell that a storm had passed were it not for the bags and piles of debris in front of them.

For once, I wouldn't have complained if someone were blocking the bike lane!  I was grateful, though, that no one was.

At least I didn't have to contend with anything like this:

Even if the tree were still sounding, the scene would have looked foreboding.  Lately, the overcast skies, which I often welcome, seem that way.

Jamaica Bay and the ocean are just beyond those bare trees and reeds.

11 November 2012

Buffalo Soldier Cyclists

Today is the real Veterans' Day, a.k.a. Armistice Day.

So, I thought it would be interesting to mention an aspect of American military history I recently stumbled over.

You may have seen the 2001 film Buffalo Soldiers or read the Robert O'Connor novel on which it is based.  You've probably heard the excellent Bob Marley song by the same name.  And you may know that they were the first peacetime regiments consisting of African-Americans.  The 9th, 10th, 24th and 25th Cavalry Regiments were officially called The Negro Cavalry but have been better-known by their nickname.

What you may not know is that in 1896, the 25th Regiment--stationed in Missoula, Montana--set out on several cross-country rides across some of the most rugged topography in the Americas.  The purpose of those rides was to test the viability of bicycles as alternatives to horses for transportation.   General Nelson A. Miles had been advocating for bicycle courier units in the Army because bikes had several advantages over our bovine friends:  they are less expensive to keep, smaller and quieter.  Also, they don't get sick, tired or thirsty.  (That last consideration would be very important in the arid areas of the western US.)  

In their first outing--a 126-mile trip to Lake McDonald and back--each man rode a bicycle that, when loaded down, weighed 76 pounds.  The roads were unpaved; in the rain,they turned to mud.  After crossing Mission Creek, they had to re-cement their tires to the wooden rims (!). 

In spite of breakdowns and delays, the mission was declared a success, and a longer ride followed.  On that trek, the soldiers covered 790 miles in 16 days and visited Yellowstone Park.  

Bicycle Corps and Minerva Terrace, Yellowstone National Park, 1897.  Photo by Frank Jay Haynes.

The following year, they took a 1900-mile journey to St. Louis and back.  (In those days, on a journey from the East to West Coasts, St. Louis would be the last major city one would encounter before reaching San Francisco.)  In 34 days of riding, the soldiers averaged 56 miles per day.  That was much more ground than could be covered on horseback, and at an average speed of 6.3 miles per hour.  A report written at the end of the trip concluded, "The practical result of the trip shows that an Army Bicycle Corps can travel twice as fast as cavalry or infantry under any conditions, and at one third the cost and effort."

After that experiment, bicycle regiments became a regular feature of the military in many countries until 2001, when Switzerland disbanded its 110-year-old bicycle brigade.

Apart from how inherently fascinating the story of the Buffalo Soldier cyclists is as history, I find two other aspects of it interesting.  First of all, these African-American soldiers were showing the effectiveness of the bicycle at around the same time Major Taylor, the greatest bicycle racer of that era, became the first African-American athlete to win a world championship in any sport. (Canadian boxer George Dixon was the first black man to accomplish such a feat.)  Second, I find it both interesting and disturbing that an African-American regiment was chosen for what was one of the most arduous and dangerous experiments of that time.  

But, in the eyes of both military officials and civilians, the bicycle showed that it was able and ready for a changing world.  African-Americans were as well, but it would take decades for most other Americans to see them that way.

10 November 2012

After Sandy: Too Sick To Ride

The storms have passed.  Most of today was overcast and rather chilly. I don't mind either.  At least the wind and rain are gone, for now.

So, I thought, I'd finally get out for a good long (or longish) ride this weekend.  And I would do something charitable.

Well, it didn't happen today.  I started to feel aches and congestion earlier this week.  On Thursday, one of my classes was observed, and I could just barely get through it. I rested yesterday but still felt tired and congested today.  And my cough has gotten more persistent.

I felt so drained that I didn't even volunteer to help storm victims in the Rockaways, as I'd planned on spending at least some time this weekend.  

Of course, this isn't the first time I haven't felt well enough to ride.  It's also not the first time I had to cancel or postpone plans to be of service to the community.  But it might be the first time both happened.  So, as best as I can recall, this is the first time I have felt both cheated and guilty.  It sounds like a weird combination, I know.  But the last couple of weeks have not been ordinary.  

Well, at least I know that even at my age, there is still plenty of time left for bike rides and service to others.

09 November 2012

Hoping That It Doesn't Become Merely A Memory

From Steve Greer Photography

I came across this image that reminded me of a ride I used to take at this time of year when I was in college.

Turns out, the cyclist in the photo is taking the same ride.  

He's pedaling the Delaware and Raritan Canal towpath, which winds for seventy miles through Central New Jersey, from the Raritan River in New Brunswick to the Delaware River in Bordentown.  

Paths were built along it, as they were along other canals, to allow mules to tow the barges.  Those paths fell into disuse as steam engines were used to propel the boats and, eventually, the canals themselves fell into disuse as railroads and, later, highways cut through the land.

The D&R Canal provided some of the best foliage rides in New Jersey--and, I daresay, the region.  One problem with it, though, is that it's in a flood-prone area.  Now, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, I wonder whether the canal or the nearby rivers have spilled over onto the paths, and the land around it. I also wonder how many of those trees are still standing.

Although I haven't ridden the D&R in a long time, I hope that a favorite ride of my past doesn't become merely a memory.  For that matter, I hope the same fate doesn't befall the Rockaways, Point Lookout or Coney Island.

08 November 2012

When Chattering Bike Geeks Perform A Public Service

If your bike is stolen in New York City, you have about a two percent chance of getting it back.  

Agata Slota didn't expect to beat those odds.  Her bike--which her brother built for her--was lifted near Union Square five years ago.  She posted an ad and photo on Craigslist.  A week later, they expired and she had not received any responses. She and her boyfriend started to plan on a replacement.

However, a friend posted the photo and an announcement of the theft on an online chat room for fixed-gear enthusiasts.  Several weeks later, someone posted a response after seeing Ms. Slota's bike locked up outside a Quizno's restaurant in Midtown.  This led to a series of a series of messages that resulted in Ms. Slota getting her bike back.

Jack Drury, a former bike messenger who was interning at Transportation Altenatives, was one of the people who read the post.  He went to the Quizno's restaurant.  The bike wasn't there, but on a hunch, he went inside and talked to the person behind the counter, who said the bike belonged to a delivery man who paid $200 for it. 

After negotiating a deal to buy the bike, Drury then enlisted a group of volunteers to go with him to the Quizno's, where the man with the bike was supposed to meet them.  He didn't show, but another employee told them about the man's second job as a dishwasher in an Upper West Side restaurant.  So Drury and his posse rode uptown where they met the man, who wasn't a very enthusiastic negotiator.  Drury then pulled out his cellphone and dialed the police.  While he was waiting to be connected, the man gave in.

Drury doesn't believe the man stole the bike and doesn't harbor any ill will toward him.  In fact, he offered the man one of his own bicycles and gave him his number. He hasn't heard back.

Needless to say, Ms. Slota has become more vigilant about bike theft.  From Drury, she learned not to lock her bike to a horizontal bar of a construction scaffold, as it is fairly easy to unscrew.  Better to lock it to the vertical post. 

She applied that lesson recently, when she saw two men admiring a Bianchi track bike in the way prospective thieves would.  When she asked the men about the bike, they took off.  Then, she got one of her own locks out of her office and secured the bike (which had been attached to the horizontal bar) to the vertical bar.    

She left a note with her phone number, and a message that she would unlock the bike after its owner called her.  Clearly, her own experiences motivated her to help prevent something similar (though with the probability of a less-happy outcome) from happening to somebody else.

And she's still riding the bike her brother built for her.

07 November 2012

Cycling On Pavement--Or Sidewalks

Photo by Richard Drdul on Flickr

"Luv 2 Cycle"'s most recent post raises a very interesting issue.

Its author, Zandranna, is a pensioner who lives in the Dorset countryside and uses her bicycle as her only means of transportation.  In the post in question, she discusses Rule 64 of Britain's  1931 highway code, which forbids cyclists from cycling on pavement.

Being a Yank, I wondered, "Why would they keep cyclists off the roads?"  Then I remembered that in Albion, "pavement" refers to what most Americans call a "sidewalk."

As she points out, the rule made sense in 1931: Nearly everybody walked, and they used their bicycles for distances that were too great to walk.  Hence, pavements were full of couples and families out for a stroll or to shop, people going to work or school on foot, and children playing.  There was little automobile traffic, and it traveled at much slower speeds than today's vehicular throngs.  Moreover, she says, drivers were more conscious of cyclists, as most were, or had recently been, cyclists themselves.

On the other hand, she says, there is far less pedestrian traffic--in some places, practically none--today.  And for cyclists--especially older and less athletic ones--riding with fast-paced automobile traffic can be dangerous.

As I read her post, I thought about some of my experiences cycling in Florida.  As in Zandranna's Dorset, there is little pedestrian traffic outside of the downtown shopping districts of larger cities like St. Augustine or Daytona Beach.  Nearly everyone relies on motorized vehicles for transportation as well as recreation (sometimes to carry a bike to a trail!), and drivers routinely exceed speed limits. 

Interestingly, some of the concrete ribbons that would be sidewalks or pavement in other areas are designated as bike lanes.  Many of them cross driveways of houses, some of which are set a considerable distance from the road.  And, of course, they cross intersections, which is not an ideal situation for the cyclist or driver.  The latter is anticipating, if anything, a pedestrian who will, of course, cross at a lower speed and in front of stopped traffic.   And, in Florida, pedestrians--particularly senior citizens--pause at intersections, even when they have the green light.

In addition, in Florida (at least the parts I've cycled), drivers are allowed to make right turns at red lights.  This is particularly dangerous for cyclists who are crossing from a sidewalk as a pedestrian would.  When a light turns as a cyclist crosses a traffic lane and motor vehicles begin to make right turns on red, at least the cyclist and motorists can merge safely.  A cyclist who begins to cross from a sidewalk or pedestrian lane runs a much greater risk of getting clipped if the light turns and motorists begin to make right turns.

I've noticed the same hazard on poorly-designed bike lanes that are separate from traffic lanes or sidewalks.  They often end in, or cross, intersections in the same way as a sidewalk or crosswalk would.  The Dutch, Danes and Swiss--and, to a lesser degree, the Germans and French--seem to have eliminated such hazardous crossings from most of their bike lanes.  At least, I don't recall encountering so many such crossing as I have in Florida or even here in New York.