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.

25 November 2013

In Autumnal Mists

If you read some of my earlier posts, you might recall that I actually enjoy riding in fog.

That's kind of ironic when you consider one of my rules about riding in the rain:  I won't do it if the precip is falling so densely that I can't see more than two bike lengths ahead of me.  Somehow, though, it's easier (for me, anyway) to navigate--and pedal--through even the densest fogs.  Hey, I've actually ridden through clouds, when ascending and descending mountains in Vermont and the French Alps.  Compared to that, navigating a mist is easy.

Perhaps my enjoyment of riding under such conditions has to do with the structure of my eyes:  After all, I love riding (or walking or just about anything else) in the diffuse light of places like Paris, Copenhagen and Prague, and of overcast days at nearly any seashore.

Perhaps the best thing about such light and mist is the way it brings out autumnal hues:

From Favim

What is it about bikes that they are (to my eyes, anyway) best photographed in the fall?

24 November 2013

Weird Handlebars

I can honestly say that I've ridden more bikes than most people will ever try.  I've mounted steel, carbon, titanium and aluminum bikes--and, yes, one made of wood.  Most of the bikes I've owned are/were high-quality steel ones; the others were aluminum.  That said, the only material besides steel (preferably Reynolds, but Columbus, Ishiwata, Vitus and Tange are also fine) I'd consider for one of my "good" bikes--let alone a custom build--is titanium.

For all of the bikes I've ridden, I must say I now realize that the range of handlebar styles I've ridden is fairly narrow. I never rode or owned "ape hanger" or "trekker" bars, and I've had only limited experience with aero or "bullhorn" bars.

I've also never ridden bars like the ones Chris Kulczyki posted on his Velo Orange blog the other day:

I love Chris and VO.  In fact, I use several VO products. But, for all of his love for traditional randonneur bikes made by constructeurs, I always suspected he had a secret liking of the bizarre.  After all, he and I are about the same age and can recall when being an adult cyclist--let alone one with the sort of tastes we share, at least to some degree--made us minorities, perhaps even geeks.  

When I use the later term, I don't mean to be derogatory in any way.  I mean simply someone who cares deeply about something that's not considered part of the mainstream.  Being transgendered makes me one almost by definition.  So does my love of poetry and interest in foreign films. So, some would argue, does the fact that I have been part of the academic world.

Anyway, seeing Chris' latest post got me to type "weird handlebars" in Google.  Some of the results are, not surprisingly, interesting and bizarre, even entertaining.

23 November 2013


I have to admit:  I have never been much of an indoor cyclist.  When I was racing, and when I was working out, I used to have a set of rollers for the winter.  But I've never owned an exercise bike and I've never taken a "spin" class.

"Spin" classes, to me, always seemed to be the bastard children of cycling and gyms.  From what I have seen, those who ride in "spin" classes may be getting great cardio workouts, but never mount bicycles they can ride from one place to another.  They also seem to want a gym that looks more like a cross between a disco and a boutique rather than one like the one in which I used to lift weights. Frankly, that place--located on a Brooklyn corner that hadn't yet gentrified-- was a dungeon, but I didn't mind:  I wasn't there to be seen.  The "spinsters" would not allow themselves to be caught dead in such a place.

The folks who designed Swerve must have understood that when they were designing their new studio.  Co-owner Eric Posner says, in different words, that his new venture is meant for "an individual to come and potentially meet people."  Those who come with other people can "compete together and hang out afterwards."

The funny thing is that although our workouts were solitary, I often found myself "competing together" and hanging out with some of the people who worked out alongside me in what we used to call "the sweatshop".  The difference, I guess, is that most of us didn't go there looking for dates.  (At least, I don't think most did.  I know I didn't.)  And if we had coffee afterward, it was in a real old-school luncheonette (Does anybody use that term anymore) a couple of doors away.

And some of us rode home--sometimes alone, sometimes together.

22 November 2013


Today, I am going to go off-topic.  I believe I have good reason:  This is the 50th anniversary of JFK's assasination.

I was five years old when it happened and have no memory of it.  Perhaps that says something unfavorable about me: I can remember a lot of other things from that time, but I can't even recall having the day off from school or the throngs of grieving people.

Still, I can't help but to wonder how different this country and world might be had he survived and served a second term as President.  He did some things that were misguided and politically-motivated, but I somehow think he had a more ideal, if romantic, view of people, his country and the world.

Perhaps the US military still would have been in Vietnam and we might have been involved in other wars.  After all, the man was a Cold Warrior, as nearly any politician elected to any office above the local or county level was in those days.

Also, he didn't act as quickly on Civil Rights issues as some would have liked.  However, he did lay the groundwork for the laws and policies that his successor, Lyndon Johnson, would sign into law.  And, somehow, I don't think it would have taken prodding from his vice president (as it did, ahem, with a certain President who fashions himself as JFK 2.0) for him to declare his support of same-sex marriage and other LGBT rights.

Whatever else we can (or can't) say about him, we "gotta give him props" for saying, "Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride."

21 November 2013

Beating A Tick

Normally, I try not to give Fox News publicity.  I try not to even dignify them by mentioning them at all. However, one of their affiliates in the middle of Pennsylvania actually reported favorably on a cyclist.

Then again, how could they not say anything positive about John Donnally?  In late September, he got on his bike in California and started pedaling to New York City, his hometown.  


Some undertake such rides because they can.  Others, like Donnally, ride for a cause.  In his case, he's part of the Tick Born Disease Alliance, and he's riding to raise awareness of Lyme Disease, which afflicts his parents and sister.

With yesterday's stop in Lancaster County, he has about 300 miles of riding to New York. He expects to arrive home on the first of December.

20 November 2013

Late Fall Trail Ride

I was dragged kicking and screaming to the Internet.  Now look at me--I'm a blogger.  Still, I'm not a "first adapter" of technology:  I tend to stick with things that work for me until I have no other choice.

That means I probably won't ever ride with a webcam in my helmet.  Had such devices been available back in my off-road riding days--and I had been more of a technophile, I might have made a video like this:

Thanks to Ruben Guibert for this!

19 November 2013

Ape Hanger Tandem

Here in New York City, it seems that every other bike shop employee is a musician.  One example--who just happens to be one of my favorite people in the bike world--is Hal Ruzal of Bicycle Habitat.

Another is a guy named Dave who works at Bike Stop, probably the closest shop (geographically, anyway) to me.

People often say that musicians are "different".  I agree.  Some who know me might say that I'm an example:  Long ago, in a distant galaxy (OK, in a different part of the world), I was a drummer in a punk band.  We never got beyond playing in some local bars and, to tell you the truth, we didn't aspire to much more.  Had we wanted wider audiences, we would have had to clean up our act and lyrics--and ourselves.

Anyway, I've often noticed that the bikes of musicians who work in bike shops are different from other people's.  (Are you surprised?)  Even by those standards, Dave's made me do a double-take:

Seeing a tandem here in NYC is notable enough:  I've only ridden them a couple of times, but enough to know that they're not easy to maneuver in traffic or store in many of the cubicles that pass for apartments in this town. I've also ridden bikes for two just enough to wonder how anyone could ride one with these bars:

Dave says he loves it.  Then again, he's a musician. I was once a drummer in a punk-rock band; some would argue that doesn't count.

18 November 2013

The Wheels Of Time

By now, you're most likely familiar with Marcel Duchamp's "Bicycle Wheel."

Keep in mind that it dates back at least half a century.

If he were to assemble a similar kind of work today, would it look something like this?:


17 November 2013

Among The Skyscrapers

Riding along the Hudson Greenway, I saw something from the corner of my eye.  No, it wasn't a creature in the river. As a Norwegian Cruise Lines ship ploughed through the choppy water, I spotted this equally-formidable vehicle across West Street:

Of course, I just had to take a look.  The handlebars on that bike came almost to my neck.  As it was locked to a railing, and its owner nowhere in sight, I could only wonder how one mounted, much less rode, it.

16 November 2013

Coloring My World

We're often advised to "stop and smell the roses."

Well, I stopped for flowers of some sort, but they weren't exactly roses.  I didn't mind:  They were flowers I'd never seen before.

I've seen other plants with buds that were bigger than those flowers.  Still, I assure you that they are indeed flowers, petals and all.

My cell phone camera didn't quite capture what I saw:  a kind of pointillist scrim of purple in the garden of St. Luke in the Fields.  I have no idea of what they're called, but whatever their name, they made me happier today.

15 November 2013

The Invasion Of The Parking Snatchers

I don't read the Washington Times very often.  On the few occasions in which I've done so, it seemed like the New York Post transplanted to the banks of the Potomac.

I've spent enough time in organizations and involved in movements to know that sometimes their most ardent supporters can be their worst enemies.  I've seen too many single-minded activists and pure-and-simple zealots alienate people who could have just as easily been their allies.  

It's almost surreal to see both what I described in the previous two paragraphs come together, as it did in a piece published yesterday.

The WT article was entitled "Residential Parking Sacrificed to Bicycle Lanes: Bike 'Wars'?".  Those of us who live in communities with bike lanes and share programs have heard or read some variation on it by now:  It's like The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, with those alien cyclists and their strange vehicles "taking over" residential and business areas and wresting parking spaces from innocent, bewildered home and business owners.

I almost didn't read the WT article.  I'm glad for whatever influenced me to venture beyond the title and through the first three-quarters or so of the article.  Up to that point, I could have substituted the name of any number of New York City neighborhoods for Alexandria and the story would have been, essentially,the same as the ones we see in the Post (New York, not Washington).

I knew something was up, though, when after quoting someone who whined that cyclists "take over," the author of the article wrote, "Another common argument against cyclists and bicycle commuters is that they make up less than two percent of the American population."

Now, I know we're powerful and persistent (and, I daresay, smart), but I don't recall many examples of two percent of the population taking over the other 98 percent.  I also don't recall any group that's insignificant enough to dismiss yet powerful enough to "take over".  

Oh, but it gets even better.  A few sentences later, the author tells is that, on a given day, the number of cyclists who use a certain street exceeds the number of drivers who park in the spaces that would be eliminated for a planned bike lane.  In other words, those spaces are empty more than they're not.  And, as one study pointed out, the majority of the vehicles in those spaces are those of visitors, or they're service vehicles.

Hmm... Maybe if the anti-bike folks continue to make such fallacious arguments, we won't need to be so ardent or strident.  

That said, as I've mentioned in other posts, I'm not 100 percent for more bike lanes. I'm not against them; I just don't think they alone (or in conjunction with bike-share program) will make a community friendlier or safer for cyclists.  I still think it's far more important to have drivers--whether of personal vehicles, city buses or long-haul trucks--who also ride bikes, even if only on occasion. Especially such drivers who are also planners and policy-makers.

As for the WT article I mentioned:  I never would let my students get away with the lapses in logic I found in it.

14 November 2013

It Made Our Bikes Possible

We have all had our life-changing moments, for better and worse: the first kiss, finding out that a hero or role model was merely mortal, tasting an unfamiliar food and liking (or disliking) it more than we expected, or doubting something that had always been believed or assumed.

I'm not going to tell you that I've had such a life-changing moment today, or within the past week or month.  But I got to thinking about those revelations or epiphanies or whatever you want to call them in our cycling lives.

Some of us experience such a moment upon riding a bike with dropped bars or a hard leather saddle and discovering it is actually comfortable--or, at least, not as uncomfortable as we expected.  Or it can come when we try a new genre of riding or type of bike:  For example, I never expected to fall in love with fixed-gear riding.  Conversely, some of us might learn that we do not have the time, resources or talent to become the racers we hoped to be--or that age or other changes in our bodies might mandate changes in the way we ride.

And then there are the seemingly-smaller, but nonetheless influential experiences that cause us to see some aspect of our cycling in a different way.

If you came of age during the 1970's (as a cyclist, anyway), one such experience could have come after you'd spent some time riding a typical bike from that era, which came equipped with Huret or Simplex derailleur--or the Campagnolo Valentino or Gran Turismo. Perhaps the derailleur broke, wore out or rusted solid (a common occurrence with Huret derailleurs in rainy climates).  Or you got to ride a friend's bike, or test-ride one in a shop.

Your friend's bike, or the one you test-rode, might have been equipped with the same derailleur your shop mechanic installed (or recommended, if you did your own work) when your Simplex, Huret or Campy died.  That derailleur was the Sun Tour GT--or, later, the VGT.

Sun Tour V-T Luxe Derailleur, ca. 1974.  From Disraeli Gears

To this day, I don't think I've ever ridden any other bike part that seemed so far superior to its counterparts.  Some people have described feeling that way about using an Apple computer after years of working on machines equipped with Microsoft.  Since I haven't used Apple, I can't vouch for its superiority.  However, I can assure you that the difference between Sun Tour derailleurs and anything else made during the 1970's was at least as great.

From what I understand, Apple is influencing changes in the design of other computers and electronic devices and that, in the near future, I might be using something with their imprint whether or not it's my intention.  

In a similar fashion, even though SunTour went out of business around 1995 (though its name is still licensed for bike parts marketed in Europe and other parts of the world), nearly all of us are riding a SunTour derailleur, if you will.  If you're riding any derailleur that clicks when you shift it, the mechanism will have a geometry very similar to, if not exactly the same as, a SunTour V-series (V, VT, V-GT, Vx, Vx-GT) from the 1970's.  Yes, even arch-rival Shimano adopted it for all but its least expensive rear derailleurs.  

In fact, Shimano's first SIS series of integrated derailleurs, shifters, cogs and chains came out in 1985--the year after SunTour's 1964 patent on the slant-parallelogram derailleur expired.  Shimano had made earlier, unsuccessful attempts at creating an indexed ("click-shift") derailleur system.  Turns out, they needed Sun Tour's slant parallelogram to make it work.

Ironically, when SunTour made its own indexed system a couple of years later, it didn't work as well as Shimano's.  The same was true of Campagnolo's first attempt at such a system:  the Synchro, which some of us called the "Stinkro".  SunTour and Campy both made the same mistake:  They simply retro-fitted an indexed ring to shifters they already made and didn't integrate it with the other parts.   

Campagnolo survived its mistake only because its more traditional Record (the Nuovo, Super and C- series) were still widely used in elite pelotons such as those of le Tour, il Giro and la Vuelta.  As good as SunTour's earlier equipment was, it was still almost unknown in those circles and, costing much less than Campy's stuff, didn't have snob appeal.  

People who started riding during the mid-90's or later have probably never heard of SunTour. But that once-proud derailleur maker made the bikes most of them ride possible--and changed our cycling world.

13 November 2013

If You Have To Bring Your Bike Back To The Shop...

I've worked in a bicycle shop during the week between Christmas and New Year's Day.  A kid and his or her parent (or some other adult) would come in with the bike the kid got as a present.  One or both of the wheels would be shaped like tacos, pretzels or some other appetizer or snack served before or after the holiday dinner.

The kid or adult would claim the kid "was just turning the corner" when "it bent."  When the kid's puppy-dog eyes didn't elicit a free replacement of the wheel or bike, the adult would demand a refund.

Other current and former bike shop employees have told me similar stories.  No doubt the one who made this graphic has heard it, too:

By Jessica Psy De Lacy

12 November 2013

Wearing The Pants

Back in 1984, Levi's was the official outfitter for the US Olympic Team.  That year, the Games were held in Los Angeles.  In those days, Levi's blue jeans were made up the coast, in San Francisco.

That was during the time in my life when, off the bike,  I wore nothing but Levi's 501s with button-down, polo, rugby, flannel or T-shirts, depending on the occasion. Sometimes I wore those things while riding, too.  And, of course, when the weather was warm enough (and I could get away with it), I wore 501 cutoffs.  

I know lots of cyclists could have said the same thing about their sartorial habits.  I'll bet there are plenty of cyclists today who could.  Thus, I am still amazed that Levi's never came out with a line of cycle clothing--at least to my knowledge.

I got into this rumination of threads past when I saw this ad:

 Apparently, someone named M Schwab designed it during the 1970's.  I wonder what he/she is doing now.

11 November 2013

The Comfort of a November Sky

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that I was feeling sad.  One reason is that a few people who have mattered to me died around that time of year--including a family member who was a couple of years younger than I am now and a female friend who committed suicide.  But another cause of my tristesse is the days growing shorter.

Interestingly, I don't notice the lack of light as much when I'm riding my bike.  In fact, the graying November sky becomes rather comforting, like a shawl spread across bare, wizening limbs and rocks:

And the November dusk has its own sort of lumination, like a sort of wisdom revealed:

A little bit of that light crossed my path--or so it seemed:

When I stopped, he rubbed against my ankles.  When I dismounted and squatted next to my bike, he rubbed his face against my hand.

He brought me joy tinged with a note of sadness:  A cat so friendly could only have been abandoned by someone.   

In that sense--as well as in his physical appearance--he's like Max.  My friend Mildred, who rescued him, told a similar story:  He, who had never before met her, approached her as she walked down the street.

I didn't have a bag or basket, but I was tempted to find a way to bring my new-found friend home.  I gave myself all of the reasons why I couldn't.  A woman sitting on a nearby bench told me not to worry:  He's been living on that stretch of the Rockaway boardwalk for "about three years" and she and other people feed him.  

I guess he manages to sleep and survive with that sky as his blanket and the sand as his mattress.

10 November 2013

What Will Be The Latest Diet Craze For Bike Parts?

It looks like we're about due for a wave of insane measures to save weight on bike parts.  Of course, some might argue that we are in one.  In any event, it seems that such a cycle comes every other decade. 

In my cycling life, I have witnessed two such bouts of insanity. The first came during the '70's.  Those of you who weren't into cycling (or weren't around) then probably remember other ridiculous fads like disco, droopy mustaches, pastel-colored suits and mood rings.  Well, in cycling, there was something almost as absurd:  an attempt to turn seemingly every bicycle part into a wedge of Emmentaler (or, for us Americans, a piece of Swiss cheese).

 Ah, yes, drillium.  I remember it well.  Along with it came slotted brake and shift levers.  Ironically, Campagnolo's cut-out Super Record brake levers actually weighed a few grams more than their smooth-surfaced Record levers.  A company rep said that Campy made the material thicker so to make the levers safe for slotting.

Along with grunge rock and "indie" everything (To me "indie" meant, in the '90's. more or less what "gourmet", when used as an adjective, meant in the '80's:  "pretentious".), the final decade of the 20th Century took slotting one step further.  It seemed that every kid who had an Erector Set as a kid came of age during that decade and either made bike parts or opened a "high concept" shop that sold them:

What will this decade's insane attempt to save a gram bring us?  I would argue that it already gave us one such trend:  almost everything made of carbon fiber.  Now, I can understand why racers would want a carbon fiber frame, and perhaps even a set of wheels--as long as his or her sponsor is paying for them.  But a carbon fiber seat post rack?  Any kind of rack made of that material?  The day we see a carbon fiber GPS system for bikes will be the day when, as Pere Teilhard de Chardin said about the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, technology has triumphed over reason.

09 November 2013


As you may know, my bicycles were made in a part of England that was part of the ancient kingdom of Mercia.  Some people and things from that region--like my bikes--are still called Mercians.  

So, not surprisingly, there's a Mercian Regiment of the British Army:

I always find it kind of amusing when military and paramilitary organizations make "ladies'" pendants, brooches or other accessories.  I think I gave my mother such a pin on some occasion from Scouts or the Army, I forget which.  Maybe she still has it.  

Anyway, learning about that regiment, for me, begged the obvious question:  What bicycles do they ride?

08 November 2013

A Transgendered Bicycle?

Mixte frames are often referred to as "unisex".  Although the top tube, which is horizontal on a diamond or "men's" frame, slopes downward (and is sometimes split into smaller twin parallel tubes), it doesn't tilt as far downward as the top tube of a traditional "women's" bike.  Also, the top tubes of  traditional women's bikes are often curved near the point where they meet the seat tube.  

Whatever the designations and nomenclature,  the truth is that, at least here in the US, female cyclists are much more likely than males to ride mixtes.  And one rarely, if ever, sees a male cyclist of any age on a traditional female bike.

Some comedian--I forget who--once joked about getting hand-me-downs, and his older siblings were all girls.  I wonder how many boys have gotten bikes their older sisters rode before them.  And, of course, some girls received bikes their older brothers rode.  Believe it or not, one girl I knew was gifted with her older brother's Columbia diamond-frame (a.k.a. "men's") after its top tube was removed to turn it into a "girl's" bike!

But I never heard of anyone turning a female bike into a male one--until I saw this:

From Bicycle Shaped Objects

 As a result of "surgery" performed on it, this vintage Schwinn cruiser no longer has a down tube.

I have to admit:  I love the style.  But I'm not so sure I'd want to ride it!

06 November 2013

Views After My Commute

After I rode home from work, Vera and I were ready for a little more action and some visual stimulation.

So we climbed the stairs to the walkway/bike lane of the RFK/Triborough Bridge.  We could not have had a better view of Upper Astoria clothed in fall colors:

It's a New York view most people never see.  But, when I turned around, I encountered the sort of vista almost everyone expects late on a mid-autumn afternoon in the Big Apple:

Even the Hell Gate railroad trestle took on the hues of foliage reflected in the late-day sun:

Vera was being modest about helping to make this mini-revelry possible:


05 November 2013

November Discs

Those of us who are writers or other creative artists have our own ways of getting started.  One obvious way for a writer is, of course, reading.  But many of us also follow visual cues such--or, as you might expect, take walks or bike rides.

When I first started writing poetry, I would sometimes begin my work with word associations.  For example, if I looked at the sky, I might write that word, then "flight", "wind", "skip", "bliss" or other words, and write a couple of lines using those words.

These days, I sometimes play a version of that game, if you will, on Google or some other search engine.  I might type in a word or phrase and see what comes up.

I did that a moment ago.  I typed in "bicycle november" and came up with a bunch of things, including a shop called November Bicycles.

Of course, I checked them out.  They're very much a racing-oriented shop, so I may not ever buy anything from them.  However, I like its owners' philosophy--or, at least, what I gleaned of it from the blog that's part of their site.

For one thing, they feel that racing bikes--and, especially wheels--cost too much.  So, as they explain, they market their own products and bypass many of the distribution channels through which other retailers obtain the merchandise they sell.

And they clearly have their own opinions about riding and equipment.  At least those opinions seem to be based on experience and common sense--and, unlike at least one other would be philosopher-bicycle retailer, they're  not evangelizing or selling a lifestyle.

Mike and Dave of November Bicycles

One blog post I found particularly interesting was "My Opinion On Disc Brakes."  In it, the author admits that he uses discs on at least one of his bikes.  But he also doesn't relish the prospect of them becoming the de facto industry standard for all bikes.  For one thing, trying to squeeze them into a road bike, which has narrower frame spacing than a mountain or cyclo-cross bike, can be problematic, especially if the bike has an 11-cog rear cassette.  The only way it seems possible to make it work is to use a brake with a smaller rotor, which negates most of the advantage a disc is supposed to have over caliper brakes.

About that advantage, he's skeptical, if not doubtful.  He also mentions problems in keeping them adjusted:  On some models, on some bikes,it's all but impossible to keep the pads mounted close enough to the rotor so that braking response is quick and powerful, without the pad occasionally rubbing on the rotor as you ride.  So you choose between response, power and modulation or being able to ride at more than a snail's pace.

What I found interesting is that the arguments he makes against disc brakes--except for the difficulty of using them with 11 (or even 10) cogs are ones I and any number of other mechanics could have made thirty years ago.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, "new" ideas in bike design (or almost any other area, for that matter) almost always are reiterations of things that had been done before.  For example, German manufacturer Altenberger made dual-pivot sidepull caliper brakes during the 1960's and '70's.  A few bikes were equipped with them; as one mechanic lamented, "They have the worst features of center pulls and side pulls, and none of the good features."  About twenty years ago, Shimano resurrected the dual-pivot concept and eliminated most of the problems encountered on the Altenbergers.

So it was with disc brakes.  As I recall, a Japanese company, a French company and Phil Wood made them.  For the latter, it was probably the only faulty product he ever made:  They were recalled.  But they, and the others, had the same problems with adjustability and issues with rotor size the author of November Bicycles mentions.  

Back in my day, the only bicycles that used discs were tandems.  Because tandeming has always been one of the smaller niches of the bicycling world, ideas, innovations and products developed for them rarely find their way onto other kinds of bikes.  That, and the problems I mentioned, are the reasons why disc brakes all but disappeared by the mid-1980's.

03 November 2013

As I Ride, The Season Turns

I must be really photosensitive or something.  I seem to sense the movements of the seasons, the mood of a moment and much else through changes in the light that surrounds them.

We are deep into the middle of autumn now. Today, during my ride to Point Lookout, I could feel a turn within the season as the sky became a prism that refracted the hues of the earth into glacial shades.

About 15 km (10 mi) into my 105 km (65 mile) ride, I encountered this just before I entered the Addobo Bridge:

Even the evergreens and meadow grasses next to Jamaica Bay seem to be saying that summer is long, long past, and there is no going back, not for a long time.  However, by the time I got to Point Lookout, the season had indeed turned:

If this doesn't foretell the coming of winter, I don't know what does.

01 November 2013

Everything New Is Old Again

Early in this blog's history, I documented using, at the suggestion of my gynecologist, Terry "donut" saddles.  I found that I didn't like them:  They reminded me of the Avocet saddles with the "groove" in the middle, which I tried not long after they came out.  Both saddles had the same effect:  They created pressure points, and discomfort, around my genitals--even though my genitals were not the same when I rode the Terry as they were when I rode the Avocet.

After the Terry experiment, I went back to Brooks saddles and have had no problems.  That may have something to with my post-surgery genitals healing and developing:  Although the area around them is more tender than it was in my days as a male, it's not quite as delicate as it was in the days just after my surgery.

Brooks has been making stretched leather saddles for nearly a century and a half.  Over the past decade or so, other companies have begun to make similar saddles.  At least even the most casual cyclist knows that those companies are appropriating and,in some cases, tweaking an old technology.  

The same was not true when Avocet first came out with its "grooved" or "double hump" saddles in 1977 or when Terry came out with its "donut" seats in 1994--or, for that matter, when AnAtomica started cutting out the middle sections of Brooks saddles in 2005 (or when Brooks began to sell its "Imperial" saddles in 2008. Every one of those ideas had been tried before.  Those companies marketed those saddles--and the public believed they were--innovations. 

Take a look at this Garford ladies' padded saddle from 1895:

Or this one, introduced five years earlier:


Yes, that is the original "Imperial" saddle, in the Brooks 1890 catalogue.