28 February 2014

When I Jumped A "Shark" Named Violette

I have "jumped the shark" many times.  Hundreds, in fact, if not thousands.

Of course, I didn't leap over Jaws or even accomplish the feat in the colloquial sense.  In fact, I didn't even "jump" my "shark":  I mounted it like a proper lady.

All right, I take that back. I mounted it in a way anyone who rides 20,000 km a year--as I was in those days--might.  But the ride could certainly be a "jump" sometimes.

My "shark", as you probably have figured, was a bike.  And it wasn't just any old bike:  It was the best (for me, anyway) racing machine I ever owned or rode.

Back in the '90's, Land Shark bicycles were extremely popular.  A few of my ride-mates rode them.   You could always tell one from pretty far off:  The lugless brazed joints were impeccable and the paint jobs ranged from the sublime to the unique to the bizarre to the hilarious.

As you can see, mine was fairly tame compared to most.  It looked like a purple lava lamp with green lava.  I saw another 'Shark in a similar pattern, but with different colors.  I asked for "something like it" in purple and green.

Most of the components came from the the Mondonico I rode for three years before ordering the 'Shark.  But the two bikes were very different.  For one thing, the 'Shark was a custom build--my first.  The Mondonico was supposed to be a criterium bike, but it almost shared the geometry of my Italian Bianchi Pista (not the Taiwan-made ones all the hipsters were buying a few years ago).  Since I was doing a lot of long-distance riding as well as racing, I decided on a more classical road geometery, with seat tube and head angles shallower (73.5 degrees each) than the ones on the Mondonico (74 head, 74.5 seat).  Also, I asked for something with a sligtly longer seat tube but a shorter top tube.  On my Italian bikes, it seemed that I was always choosing between one or the other:  If I got the longer seat tube, I also got the longer top tube, which meant that I rode a stem with a shorter extension and therefore sacrificed handling.  On the other hand, getting a bike with a shorter top tube meant a smaller seat tube, which made it harder to stretch my legs out. (A longer seat post just never felt the same to me.)

Also, my 'Shark was built from Reynolds 853 tubing, which was fairly new at the time. This made for a livelier ride than the frames with Columbus tubings, which, on some bikes, could feel stiff to the point of feeling dead (my complaint with the early Cannondale racing bike I had).  I could do a "century", or ride even more miles in a day without feeling battered:  whatever fatigue I felt was a result of sun, wind, or any other conditions I encountered while riding.

Although I rode the bike for a decade, I made few changes.  Of course, I replaced tires and such as needed.  But I made only minor deviations from the original Dura Ace/Ultegra combintion.  

The first came after  two years with the 'Shark, when  I started riding Mavic Helium and Cosmic wheels.  Heliums were probably the lightest road wheels available (in clincher, anyway) at the time, while the Cosmics had deep V-shaped rims and were stiffer but heavier than the Heliums.  About three years later, I sold those two sets of wheels and bought Mavic Ksyriums, which seemed to embody the best of both wheelsets.

I made the second change around the same time I got the Ksyriums:  I ordered a carbon-fiber fork--the first and only I ever owned--from Land Shark.   It certainly lightened the bike and absorbed some of the shock the straight-bladed steel fork transmitted.  The carbon fork came with a threadless steerer column, which meant changing my stem.  Fortunately, I was riding  a Chris King headset (which I ride on all of my Mercians), so I had to replace only the top part.

What I remember best about the 'Shark's ride is its climbing ability:  No other bike I've owned--and hardly any I've ridden-- was as nimble going up a hill.  It may have had to do with the oversized down- and top-tube.  If that's the case, then the bike's resilience is all the more remarkable: Oversized tubes are stiff, but often deliver a very harsh ride.

So why am I not riding it now?, you ask.  Well, a  little more than ten years after I took my first ride on the 'Shark--which I named Violette--it was stolen.  I thought about getting another, even thought the price of them had gone up considerably.  But I realized that my riding habits were changing, in part because of my age (I was nearing 50.) and the fact that my body was full of estrogen instead of testosterone.  Plus, by that time, I had ridden Hal Ruzal's Mercians and fell under their spell.  

I am sure that John Slawta, Land Shark's builder (and finisher) is doing work that's just as meticulous as what he did on my old bike.  But, from what I understand, he stopped building steel bikes several years ago and is working only in carbon fiber.  So, in spite of my fond memories of my Land Shark, if I buy another nice bike,  it will be a Mercian (as long as they are building in the traditional ways) or from other classic (or classically-inspired) builder of chrome-molybdenum or maganese-molybdenum steel frames.

P.S.  During the time I rode the 'Shark, I had several human companions.  However, these two remained constant:

Charlie I:  19 March 1991--16 October 2005; Adopted 25 May 1991

Charlie I preceded the "Charlie" whose passing I lamented in a post two years ago.  In fact, I adopted Charlie II just three months after Charlie I died.

Candice:  7 February 1992--17 January 2007; Adopted 5 January 1995.

Candice entered my life when she was three years old, four years after I adopted the two month- old Charlie I.

27 February 2014

Dorothy On A Bike?

Today's post is nothing but a reason to show an old bike ad:

The "White" Cycles advertised may be long gone.  But there was another "white" bicycle company in existence at the time that still makes and sells bikes today:  Bianchi.

26 February 2014

Mon Post Millieme/Il Mio Post Millesimo

Today, Midlife Cycling has reached a milestone:  This is post #1000.

Some of you may think I've owned that many bikes during my life. Sometimes I feel that way, although the number is probably somewhere in the mid-double digits.  However, I may well have ridden (if, in most cases, only for a test run) that many bikes.
1000 Bicycles. From English People's Daily Online
I will soon write about some of them--the ones I owned, anyway.  And I hope to continue informing, entertaining and doing whatever else it is I do for you for another thousand posts, and beyond.  Thank you for reading.

25 February 2014

Women, Bikes And Equality

Yesterday I wrote about a rather curious phenomenon:  the cities and countries with the strongest cycling cultures aren't necessarily the ones with weather and terrain most people believe are best for cycling.  As examples, I cited Boston, New York, San Francisco and Portland in the US and such European locales as Amsterdam and Copenhagen.

Last week, I wrote about the relationship between the two major bike booms (1890s-early 1900s and 1970s) and the women's rights movements of those periods.

From Brain Pickings

Perhaps it's serendipitous that I came across a United Nations Development Programme Report which ranked countries, among other things, in gender equality. Tell me whether you are surprised to see these countries in the Top 10 (as of 2012): 

1. Netherlands 
2. Sweden 
3. (tie) Denmark 
3. (tie) Switzerland 
5. Norway 
6. Finland 
7. Germany 
8. Slovenia 
9. France 

After seeing that, I did a bit of research. (OK, I spent a few minutes on Google.) I found a number of reports that rank Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Boston, New York, Washington DC and Madison, Wisconsin among the best US cities for gender equality.

Is it a coincidence that the countries and cities in which cycling and cyclists are most mainstream are also the ones where a woman has the best chance to get a good education, paid what she's worth and the health care she needs?

Just askin'.

24 February 2014

The Hills, The Wind Or The Cold: Why Do (Or Don't) People Ride?

In recent posts, I’ve noted that I’ve seen few—sometimes no—bike riders who weren’t making deliveries.  If you thought it was just a way of saying that I wasn’t riding, I won’t try to dissuade you from such a perception.

For much of the past couple of weeks, conditions on many New York City streets were simply dangerous for any wheeled vehicle.  There was ice everywhere and the effective width of some streets was cut, sometimes in half, by the piled-up snow and ice.

The last couple of weeks is the longest stretch I’ve spent off my bike since I was recovering from surgery four years ago.  A lot of other cyclists can probably make a similar claim.

That got me to thinking about the difference between weather and climate, and about terrain. 

In most places, there is seasonal variation in the number of people who ride bicycles, whether to commute, shop, race or simply for fun.  Put simply, fewer people ride when it’s cold and/or wet.

However, the places where the greatest number of people ride regularly are not necessarily the ones that have the most days of sunshine or the warmest winters every year.  Here in the United States, we see more cycling in New England than in the South, more riders in New York, Boston—or, of course, Portland-- than, say, in Miami, Tampa or Albuquerque.  In Europe, the most cycling-intensive and –friendly cities are found in the north—Amsterdam and Copenhagen immediately come to mind---rather than in Greece or even Italy.  And there are, from what I’ve seen, there are fewer everyday riders in Rome or Madrid than in rainier and cooler London and Paris.

From SFGate

As for terrain:  When I was in Prague, a few locals confirmed my impression that a cycling culture was just beginning there and that, while cyclists in the Czech capital are committed and enthusiastic, it will be a while before they have the kind of infrastructure—in terms of human and informational as well as physical resources—bikers in Berlin (the example they most cited) enjoy.  One reason, according to those Prague pedalers, is that the city is hillier than most others in Europe. 

That reason seems plausible enough:  A lot of people would indeed be deterred from cycling if they have to climb a steep hill to get wherever they’re going.  That would also partly explain the fact that I saw so few cyclists when I was in Istanbul a few years ago.  (In the former Ottoman capital, there are also cultural factors that would discourage cycling.)  On the other hand, San Francisco—one of the most vertical cities in the world-- has had a community and culture of cycling for much longer than most other places in the United States, including such pancake-flat places as Kansas.

(It occurs to me now that San Francisco’s street grid simply makes no sense in such a hilly place, but it would be perfectly suited for most towns in the Great Plains.)

So I wonder:  Why is it that, discounting for seasonal differences, places with less-favorable climates and terrains develop vibrant cycling cultures while seemingly-ideal places don’t?

23 February 2014

Fit For A King (Or Prince, Anyway)

Mention "British bicycles" to aficionados, and names of classic builders like Jack Taylor, Mercian, Hetchins and Bob Jackson will come to our minds.

However, the first name most people will think of is Raleigh.

Apparently, that is one way in which members of the Royal Family--at least some of them, anyway--are like commoners.

If you' think you've seen him before, you're not thinking of  a cheesy way to start a conversation.  While not as famous as some of his relatives, Prince Edward indeed has one of the world's most familiar faces.  In this photo, he's pedaling to one of his classes at Cambridge University in 1983.

Speaking of family members, here's one some would rather forget:

Yes, he is none other than Prince Charles.  To be fair, I have to say that he increased my capacity for empathy:  I never thought I could feel sorry for a member of the Royal Family until I watched Lady Diana exchanging vows with him in 1981.  

Ambrose Bierce wrote, "For every sauce invented and accepted, a vice is renounced and forgiven."  I suppose we can forgive a prince for something when he takes a spin on one of his country's classic bikes.


22 February 2014

How Would My Childhood Have Been Different?

When my family moved from Brooklyn to New Jersey, I found myself taking turns at a new chore:  mowing the lawn.

Frankly, I thought lawns were the stupidest things in the world:  the grass grew, and you cut it every couple of weeks.  You couldn't eat, drink, smoke or do much of anything else with it.  And, if the weather stayed dry enough for long enough to lie on the grass, it was too coarse and wiry.

But, to tell you the truth, what I hated most about lawn-mowing was that I had to do it on Saturdays, when I could have been doing all sorts of other things--like riding my bike.

Maybe I would have been a more obedient and less cranky kid had I had one of these:

From Pink Bike

21 February 2014

When You Can't See Liberty

Today's post hasn't much to do with cycling, perhaps.

But I thought I'd share two photos someone passed on to me.  They were taken today in lower Manhattan:

From here, you can't see the top of Liberty Tower, the building that replaced the twin towers of the World Trade Center.   

Here's another image that will give you an idea of how low the fog was today:

20 February 2014

How A Windsor Became A Raleigh

Sometimes “parts bin bikes” become other “parts bin bikes”.

That’s how it seems to work for me, anyway.  In any event, that’s what happened to the Windsor Professional I built up.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I didn’t like the ride.  So I sold the frame and transferred the parts to another.

Back in those pre-Internet, e-Bay and Craig’s List days, we learned who was selling what by word of mouth, bike club newsletters and bike shop boards.  And, here in New York, we checked the board at the American Youth Hostels store on Spring Street.

It was on the latter that I saw a listing for a Raleigh Competition frame.  Built from Reynolds 531 tubing with “sport” geometry, it was, in concept as well as ride, similar to the Peugeot PX-10.  Actually, I’d say the Competition—at least the one I had-- was a bit stiffer, but not harsh.

I’m not sure of whether Raleigh sold only the frame.  During the 1960’s and into the late 1970’s, it was equipped with quality French components such as the Specialtes TA three-pin crankset, Normandy Competition hubs, AVA tubular rims and Huret Jubilee derailleurs. The brakes were Weinmann centerpulls, as they were on all derailleur-equipped Raleighs except the Professional. In the late 1970’s, the wheelbase was shortened a bit and, possibly, the angles were tweaked a bit to make it stiffer.  At that point, Raleigh started to equip the Competition with Campagnolo Gran Sport components and Weinmann Carrera side-pull brakes.  The rims were switched to narrow Weinmann concave clincher rims.

In both incarnations, the frame was finished in glossy black with gold lug linings and graphics.  The lettering and other elements of the graphics were updated when the Raleigh changed the specifications.  My frame was the later version, from 1978.

I liked the ride quite a bit:  not quite as aggressive as the Colnago I owned at the same time, but stiffer and quicker-handling than my old PX-10. And it didn’t have the hard, dead ride of the Windsor Pro it replaced, or of the Cannondale I rode a couple of years earlier.
Actually, it was like the Romic I mentioned in an earlier post, and a slightly less aggressive version of my current Mercian Audax Special, a.k.a. Arielle.

So why did I strip and sell it?

 If I recall correctly, the frame measured 58 cm or 23 inches.  Normally, I ride 55 or 56 cm, depending on the design of the frame.  I believe that by the time I bought the Competition, Raleigh stopped making it—or, at least, they were making a very different bike  and calling it the “Competition”.  Also, around the time I bought the frame, Raleigh had shifted most, or possibly all, of its production out of England.

More important, even if I could have found another used Competition, it probably wouldn’t have fit me.  You see, Raleigh had this habit of sizing their bikes in two-inch (five-centimeter) increments.  So, if the bike was offered in a 23” frame, the next-smallest would be 21”.  I probably could have ridden that size with the seatpost extended.  However, other proportions of the frame might not have been right for me.

I know someone—whom I mentioned in an earlier post-- who has a Raleigh Competition just like the one I had.  He turned it into a Randonneuse, with fenders, racks and an Acorn handlebar bag.  He loves it.

19 February 2014

It Wasn't Eddy's Bike

Ever since I started cycling, I've heard no end of debates about which frame tubing is "best." And, as long as I continue cycling, I'll probably never hear the end of such arguments.

Of course, for the first two decades or so I was a dedicated cyclist, nearly all frames were made of steel.  Even after other frame materials such as aluminum, titanium and carbon fiber first came onto the market, it took about a decade for them to appear in European pelotons.

So, in my youth, the Great Tubing Debate was mainly one of Reynolds vs. Columbus.  A few cyclists preferred Tange, Ishiwata or Vitus tubing, but nearly anyone who had a custom frame built--or simply had any pretensions of being a "serious" cyclist--chose Reynolds or Columbus.

Deep down, I always knew that it made only so much difference.  All of the tubings I mentioned are of high quality and can therefore be built into light, responsive and sturdy bikes.  The design and build quality of the frame matter far more than which company's metal is used.

The bike about which I am going to write today helped me to learn that lesson.

Back in the 1970's and '80's, a Mexican bicycle company called Windsor made a frame and bike called the "Profesional."  (Note the Spanish spelling, with one "s".)  If the decals were removed, most people would have had trouble telling it apart from the work of De Rosa, Colnago and other legendary Italian bike makers.

Like its old-world counterparts, the Profesional featured Columbus SL tubes (SP on the larger-size frames) joined with long-point lugs.  The Profesional even had the sunset-orange finish (which I have always liked a lot) of the De Rosas and Colnagos Eddy Mercx and his Molteni team rode to victories in the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and just about every other race you can think of.

As a matter of fact, in 1972, Mercx broke the hour record on a Colnago painted in that color, but covered with Windsor decals.  That ride in the Mexico City velodrome probably was the first time cyclists outside Mexico knew that Windsor bicycles existed.

A complete Windsor Profesional bicycle with Campagnolo Record components could be had for about half the cost of a Colnago, DeRosa or other Italian iron.  The Profesional frame was available for about a third, or even less, than what one of those old-world steeds cost.

Not long after I bought my Colnago Arabesque, I acquired a somewhat-used Profesional frame with a seatpost and headset for $100, a good price even then.  It became one of my "parts bin bikes":  clincher wheels with Shimano 600 hubs, Sun Tour dearilleurs and Sugino cranks and, perhaps incongruously, Mafac 2002 centerpull brakes.

Aside from the fact that they were in my parts box, there was another reason I used those brakes:  They were gold anodized.  You can just imagine how they looked on the sunset-orange frame. And, oh yes, I installed a brown Ideale saddle and wrapped the bars with a brown leather tape Cannondale sold at the time.  That tape was one of two items I bought for the bike:  The bottom bracket that I used with the Sugino crank on another bike was made to fit an English-threaded bike, but the Windsor was built to Italian specifications.  

So how did it ride?  Well, this is where I come back to my point about frame tubing:  Although it was built from the same materials as the Colnago I'd just recently bought and the Gitane Professional I would later acquire, the ride did not compare with either.  The Windsor was at least as stiff as either but its rigidity felt more like that of a bike made of heavier materials.  In other words, it felt "dead" and not very responsive.  My perception didn't change when I swapped the wheels for the best set of tubulars (with sew-up tires) I owned at the time.  

I don't know why the ride was so unpleasant:  If I recall correctly, the wheelbase and angles were the same as (or close to) those of the Colnago.  As far as I could tell, the fit was about the same on both bikes, and I used handlebars and stems with the same dimensions as the ones on my Arabesque.  

For a season, the Windsor Profesional was my commuter and "rainy day" bike, though I did take it on a couple of long-distance fair-weather rides.  Some might say I needed more time to develop a mutually supportive relationship with the bike but the Colnago, Gitane, my Mercians and other bikes I've owned felt "right" to me immediately, even before I'd become acclimated to their particular idiosyncrasy.    So, the parts on the bike went back to my bin--for use on the next frame I would acquire--and I sold my Windsor Profesional for $50 more than what I originally paid for it.