30 December 2013

The Light Of The Red Lantern

This afternoon I wandered aimlessly from my place through Hipster Hook and along various side-streets in Brooklyn when I chanced upon this:

I simply had to stop.  After all, how often does one see old bicycles and wheels posted above an entrance to an estaminet with a Pabst Blue Ribbon neon sign in the window?

For years, I’ve been hearing about the “bike cafes” and “bike bars” in Portland and a few other places.  A few have opened here in New York during the past two or three years.  I’ve been to a couple such places.  It was a bit difficult to see inside the windows of Red Lantern Bicycles on Myrtle Avenue, just a few blocks from the Brooklyn Academy of Music.  But once I stepped inside, I felt as if I could hang out there all day.

At the bar, a friendly young man named Bradford held court.  I ordered a French-press coffee, even though I normally don’t drink coffee these days.  I could have ordered a cappuccino (which I occasionally drink) as well as other kinds of coffee- and tea- based beverages or a variety of beers they had on tap and in bottles.  They also make their own almond milk and other kinds of non-dairy beverages which can be added to your coffee or tea.

I parked my bike and sauntered around the store, where I met Chombo.  I did a double-take:  For a moment, I thought I’d stepped back about 30 years and met a young Frank Chrinko, the proprietor of Highland Park Cyclery, where I worked.  While his appearance was similar, Chombo’s demeanor was very different: Outgoing and articulate, he patiently explained why one crankset was more expensive than another and what, exactly, would be involved in the fixed-gear conversion a customer was considering for his Fuji from the same era in which I worked at Highland Park Cyclery.

One enters the store in the bar/cafĂ© area; the bike shop is in the back.  But they seem to work together very well; while one or two customers seemed to be there strictly for one or the other, most seemed to flow between the two, as I did.

While I was there, a young woman named Raven entered with two of her friends.  “I’m not really a cyclist,” she demurred, almost apologetically.   I tried to reassure her that there was no need to explain herself that way:  She is riding a bike; that is what matters.  And, to my mind, no one with her sense of style has to apologize for anything!

Somehow it made sense that I would meet her and her friends, Zack and Mary, at Red Lantern.

29 December 2013

Without Fear Of Solitude

This week, between Christmas and New Year's Day, is strange in all sorts of way. At this time last year, I was in Florida, at my parents' house.  There, I experienced what I like to call ""high spring" weather: the kind that, in this part of the world, we usually find in the middle of the season.  At such a time, you know that the weather isn't going to revert to winter but also won't be interrupted by a blast of summer heat.

Yesterday was spring-like, but in a different sort of way:  an interlude within--or, if you are of another mindset, a respite from--the season's first cold weather.

Even more important to photosensitive types like me, the light was definitely not that of the spring, or any other season but winter.  In spite of the bright sun and relatively mild temperature ( though accompanied by a brisk, even bracing, wind), the light was as austere as the bare trees and land, and as stark as the contrast between the sun and the steely water.

Perhaps the most interesting part of riding on a day like this is, at least for me, the riders I encounter, or don't, and how they affect my perceptions.

When I rode in Florida last year, and during the two previous holiday seasons, most of the other cyclists I saw were--not surprisingly--other people who were, like me, visiting family members or simply vacationing.  Some of the riders I saw today no doubt fit into that category.  But others, I could tell, were either hard-core riders or people who appreciated this sort of day.  Although I was riding by myself, I did not feel alone because I had, it seemed, many moments of camaraderie, however fleeting. When I ride with other people on a day like this, I feel, of course, the kinship I would normally feel for them as friends and fellow riders.  But I also feel like I am part of some sort of club, if you will, of people who enjoy the unique qualities of the moment. 

And, of course, my bikes are always ready for such rides--sometimes even more so than I am!

27 December 2013

Out Of The Net

No, I haven't abandoned this blog.  Nor will I.

Last week, I spent literally every waking moment I wasn't in class reading students' essays and exams and, finally, submitting grades and other paperwork last Thursday night.  Then there were all sorts of things related to the holidays, most of which were pleasant.  They included co-hosting a Christmas Eve reception in which I invented a "virgin" punch that proved wildly popular.  At least, I think I invented it:  I mixed equal parts of Ocean Spray Cranapple, Welch's white grape juice and Canada Dry ginger ale.

(Advertising or payments from those companies will not be refused!;-))

And I spent Christmas Day with Deborah and Suzanne, the couple who sent me the image of Alfred Letourner I included in an earlier post.

And, I managed to do something I haven't done in about fifteen years:  I spent a whole week away from my--and every other--computer!  I didn't check e-mails, post anything or look at eBay.  As much as L love writing this blog, I must say that my respite from the net was probably good for me.

Finally, today I managed to sneak in a ride on Tosca to the Rockaways.  There I was welcomed by a procession:

Being the public figures they are, they knew a photo op when they saw one. Especially these winsome creatures:

Happy holidays to them, and you!

15 December 2013

Riding Through "All Of The Above"

I bailed.

I didn't end that sentence with "out", so I cannot be accused of being an enabler to those who drove the economy off a cliff.

I bailed.

Yes, I admit it.  I've commuted through rain, snow and ice within the past week. Yesterday, after administering a final exam, I thought I could get home before the sky oozed its contents like a Slurpee machine all over the streets.  Except, of course, there wouldn't be any cherry or pina colada flavors.

Well, the darkening clouds started to dump slush on us almost as soon as I started pedaling.  After thee blocks, needles of horizontal sleet wove the icy foam through sleeves of concrete--and directly into my eyes.

Photo by Andrew Burton.  Published on Hungree

Some like the cold.  Some of those people like the snow; others don't mind the rain, or even sleet. But I have yet to meet anyone who likes to experience--let alone ride a bike through--all of them at the same time. That, of course, is a way of saying I encountered my limit and took the N train the rest of the way home.

What is (are) your meteorological limits for cycling?  Or do you not have any at all?

14 December 2013

Over The Hills (of San Francisco)

A few days ago, I was bragging about some of the things I've carried on my bicycle.  In one of my earliest posts on this blog, I talked about other kinds of cargo--and baggage--I've hauled while pedaling two wheels.

I must admit, though, that I've never tried to schlep what a San Francisco residents Matt and Dorie Apollonio carted a few days ago:  two kids and a Christmas tree.  I have never had kids and the times I bought Christmas trees, I didn't have to lug them more than a few blocks.  Frankly, it probably would have taken me more time and effort to attach the tree to my bike, cart or shoulder than it took for me to walk with it.

From Hum of The City

 And, of course, I didn't have to negotiate San Francisco's topography or even that of the hilliest parts of the Bronx or Staten Island.  I didn't even have to go up the slope of Park Slope on occasions when I bought Christmas trees while I was living there.


13 December 2013

On Ice

Remove the "b" from "bicycle" and you have...Well, OK, it's a misspelling.  But you're not far from "icicle".

I thought about that during the last couple of days.  We had a dusting of snow on Monday, and a bit more on Tuesday.  In between, we had some rain and sleet, and the temperature dropped.

That meant ice patches en route to and from work. Encountering an ice puddle is not so bad:  The best way to ride across one is to keep moving ahead in a straight line and don't brake unless you absolutely must.  

The real hazard, in urban cycling, is those patches of jagged ice:  You know, where it looks like the Ho Chi Minh trail glazed over.  That, I think, is where you are in the most danger of slipping and falling, especially if your tire brushes against one of the "ridges".  Then, it's like riding parallel to the railroad track in order to cross it.  

At least I didn't have to ride after dark. Even on a well-lit street and with a good headlight, it's harder to see those ice patches.

12 December 2013

Spinning Out

The first time I rode downhill on a fixed-gear bike, I made the same mistake many other first-timers make:  I let allowed the force of gravity, rather than my feet, to determine the speed.  So, I soon found myself "spinning out":  My feet and pedals were turning so quickly that I lost control of them.  Even the brakes--the Mafac Racers that came with the old Peugeot UO8 I turned into a "fixie"--weren't enough to stop the bike when a Ford station wagon (remember those?) steered into my path.  Fortunately for me, my reflexes were much better than my fixed-gear riding skills!

I thought about that when I came across this:

From Funny Cycling Pictures

Those old high-wheelers were, of course, fixed gear:  When the wheels turned, so did the pedals--and vice-versa.  I can only imagine how much more precarious it must have been to "spin out" while perched five feet above the ground!

11 December 2013

Concrete Sunset

On my way home from work, I took a detour through the Bronx.  As I've mentioned in previous posts, the borough offers some surprisingly interesting vistas--and short rides--not far from where I live.

And, as I've also mentioned in another post, one of my favorite quick getaways has become the Concrete Plant Park.  

All through the fall, and with the approach of winter, the park--and the stretch of the Bronx River that winds through it--remind me more and more of a New England mill town. 

Vera really seems to enjoy this sort of thing.

It could be that for a moment, she can imagine--as I do--that we are beside some old European canal or stream.

Even if we don't, there are still the colors of the sunset, which descends upon us early at this time of year.   

I hope that the city and state parks departments follow through on their announced plan to extend the riverside bike/pedestrian path up the length of the Bronx into Westchester County.

10 December 2013

I'd Rather Be In The Slipstream

I have carried all sorts of things on my bicycles. Of course, I hauled panniers and handlebar bags full of clothes and other items on various trips, and I've carried books and manuscripts.  I've hoisted chairs, folded tables and, yes, even bicycles on my shoulder after mounting my bike.

On the other hand, I have never pulled a trailer or anything else behind me.  And nothing I've ported on my velocipedes can compare with what French bicycle racing legend Alfred Letourner towed behind him:

I guess that's one way to use a recreational vehicle if the price of gasoline becomes too prohibitive.  Plus, how can you beat a Frenchman pulling an Airstream for style?

It doesn't seem to have slowed him any:  He set several speed records and was one of the dominant cyclists of the six-day races.  

Much as I admire his feats, I'd rather be riding in the slipstream than pulling an Airstream. 

(My new friends Suzanne and Deborah sent me the photo from Vancouver, where they found it on a restaurant table.)

09 December 2013

The Original Powder Coat

Some love snow. Others hate it.  Me, I like a good snow coating every now and again.  Of course, I liked the white stuff even better when I was a regular off-road rider and owned a mountain bike.

But I like the snow best of all when it's a light dusting. Of course, it doesn't make for the best of riding conditions, especially on city streets:  It and rain or light drizzle make for more slippery streets than any other kind of weather.  Still, I think much in this city--and in nature--is at its prettiest when they're dusted with light snowflakes.  They almost seem like confections.

Perhaps it's not quite as visible in these photos as it was to me when I rode past Isham Park, at the very northern end of Manhattan.  I had only my cell phone to capture those images.  Oh, well.

And, like any other kind of confection, that light dusting of snow didn't last long.



08 December 2013

Indian Bicycle Troops

Although I'm not a military or war buff, I find it interesting to see how various armed forces throughout the world have used the bicycle. If pedaled two-wheeled vehicles can be used under the conditions in which the military deploys them, it is, if nothing else a testament to their versatility. While I don't endorse colonialism, I couldn't resist publishing this photo of Indian bicycle troops on the Fricourt-Mametz road in Somme, France. 

From the Imperial War Museum

They were, of course, fighting for the British and their French allies in one of the bloodiest battles in all of human history. I hope those Indian troops continued to ride after the fighting stopped. After all, as much as I abhor war and imperialism, I've got to admit that it probably left them with bike-handling skills I'll never have!

07 December 2013

Another View From Vera

As cyclists, we can't help but to notice skyscapes and other vistas.  Whether they're views of the sea, hills, trees, cornfields, Victorian houses or glaciers (Yes, I pedaled alongside one in the Alps!), we are aware of the way in which natural and architectural structures interplay--or don't play nice--with the sky

Here's an interesting one I saw yesterday, while running errands on Vera:

Now, you might think it's just another view of a New York skyscraper against the sky. At least, that's what you might think if the grid lines didn't cris-cross the almost preternaturally sky-blue glass.

That glass forms the exterior of the new 4 World Trade Center, just down the block from One World Trade Center, a.k.a. the Freedom Tower.  The original WTC buildings were destroyed on 11 September 2011; the new 4 WTC opened on the 13th of November this year.

06 December 2013

Take A Close Look

Ok, boys and girls. I want you to take a look at Tosca.

Do you notice anything different about her?

I'll tell you more about it soon.

05 December 2013

WWDD (What Would Dante Do?)

Warning:  I'm going to start this post with a completely useless, and possibly even frivolous, literary and philosophical question.

Here goes: How would la Commedia Divina have been different if Dante could not see the entrance to the underworld as he entered it?

Of course, we'll never know the answer.  Or, for that matter, we'll never know what Dante might have written if he'd been with me instead of Virgil and he was at Hell Gate instead of the gate of Hell.

One of the thickest fogs I've seen in New York cocooned the area.  While crossing the Queens span of the Triboro bridge, I could not even see the cables just a few feet to my right, let alone the railroad trestle that spans the Hell Gate channel just a few hundred meters upstream.

I sure was glad not to be driving.  


04 December 2013

Bike Calendars

By now, calendars for the coming year have appeared in your local bookstores, stationery shops, department stores, pharmacies and other retailers.  

I must confess that I am one of those people who doesn't pay for calendars.  Or, at least, I don't pay regular price:  If I buy any, I wait until the year has begun and they can be bought for next to nothing.

I've had a bicycle-themed calendar or two in my time.  I might get one somewhere this year.  With that in mind, I typed "bicycle calendars" in Google and found some that look very interesting:

This one from BIke EXIF-Cycle EXIF features a bike I'd like to see.  Does that banded paint job continue throughout the rest of the frame?  If so, does it continue in a blue-green theme, or does it transition to other hues?

(Seeing it made me think of a bike I rode for years and will write about in a future post.  Stay tuned!)

Don't try this at home!:

I'll confess that I did:  A couple of my old off-road riding buddies and I rode onto the trackbed less than a kilometer from last week's derailment in Spuyten Duivyl.  And we missed an incoming Amtrak train by less than that!

Now here's one I'd really like:

From Cycle Passion

I like anything that shows women in various modes of cycling, whether they're racing or commuting in skirts and heels--or doing something more whimsical.  I'm not interested in the "bikes and babes" calendars I often saw int he shops in which I worked.

Then, of course, there's the Classic Bicycles calendar published by bicycle Quarterly:

I might get myself one--or a Mercian calendar. 


03 December 2013

How Many Bikes In One Parking Space?

Here in New York--and, I suspect, in other places--people are whining that bike racks and bike share ports are "taking away our parking spaces."

To hear them, you'd think there's a kind of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" scenario, in which every bike takes away a parking space.

They should see this:

From Bike Delaware

02 December 2013

It's All In The Name

How often, when we're on our bikes, do we see some place and tell ourselves, "I must come back!"?

It can be an interesting historic site or natural feature, or some beautiful (or simply odd) street- or land-scape, or piece of architecture.  

Or it might be a restaurant or coffee shop.

I don't often see businesses with my name on them. I certainly wasn't expecting to see one in the middle of the Bronx, just a few blocks (and one stop on the #4 train) north of Yankee Stadium.

Notice that it's called "Justine", not "Justine's".  I wonder if its proprietor read Lawrence Durell's novel by that name, or the George Cukor film based on it.  (Anouk Aimee plays the lead role.)  Or, perhaps, the owner read another novel by the same name--written by none other than the Marquis de Sade.

One of these days, I'll go back there.  I wonder if restaurant reviewers ever consider a restaurant's name in writing their critiques.  

01 December 2013

Looking Out For Stonehenge

I went to Stonehenge once, a long time ago.  I don't know whether I'll ever make it there again.  If I don't, this might be the nearest thing--at least visually--I'll see for a while:

I didn't have to leave the country--or, for that matter, New York State--for it.  In fact, I didn't have to go very far from Queens.  To be exact, I found it at Point Lookout.  What it's doing there, I'll never know.

More to the point, I don't know who put it there or why.  I'd love to know.

30 November 2013

Never Again. Unless....

Every time I swear I won't do something ever again...

Someone gives me a plate of nachos or chocolate chip cookies.  Or a ridiculously cute kittie needs a home.  Or I meet someone and start dating.  Or I teach.

All of those things have happened within the last year-plus.  But I'm not going to write about them now. Instead, I'm going to tell you about another "never again" pledge broken.

Yes, I've taken on another bike project.  This Trek 720 is a hybrid, as best as I can tell, from the early or mid-90s. It's heavy, at least compared to the bikes I have.  And while it's made of chrome-moly tubing--probably straight-gauge--it's has plain welds at the joints:  nothing fancy, but seemingly intact.

(During the early and mid-1980's, Trek made a loaded-touring bike that was also called the 720.  It was a lugged frame made from Reynolds 531 tubing and had multiple braze-ons for racks and water bottles--and for center-pull brakes.  About the only nicer touring bikes at that time were made by Mercian, Jack Taylor and Alex Singer.  Trek discontinued the touring 720 in the late '80's and introduced the 720 hybrid in 1990.)

I got a deal I couldn't refuse. I'm partly Sicilian.  I'm supposed to say stuff like that.  Really, I got it for nothing.  On it, I installed a stem and rear derailleur I've had for ages.  And a seat post I've had lying around, in 26.6 mm diameter, seems to fit.

I'm going to put it together, as I find parts.  Then I'll decide whether to use it as a "combat" or "feed to the sharks" bike, or to sell it or whatever.  Then I'll never, ever take on another restoration or rebuilding project, ever again.  Really.


29 November 2013

Black Friday Bike

I did the Black Friday store circuit twice--once on my bike.  Neither time was worth the effort.  I guess I didn't go early enough in the morning or shop for the right stuff.

It seems that bikes and books don't figure much into BF sales.  A few online retailers had sales on one thing or another for today.  I guess I've become jaded: I didn't bother to check them out.  Bricks-and-mortar bike shops and book stores (the independent ones, anyway) don't seem to participate in the madness. Maybe that's one reason why I love them.

I'll admit that, just for fun, I typed "Black Friday bicycles" into a search window.  The first few entries featured Bike Friday machines.  I've met a few owners; all of them raved about their bikes.  If I were shopping for a high-end foldable bike, I might consider them--and, of course, Brompton.

My search also yielded, among other things, this:

From The Top Christmas Gadgets Gift Guide

It's an Exerpeutic Folding Magnetic Upright Bike.  Doesn't it just sound like something someone would buy on Black Friday?

28 November 2013

A Thanksgiving Parade

In last year's Thanksgiving post, I showed some costumed cyclists in the Macy's parade.

It seems that in Columbia, Missori, there's another kind of bicycle parade on Thanksgiving Day.  However, it seems that procession stands still.
Here's one of the "floats":

And another:

That one was "fixed".  So was this one:

And then there are the couples--in this case, Peugeot mixtes:

Finally, every parade has at least one float that's garish, or at least visually strange:

P.S.  If you want another vision of cycling and Thansgiving, read my Thanksgiving Eve post from 2011.

27 November 2013

Don't Cross Here

We've had the strangest weather over the past couple of days.  Last night, a storm blew into this area.  It was supposed to bury everything between Pittsburgh and Montreal in snow; however, we experienced a deluge in New York, along with gale-force winds.  Through it all, the temperature actually rose overnight, from the mid-30s to around 60F (2 to 15 C).  Then, this afternoon, the temperature dropped again.

Somewhere in all of that I sneaked in a few of miles on Tosca. After descending the ramp from the Queens spur of the RFK Bridge, I wended my way along the path that rims the East River until I reached the Bronx Kill.  No, it's not a dance or crime; it's a strait that separates the borough for which it's named from the Island.  ("Kill" comes from "kille", a Dutch word for "creek".)  Underneath the ramp to the Bronx spur of the RFK, I espied this:

How I missed it in all of the years I've been riding there is beyond me.  As we say in the old country, "What's wrong with this picture?"

Perhaps I need to get out more, but I don't recall seeing, anywhere else, a railroad crossing sign on the bank of a creek, river or stream.  Who are they trying to keep off the tracks?  The Randall's Island Salamander?

To be fair, when the tide recedes (The East River is actually an estuary of the ocean.), the water level in Bronx Kill drops so much that you can walk across the abandoned car and body parts on the bottom.  Still, I don't know why anyone would try to cross the tracks--or jump on a train--from there.


26 November 2013

Social Bike Share

Sometimes old-time New Yorkers will refer to the "BMT", "IRT" and "IND".  I still do, sometimes.

They were (and, for some purposes, still are) the three branches of the New York City subway system.  The lines designated by numbers constitute the IRT, while those marked by letters A through H are part of the IND and the remaining letters mark BMT routes.

These divisions came about because of the way in which the system developed.  The first line--which followed the route of today's #1 train from 137th Street to Times Square, cut across Manhattan under 42nd Street (along the path of the current Times Square Shuttle) and continued along the path of today's #4 and 5 trains to the Battery--was built by the Interborough Rapid Transit Company, financed by J.P. Morgan.  After other IRT lines were built, another financier (and philanthropist), Jacob Schiff, stepped into the fray and built new lines that became part of his Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit network.  

Later still,  the city began another network--called, ironically enough, the Independent system--to serve areas the IRT and BMT hadn't reached.  Finally, the city took over those two companies and unified the system.

I give you this brief history of the subway system because a similar system may be unfolding with the city's bike share program. Currently, it's run by Citibank (hence the name Citibike).  Currently, it serves a small (geographically) part of the city:  Manhattan south of 59th Street and the Brooklyn neighborhoods closest to that part of Manhattan.  While they are the most densely populated parts of the city, and the areas most visited by tourists and business people, they are more than a 45-minute ride (the current Citibike limit) from most other parts of the city.  Moreover, some parts of Queens like Astoria (where I live) are also commonly visited and full of cyclist--and are even closer than any part of Brooklyn to Manhattan.

Now it looks like another company wants to bring a bikeshare program to parts of the city that don't have it.  Social Bicycle is a three-year-old startup begun by a former city Department of Transportation official. It aims to bring bikeshares to other parts of the city, beginning with Harlem.  

Social Bicycle designer Nick Foley with one of his company's machines.  From the New York Daily News.

But Social won't be Citibike with a different color (green, vs. Citibike's blue).  Social designer Nick Foley has designed a "smart bike" which differs from Citibikes. A user punches in a code to unlock the wheels.  Even more important, though, Social Bikes don't require kiosks, the placement of which has angered residents and business owners who believe Citibike is taking away their parking spaces.

Not surprisingly, Citibike--which currently has a monopoly on the city's bike share program--doesn't like Social.  Apart from the simplicity of Social's system, the threat to Citibike is that Social--which already rents thousands of their bikes in other cities-- is ready to bring their bikes to unserved neighborhoods.  Meanwhile, Citibike says that they are not expanding into Queens, or even Harlem, any time soon.