28 July 2013

Without Women On Wheels

Yesterday marked 60 years since the end of the Korean War.

The South commemorates it in a rather somber way.  The North--the so-called People's Republic--celebrates it as a victory.

However one sees the conflict and the armistice, it's hard to think of them as a victory for women (or very many other people who aren't Communist officials) or cyclists on either side. 

powered by Fotopedia

Late last year, the PRK (North) ended a decades-old ban on women cycling.  However, just a couple of months later--in January of this year--the ban was reinstated.  Moreover, the current statute doesn't allow women to even ride on the rear (or front) of a two-wheeled vehicle.  

The current restriction, however, is even more draconian than the one that was revealed.  Previously, offenders could be fined 2000 to 5000 won (2.20 to 5.50 USD at current exchange rates). Now, authorities can confiscate bicycles on which women are pedalers or passengers.  

Ostensibly, PRK officials believe that women on wheels is a "violation of good socialist customs", i.e., they're offended by flapping skirts.  But, just three weeks ago, women were allowed to wear trousers and high heels.  I wonder what excuse the government will offer (not that they have to) now--or whether the ban will be repealed once again.

27 July 2013

A Way I've Never Commuted

In my four decades or so of cycling to and from work, school or any other place I had to be on a regular basis, I carried stuff in a variety of ways. 

Most recently, I've used my Koki pannier and Carradice Nelson Longflap saddlebags for the purpose.  At other times, I've stuffed the panniers I used on my previous bike tour with books, manuscripts, student papers, changes of clothing and shoes, lunch or other food and a few things I won't mention.  At other times, I've used backpacks, messenger bags (I was a NYC messenger for a year.), front baskets, milk crates zip-tied (or cinched with old toe straps) on a rear rack and plastic shopping bags tied to my handlebars orframe (or dangled from my fingers),  I've carried everything from baguettes to an Andy Warhol work under my left arm as I steered with my right, and even balanced things on my handlebars or head. I've even carried pizzas in a variety of ways, including balancing i in my raised left hand (a la the Statue of Liberty) while steering with my right, or clamping the corners of the boxes between my thumb and forefinger while grasping my handlebars with the other three fingers of each hand.

But for all of the ingenious (if I do say so myself) and stupid tricks I've employed as a bicycle commuter and messenger, I have nothing on this person:

From Bike Roswell

26 July 2013

Mackinac Island, Somewhere In Time

What do these images have in common?

Well, in both photos, people are on bicycles.  But there doesn't seem to be much else in common, right?

It's fairly obvious that the second photo was taken more than a century after the first. But they were taken in the same place--or the same locale, anyway.

I'm talking about Mackinac Island, Michigan.  It's in Lake Huron, between the state's Upper and Lower Peninsula.  

Motorized vehicles have been banned on the island since 1898.  The only exceptions are emergency vehicles (owned by the city that shares the name with the island), motorized wheelchairs and golf carts, which cannot be operated outside of the golf course.  Also, snowmobiles are permitted in winter.

In the 2010 Census, the Island had 492 permanent residents.  However, during the peak tourist season (summer), there are as many as 15.000 people.  Even then, neither visitors nor residents report a sense of being overcrowded. 

The Island also boasts the only state highway in the US--M185--where motorized traffic is not allowed. The road circles the island, hugging the shoreline, and thus affords some fine views.

Mackinac has one of the strongest historical preservation movements in the US.  As a result, the entire island is designated as a National Historic Landmark.  Among the most iconic structures is the Grand Hotel, which featured prominently in two films:  This Time For Keeps and Somewhere In Time, which was shot entirely on the island.

 Bicycling is said to be the most popular way of getting around the island.  Also, people walk a lot, and quite a few roller-skate.  All of that human-powered notion is no doubt fueled by the island's most famous product:  its fudge.

It's interesting and perhaps ironic that in a state that's synonymous with the automotive industry, there's a place where no cars are allowed.  Even more interesting, the now-115-year-old ban began right around the time that the auto industry was beginning.

25 July 2013

Splitting Vintage

Every once in a while, I'll walk by a seemingly-ordinary bicycle parked somewhere or another and, without knowing why, turn back to look at it.

That's what happened today at a local library branch.  This is the bike that made me backtrack:

At first glance, it seems like one of the current Merciers.  Not a bad bike, but nothing exceptional:  The welded Reynolds 520 frame sports a combination of inexpensive but functional components.  And the color and trim are rather nice but, again, not exceptional.

However, I noticed an interesting little detail upon looking at the bike for the second time:

The model name is "Galaxy."  Why would I notice something like that?

Well, as far as I know, when Merciers were built in France, there was never a "Galaxy" model.  However, another bike-builder--in England--offered a "Galaxy" model:

Dawes was a family-owned bicycle manufacturer based in Birmingham--the center of the British cycle industry--for nearly a century.  They were known mainly for their touring models; the Galaxy was billed as one of the least expensive stock (what the Brits call "off the peg") quality touring models available.

In materials, design and construction, it was very similar to the Raleigh Super Course, though the frame workmanship, in my opinion, tended to be a little better on the Galaxy.  Also, the Galaxy had, if I'm not mistaken, a somewhat longer wheelbase than the Super Course.

While not as popular as Raleigh in the US, many new American cyclists early in the 1970's "bike boom" bought a Dawes Galaxy as their first "serious" bike.  More than a few were outfitted with racks, full fenders (They came with useless half-fenders.) and lights and ridden on the Bikecentennial.  

What's interesting is that Dawes and Mercier--like Windsor--were bike brands that had somewhat-more-than-modest popularity in the US during that time. Now Chinese- and Taiwanese-made bikes bearing all three of those brands--as well as the hugely popular Motobecane--are sold on the Internet.  

Bikes sold under those brands in the US have no connection to the original manufacturers, which no longer make bikes in the countries in which they were founded.  Mercier, which had a successful racing team, went bankrupt in 1985; the same fate befell Motobecane, which became MBK and now manufactures motor scooters.  Windsor used to build bikes in Mexico based on European designs; its "Profesional" (note the Spanish spelling) was a knockoff of a Cinelli racing bike.  Eddy Mercx rode a Colnago bike bearing Windsor decals when he set the one-hour distance record in Mexico City in 1972.

So Dawes is the only one of those bike brands sold on the Internet whose original namesake company still exists. (Dawes bikes in the UK are sold by dealers and aren't the same as the ones in the US.) It's thus ironic to see the name of one of the most popular models in its history appropriated by a "ghost" bike label--that was based in France, no less!

Dawes Galaxy Road Test in Bicycling, May 1969


24 July 2013

Making Your Ride More Pleasurable

Almost any cyclist will tell you that one of the great pleasures in life is being massaged after a long, hard ride.  In fact, professional racing cyclists--as well as others--regard it as a necessity.

Of course, racers are usually rubbed on their legs, shoulders and other areas that bear the brunt of their rides.  I would assume that the same is true for those who aren't racers--depending, of course, on who is giving the massage!

If you wanted a massage while riding--especially in those areas that touch your saddle (and aren't touched by someone who's not intimate with you), you were out of luck--unless, perhaps, you were riding with someone on a tandem.

(I've ridden a tandem twice in my life, both times as the "captain".  Neither time was I or my "stoker" even thinking about massages--to my knowledge, anyway-- so I cannot say for certain whether it's possible for one tandem partner to stroke the other while riding!)

Well, now it looks like someone is going to fill a market niche I never knew existed.  SexShop 365, an online sex-toy retailer in the UK, is now offering "Happy Ride", a battery-operated vibrating seat cover.  The intensity of the vibrations can be controlled and, as Daily Mail correspondent Katy Winter says, it will "make journeys by bicycle that bit more exciting".

(Don't you just love that dry British wit?)

 It seems that the device is designed to cash in on two things:  a resurgence of popularity for cycling in Britain and the mania surrounding Fifty Shades of Grey and the movie based on it that is scheduled to be released next year.

Oh, it costs 28 GBP (about 45 USD at current exchange rates). Delivery is free in the UK.

23 July 2013

Dans Le Soleil Couchant

Twice I have been in Paris for the end of the Tour de France.  

Now, I didn't go specifically to see the riders whisk down le Boulevard des Champs-Elysees:  I just happened to be in Paris so, of course, I squeezed my way into as good a viewing position as I could find.  Both times, I felt the effort was more than worthwhile, even though the race's overall winner had already been more or less decided.

Even though Chris Froome had pretty much wrapped up this year's General Classification title before the final stage began, I would have loved to have been in Paris to see this:

From Cycling Art Blog

I witnessed more than a few spectacular sunsets through the Arc de Triomphe:  If one stands at any point on the Champs-Elysees, one has to face west in order to see the Arc.  But I never saw anything quite like the show the sky and the Tour riders offered the other night!

22 July 2013

Convincing Me Otherwise

Every once in a while, I think about repainting Vera. The finish is pretty scraped up, though actually not bad for a bike its age.  Also, I think about having shifter bosses brazed on and having the cable tunnels near the top of the down tube removed, as I use a down tube shifter.

Of course, one thing that deters me from doing so is money: It hasn't been abundant for me lately.  But seeing this bike may also keep me from altering and refinishing Vera:

It's a Holdsworth from, I'd guess the 1970's.  At least, the style of the lugs and paint as well as the Campagnolo Record gruppo (with a Nuovo Record rear derailleur) lead me to believe it's from that era.

All of the Campagnolo equipment--including the large-flange hubs--seems to be original.  About the only deviations I could see were the replacement brake blocks (Mathauser Kool Stop) and a non-Campagnolo headset I could not identify.  The latter component might have been a British-made TDC headset, which was often supplied with English frames.

Even though the paint was worn away on some parts of the frame, I didn't feel that it was battered or decrepit.  Of course, the fact that someone is using it makes it seem contemporary and relevant. But there's just something about high-quality lugged steel bikes--particularly the British ones, in my opinion--that seems to age well.

Of course, they also give sweet rides!

21 July 2013

From Wheels To Feet

Nearly every cyclist has had the experience of cycling, for the first time, some street, road, lane or landscape over which he or she had previously walked or driven.

Today I had the inverse of that experience:  Walking, for the first time, a lane I had cycled many, many times before.

Marley had a medical emergency.  To my knowledge, the only place where I could take him on a Sunday morning is the Humane Society, just a block away from the Manhattan side of the Queensborough (59th Street) Bridge.  The subway neaerest to me (two blocks) stops only a block from the Humane Society.  I reasoned (correctly) that it probably be a quicker trip in a car (assuming I could get someone to drive me on such short notice) or even a taxi, if I could find one.  

Riding my bike might have been even quicker, but rigging a secure way to carry him would have taken even more time, probably, than the ride.  Also, I wasn't sure of how he'd take to being on a bike and, because he was sick, I didn't want to the anxiety he was already feeling.

So I took the "N" train to the Lexington Avenue and 59th Street station. Marley will remain at the Humane Society's treatment center for two, possibly three nights.  That meant, of course, that today I returned home without him.

If I were to ride from the Humane Society to my apartment, I would cover about three and a half miles, which would probably take me anywhere between ten and fourteen minutes, depending on which bike I rode, how I rode and what conditions I encountered en route.  Walking, as it turns out, is slightly shorter, distance-wise, as I can walk up a couple of one-way streets (including the one on which I live) around which I would have to detour were I using wheels.  However, the walk took nearly an hour, or five to six times the time I would need to cycle it.

Those facts of time and distance came as no surprise to me.   However, I was not prepared for a sensation I had while walking across the bridge's bike/pedestrian lane:  I felt nearly naked, and a bit vulnerable.  The heat and humidity that smothered us for the past week finally broke today, so even more cyclists crossed the bridge, in both directions, than would normally transverse it on a Sunday.  The lane is just wide enough for about three cyclists travelling abreast of each other in either direction, and even though the lane is divided (with paint) between cyclists and pedestrians, it's all but impossible to remain in one way or another.  If you're cycling in one direction, you're going to dodge cyclists (and, sometimes, skateboarders and scooter-riders) in the opposite direction, as well as tourists taking in the panorama.

Back in the day, not nearly as many cyclists used the bridge as use it today, and there were no skateboarders, rollerbladers or scooters.  If I recall correctly, those of us who cycled, walked or ran used a lane on the north side of the bridge.  (I didn't use the Queensborough regularly in those days, as I lived in Manhattan, then Brooklyn.)  The current lane rims the south side.  If there is/was indeed a lane on the north side, I wonder why it's no longer open.  Did it fall into disrepair?  I think the number of cyclists who use the bridge (and walk) will continue to grow, not only because more people are commuting or going into Manhattan to shop, dine and such, but also becuase--in a phenomenon all but unheard-of two decades ago--tourists are actually coming to Queens. 

Therefore, if there is a north lane, it should be repaired and opened.  If there isn't, one should be built.  Then, those of us who ride, walk, run, skateboard or otherwise travel motor-free between Queens and Manhattan will have the same choice as those who take the Manhattan Bridge, which has bike/pedestrian lanes on both its north and south sides.

20 July 2013

The Hope of the Tour

It seems that, barring a mishap, Chris Froome is going to win the Tour de France.  Just as Brits cheered his rival and fellow Engishman Bradley Wiggins last year, they—and cycling fans around the world—want to see Froome take the title this year.

Even more important, I believe, is another hope expressed by his admirers—and one in particular:  a guy named Stephen Roche.
He’s the Irish cyclist who won the “Triple Crown”—le Tour, Il Giro d’Italia and La Vuelta d’Espana—in 1987.  I am not the only fan who believes he could have had a career to rival the greats like Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Mercx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain were it not for a chronic knee problem.  Like them, he was a great overall rider who excelled in the mountains and on time trials.  Also, he was as conscientious about his training as any cyclist who ever lived.

The thing that true cycling fans loved about him, though, was his form.  In spite of his chronic injuries, very few cyclists have ever been as graceful and as powerful in the saddle as he was.  Whether he was on a hors categorie climb or riding against the clock, he always exhibited the same fluid, symmetrical pedaling motion.  And the rest of his body seemed to support it, in unison.

Stephen Roche in 1987

Near the end of his career, he faced accusations of doping that were never conclusively proved.  That was quickly forgotten and never seemed to cast a shadow over his reputation.  Plus, if you ever saw him ride, you'd know that he didn't need drugs to win.

 I think cycling fans always respected Roche because he won, or at least placed highly” In the “classics”—races like the Paris-Nice and Tour de Romandy.  In other words, he did not focus his attention entirely on le Tour, il GIro or la Vuelta and disregard the rest of the cycling season.  So, when Roche says that Froome is the "next great hope", or something to that effect, people listen.

He has expressed hope that Froome actually is, and will remain, the “clean” rider he so far seems to be.  Plus, from what I’ve read and heard, just about everybody who’s met Froome respects and likes him.  If he can win clean, he—as Roche points out—will be a great ambassador for the sport.

19 July 2013

On The Dock Of Newtown Creek

So how did I spend the hottest afternoon of the year?  (High temperature:  100F or 38C)  Riding, of course.

At least I know I wasn't the only one.  At the bridge to the Rockaways, I met Hal Ruzal, Bicycle Habitat's mechanic and wheelbuilder par excellence (and a kick-ass musician).  And his girlfried, who looks a bit younger than me (and him) was also on her bike.  Was she showing true love to Hal, or to cycling? Or--well, all right, I won't ask any more unanswerable questions (not in this post, anyway!).

In any event, I sensed that they wanted to ride together, so I coasted down the Rockaway side of the bridge before them.  I stopped in Rockaway Beach, near the site of the old Playland, went for a dip in the ocean and paid tribute to the Ramones.  Somehow I think that if they were all still in this world, they'd've been there to buoy the post-Sandy spirit of the place.

Anyway, I bumped into Hal and his belle again in Riis Park, where the storm leveled the dunes.  From there, I rode down to Breezy Point, across the Bay to Brooklyn and Floyd Bennet FIeld and Coney Island.  Finally, at the end of the day, I crossed back into Queens from Greenpoint:

I'm not sure this is quite what Otis Redding had in mind when he sang, "Dock of the Bay" (one of my favorite songs of all time).  But, it was about as idyllic as one could get on Newtown Creek, which the EPA rates as the most polluted body of water in the US--except in those years when the Gowanus Canal "wins" that "honor."

18 July 2013

You Know It's Hot When...

Today the temperature is expected to reach 100F (38C).

Whether or not we reach that meteorological milestone, I know it's hot, and that it's been hot since Sunday.

I know it's hot when I'm riding the streets of this city and hope to see a bunch of kids (or grown-ups) cavorting around an open fire hydrant.  I pretend that I'm Charlton Heston--I mean, Moses--at the Red Sea except, of course, that the plume of water doesn't part to me.  Of course, I don't want it to.

It's hot when I don't mind some teenager aiming the spray at me--although I have to wonder about any teenager who wants to see an old lady like me in a wet T-shirt!

If I were this woman, I don't know that I would merely stand in front of the fountain on a day like today:

Diane Randall.  Image from VeloJoy.

17 July 2013

Volunteering In Recycle-A-Bicycle's "Other" Center

This evening, i helped out at Recycle-A-Bicycle's Long Island City center.  I learned about it while helping out at RAB's DUMBO location.  

Both spaces are cluttered, as are most bike shops in New York CIty.  However, the Long Island CIty location feels more like a bike shop:  Spaces are used in ways that even most of us who've lived in postage stamp-sized apartments would have trouble imagining.  On the other hand, in DUMBO, some attempt is made to create space (or, at least the illusion of it) in the front area.  Also, the front of DUMBO is well-lit, both from the front windows as well as the light fixtures.  Even the image of such light is not possible in the more bunkerlike space at Long Island City.

As much as I enjoyed volunteering at the DUMBO spot, I think I'm going to continue helping out in Long Island CIty.  For one thing, it's much closer to where I live.  Also, the folks who run it--and those who volunteer--seem to be a more diverse group, even if there are fewer of them than there are at DUMBO.  I think it has to do with the way the neighborhood around the latter site has become chic in the way Soho was about twenty years ago (before it became the world's first mall with cast-iron architecture).  DUMBO is trying to appeal to a crowd that, I think, reads New York magazine when it isn't going to craft and food fairs.  In contrast, the neighborhood around the Long Island City site is still mostly industrial--as DUMBO was about thirty years ago--although new condo towers have opened nearby.

Oh, and I can't forget that the folks in Long Island CIty know from music.  It's always playing==everything from ''60's  rock classics, 70's funk and soul classics to rap from all over the world.

Finally, the Long Island CIty center has a greater selection of bikes: everything from a custom tandem to an early Trek carbon fiber bike, a couple of Peugeot PX-10s and a bike that looks like an imitation of a Flying Pigeon. (Why anyone would imitate such a bike is beyond me.)

And then there was an English three=speed with a missing head emblem and chainguard, but this chainring:

16 July 2013

A First, But Not A Latest

According to sociologist E. Digby Baltzell, Philadelphia is a city of "firsts", Boston a city of "bests" and New York a city of "latests".

The last part of Baltzell's observation makes perfect sense if you ride along the Ocean Parkway bike lane, as I did today.

Many histories, and the New York City Parks Department, maintain that it is the country's first bike path.  Whether or not such a claim can be made for it, the five-mile ribbon of asphalt and concrete is almost certainly the oldest bike lane continuously designated for the purpose.

Baltzell's observation might well explain why I rode the entire length of Ocean Parkway in both directions and saw only one other cyclist.  Granted, the temperature reached 34C (94F), but one might expect to see people--whether or not they are "serious" cyclists--riding to Coney Island, at the southern end of the path.

But I rode in the morning, before the worst of the heat baked the path, so I would have expected to see more riders.  

Aside from the heat, I think one reason why there was only one other cyclist--and there weren't many more when I rode the path about two weeks ago--is that the younger and hipper cyclists are riding the newer bike lanes, like the ones along the East River in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and along the Hudson on the West Side of Manhattan.

Also, there are no Citibike ports anywhere near the Ocean Parkway lane.  The nearest ones, I believe, are at Prospect Park--at its northern end, near the Brooklyn Museum and Library.  Ocean Parkway begins at the southwestern end of the park, about two miles (three kilometers) away.  So, if one were to take a Citibike from the Prospect Park park, he or she would not be able to return it in time:  One-time renters must bring the bike back within half an hour, while those with annual memberships have 45 minutes.  Even if one is in shape to ride a major race, he or she would have great difficulty in riding to Coney Island (or even halfway there) and back, especially given that Citibikes are not built for speed.

In any event, I hope that the Ocean Parkway path is not forgotten.  I suspect that Citibike ports will be installed along its length, and in Coney Island itself.

15 July 2013

The George Zimmarman Verdict

Alert:  Today's post has nothing to do with bicycling--not directly, anyway.  But I thought the issue was too important not to write about.

Being a trans woman, I know what it's like to be presumed guilty simply for being who and what you are.  And i have had people--including someone I mentioned recently on my other blog--use that aginst me.  And he got off nearly scot-free.

When a jury acquitted George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin, the storyline included everything in the previous paragraph, except for the trans part.  Zimmerman saw a black kid in a hoodie and figured he must have been up to no good.  And he knew that in an almost entirely white and very conservative part of Florida, many people would share his assumption of Martin's gullt.

To be fair, the jury--which consisted entirely of women, some of whom were mothers--expressed justifiable doubts about what they were hearing in both sides of the case.  Beause Trayvon Martin is dead, there is much that we will never know; whatever happened, George Zimmerman was probably not in a normal state of mind, so even if he was being entirely honest, his testimony (let alone his lawyer's) could not be entirely accurate.

Even if he were in a "normal" state of mind--which would have been all but impossible in such circumstances--I would still have doubts about his account of events. However, even if I or anyone else were to discount such doubts, I still believe that Zimmerman should have been indicted for something, if only manslaughter.

When I was in ROTC (!) a long time ago, I underwent firearms training.  The instructor--who, I was convinced at the time, could have ended up in prison instead of the Army had the screw been turned just a little differently--told us something I never forgot:  "If a gun is in your hand and a bullet comes out of it, you are responsible for where that bullet goes and what it does."

In other words, he said, if your gun fires "accidentally", you are responsible for whatever damage or loss of life results.  "If the bullet from your gun hits me, it'd better kill me," he warned.  "Otherwise, I'll find you wherever you are and finish the job."

That is not only the best (well, only)  instruction I ever got on firearms safety; it's one of the best lessons on personal responsibility anyone ever gave me.  

And so, whether Trayvon Martin was on top or on bottom, or wherever George Zimmerman aimed or didn't, he was responsible for Trayvon Martin's death. Perhaps the jurors didn't understand that, or whether or how they could have voted for a manslaughter convicion.  Or they may have simply been exhausted.  Whatever the case, justice was not done for Trayvon Martin and his family.

14 July 2013

Le Quatorze Juillet: Victoire Sur Ventoux, Mais Pas Pour Un Cyclist Francais

Aujourd'hui, c'est la fete nationale francaise:  le jour de la prise de la Bastille.

If any Francophones or Francophiles are reading this, I apologize that I don't have diacritical marks on my keyboard!

Anyway, I spent le quatorze juillet in France four times, two of them on my bicycle.

In France, this date is always one of the most important in the Tour de France.  Or, at least, it's one of the dates on which the French pay most attention to the race.  Perhaps the best way I can describe it for Americans is this:  Imagine that, on the Fourth of July (le jour d'independence american), there was one baseball game.  Imagine what it would be like if most of the nation (or what seems to be most people in the nation) watched it before enjoying barbecues with families and friends and fireworks displays in their communities.

On all four of the years in which I was in France for le quatorze juillet, I was also there for le quatre.  On two of those occasions, I was in Paris and there were celebrations of American independence.  (The French--even Parisians--don't hate Americans, contrary to what you've heard.  It's more complicated than that.)  But in the other two years, when I was in les pays, enjoying the festivities of le quatorze made up for The Fourth simply being another day.  Well, almost:  The Fourth also happens to be my birthday!

Anyway, in the glory years of French cycling--when riders like Jacques Anquetil, Bernard Thevenet and Bernard Hinault won the Tour--a win in the stage on the 14th was almost expected.  And, in recent years, when the races has been won by cyclists from Spain, Italy, Colombia, the US (Greg LeMond still has his titles.), Germany and--helas (if you're French, anyway)--Britian, French cycling fans could console themselves with a victory--or the prospect of one--by a French rider on Bastille Day.

However, this year, it was not to be.  However, today's stage had an interesting outcome, in its own way.  Chris Froome--a Briton by way of Kenya and South Africa--won today's stage, which ended on the Tour's most difficult climb, Mont Ventoux.

Froome spoils French party by omnisport-uk

Ventoux is inherently a difficult (rated hors de categorie) climb.  But what makes it even more difficult for Tour riders is the fact that, unlike climbs like Galibier, les deux Alpes and Peyresorde (all of which I've done!), Ventoux is not part of a mountain chain.  It seems to come out of nowhere, so it's a shock to riders who've spent the day on the rolling-to-flat terrain that surrounds it.

One of the reasons why Froome's victory on Ventoux is so interesting is that the mountain claimed another famous British rider.  In 1967, Tom Simpson become the first cyclist from Albion to wear the yellow jersey, signifying the race leader, in the history of the Tour.  Some believed he would win the whole race, as he'd had an enormously successful racing season.

However, in pedalling up Ventoux, he suffered a stroke that killed him.  An autopsy revealed--to the surprise of few--that drugs played a part in his death.

There is a memorial to Simpson, and every Tour cyclist pays tribute--whether by waving his cap or with some other gesture--to the rider whose death, some argued, set back the hopes and dreams of British racers for at least a generation.

Three years after his death, one of Simpson's former teammates (on the French Peugeot team) won the stage that ended on le geant de Provence and paid tribute to him.

He was, arguably (Well, I won't argue, anyway!), the greatest racing cyclist who ever lived:  Eddy Mercx.

13 July 2013

Dodging The Rain For The Light

The past two days have included bouts of rain.  A deluge bore upon us just after I woke up this morning; after that, it seemed to rain every two hours or so.

This afternoon, I decided to do one of my "playing chicken with the rain" rides.  I got on Tosca (She really seems to like those rides!) and dared the skies to spill their wrath on me.

After riding cirlicues of cul-de-sacs and alleys around La Guardia Airport and the World's Fair Marina, I pedaled up the incline from downtown Flushing to Bayside Avenue, which took me to the eponymous neighborhood--and one of my favorite cycling destinations in Queens:

Fort Totten, as I've mentioned in other posts, was built at the point where the East River (which separates Queens from Manhattan, the Bronx and Rikers Island) opens into the Long Island Sound.  Some say that this is where Gatsby's "North Shore" begins.  

It offers one of those "I don't believe I'm in New York City" views.  The great thing about it is that it's as wonderful on a day like today as it is when the sun is shining and there isn't a cloud in the sky.

Some would call the light I saw today "subdued" or even "melancholy".  I wouldn't disagree with either, and enjoy both aspects of it.  In a way, it's rather soothing, even forgiving:  It reminds me, just vaguely, of the light that illunminated many days (especially in the early spring or fall) I lived in Paris and some of the time I spent in Prague.  Although it's a light you in which you can immerse yourself after long periods of difficulty, it is not merely soothing for it brings a lot of things into relief in a way that most people (I include myself) could never do on their own.

As for "playing chicken with the rain":  I felt a few raindrops as I took the photo.  And a few more whisked me as I rushed through Jackson Heights.  But, at the end of the ride, most of the moisture on my skin was my own sweat:  As you might expect, the day was very humid.

12 July 2013

Christo, Bike Burritos and a Peugeot P8

By now, you've seen the Bike Burritos I attach to Arielle and Tosca when I don't need a larger bag.

Now I'm going to ask a question you'd probably never ask: What might a bike look like if it were finished to match my Burritos?

Well, it's not an exact match, but you get the idea.  I saw the bike parked in Tribeca, near the home of the Film Festival named for the neighborhood.

If you look closely, you realize the bike wasn't painted in that pattern:

The "finish" seems to be some kind of contact- or wall-paper wrapped around the frame tubes.

From the unwrapped parts of the bike, I guessed that it's a Peugeot P8 from around 1983.  I feel confident in saying that because I assembled dozens of them while working at Highland Park Cyclery.

Now I know what one of those bikes might have looked like if the creator of the Bike Burrito and Christo had collaborated!

11 July 2013

Croix de....?

Just a couple of pedal strokes away from my apartment, I chanced upon this:

I don't know whether the two crossed posts were intended to prop up the wires or the light fixture.  Perhaps they were intended as a monument to something.  Whatever their purpose, they looked ominious against a sky ready to drop its wrath.

For a moment, I recalled a cross I reached (but didn't bear) on bicycle:

Photo by Mute*

Yes, that is the Croix de Fer on top of Mount Royal in Montreal.  It's visible from just about anywhere in the city. (At least, it seemed to be when I last rode there, about a dozen years ago.)  The 1974 World Championships were held in Montreal; a Belgian racer said the climb up Mount Royal was one of the most difficult climbs he encountered in his career.

Said Belgian won the race.  Three guesses as to who he was...

(Yes, Eddy Mercx.)

Now, I wonder what the "cross" in my neighborhood was made from.  I don't think it's fer.

10 July 2013

An Old Conversion

In an earlier post, I wrote about the Schwinn Super Sport, a bicycle Schwinn produced from 1962 until 1973. 

At the time, Schwinn marketed it as a “lightweight” model.  It was indeed lighter than the Varsity or Continental, which were essentially ten-speed tanks.  The Super Sport featured a frame made of Chrome-Molybdenum tubing and most of its components, including the rims, were aluminum alloy.  One of the notable exceptions was the one-piece “Ashtabula” crank of the kind commonly found on cruisers, heavyweights and kids’ bikes.  (Some of those kinds of bikes, on which weight is no object, still come equipped with such cranks.)

However, it was possible to take a couple of pounds off the bike by changing the crankset.  At least one company offered a bottom bracket assembly that allowed the use of cotterless alloy cranks on frames made for Ashtabula cranks.  They seem to have been most widely used on motocross bikes; around the time that sport was developing, Gary Fisher, Joe Breeze, Tom Ritchey and other early mountain bikers were using crank adapters on old Schwinn balloon-tire bikes they adapted for use with derailleur gears.  (Most of those bikes came with single-gear coaster brake hubs as original equipment.)  I haven’t seen, or even thought about such a crank conversion in ages—until today.

This bike was parked, with a few other bikes that were being used for deliveries, outside a bodega/takeout luncheonette not far from where I live.  I spotted it on my way home from a lunchtime ride:

Unfortunately, as the bikes were locked to each other, I couldn’t get a better photograph.  But I think you can see how the bike was converted.

I’m guessing that this conversion was done some time ago, as the crank is a Sugino Maxy from the mid-1970’s that shows its age.  At the time, they were one of the least expensive cotterless cranksets made.  Many mid-level Japanese bikes—including the Nishiki International I once owned—came with the Maxy as standard equipment.

It wasn’t bad:  It was definitely an improvement over the cottered steel cranksets found on most European bikes in the same price range, or Ashtabula cranks.  On the Maxy (and other cranksets like the Takagi Tourney), the large chainring was “swaged” (pressed) onto the inside of the right crank arm, and the smaller chainring was bolted to it.

That meant, of course, that the outer chainring couldn’t be changed.  But cyclists rarely wanted to make such a change:  Outer chainrings usually had 50 or 52 teeth, and the smallest cog on most freewheels had 14 teeth.  (Thirteen-tooth cogs were still exotic items used by professional racers.)  And, it was believed, few people would ride enough miles to wear out the large chainring. 

Anyway, the Super Sport was probably the one full-sized, derailleur-equipped bike on which such a crank conversion made sense.  (The next model up in Schwinn’s lineup, the Super Sport, came with a Nervar or TA cotterless crankset.) 

Because the Maxy is of more or less the same era as the bike (and the conversion kit), it didn’t look out of place.  All of the other components, save one, were original.  The rear derailleur—an all-black Shimano Deore—is definitely an improvement over the Schwinn-branded Huret Allvit that came with the bike.  I couldn’t photograph the bike from an angle in which I could show the derailleur, but I think you’ll understand (and perhaps agree) when I say that it screams “replacement part” in a way the crankset doesn’t.

09 July 2013

A Frustrated Mechanic?

Most of the world uses the Metric system to measure things. 

My recalcitrant country-men and -women (I'm not politically correct enough to say "countrypeople"!) will have none of it:  We still cling to the Imperial/Avoirdupois system, and measure heat or cold in Farhenheit rather than Celsius temperatures.

About three decades ago, the powers-that-be in the world's bicycle industries talked of adopting a universal standards. At the time, most of the world's bikes came with English, French or Italian threadings for bottom brackets, freewheels (There weren't any cassette freehubs in those days.), headests, stems and pedals.  English measurements were expressed in inches, while French and Italian were in milli/centimeters.  Older and lower-priced American bikes had unique threads and other dimensions that were expressed in fractions and inches. But most bikes from Japan and current or former British colonies had English threads, while most Continental European bikes that weren't from Italy had French threads.

A strange thing happened, though.  French threading was dropped altogether.  Italian bikes--and some French and other Continental (e.g., Belgian) racing bikes adopted Italian standards.  But the rest of the world adhered to English standards--at the same time they started to size their bikes (even those intended for export to the US) in centimeters rather than inches and equipped them with 700C rather than 27" wheels.

I thought about all of this on seeing this graffito:

Was this person protesting the adoption of the Metric system?  Perhaps he/she was accustomed to ordering pints of beer in a bar/pub. Or, perhaps, he or she was a good ol' Amurrrikun mechanic who's sick of the half-Imperial, half-metric system we have in bicycling.

08 July 2013

Topless Or Fat-Bottomed?

If you're my age, or older, you remember the hoopla that accompanied the release of Queen's album Jazz.  It's the one that includes, among other songs, "Bicycle Race" and "Fat Bottomed Girls", which were also released as a "double-A side" single record.  

To promote the record and album, Queen staged a bicycle race with 65 nude young women:

I'm in the third row, fifth from the left.

As you can imagine, they had to retouch that photo (There was no Photoshop in those days!) any number of times to keep from running afoul of various local decency laws.  

Fast-forward thirty-five years:  Within the past month, dozens of municipalities--including Portland, San Francisco and Mexico City--staged massive nude bike rides.

I was almost tempted to find such a ride.  The weather has been so hot here!  That got me to thinking about one thing I can't do now that I could do until a few years ago.

You guessed it:  riding topless!  Actually, back when I was the "before" photo, I very rarely rode without a jersey or some other kind of top.  For one thing, I have always looked better with clothes than without. (Most people do. Trust me, I know!)  But, more to the point, I have fair skin and therefore burn easily.  And I always found sunburn on my shoulders, neck and back to be particularly painful. That, by the way, is also the reason why I almost never rode in a tank top or sleeveless jersey.  

But, one day, I just might ride au naturel.  If I'm doing it with a hundred other cyclists, maybe nobody will notice.  They just might compliment my bike!

07 July 2013

Wheels By The Tower

The Astro Tower, an iconic but decaying structure by the Coney Island boardwalk, swayed in the wind.  It hadn't been in use for a few years, so it was already starting to crumble before Superstorm Sandy struck.  So, it's really no surprise that the Tower was teetering.

The operators of Luna Park, the Cyclone and other Coney Island attractions feared that they'd have to close for the Fourth of July weekend.  That might have put a few people out of business altogether.  Fortunately for them, enough of the Tower was removed for the city to declare the area safe for tourists.

The Daily News--which has long billed itself as "New York's Picture Newspaper" published, not surprisingly, some stark if somewhat sensationalistic images of the Tower.  However, in its article announcing that Luna Park would be open for the weekend, the newspaper's editors included a photo that only tangentially related to the story.  Still, it was my favorite:

The Tower is the white structure to the left.  The main part of the photo seems to be a composition of wheels.  It could almost be included in an ad or article about alternative energy sources.

06 July 2013

Rad Dogs And English Bikes

The three H's:  hot, humid, holiday.

This weekend has had all three.  Normally, I wouldn't cycle to a beach area on such a weekend--especially on a Saturday.  However, there was so much of the first two H's that I went because I figured, correctly, that it would be a bit cooler by the water.

Also, Arielle wanted to sunbathe:

I never would have expected that of her.  But it makes sense:  Being a Mercian, she's finished with some good, old-fashioned English stove enamel.  Besides, Brits like to spend time in the sun and by the surf as much as anyone else does!

So, apparently, do dogs:

Yes, people actually walked those dogs into the water.  The tide was so far out at Point Lookout that, it seemed, people could have walked across the bay.

Actually, those canines are patrol dogs and the folks walking them are trainers.  Someone told me they're trained to rescue swimmers on Jones Beach, just across the inlet from Point Lookout, and that those dogs can actually swim from PL to JB.

As swimmers and sunbathers don't normally go to Point Lookout, it wasn't crowded.  However, Atlantic, Long and Rockaway Beaches, all of which lost most or all of their boardwalks during Superstorm Sandy, were full of beachgoers.  Still, except for a stretch of Long Beach, there wasn't as much traffic as I expected.

I'm glad that people are going to those beaches again.  I just don't want too many of them to go when I want to ride my bike to them!