31 January 2013

What They Didn't Have

From Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid

More than three decades ago, Hal Ruzal, the Mercian maven and mechanic par excellence of Bicycle Habitat, rode his bicycle across the United States for the first (!) time.  

A friend who accompanied him had several flats and was down to his last inner tubes when they were in Kansas.   Now, I've never been to Kansas, but I don't imagine that, even today, it's as easy to find some bike items there as it is in, say, Portland, Minneapolis or Boston.  However, in those days, according to Hal, "there wasn't a single Presta valve tube in the entire state of Kansas."

He can tell a good story, but I don't think he was exaggerating. I don't think the very first shop in which I worked--in New Jersey--had Presta valve tubes, either. For that matter, I wouldn't be surprised to know that most shops in the Garden State circa 1975 didn't have them.

If they didn't have Presta valves,  it meant they didn't have sew-up tires, and probably didn't have the high-pressure clinchers (like the Michelin Elan) that were just starting to become available around then--or the new rims Mavic and Rigida were making for use with them.  

If you were in a rural area, it could even be difficult to find things like toe clips and straps. (The only clipless pedal available then was the Cinelli M-71, a.k.a. "The Suicide Pedal.) Around that time, John Rakowski, who rode his bicycle around the world, ordered the Karrimor panniers and handlebar bags he used directly from the manufacturer in England:  Very few shops carried good touring gear, and supplies were sporadic, to put it mildly.

Those times were probably the heyday of mail-order shops.  Sometimes the shops' proprietors (who were almost invariably the buyers, if their wives weren't) didn't even know where to find high-quality bike items.  Or, if they could find a source, the prices would be exorbitant because they were ordering only one, and paying the full shipping costs.

The lightest bike sold in the first shop in which I worked was the Raleigh Super Course.  

Raleigh Super Course, in the 1975 catalogue.

It was a pretty bike, I thought, especially in that shade of candy-apple red. (The green wasn't bad, either.)  But I would soon find myself riding a bike that, in almost every way, exceeded that one.  I didn't get it in that first shop in which I worked.  I couldn't have.

Advertise Here! Sponsor Me!

For some time now, I've been talking about changes on this blog.

Well, here they come.  I'm going to mention them in ascending order of magnitude.

First, I'll soon be writing some more posts about the bikes of my past.  I've found some photos and negatives that might scan well.  Best of all, they're of bikes that I rode for a long time or otherwise played significant roles in my cycling, and my life.

Second, I'm going to streamline the layout a bit.  I think I'm going to stick with the same basic template, as people have told me they like it. (I like it, too.)  But I might re-position some items.  Also, I want to have fewer items on the homepage so that it loads more quickly--and for the third change I'm going to make.

Change Number Three is (drumroll):  Advertising.  Yes, I want to accept paid ads from bicycle-related retailers, manufacturers, publishers and other businesses.  I really feel the need to do this, as my blogs (which include Transwoman Times and two others I'm writing under pseudonyms) are taking up more and more of my time,and I need the income.  I really want to avoid taking on other kinds of work so that I can concentrate on writing, which (along with cycling) is my true passion. 

The thing is, I want to take ads directly from advertisers rather than through an intermediary.  That would probably allow me to offer lower prices--and, of course, I can pocket a greater portion of what I make.  

I would also be interested in sponsorship.  Certain brands and other names have appeared frequently on this blog--Yes, I'm talking to you!

If you are a potential advertiser or sponsor, please contact me at justineisadream@gmail.com so we can discuss positioning, price and such.  You'll have access to 10,000 readers a month--and that number is growing!

30 January 2013

A Chopper's Ship Comes In

I never thought I would write these words:  A Raleigh Chopper has a raison d'etre.

In fact, three--count 'em three!-- of the most unsafe bikes ever made have been put to good use.  Aesthetically, no less.

If you still don't believe me, take a look at this:

Apparently, it's an ad from the '70's.  I found it on Amber's Cruiser Media. She has some other interesting old-school ads on her site.  

More than a few kids who rode Choppers imagined themselves like this rider:

29 January 2013

A Woman's Life In Pumps

When I first started to take long bike rides as a teenager, most portable pumps looked something like this:

Now, if you're doing a period-correct restoration of a French 10-speed, this is the pump you want.  As pumps of that time went, it wasn't bad.  However, hoses that screw onto the pump body almost always leak air.  Even worse, the hoses screwed onto the valves, which leaked even more air, especially if they were Schraeder valves.

Silca Impero. It was available in a wide range of sizes--and, most important(!), a rainbow of colors.

Other pumps available at the time had press-on fittings.  If you've ever seen a Silca Impero or Zefal Competition (Think of the HP or HPX without the thumb-lock fitting.), those worked fine, as long as you had Presta valves and the rubber ring inside the pump fitting wasn't worn or cracked:  the connection depended on the tightness of that seal.

Zefal Competition:  Pour la gloire!

Not long after I first became a dedicated cyclist, Zefal came out with its HP pump.

Zefal HP from 1970's or 1980's

I think it's one of the more attractive pumps that's ever been made.  More important (yes, really!), they were solidly built and had a thumb lock that could be switched between Presta and Schrader valves, and gave an all-but-airtight connection with either one.  

Some years later, Zefal improved upon it with their HPX pump.  It was the same as the HP, except that the handle had a cam that could be twisted to lock out the spring, which allowed more of the force you used to actually go into pumping the tire.  

Zefal HPX from 1980's or later

The only problem with them (as far as some of us are concerned, anyway) was that they were all black.  Now, some black components and accessories look good on certain bikes.  The Zefal HPX was one of those accessories. However, if you had a bike with anything like a classic or vintage look, the HPX seemed out of place.  

For a time, they were offered in white and a couple of other colors, but not in silver or chrome.

Topeak came out with a frame pump--the Master Blaster--that was functionally all but a clone of the HPX.  It was also made in a tasteful muted silver with gray handles.  I have a couple of them.  They seem well-built, although perhaps not quite as well-built as the Zefals.

Topeak Master Blaster

I wrecked one of mine in a clumsy moment.  So, when I looked for a replacement, I found out that Zefal is making--in France, where all Zefal pumps have been made--the "HPX Classic."

The Zefal HPX Classic

Mechanically, it's exactly the same as the HPX.  However, as you can see, it would look more appropriate on vintage- or vintage-inspired bikes than the HPX or even the Topeak.  It's sort of a modern take on the old "Tricolore" Zefal Competition.

I've used the new pump once:  It pumps as easily as the HPX,and far more easily on high-pressure tires than any mini-pump I've tried.  (For the record, I still carry a mini-pump when I commute, as I can easily stow it in a bag when I park my bike. Also, it pumps enough air for me to ride to the next bike shop or gas station.)  Plus, it looks just right on my Mercians.

Getting the HPX classic is a bit like reuniting with an old friend.  And, if you don't like the logo, it's easily erased with nail polish remover.

28 January 2013


This is post #718 of Midlife Cycling.

That number just happens to be the Area Code of Queens, where I have lived for a decade.

So I thought it appropriate to make this post an homage to cycling in the Borough of Homes.

Here's an image from the Queens stretch of the Five Borough Bike Tour, which passes just a few blocks from my apartment:

Of course, I can't write a post like this without including an image from Kissena Velodrome, the "Track of Dreams".

And, pardon me if this seems immodest, but I simply had to include an image from one of my early posts:

And, finally, no Midlife Cycling post about cycling in the 718 area code would be complete without a photo in Socrates Sculpture Park--directly across the East River from Roosevelt Island and Manhattan's Upper East Side--taken by none other than Velouria (of Lovely Bicycle fame), who inspired me to start this blog in the first place:

27 January 2013

Lance's Offenses: Neither The First Nor The Last

Tonight I saw the 60 Minutes segment on Lance Armstrong.  I don't think I learned anything new from it.  Then again, I didn't expect to.

I'm not going to debate about the genuineness of Lance's confession or whether he doped in the last two Tours he wrote.  It's all getting tiresome, really.  Call me a cynic, but I don't think anyone--the investigators, Lance's teammates or Lance himself--is telling everything he knows.  And anytime Lance or anyone else is accused of doping, someone will say, "Well, everybody was doing it."  Be that as it may, the affair is a mess.

All right, I'll say one more thing before I get to what prompted me to write this post.  Lance and certain other people, of course, have an interest in his being cleared of the accusations and lifting the ban on his competing.  On the other hand, if Lance was indeed doping and did, in fact, make his teammates take the same drugs he was taking and threatened anyone who wouldn't, or who spoke of it, then there were also people who had a vested interest in denying it, or simply looking the other way.  Yes, I'm talking about UCI officials, among other people.  They were probably looking at Lance as a ticket to the American market.

Anyway, what I now find far more interesting than the question of whether Lance doped or not is the degree to which he controlled the Tour, and much of the racing scene.  One rider--Tyler Hamilton, I believe--said, in essence, that what Lance wanted, Lance got.  He was well-connected and, according to some riders, if you didn't go along with him, you could be essentially run out of the sport.

It got me to thinking about the ways in which a few athletes manage to control a competition, and not only with their athletic domination.  It's long been suspected in cycling and other sports that a few top-flight competitors conspire with each other to control the outcome of contests.  

It's not hard to imagine in a sport that's as individualistic as cycling.  In stage races like the Tour, teams compete, to be sure, but most people watch the races to see the performance of individual riders.  (Probably the only team sport about which the same thing could be said is basketball:  There were a lot more fans of Michael Jordan than the Chicago Bulls, for example.)  Track events and time trials usually pit individual riders against each other, so it's easy to think that there are conspiracies.  

Velodrome d'Hiver

In fact, collusion was very commonly attributed to the races at the old Velodrome d'Hiver in Paris.  Of them, journalist Pierre Chaney wrote:

There was a lot of talk about the relative honesty of the results, and journalists sometimes asked themselves what importance they ought to place on victories in these six-day races. The best of the field combined between themselves, it was known, to fight against other teams and to get their own hands on the biggest prizes, which they then shared between them. This coalition, cruelly nicknamed the Blue Train [after a luxury rail service patronised by the rich] imposed its rule and sometimes even the times of the race, the length of the rest periods. The little teams fought back on certain days but, generally, the law belonged to the cracks, better equipped physically and often better organised.

Chaney was writing about races during the 1920's. One could be forgiven for thinking that there is indeed "nothing new under the sun" and that whatever Lance's offenses were, they were neither the first nor the last, neither the beginning nor the end.

26 January 2013

From Brazil To Florida: Fragmentos do Cotidiano

Today I'm going to plug another blog I enjoy:  Fragmentos do Cotidiano.  It's a cyclists' blog, but it's also interesting for the photographs and stories of daily life in Brazil.  It's in Portuguese, which I can more or less understand because I can read Spanish and French.  But even if you can't do that, the photos are worth looking at.

Here's one that reminded me of cycling in Florida:

From Fragmentos do Cotidiano

I couldn't get over how much the layout of that bike lane, and that intersection, reminds me of the ones nearest my parents' house.  The trees and sky also look like what I often see when I'm in the Sunshine State.

And the light is very much like what I'd see on a partly cloudy-to-overcast day when I rode down Palm Coast Parkway to the bridge for US A-1A.  Some things are universal, I guess.

25 January 2013

More Of A '70's Craze

Having come of age in the '70's, I can tell you that a lot of things about that time were goofy.  At least, they seem that way now.  I'm talking about the hair styles, clothing, EST and, of course, disco.

Then there was drillium.  Every component manufacturer voided their warranties if owners cut or drilled cranks, chainrings, derailleurs, brakes and other components.  In fact, Campagnolo and a few other manufacturers offered components that were already drilled or slotted.  Ironically, Campagnolo's slotted brake levers actually weighed more than their smooth ones!  According to Campagnolo, the levers were made thicker so they could withstand the slotting.

Now, I've never seen a Specialites TA three-pin crankset in drillium--until just a little while ago, when I was looking at the e-bay listings. (I have an excuse:  I was selling a couple of items.)  

I actually like it.  In some weird way, it looks Art Deco-ish.  I was tempted to buy it. But, I can't really justify buying anything I don't plan to use soon, and I'm not doing any showroom-worthy vintage restorations.  Plus, I don't know whether Specialites TA still makes replacement chainrings.  As far as I know, no other chainrings are compatible with this crank.

Still, it is nice: probably the best three-pin crankset ever made. The drillium accentuates its lines, and makes a pretty crankset even prettier, in my opinion.

24 January 2013

Our Winter Is Their Sunrise

As I've mentioned in my previous two posts, we in New York are having the coldest weather we've had in two years.  Everybody's talking about it:  I think we were spoiled by such a mild season last year.

Still, we're getting off pretty easy compared to people in other parts of the world.  Either of the past two days would have been utterly balmy in, say, Duluth, Minnesota.  On an average January day, the high temperature there is 18F(-8C)--about what it was yesterday.  Today it was about five degrees (F) warmer.  And our night temperatures have been nowhere near as cold as the  -1F (-18C) folks in Duluth experience on a typical January night.

Aside from the mild winter we had last year, the cold is affecting people in the Big Apple for another reason:  wind.  The wind has, at times, gusted to nearly 30MPH (50KPH), and has steadily blown at 10-12MPH (16-21KPH).  That, of course, gives the cold a "bite" it wouldn't otherwise have.

However, there is one area in which, barring dramatic climate changes, New York winters will never compare with those in Duluth:  snow.  We should be thankful for small things:  The cold and wind here have been dry, and the skies almost preternaturally clear.  (Somehow, skies seem--to me, anyway-- clearer when it's cold.)  The city by Lake Superior, in contrast, is almost always covered with snow at this time of year, mainly because when snow falls, it tends to stay for longer than it does here in the New York islands.

So, I have to give major "props" to any year-round bike commuter in Duluth--like Doug, the author of MnBicycleCommuter.  When the roads are covered with snow, he rides a Surly Pugsley with the widest tires he can fit. 

Now, if I had to ride in the kind of cold Doug regularly experiences, I wouldn't mind a view like that.  I've pedalled into the sunrise:  It put me in a good mood for work.

Doug definitely deserves such views. So does anyone else who rides in those conditions!

23 January 2013

Les Alpes Maritimes Sur Flushing Bay

Last night the temperature dropped below 10F for the first time in two years.  When I left my place, it was 12F, and the wind-chill was below zero.

So I did took the most sensible route for today's commute:  the one that takes me along the water.

For a moment, I actually envisioned myself among the snow-capped peaks of the Alps.  I rode up mountains (Avoriaz, Galibier and Colle d'Agnello/Col d'Agnell) whose roads were banked by snow--and whose peaks were covered them--when the weather was warm enough to ride comfortably in shorts and a cycling jersey. 

Today's weather, of course, was nothing like that.  However, I didn't have to do any climbing.  Along the Cote d'Azur and in Liguria, the mountains tumble all the way to the sea.  People who've spent their entire lives in this part of the world probably cannot imagine such a coastline.

This is probably the closest they'll come to seeing anything like it:


22 January 2013

Just Vera, The Red Allez And An Old Mountain Bike

Today we had the coldest weather we've had in two years.  Last night it got down to 15F; the weather forecasters say that it may drop to 10F or below tonight.

One way you know we're having a real winter is to look at the bike racks where I work:

The only bikes parked there are Vera, the red Allez that's been there seemingly every day and an old Fuji mountain bike.

Are they ridden by hardy souls or addled minds? Now there's a question for a campus debate!

21 January 2013

They Should've Been Riding Bikes

Yesterday I wrote about the Long Island Motor Parkway, which, in its history, has been one of America's first race courses and one of its first automotive expressways--and would become of the last bike lanes to open in New York for nearly half a century.  Now it's a segment of what is supposed to become the Brooklyn-Queens Greenway.

So, perhaps, there was some weird sort of synchronicity, or whatever you want to call it, at work when I found this image on one of my favorite non-bike blogs, Old Picture of the Day:

20 January 2013

Riding An Early Race Course

Believe it or not, this was once an automobile race course.

It was also one of America's first expressways.  At least, it was one of the first roads to be designed so that drivers wouldn't have to stop for traffic lights, railroad crossings or many of the other things they'd have to contend with on conventional roadways.

Of course, when it was serving the functions I described, it didn't have all of the trees and other vegetation growing on its sides.  That was allowed after the road became a bike/pedestrian path.

Yes, the path in the photo was once part of the Long Island Motor Parkway, which I mentioned in an earlier post.  Now it's a segment of the planned Brooklyn-Queens Greenway.

I don't know whether storm damage has been cleared, or whether there wasn't much of it on the path.  Running through the middle of Queens, it's several miles from either the north or south shores and, I would assume, out of the path of a storm surge.

Here the former Parkway takes a turn underneath the expressway--the Northern State Parkway--that rendered it obsolete for automotive use.

When it carried automobile traffic, the Parkway had  several "toll lodges". (Don't you just love that term?)  One of them now serves as a Parks Department facility in Cunningham Park:

Tosca was clearly enjoying the ride, as I was:

19 January 2013

The Current State Of My Bicycle Commuting

From Bike Commuters

This post is a response to a comment Kiyomi made on "The States of Bicycle Commuting."

About ten years ago, I would have turned my nose up at any bike with upright bars.  In fact, about the only kind of bike I'd ride without dropped bars was a mountain bike: I was a fairly active off-road rider and sometimes commuted on off-road bikes.  

I also wouldn't have been caught dead on a bike with an internally geared or coaster brake hub, a steel frame that wasn't chrome-moly (i.e., Tange, Ishiwata or Columbus) or maganese-moly (Reynolds or Vitus) tubing.  And I certainly would not have tainted any of my bikes with--gasp!--a kickstand.

Now, the latter accessory simply couldn't have fit on some of the racing bikes I've had.  But even on the bikes I've had with more relaxed geometry (my off-road, touring and cyclo-cross bikes), there would have been a practical reason not to have a kickstand:  It might not have been a good idea to clamp one onto such bikes, which tend to have thinner tubing than more utilitarian machines.

But, over the past decade or so, my life changed in a few ways.  Some of them had to do, of course, with my gender transition.  When I started, I wanted a women's or mixte bike because, well, they were "women's" bikes.  (At no point, though, did I consider giving up my diamond-framed bikes.) Also, I wanted to continue riding to work. In the old days, I used to ride in bike shorts or tights and jerseys/jackets because I didn't want to ride in anything else.  Sometimes I would ride in a pair of khaki or corduroy trousers, depending on the weather, and a button-down shirt to which I could add a tie, vest or jacket (I used to keep those things at work) as needed. I also used to keep a pair of shoes, in case I was too lazy to carry, or forgot, a pair into which I could change from my bike shoes.  

When I started living and working as female, though, I found that I had to be better-dressed than I was when I worked as a male.  (Truthfully, I also wanted to dress better:  In those days, I was still experimenting with different looks).  That meant more time to get dressed.  Also, I'd begun to wear make-up, and I was starting to take more care of my hair.  So, making myself "presentable" for work was taking me at least twice as long as it did when I was working as Nick.

Also, in those days, I would sometimes shower and change in the men's locker room before starting work. Of course, once I started my transition, that was not an option.  I wouldn't have wanted to do that, anyway--I never liked being naked (and vulnerable) in a men's environment.  

As buoyant as I felt when I started my transition, I still wasn't quite ready to change in a women's locker room. I take that back:  If anything, I wanted to shower and get dressed among other women.  But I hadn't yet had my surgery--it would be several years away--and I wasn't ready to deal with the possible repercussions of being met by campus security officers if someone who objected to my being there called them.  

So, I wanted to ride in more or less the same clothes in which I worked.  I was willing to bring a change of shoes, and maybe an accessory or two as well as a couple of cosmetic items. But I didn't want to go through the intricacies of having to, essentially, make myself over once I got to work.

It was around that time that women's and mixte frames started to appeal to me. Some of the commuters I rode in days past were equipped with fenders, usually because I added them.  So fenders were nothing new to me; however, they had more appeal to me when I stared to ride in skirts or even women's 
pants (which, I found, were more delicate and soiled more easily than men's pants).  I also started to appreciate chainguards.

I also rode a couple of bikes with internally-geared hubs.  Even though I had a three-speed in my pre-adolescent years, I couldn't quite cotton to one--or to a five- or seven-speed internally geared hub. They felt clumsy and inefficient compared to hubs with cassettes, freewheels or fixed cogs.  Plus, at least one never quite shifted right, in spite of the efforts of three mechanics whose work I've always trusted.  

So now I'm commuting on Vera, a Mercian mixte with a lively, pleasant ride. Just for the heck of it, I've ridden her in shorts and enjoyed it, but I can wear just about anything short of a wedding gown (which I don't plan on wearing) and not have to worry about ruining my clothes or being constricted.  

I had been riding her with an upright bar that's a bit like a flipped-over North Road bar. But over the past few months, I've been riding her with a Velo Orange Porteur bar, on which I'm not quite as bent over as I am with my dropped bars, but not quite as upright as on, say, a Raleigh three-speed.  

If you're used to riding lightweight bikes with dropped bars, or even mountain bikes with flat bars, the best way to get a commuter, I think, is to find a bike that has a geometry and ride that's at least somewhat like a bike you currently ride and to change the handlebars and seat, unless the geometry of the bike is such that it will not ride well with those changes.  

18 January 2013

Another Forerunner To A Shimano "Innovation"

For today's post, I'm going to engage in a bit of bike geekery, as I did in yesterday's post.  Fear not:  This will not be a regular feature of Midlife Cycling.  At least, I don't intend it to be.

As I did in yesterday's post, I'm going to write about a long-forgotten component that featured a design used in later, more successful (at least commercially) bike parts.

From the 1920's until the 1970's, many British bikes featured Williams cranks, chanrings and bottom brackets.  That is not surprising when you consider that those parts were, like the bikes, made in England.  

As Steve Griffiths notes in "Classic Lightweights," Williams has been unfairly judged on the basis of its lowest-quality--and, unfortunately, most commonly-used--model, the C34.  It was a cottered steel crankset, and the arms (or spider) onto which the chainrings mounted was swaged (forced).  Willliams also make much nicer models,including some of those thin,elegant cranks you see on British bikes from the 1960's and earlier.  

But their best crankset--and the only cotterless crankset made in any significant quantity in England--was the AB 77. I have seen one of them in my entire life: on a Claud Butler that came into the first shop in which I worked.  

The AB77 was actually quite nice:  the quality of the materials, machining and finish were high.  It had the same chainring design as the TA Cyclotouriste, Stronglight 49D and the Nervar crank that aped them.  That meant the AB77, like those other cranks, could be set up as a road double with a 42 tooth small chainring  or as a triple with a 26-tooth inner ring.  

But the most interesting part of the AB77 was its bottom bracket.  Presaging a trend by two decades, its axle had a splined rather than square end.  In other words, it was a proto-Octalink or ISIS bottom bracket.  

Unfortunately, that bottom bracket was its fatal flaw.  During the period when the AB77 was produced (1962-mid 1970's), only one other crank had such a design.  It was made by Gnutti in Italy and its splines were of a different pattern from Williams', so the two could not be interchanged.  That was especially unfortunate for Williams, because the bottom bracket, which was made by T.D.C. (once a major manufacturer or headsets and freewheels), didn't last very long. 

When Shimano decided to resurrect this long-forgotten idea during the 1990's, it made the splines broader, which was supposed to increase the stiffness as well as the lifespan of the bottom bracket.  However, they, like their TDC/Williams predecessor, wore out quickly.  The problem with the Shimano splined brackets--and the similar, though not interchangeable, ISIS-pattern bottom brackets made by other companies--had narrower axles and smaller bearings than their square-ended counterparts.  Interestingly, Shimano's Octalink and other companies' ISIS bottom brackets had an even shorter run--not much more than half a decade--than the ones from TDC/Williams.  

A few years after Williams ceased production of the AB77, they were taken over by Nicklin,one of their former competitors, which offered only the C34 and a couple of other low-priced models that were fitted to mass-market bikes from Raleigh, Dawes and other manufacturers.  As production of such bikes ended, so did most of the British cycle-component industry, including Nicklin/Williams.  

17 January 2013

Pivotal Brakes

Sometimes, when I surf the web, I am swept into a stream of flotsam from bikes past.

Here is an example of what I mean:

Photo by berangberang

If you ride road bikes, something about this brake may seem familiar to you.  And well it should.

It was made by Altenberger in the German Federal Republic (West Germany to us Americans) during the 1970's.  I started working in bike shops during that time, and some bikes--mainly lower-priced ones with upright handlebars--came with that brake.

It's the ancestor of brakes found on nearly every road bike built since the mid-1990's.  Why?  Take a look at those bolts with the red nylon washers.  They make it a dual-pivot brake.  While they may not have been the original of the genre, they were the first dual-pivots to appear on any significant numbers of bikes.

They were supposed to provide the simplicity and light weight of sidepulls but the "symmetry" and modulation of centerpulls.  Unfortunately, Altenberger's brake didn't exhibit any of those qualities.  I think that it had to do with the fact that the arm with the cable anchor bolt usually overlapped the pivot on the other arm, as you see in the photo.  That eliminated whatever "symmetry" the brake may have been designed to have, and made for very uneven braking.

Perhaps even more to the point, the brake was not of very good quality.  The metal used in the arms was pretty flexy. (The fact that the arms were long didn't help matters.)  The rather flimsy spring would lose its springiness fairly quickly, which further diminished the brake's power and modulation.

After Altenberger stopped making this brake (or went out of business altogether:  I don't recall seeing very many of the company's brakes after the early '80's or so), Weinmann produced a similar model, which they called the "Synchron".  Its quality and aesthetics were better than those of the Altenberger, but, like its predecessor, the Synchron never synchronized very well and got worse over time.

So, when Shimano came out with their own version of the dual-pivot brakes, I cringed.  Younger cyclists didn't have memories of the earlier dual-pivot brakes, so they were enthusiastic about this new "innovation".  I refrained from them for a few years until someone with whom I shared, at that time, a similar riding style and whose ideas I respected convinced me to try a pair of the Shimano 600/Ultegra dual-pivots.  Although I was, at first, put off by their gray epoxy finish as I was by the fact they were dual-pivots, I became a convert.  Shimano figured out how to actually make the arms work in harmony and used better quality materials than the ones found in the Altenberger or Synchron.  Even the lower-priced Tektros, not to mention the higher-end Mavic and Campagnolo Record and Chorus 
dual-pivot brakes, are worlds better than those early attempts to combine the advantages and eliminate the weaknesses of center- and side-pull brakes found on ten-speeds of the 1970's and earlier.

16 January 2013

The States Of Bicycle Commuting

How many people commute on bicycles in your state?  And, how does your state compare to others in that category?

If you're dying to know the answers to such questions, check this out:

Click image to open interactive version (via BikeGuard).

This interactive graphic comes from a page hosted by  My Asset Tag.(It also hosts Bike Guard.)

Which state would you expect to have the highest percentage of its population commuting by bike?  Oregon?  Wisconsin?  Massachusetts?  Washington?

If you picked "Washington," your answer is incomplete.  Think of the other part:  D.C.  Yes, the District of Columbia has the highest proportion of bike commuters.

Not surprisingly, most of the low-ranked states are in the South (e.g., Louisiana, Mississippi and Kentucky).  It's also no surprise that Oregon ranks second.  However, I didn't expect to see Alaska in third place---or my home state, New York, squarely in the middle at #25.  Then again, there are vast areas of upstate where people don't ride much at all.  

Where does your state stand?

15 January 2013

Lance And Oprah

This morning, while doing my stretches and getting dressed for work, I was listening to the news.

I heard what I'm sure you've all heard by now:  Lance Armstrong, in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, has admitted to using banned substances.

To me, it's interesting that Winfrey said he "did not come clean in the manner I expected".  Of course, I won't know what she meant by that until I see the interview.  She said he "was ready" and "met the moment."

Now, I have to wonder what made him "ready" for a "confession".  And why did it take an interview with Oprah for him to "come clean".

While I am willing--however reluctantly--to believe his confession and guilt, I find it interesting, to say the least, that it's taken so long for anyone to establish his guilt. It seems that athletes in other sports--baseball in particular-- who were using banned substances were found out more quickly than Lance was.   

On the other hand, I don't think I have to wonder why there was so much more pressure on him to confess than there has been for other cyclists.  The first five-time winner of the Tour De France, Jacques Anquetil, once said something to the effect that nobody ever won the Tour on salad and mineral water.  

Other cyclists have admitted that doping was rampant in the sport.  But, none of them won the Tour seven times.  And none of them was American.   What's more, none of them did it the way Lance did it: He concentrated on winning the tour to the exclusion of many other races, including classics like Paris-Nice.  That is in marked contrast to riders like Eddy Mercx and Bernard Hinault who, between them, won about 400 more races than Armstrong did.

Plus, he managed to rankle other cyclists, including his teammates, in ways that no other winner did.  To be sure, they all provoked envy among the riders they defeated, and the ones who served as domestiques on their teams.  But, as fiercely competitive as they were on their bikes, they were gentlemen off their bikes.  Armstrong, from what I've heard and read, was cocky and often arrogant.  Now, I'm not saying that's a good reason to accuse him or to get him to confess.  But I think that other cyclists, as well as the sport's officials, wanted to see him brought down in ways they never wanted to see their old heroes dethroned.

Whatever their motives for bringing Lance to "justice", and whatever his motives for confessing, this is still a very sad time for the sport.  After all, he is one of the few larger-than-life personalities the sport has produced.  Other cyclists, like the ones I've mentioned and Miguel Indurain, were lionized for their athletic prowess.  But even Indurain himself admitted he wasn't much of a story when he wasn't pedaling.  As he once told a journalist, "My hobby is sleeping." 

I believe that the sport will continue even after Lance has been, in effect, excommunicated from it.  But it won't be the same.    About the only person who will benefit, I think, is Oprah.  To be exact, her network will benefit. After all, some people will look for it on their cable boxes for the first time.  

14 January 2013

Just Another Beautiful Bike Photo

Trust me:  I have absolutely no intention of encroaching on the wonderful work the author of Cycling Art Blog does.

However, I'll admit that this post is just an excuse to post another lovely bicycle (another great blog I'm not trying to usurp) photo I found on the internet.

I couldn't find any credits for it. If it's yours, let  me know and you'll be duly acknowledged.


13 January 2013

Charlie, One Year Later

Today was mild for this time of year.  Although it didn't rain, or even drizzle, the air felt damp, as it has since the rain we got the other afternoon and night.

It actually wasn't a bad day to ride, in my book.  It's nice to ride on overcast days sometimes: I have fair skin, so a lot of time in the sun tires me out as well as leaves me at risk for sunburn and other things.  Still, I was feeling sad.  

While riding, I saw one of those billboard signs that shows the time, temperature and date.  I then realized why my mood was darker than the sky:  Today is the 13th.  

Last year, this date fell on a Friday.  Now, I'm not normally superstitious, so Friday the 13th doesn't mean much to me. But I recall the one that came in January of last year for one reason:  Charlie died.

Although Marley is adorable and sweet, he can't replace Charlie.  I didn't expect that he would; he just happened to come into my life a little less than two months after I lost Charlie.  Max took to him very quickly; he was always a very affectionate cat.  But Max, like Charlie, was with me during a very special time in my life:  my transition and surgery.  One simply can't replace the kind of relationship one had with an animal during a time like that.  

At least Max is still here and will be for years to come.  And, I believe, Marley is special in his own way, and I am developing a relationship with him that's different from the one I have with Max, or the ones I had with Charlie or the other cats who came before him.  Needless to say, it's also different from the relationships I have, and have had, with people in my life.  I guess that was the point, at least for me, of taking Marley into my life.  That, and the fact that he's ridiculously cute.

12 January 2013

Out Of The Fold Of My Past

In an earlier post, I wrote about the Dahon Vitesse D5 on which I commuted for about a year and a half.  I think I gave the impression that it was the only folding or collapsible bike I've ever owned.  That's more or less true, if you don't count another one I owned for a few days.  

I was reminded of it when I came across this photo:

It's a Chiorda folding bicycle, just like the one I owned for a few days. It's even the same color, although--cosmetically, anyway--in slightly better condition than mine was.

I had an excuse for its rattiness: I found mine by the curb, next to some bags of trash.  For some reason I don't recall, I didn't ride my bike that day to visit a then-friend who was living in Jackson Heights.  I spotted the bike as I walked to the subway station.

But I didn't take the train home.  I walked the bike to a nearby gas station where I inflated the tires.  They held air long enough for me to ride the bike back to Brooklyn, where I lived at the time.

At that time, I'd ridden a few folding bikes, never for very long.  The Chiorda was about what I expected from such a bike.  Actually, I should qualify that statement:  It was about what I expected from a folding bike, but slightly better than what I expected from a Chiorda.

You see, I developed an early prejudice against the brand.  My first--and, for a long time, only--experiences with them came in the first bike shop in which I worked.  A nearby R&S Auto (Think of it as a low-rent version of Western Auto or Pep Boys.) sold Chiorda ten-speeds for $69.  The quality of the ones I saw ranged from ghastly to just plain scary.  I don't recall seeing one that didn't have a misaligned frame; some had bottom bracket threads that stripped when you removed the cups, rear brake bridges that broke off the stays and various other problems.  

At that time, bikes from Taiwan and Eastern Europe (except for the Czech-made Favorits) were considered the worst on the market; I think the Chiordas I saw were just as bad.  To be fair, though, any of those bikes was better than the Indian three-speeds I fixed.  And, I would learn that Felice Gimondi actually won the Tour de France on a Chiorda--though not, of course, the one I found or the ones I'd worked on.

But my ingrained prejudice prevailed. Even though the treasure I found in the trash was better than I thought it would be,  I didn't expect to keep it.  One day, a few days after I found it, I took it out for a spin.  I stopped at a greengrocer, where I encountered a sometime riding buddy and local mechanic.  He actually wanted the bike--for his girlfriend.

I guess I can understand why he wanted it for her:  Even if it wasn't the greatest bike, it was kinda cute.  So, for that matter, was she.  He was, too.  I haven't heard from him in years.  Now I wonder whether she still has that bike--or him.