26 January 2014

Out Of The Mists Of The Past

This may not seem bicycle-related.  However, I believe there is a kinship between urban mass transportation systems and cycling.  

All right...Urban mass transportation systems have always interested me.  So has the history of New York.  Perhaps those are the reasons I found this photo irresistible and was thinking of an excuse to post it here:

This train is entering the New Lots Avenue station on the Canarsie Line (now the "L" train) of the New York City subway system.  From the light and the condition of the trees, I'd guess it's from early spring.  And, from the style of train cars, I can tell you that this undated photo was probably taken some time before the early 1970's, as these cars were "retired" by that time.

You can find this photo, and more, on www.nycsubway.org. (Note:  The site is not affiliated with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.)

25 January 2014

Saturday Sillies: Twisted Toilets

OK.  After yesterday's rant, some Saturday Sillies are in order.  (Can "sillies" be in order?  Or is that an oxymoron?)

If your local bike shop also doubles as a headquarters for skateboarders--or simply has lots of adolescents hanging around in it--it probably sells low-rider bikes.

For years, low-rider enthusiasts have favored "twisted" parts. 

On this bike, the handlebars, mirror holders, fender braces and banana-seat struts all look like mono-chromed candy canes.  I have also seen pedals with twisted cages and cranks that look "twizzled."

Still, most of the frames looked like the ones found on Schwinn Sting-Rays and Raleigh Choppers that were popular in my childhood:  They were constructed from traditional round steel tubes.

Just recently, I came across a twisted frame.  However, it wasn't made for a lowrider:  It seems to have 700C wheels and conventional road/city bike components:

From Zedomax.com

I have no idea of how such a bike would ride or how long it would last.

On another note, I'm going to offer you an insight that very few other bloggers or cyclists--or, indeed, very of any kind of person--could give you.  But don't worry:  It still has to do with weird bikes.

One of the first things I noticed upon venturing out into the world as Justine is that--as I heard so many women complain--the lines to women's bathrooms are indeed longer than those for men.  This is especially true at the end of a showing or performance, or during intermissions.  

However, I have found one exception to this rule:  organized bike rides.  I have been on a few--including two Five Boro Bike Tours--since I began my transition.  Even events like 5BBT, which attract large numbers of families and more women than most bike rides, are ridden by far more male than female cyclists.  So, as you have guessed, the women's lines at rest stops are shorter than those for men.

Any guy (or gal, for that matter) who simply can't endure the wait might want to consider this:

From Jeremy Gadd


24 January 2014

An Argument That Doesn't Hold In Watertown

I have been called "crazy" and worse for riding in cold, rain, snow, sleet and conditions not mentioned in the "postmen's pledge."

I've cycled in colder and other wintrier conditions than the ones we've been experiencing here in New York over the past few days.  Once I even pedaled to work when the temperature was -8F (-22C).

But, I'll concede that I've never cycled in Watertown, NY. I've passed through it once or twice, though not in winter.  Knowing where it is, and having been in (and cycled) some of the surrounding area, I know they get a lot more snow and ice--and colder temperatures--than we get here in the Big Apple.

However, if I were to ride in there today, the mayor would not call me "crazy."  According to Jeffrey Graham, I am worse:  I am insane, criminally so.  He says that those of us who pedal the streets of his fair city in winter are a "clear and present danger."  (Wow!  We must be really powerful if he's comparing us to an erstwhile superpower!) He likens us people who ride in winter to those who text while driving to assert that we should be arrested.

Yes, you read that right.  Even though cyclists don't need anyone to dig or tow them out of snowbanks.  Even if we skid, we don't crash into buildings and cause thousands of dollars worth of damage or kill schoolchildren.  If anything, we're probably at less risk than most drivers because we are--have to be--more attentive to, and prepared for, any conditions we may meet.  

I guess haters have to latch onto something else when they don't have a Bike Share program where they live.

Watertown Mayor Jeffrey Graham:  "They should be arrested."

23 January 2014

Going Dutch

Yesterday, I mentioned that some people hate Citibike because they perceive it and programs like it to be "vaguely French."

Well, they've got it all wrong.  You see, as wonderful as le beau pays is, and even though it is (or, at least was, until recently) more bike-friendly than most other places, probably no place on earth is more bike-friendly than Amsterdam.

At least that's what the folks at Copenhagenize would tell us.  Based on my admittedly limited experience with Amsterdam, I wouldn't argue.  According to their index, the city from which Colorado and Washington have taken their leads (in one area, anyway, if you know what I mean) edges out the Danish capital.  

For all that's happened in places like New York, Boston and Portland, no US city made the top fifteen.  In fact, Montreal--which tied Munich for #11--is the only North American city in that group.

This infographic provides some interesting and relevant facts about cycling in Amsterdam:

Amsterdam bike population infographic by easyJet holidays
From Easyjet

22 January 2014

Bixi Est En Faillite; En Vive Citibike

Scarcely a day goes by without the New York Post or Faux--I mean Fox--news bashing the Citibike program.

A while back, New York magazine published a tongue-in-cheek article and Venn diagram suggesting reasons why "conservatives" "hate" Citibike and all other bike share programs.  One of the reasons given is that they perceive the program as "vaguely French."  

Bicycles in Montreal's bike-sharing program.

I put the word "conservative" in quotations because my understanding of the term is not necessarily what the author of the article seems to think it is.  And, among them, they don't all "hate" the program, or bicycles:  I know, and have known conservatives who are avid cyclists.

But folks who fit the writer's perception of the term--which I take to mean the editors of the Post and the Fox crowd--may be waiting with bated breath for a shoe to drop.

You see, Public Bike System Company, the Montreal firm that designed the Citibikes and their ports, has filed for bankruptcy.  Apparently, Citibike and the Chicago bike share programs didn't make payments to the company because glitches that resulted in difficulty or impossibility in taking bikes from, or returning them to, their ports.   

BSC, also known as Bixi, administers the bike share program in Montreal and supplies bikes and other equipment for the programs in a number of cities, including New York and Chicago.  

Citibike and New York City government officials said that BSC's bankruptcy shouldn't affect Citibike's current operations.  However, one has to wonder whether expansion of the program into other parts of the city (including my neighborhood, Astoria, and other parts of Queens) will be put on hold or cancelled altogether.

21 January 2014

Yesterday's Ride, Today's Storm

I am so glad I took my ride yesterday.  I thought I’d sneak in a short ride this morning.  But the snow started earlier than had been forecast:  When I woke up, just before 8 am, the wind was already driving needles of cotton against my window and the faces of people ploughing ahead on their way to work or school.  They weren’t supposed to encounter such weather conditions until the time most of them would have been going home.  Not surprisingly, some of them returned early to the warmth and comfort of their hot cocoa and friends, lovers, pets, books, TV shows and videos.

Pedaling as soft, puffy flakes eddy onto my shoulders would not have been bad.  But the conditions I saw this morning would are the sort you envision in a Dickens story or, perhaps, a Bergmann film. I have mentioned, in previous posts, other meteorological “lines in the sand” I’ve drawn.  For example, I am sometimes willing to ride in the snow or rain, but not when both are falling—or when they’re accompanied by sleet.  I also generally don’t ride if I can barely see out my window or if the morning commute looks like the Battle of Stalingrad.  

Well, I don’t know what the Battle of Stalingrad looked like.  For that matter, I don’t know, exactly, what a Dickensian morning looks like, though his writing and my imagination create a vivid image.  But I have seen morning in a Bergmann film.  Anyway, you know what I mean.

Days like today aren’t for riding, at least for me.  But I can bask in the glow of yesterday’s ride.  

20 January 2014

Looking Out For Whitelaw

Today was mild, if not exceptionally so, for this time of year.  The temperature reached 46F (8C).  The skies were overcast and a breeze from the west occasionally gusted.

It was all good enough for me to go for a bike ride.  And, given that today is a holiday (the day on which Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday is observed), I had time for a longish ride.

So what did I do?  I rode to Point Lookout:  105 km (65 miles) round-trip—on my fixed gear.  The ride is flat, but it’s still longer than I might normally do at this time of year.  So I’m feeling good about that.  Perhaps I am in better shape than I thought I was, and that bulge I feel in my belly is a paranoid delusion. (Dream on!)

Of course, these guys (or girls:  I, of all people, should not be sexist!) are always in shape.  How could they not be?

And they’re more intrepid than I am:  When the snowstorm we’re supposed to get arrives tomorrow, they’ll still be flying around, swooping down and scooping up food for which people pay good money in nearby restaurants.  Meanwhile, I’ll be in my place, preparing  syllabi for the coming semester and, possibly, soup or tomato sauce.

The avian avatars will miss out on such experiences—and the irony of seeing this on Martin Luther King Jr’s holiday:

I wonder if residents of the neighborhood—Ozone Park, Queens—have ever noticed.  At one time, not so long ago, they were all white.  (I know; I had relatives who lived there!) Now many of them are South Asian and/or Caribbean.  Did they have “Whitelaw” in their old countries?

19 January 2014

Citibike In Winter

From Diario en Bici

I have no empirical studies to back up what I’m about say:  The popularity of Citibike, New York’s bike-share program, has continued into the winter.  Granted, I don’t see as many people riding those blue bikes as I did during the summer or even in November.  But I still see fair number of them: sometimes more than I see “civilian” cyclists.

If my perception is indeed accurate, it bodes well for the program.  I can think of two possible explanations for what I’ve seen. One might be that New York residents who don’t own bikes but have yearly memberships are trying to make as much use of them as they can.  The other could be that more and more visitors to the city see going for a bike ride as a requisite experience, much as other tourists (or, perhaps, they themselves), might see going to museums, galleries, plays or concerts, shopping, eating foods they might not find at home or—incredibly—going for a horse-and-carriage ride in Central Park. 

I’ve never checked out a Lonely Planet, Routard or Let’s Go! guide to the Big Apple.  I wonder whether they’re telling people that pedaling through the urban canyons is a “must” for one’s stay in my hometown.

18 January 2014

American Style

A few posts ago, I talked about the 1970's  "Bike Boom."  One phenomenon related to it is the rise, for a time, of a sort of cottage industry.  For the first time since the Six-Day Races of the 1930's, a number of American artisans were building frames in the US.  At the same time, a few notable framebuilders emigrated to the US and set up shop here.

Until that time, about the only high-quality custom bike built in the US was the Schwinn Paramount.  Nearly all of the bikes ridden by US Olympians until 1984 were Paramounts; one urban legend of the time said that company founder Ignaz Schwinn and his sons and grandsons built those bikes--on which they never made any money--out of patriotism and their desire to ensure that Schwinn was the Great American Bike Builder.

But by the 1970's, a small but growing number of cyclists wanted high-quality lightweight bicycles.  Most people don't realize how labor-intensive building bicycles, especially those with hand-built frames is. That accounts for their high prices and why Schwinn could not keep up with the demand, as small as it was.  So, a few builders thought it was a good time to enter the frame.

Colin Laing came here from England, Falliero Masi from Italy and Francisco Cuevas from Argentina (He began his career in Spain) and set up shop.  Around the same time, Albert Eisentraut, Tom Kellogg, McLean Fonvielle and other US-born framebuilders began practicing their craft.  

One such builder was Brian Baylis, who built this bike:

I am sorry that this isn't a higher-resolution photo.  The details of this frame are just amazing.  And, of course, the color scheme is something I might have ordered.  But it's not a "fade"; even though this frame was built in the '80's, Baylis--or whoever ordered this frame--didn't get sucked into that unfortunate trend.

He just recently retired from framebuilding.  Others from his generation stopped building or were hired by larger bike manufacturers to build "custom" bikes for them.  The reasons why they did so were mainly economic:  In spite of their high cost to the consumer, most custom-built frames make very little money for those who build them.  It's also hard on the body:  that is one reason why Baylis has retired and Peter White, renowned for his wheelbuilding and his eponymous shop in New Hampshire, stopped building frames.  

17 January 2014

Following An Old Ramble

 I haven't done as much cycling as I'd planned or hoped to do this week.  One reason, I guess, is that I am recuperating from the cold (At least, that's what I think and hope it was) I was denying I had.  

But today I took a decent ride.  Although I slept fairly late, I managed to get a 40 mile (65 km) ride in, with a few short but fairly steep climbs.

I took a rather circuitous route to a place I used to cycle through and to regularly when I was living in Washington Heights.  Back in those days, Yonkers--at least the part west of the Thruway (a.k.a. I-87) was the sort of place for which, it seemed, the word "depressed" had been coined. Nearly all of it was as poor--and, not surprisingly, black--as some parts of the neighboring Bronx.   But, unlike some of the Big Apple's poverty pockets, it seemed utterly listless--as if there wasn't even enough energy to be angry, let alone get into a fight.  

So why did I ride there?  As I mentioned, it was close by and had a few decent climbs.  Also, there used to be a bakery that made fresh pita. (There was, and is, a Middle Eastern community.)  Depending on how much time I had (or how much I wanted) to ride, I could continue further into Westchester County, to Sleepy Hollow country.  Best of all, the city skirts the Hudson River and offers some fantastic views up- or down-stream:

Downstream.  The George Washington Bridge is in the distance.

Across:  The Palisades

Part of the purpose of my trek was a test ride.  More about it, and some other things I've used lately, later.

16 January 2014

Creatures Along The Way

When you ride off-road—or even on roads or paths that cut through flora and fauna—you are bound to encounter creatures great and small.

Here in New York, if you ride through or near a park—or any place with more than a couple of trees—you’ll see squirrels.  Most of them will simply avoid you.  The same is true of chipmunks.  In fact, most creatures you might encounter in or around this city really don’t want to go anywhere near you.  They include the deer that have darted or loped across my path just on the other side of the George Washington Bridge and in the leafy parts of Westchester County.

In fact, most of the animals that venture near you are sick or otherwise impaired, or dying.  That includes the large rat that went “thwop” against the side of my Deep-V rim when I sliced through late-summer haze along the flat stretch on the east side of Prospect Park.  At that time—around 2001—there’d been a number of construction projects near that side of the park and, as someone explained to me, the excavations opened up various Pandora’s boxes.

Far more charming—and healthier—were the oak bark-colored mountain goats that seemed to line up along the side of the road up the Col du Portillon/ Coll de Portillo on the border between France and Spain.  I half-expected them to chuckle:  After all, they climbed that mountain every day.  And they didn’t have a 36X28 gear!

Handsome creatures they were. But for sheer cuteness, none beat the tiny green lizards that darted across my path during my last ride of my most recent trip to Florida.  You see them any warm day.  I’ve tried photographing them but they’re too quick.  That’s also the reason why I’ve never run any over.

I also saw a few armadillos.  However, they didn't try to come anywhere near me.  

Of course, anyone in any kind of vehicle—whether powered by one’s own feet or an internal combustion engine—runs the risk or has the opportunity to see, meet, dodge or bump into creatures of one kind or another.  It also doesn’t matter whether those vehicles are on land, in the air or on the water:

I actually came within a couple of feet of a manatee once.  I was swimming in Matanzas Inlet (which, to tell you the truth, I probably wasn’t supposed to do) on one of my first trips to the Sunshine State.   The creature, which looks something like a walrus without the mustache or the public relations, gave me a shy, quizzical look.  I liked it in the same way I like wrinkly dogs and shaggy cats. I assume other people feel the same way.

I wonder how it would have reacted to me if I’d been on my bike.