31 May 2014

They Didn't Give Him The Rope But He Got Snagged

Time was, not so long ago, when riding in some New York City parks was a risky proposition.  A few old riding buddies and training partners were mugged for their machines when they rounded the tree-bordered turns in Central and Fort Tryon  Parks, or when transversing Union Square.  I think a group of young men tried to do the same to--or simply harass-- me in Prospect Park:  a mob of them formed a human chain across the roadway.  Being as young and angry as I was, I pedaled harder and missed being entangled by, or breaking, their arms and legs by a couple of hair-breadths.

My close encounter came a bit more than two decades ago, not long after I first moved to Brooklyn and crime in New York was just beginning to decline from its historically high levels. (The crack epidemic was starting to wind down.)  Ever since those days, the main things cyclists have had to worry about when riding in Prospect (or, for that matter, Central) Park are collisions and other accidents.  In the few times I've ridden Prospect during the past few years, I've felt, if anything, safer than in most other places where I ride, as it's closed to traffic and seems well-patrolled.

However, today I heard about an incident that many of us believed to have become a thing of the past--or of which younger cyclists and more recent arrivals to the city have no memory. A cyclist has spent two days in Lutheran Hospital with six broken ribs and fractured elbow.  Even when there's been little or no crime in the park, I seem to hear about such an unfortunate turn of events at least once every year.  However, the way he crashed is what harkens back to the bad old days:  Witnesses say he was caught in a rope stretched across the roadway, fastened to a tree on one side and a fire hydrant on the other.  Those witnesses also say they saw three young men standing by the hydrant when the cyclist got caught in the rope and flipped over his handlebars.

From what I'm told and what I've read, the police report says that the cyclist ran over the rope. If the cyclist ended up immobilized in a bed in Lutheran, that can't be true.  I've ridden over ropes before, even the kind used to moor ships to docks, when I was riding skinny sew up tires.  And, let me tell you, I was riding pretty fast. (It was during my racing days.)  I was jarred the way one would be in running over, say, a speed bump or other similarly-sized and -shaped object, and it might have impaired my balance for a nanosecond.  But it didn't even come close to causing me to flip over my handlebars or to even lose control of my bike.

If indeed the cyclist crashed into a rope pulled across the roadway, that would be disturbing enough.  But it would upset me even more to know that the police treated the case so cavalierly, as they often did to other cyclists who were assaulted or robbed back in the bad old days.

30 May 2014

From Stealth To Flash

Late in the 1970's Bike Boom, black-anodized parts became popular.

Well, some black-anodized parts, anyway:  specifically, chain rings (especially with silver drillium), pedal cages and, to a lesser extent, shift and brake levers, brakes and hubs.  You see, around the time the '70's Bike Boom began, Campagnolo introduced its Super Record gruppo.  It was really the same as the Record gruppo (often mistakenly called the "Nuovo Record" gruppo because its second and most popular iteration included the Nuovo Record rear derailleur, an update of the Record), with a few upgrades.  The silver steel cages on the Record pedals were replaced with black alloy ones on the Super Record; the SR crank had black chainrings and its bottom bracket could be purchased with a titanium spindle and the slotted SR brake levers could be purchased in black. The rear derailleur got black accents and, later, a body with smoother lines and more streamlined graphics.  (Later still, the derailleur could be had with titanium bolts.) As far as I know, the Campy's hubs or brakes of that era were not offered in black.

Ironically, the SR group was actually a few grams heavier than the plain-vanilla Record set because the brake lever handles and chainrings were made with slightly thicker metal to compensate for the drilling and slotting.  Still, aficianados (Italian for "snobs" or "blowhards") associated Super Record with lighter bikes because Eddy and other Tour riders used it.  So, when Shimano and other Japanese makers began to offer their wares in black, it seemed that consumers with more daydreams than money couldn't get enough.

Mind you, those black Japanese parts were perfectly good stuff:  I used some mainly because I thought they looked good on whatever bike(s) I happened to be riding at the time.  But even though some of their parts (e.g., SunTour derailleurs) were arguably better than  their Campy counterparts, the Japanese makers seemed to believe they had to emulate the eminent Italian components maker in order to enhance their image with the (American, anyway) cycling public.

The rage for black bike parts seemed to fade somewhat by the mid-'80's--ironically, as that same color became de rigueur in the couture of that era.  But it picked up again later in the decade and into the '90's, as the "stealth" look became popular. 

It almost seems counterintuitive, really:  Red cars get more speeding tickets than cars of other colors because they are more likely to be monitored for speeding.  But on bikes, tout noir is associated with vitesse and elan.  It's almost as if people believe that bikes that can't be seen will go faster.

But I don't recall any attempt to give the rider a "stealth" appearance--until now, anyway:

From Barn Door Cycling

Here, it's hard to tell where the rider ends and the bike begins.  Will that make him pedal faster?

Now that I've asked that question, I must say that I've always liked the look of Banesto team kit.  In fact, I had one of their jerseys in the team's early days, and it remains one of my favorite bits of graphic design in bicycle racing garments.

29 May 2014

A Spring Night On Grove Street

Is it true that in the Spring, a young bike's fancies turn to romance?  How does that saying go?

As the young would say...whatever!  I don't give advice about love and romance, but I'm willing to make recommendations for floral gifts:

28 May 2014

We Can Bridge These Generations. But Can We Bring Along The Next?

In earlier posts, I’ve described riding along Hipster Hook and other areas where parked bikes now frame cafes, bars, restaurant and shops of one kind and another but where, thirty or twenty or even fifteen years ago, I would encounter no other cyclists.  Back then, those neighborhoods—including Williamsburg and Greenpoint in Brooklyn and Long Island City and Astoria (where I now live) in Queens—were mainly low-to-middle income blue-collar enclaves populated mainly by first- and second-generation immigrants with smatterings of families that had been in this city—and sometimes in the very same houses or apartments—for three or more generations.

“Back in the Day”, as us oldsters (the antithesis of hipsters?) would say, the few cyclists I encountered anywhere in the city or its environs were, interestingly enough, born-and-bred New Yorkers.  Most of us did not have relatives or friends who cycled; you might say we were renegades, a cult, or just geeks of a sort.  It seemed that, in those days, transplants to this city didn’t ride.  I am not sure of whether they didn’t ride before they came here or gave up their two-wheeled vehicles once they got here.  I guess some didn’t plan on remaining for more than a couple of years—many didn’t—and were focused on starting a career or some other particular goal.  Lots of people did nothing but work during the time they lived in this city.

Such conditions prevailed as recently as the mid-to-late 1990’s, when I was a member of the New York Cycle Club.  I occasionally rode with them but, truthfully, I joined for the discounts I could get in bike shops and other establishments.  In any event, most of the cyclists I met on those rides were natives of the Big Apple.  Interestingly enough, most social classes were represented:  I saw construction workers, seamstresses and firefighters as well as teachers, professors, lawyers and bankers.  Admittedly, it wasn’t the most ethnically diverse group, though I was more likely to see faces darker than mine than I would have seen in most health clubs or on most tennis and squash courts.  The demographics I’ve described also applied to the rides and other activities of the local American Youth Hostels chapter, which employed me for a time after I moved back to New York.

Then, as now, I did most of my riding alone or with one or two friends.  They were, as often as not, people who grew up in circumstances similar to my own.  That is probably the reason why many of our conversations, over coffee or beer or whatever, centered on the city’s streets, intersections, bridges and neighborhoods:  Which ones were “best” for cycling?  Which were the most dangerous?  Was anybody or anything worse than a cab driver?  And, unfortunately, more than a few of us related stories of having our bikes stolen.  In fact, I recall several fellow cyclists who were held up or assaulted for their machines as they crossed the Williamsburg Bridge:  Twenty to thirty years ago, the neighborhoods on each side of the bridge were poor and crime-ridden.

Today the majority of cyclists I see in New York are young and have come here from some place else.  Hipster Hook is full of such riders.  Some ride only to commute or shop; others are as committed to riding and training as we were in my day.  I am glad they ride; I am glad to see anyone riding.  But their attitude about cycling, and about themselves, seems very different from ours. I don’t mean that as a criticism; no one should expect “the younger generation” to do as those who came before them.  But, from my admittedly-limited contact with hipster cyclists, I have the impression that their conversations—to the extent that they have them—have less to do with cycling, or even bikes, or the places to ride or not ride.  I guess the latter can be explained by the fact that they are not the minority we were, and they feel less need to pay attention to the “good” and “bad” bike routes because the bike lanes that line their neighborhoods give them a feeling of security.  They have bike-oriented cafes, which no one had even conceived in my youth.

From Filles + Garcons

 But I think one of the biggest differences between us and them is that we were more readily identifiable as cyclists.  Part of that has simply to do with the fact that we were more of a minority.  More to the point, we used equipment and wore garments and accessories—helmets, shorts, jerseys and half-fingered gloves, not to mention cleated shoes—that few others even tried on.  On the other hand, the young hipster riders dress and generally look like many other young people you might find here in New York.  Some—particularly young female pedalers—favor retro threads in fabrics, designs and patterns that were popular, well, in our day—or even earlier.  Or they wear facsimiles or imitations of such clothing.  Others adorn themselves with the severe sartorial straits of knife-blade black pants or tights and leather jackets:  interestingly, not unlike what I wore off-bike for a time in my youth.

It will be interesting to see what the next generation of cyclists will be like—or, indeed, how many of them there will be.  These days, I see more adult cyclists—young as well as, ahem, those of us of a certain age—but I seem to encounter fewer adolescents and children on bikes.  At one time, I’d see few kids on bikes in low-income neighborhoods, in part because of their parents’ or guardians’ fear of crime and in part because some families simply couldn’t afford bikes for their kids.  But these days, I seem to be encountering fewer child and teen riders in the middle- and upper-income neighborhoods of this city and the nearby suburbs.  

What’s disturbing—to me, anyway—about that is that a lot of those kids haven’t learned how to ride.  Nearly everyone who rides as an adult started in childhood:  Even if they abandoned their bikes when they got their drivers’ licenses, they didn’t forget how to ride a bike and could take it up again as an adult. On the other hand, those who don’t learn how to ride as kids rarely learn how to do so as adults.  So they won’t have the opportunity to become the kinds of cyclists we were and are---or hipsters—or whatever the next generation of cyclists in this city will be.

27 May 2014

A Day At The Races, In The Town

Yesterday I rode out to Somerville, in part to see the races (some of them, anyway) and in part for the ride itself.  Also, it’s good—for me, anyway—to re-enact an old ritual every now and again.

Last year, I took a route I had followed several times before, through Newark and Jersey City and Westfield.  From there, I followed, more or less, the paths of the Rahway and Raritan rivers to Bound Brook, the next town over from Somerville.

This year, I decided to try a route I found on one of the map websites.  It looked promising:  It avoided a section of US Highway 22 on which I found myself very briefly but I wanted to avoid because the high point of it was finding a deer carcass sprawled across my path.

Well, I found myself veering off the route on several occasions:  There were series of turns that would have challenged even the best ballerinas.  You can guess what happened next:  I found myself on that very same stretch of 22.  Admittedly, I didn’t have to spend more than half a kilometer on it, but it was unpleasant enough, especially in light of what happened:  A section of my front inner tube bubbled through a cut in my tire and flatted---at the very spot where I saw the deer carcass last year.

A minor annoyance, I admit.  But I decided that this ride was going to be “perfect”—which is not a good mindset from which to set out on two wheels (or for doing very many other things, I’ve found).  I fixed the tube (I had a spare, but I figured the tube was easily fixable) and booted the tire.  During those few minutes, it seemed that the temperature rose by about ten degrees:  What had been a pleasantly warm day was turning into a borderline “scorcher”.  Beautiful as the day was, conditions were draining:  The weather had turned hot, with direct sunlight.  And I was pedaling directly into a 20-30 KPH wind.  I guess if I ever decide to ride across a desert, such conditions would train me well.

On top of everything, I’d forgotten my water bottle.  As I was getting dressed, I popped it into the freezer.  I sometimes leave it in for a few minutes before a ride on a warm day:  The water doesn’t freeze, but remains pleasantly cool for a couple of hours into a ride—by which time I’d need a refill.

What that meant were a couple of stops at local grocery stores for Poland Spring water and Gatorade, which I don’t normally drink.  I made an exception for the latter because I saw that I wasn’t sweating but my T-shirt was turning into a tie-dye collage or batik (choose your metaphor) of salt stains.  

Still, I enjoyed the ride, which I estimated to be about eight or ten kilometers longer than I’d planned.  I didn’t stay for all of the races:  I left just before five because I wanted to avoid riding in the dark through the desolate industrial areas of North Elizabeth and South Newark.  I made it to Penn Station in Newark just as the orange and red and purple of the sunsets (which are so colorful in those polluted areas) were turning into the metallic hues that reflected the new office and condo towers near the station.

Arielle, as always, made it a great ride.  And I am more and more convinced that the Ruth Works Brevet bag hanging from my handlebar is the best piece of bicycle luggage I’ve found in a long time, if not in my cycling life.

Oh, by the way, I rode—from what I measured on my maps—164 km, or a little more than 101 miles.  That means I rode my first non-metric century of the year.

(By the way, I've written a post about the town itself on my other blog.)

26 May 2014

Memorial Day Rides

On Memorial Day last year, I rode Arielle out to Somerville to see the Tour of Somerville.  For a decades, when there were no professional races in the US, Somerville was probably as close as we came to having an event that in any way resembled European races.   The top cyclists in this country--and a few from overseas--would compete.  

When I think about some of those riders--Jackie Simes, for example, and even John Howard--I have to wonder whether they would have been among the world's elite had they been able to train with, and compete against, Franch, Italian, Belgian, Dutch, Spanish and English riders throughout their careers.  Sometimes I think that might have been the only difference between them and Greg Le Mond and Lance Armstrong (putting aside, of course, the issue of drugs).

Anyway, Somerville has remained a showcase for the best American racing cyclists.  But there are other races--and a plethora of other organized rides--on the calendar for this day.  My guess is that for a lot of people, cycling season begins with Spring, whenever that comes, but the season really swings into high gear about now.

From Will Bike For Change (or Pie)

 Gotta love that bow!

25 May 2014

Moving Forward

Bicycling and bicycles have been among the few constants in my life. All manner of other activities, objects, interests, avocations, relationships and tastes have entered and left my body, my mind, my life.  Also, beliefs and ideas--mostly bad ones.  At least, they usually seem irrational in retrospect.  

But riding a bicycle is one of the few things I've never regretted, never felt ashamed of.  When I was riding more than I am now, there were people who gave me smirks of smug superiority when I couldn't give them a rational reason for the time, energy--and money--I was devoting to this passion.  I get the same sort of reaction these days from people who wonder why I'm not skinnier.  But I don't care, any more than I cared then:  Such people don't remain in my life.  But cycling does.

And, really, bicycles don't change that much.  sure, they're made of different materials and have different configurations from the ones I rode and saw around me in my childhood, in my youth, in my previous life.  There are even genres of bikes that didn't exist when I was starting out:  Most notable among them is the mountain bike.  But the basic idea of a bicycle is always the same:  Using your feet (or hands or some other part of your body) to propel two wheels to propel yourself forward on two wheels.

I mean, really, what else is there in life?

From Midwest Lotus

24 May 2014

Scraping The Sky, Or Brushed By Fog

Late yesterday morning and the afternoons were just interludes between rainstorms.  Or so it seemed.  And it rained even harder, from what I can tell, last night.

I crossed the Queens-Randall's Island spur of the Triborough (RFK Memorial) Bridge just before the window closed or the clouds opened, depending on your point of view:

23 May 2014

R.I.P. John

Today I'm going to detour a bit, for a very personal reason.

In other posts, I've mentioned Millie.  I met her the day I moved to Astoria, in August of 2002.  She saw me as I unloaded boxes, bikes and two cats--Charlie I and Candice--into an apartment in the building next to her house.  She decided that she liked me right then and there, or so it seemed.  And, yes, I liked her immediately.

Well, over the years she's taken care of my cats whenever I've spent time away.  Two years after we became neighbors, I took a trip to France and she cared for Charlie and Candice, probably even better than I did.  Then, about two years after that, she took care of Candice when I went to Turkey.  Charlie had died a couple of months before that and, after I returned from my trip, I adopted a cat she'd rescued--and named Charlie.  A little more than a year after that, Candice died and another one of Millie's rescuees--Max--came into my life.

She's been as good a friend as I've ever had in my life.  So was her husband, John.

Referring to him in the past tense feels even sadder to me than the reason why I did so:  He died the other night, apparently, in his sleep.  Given that a tumor was causing his brain to play cruel tricks on him, that was probably the most merciful way he could have been taken from this world.

Millie has said she was fortunate to have married such a good man.  He could not have had a better companion in his life, especially in his last days.  And his granddaughter has told me he is one of her role models, for his honesty and kindness. I can vouch for both qualities.

The next time I have dinner, spend a day or a holiday, or simply sit with Millie--alone, or with her daughters and grandchildren--I will be happy, as always, to see her. Still, things won't be the same without John.

All I can do now is to thank him one more time.

22 May 2014

Bound For Glory: A Sailor On A Bike

Yesterday I mentioned the beginning of Fleet Week here in New York City.  I recounted tales of Sailors Doing Strange Things, like holding doors open for people like me.

Now, when I say that's strange, I'm not denigrating it.  Nor do I intend to disparage another sailor who did something even stranger after a famous actor, who used to be a sailor himself, put him up to it.

The sailor in question was bound to do what he did.  Once he started, he was locked in.  He would not be released until he finished; the only person who could let him go was the Mayor of this city.

Everything I said In the previous paragraph is completely true. Literally.  You see, 95 years ago yesterday, a failed actor named Tony Pizzo set out from Los Angeles astride two wheels.  Fellow sailor C.J. Devine joined him on a planned bicycle trip to New York.

A transcontinental cycling expedition was no doubt more difficult in those days, as there were fewer paved roads and other facilities, especially in and around the Rocky Mountains and high deserts, were far more primitive than they are now.  So was much of the equipment cyclists used then.

But what made the trip so extraordinary is that both Pizzo and Devine were handcuffed to their bicycles.  Yes, you read that right.  Fatty Arbuckle shackled Pizzo's wrists to the handlebars at a ceremony in Venice Beach.  Arbuckle had bet him $3500 (in those days, more than most working people made in three years) that he wouldn't make it to New York by 1 November. 

Pizzo beat that deadline by two days and checked into a room at the Hotel McAlpin still locked to his bike.  The next day, Mayor John Hylan separated him from his machine.

About two months before that, Pizzo was separated from his partner when Devine was struck by a car in Kansas.

As if it weren't enough to ride several hours a day shacked to his handlebars, Pizzo ate, drank, washed and otherwise took care of himself while cuffed to his cycle.

Even more incredibly, the following year, he took the same trip--yes, cuffed to his bike.  And, the year after that, he got on his bike and pedaled to visit the governors of all 48 states.

You can read another--and possibly better--account of Pizzo's exploits on "The Bowery Boys," one of my favorite non-bike blogs.