31 July 2014

You Say Orgao, I Say Urago

Today I will tell you one of my dim, dark secrets.

No, I don't have any warrants against me in other states or spouses or children in other countries.  Not that I know of, anyway. ;-)

OK, here it is:  I worked in market research.  It was a long time ago, and not for very long.  The money was really good, especially for someone who had no relevant experience or discernible skills or talents. (Some would argue that I still don't have any.  If I don't, I probably never will.)  And, in one weird way it was an excellent fit for me:  I learned all sorts of weird facts that had no bearing on anything else in my life.  And, truth be told, I enjoyed it.  Perhaps it's the--or, at least, one--reason why I've worked in the academic world.

One of those strange and, to me, useless facts is this:  Of all of the world's registered trade-mark names, the one that is least often misspelled is also the only one that sounds exactly the same in every language. At least, those things were true at the time I was working in market research.

It's the name of a company that makes things most of you have used at one time or another, and many of you use today.  Any guesses as to what it might be?

All right, I'll tell you:  Kodak.

George Eastman, the company's founder, said he made the name out of thin air.  He liked the letter "K" and wanted a trade name beginning and ending with that letter.   That's how "Kodak" came to his mind.

I don't think there's any equivalent in the bicycle industry.  Since bikes are made in so many different countries, with so many different languages, many names are pronounced--and, perhaps more important, spelled--in ways that would render them unrecognizable in their home countries.  Or they are confused with other names.

As an example, when I mention to some sweet young thing on an urban fixie that my beloved single-gear steed is a Mercian (as three of my other bikes are), they think I'm talking about Mercier.  Back in the day, the latter company made some perfectly respectable bikes in France (Lance Armstrong won his first race on one); now they are cranked out of a factory in China and sold on the Internet.  In contrast, Mercians are made in Derbyshire, England, in pretty much the same way--and from similar materials--as the very first bikes bearing that name were made nearly seven decades ago.

Others have seen my fixie--or my other Mercians--and saw "American" instead of the name on the bikes.  I guess that's understandable.  After all, the other day I similarly misread the name of a bike listed on eBay.

Like Mercier, Urago was once a well-respected French bicycle maker.  Actually, Uragos were built by hand, though in greater quantities than bikes from custom builders, so they had nicer workmanship than Merciers.  Also,  Merciers were built is Saint-Etienne (near Lyon), the traditional center of the French cycle industry.  Uragos were made in Nice, which at various times in its history was ruled by Italians.  Not surprisingly, there are still many people of Italian heritage in that part of France--among them, les freres Urago.

So, perhaps, I can be forgiven for first misreading the name of the bike I saw on eBay--and for, after realizing I hadn't, thinking that the person who wrote the listing misspelled "Urago" as "Orago".

Turns out, the bike actually bears the latter name.  The person who listed it couldn't find any information about the company that made it.  All he/she knows is that there's a town called "Orago" in Italy, near Milan.

However, the  bike looks a lot like something Urago might've made--at least, if they made a ladies' city bike--just after World War II.  


I think it's quite lovely, whatever its name or wherever it comes from.

30 July 2014

Stories Behind These Bikes

Because I've spent a lot of time teaching, I often think of how something I see might work as a prompt to students' thinking and writing.  

Because I write, I often caption or narrate, in my mind, things i see.

I could see the possibilities of both in this photo, which I took--where else?--at Point Lookout:

Even though I saw the kids who left the bikes, I still think that one could construct all sorts of captions, or even stories, for this one.

If you have any, I'd love to post it.

29 July 2014

The Ezzard Charles of the Cycling World

Although I watched it only in bits and pieces, and on television screens more than 5000 km from the action, something about this year's Tour de France made me woozy with deja vu, as Kurt Vonnegut wrote in Breakfast of Champions.

In watching a few clips, again, I realized that it was the weather:  Almost every stage seemed overcast or rainy.  And they looked cold for summer.  From what I'm hearing, they were.

Such were the conditions of the 1980 Tour.  In fact, much of Europe seemed not to have a summer that year.  I know:  I was there.  That was when I did my first bike tour outside the US.  And it was the first time I saw the final stage of the Tour, along the Champs-Elysees.

That allowed me to witness the greatest performance of the cycling world's Ezzard Charles

Ezzard Charles is probably the greatest boxer you've never heard of.  I heard of him from a great-uncle of mine who was a prizefighter; I would later learn that no less than Muhammad Ali and Rocky Marciano considered him among the greatest boxers of all-time, and that The Ring magazine rated him among the top fifteen.

His counterpart in cycling, whose victory I witnessed in 1980, was none other than Joop Zoetemelk


If you've never heard of, or forgotten, him, I wouldn't be surprised.  Any time I've mentioned him, even to those who know a thing or two about the history of cycling and are, shall we say, of a certain age, I was met with furrowed brows.

His palmares includes, in addition to the 1980 Tour win, six second-place finishes in the great race.  He also won the Vuelta a Espana in 1979 and numerous one-day races.   

His almost preternaturally fair skin led to the joke that he never tanned because he was always riding in the shadow  of Eddy Mercx and, later, Bernard Hinault.  In fact, his detractors claimed that he won the 1980 Tour only because Hinault had to withdraw--while wearing the yellow jersey---midway through the race because the chilly, damp weather aggravated a knee injury.  

As much as I have always loved Hinault, I must say that such a criticism of Zoetemelk is unfair.  At least, I cannot concur with his detractors after seeing what I saw of him:  He rode with as much determination as power and technique.  And those who saw far more of him--his contemporaries in the peloton--always spoke of him in respectful, and even reverential, tones

Aside from being an "eternal second" (the label the European media also gave to Raymond Poulidor), I think there is another reason why Zoetemelk is not as well-remembered as Mercx or Hinault:  He was not a flashy or even a particularly stylish rider.  Marco Pantani, who had exactly as many Tour wins as Zoetemelk, is revered because "Il Parata" rode with a panache that bordered on hubris. (Also, he died only a few years after his Tour victory.) Zoetemelk, on the other hand,was often called "the perfect teammate", as much as a taunt as a compliment.

I think he would have done very well in, if not won, this year's Tour. And it wouldn't have been a result of Chris Froome and Alberto Contador withdrawing.

28 July 2014

Does Something Like This Turn You Into A "Retrogrouch"?

In just about every human endeavor, there are those who have to be the first on their block to have the newest and latest, and others who--whether they quote it or not--seem to be guided by Ecclesiastes:  "There is nothing new under the sun."

I guess I fall mostly, but not wholly, into the latter camp.  I ride steel frames, but I use threadless headsets and sealed-bearing hubs and bottom brackets.  And, while I ride dual pivot brakes and modern cassette hubs, I perch myself on Brooks saddles and slide, not snap, into my pedals.

I used to live with the hope that some completely ridiculous ideas that used to surface every decade or two would finally die off.  Alas, I have given up such hope that I will never see an electronic shifting system again.

I have even less reason for such hope after reading about a "smart bike" prototype Samsung has developed:

Now, a curved frame that would absorb the impact of potholes and such, I can understand, even if I wouldn't ride it myself.  But a rearview camera and a smartphone on the front?  And what do they mean by "laser beams that create an individual bike lane"?  That's a bad translation, I hope.

I have to admit, though, that I wouldn't mind seeing one of those bikes in person.  Still, I wonder what would happen if everyone rode one and had his or her individual bike lane.

The bike looks like it has a Brooks B-66 or -67 saddle.  I guess it can't be all bad.

27 July 2014

An Outsider Wears The Yellow Jersey

The Tour de France ended a few hours ago.  Vincenzo Nabali won.

That result doesn't seem so surprising now.  But, before the race began. I don't think very many people were picking him as anything more than a dark horse to ascend the podium at the end of the Champs-Elysees

He is a talented rider, but he had a bit of luck:  Chris Froome and Alberto Contador, two of the favorites, both pulled out of the race after crashing.    Also, this year's route played to his strenghts:  three of his four stage victories were in the mountains.  In fact, he won a stage in each of the ranges the Tour visited:  the Vosges, Alps and Pyrenees.  

Moreover, his other stage victory came on the Tour's second day, at the end of the 201km from York to Sheffield.  That made Nibali the first Tour winner since Eddy Mercx to win four non-time trial stages.  For the record, there was only one such stage in this year's race, which was a good thing for Nibali, as that is not one of his strenghts.

Although, as I mentioned in an earlier post, I was not rooting for anyone in particular, I am glad to see Nibali win.  He hails from Sicily, as some of my family does.  One of the reasons, I believe, that there haven't been--until recently--many Italian-American competitive cyclists is that most Italians who emigrated to the US came from Sicily or the southern part of the mainland (from places such as Naples).  Most of Italy's racing cmmunity and infrastructure (as well as most of its bicycle industry) is found in the northern part of the country.  There isn't even as much recreational cycling in, say, Palermo or Bari as there is in the Tuscan and Ligurian regions, or in some northern European countries.  

Nibali on the Champs-Elysees

So, congratulations to Vincenzo Nabali.

Jean-Christophe Peraud and Thibaut Pinod took the other two positions on the podium.  This is the best showing for French cyclists in three decades.  Next year will mark 30 years since Bernard Hinault took the most recent overall Tour victory for a French rider.  Could it be the time the French take back their own Tour?  Or will Nibali repeat--or will Froome or Contador return to form?   

26 July 2014

No Bicycles Were Harmed (At Least, Not Physically) To Make This Movie

I am going to make a confession:  I simply could not get through Fifty Shades of Grey.

I tried. I really tried.  You see, I am not at all averse to erotic fiction.  And, every once in a while, I need a mindless diversion.

It's not as if I was expecting FSG to be the next Lady Chatterley's Lover or even Histoire d'O.  But--call me a snob--I have some standards when it comes to writing.  FSG started off well below them and sank with every page I managed to read.  

How bad is it?  How can anyone, with a straight face, write or publish a novel that has both of these sentences:  "Her curiosity oozes through the phone" and "My mom is oozing contrition"?  Worse, those aren't the only passages containing some form of the verb "to ooze".  The only time someone should use any form of that word more than once is when he or she is writing about the aftermath of a volcanic eruption.

That's not even the worst offense I saw in what I managed to read.

I don't think I have to tell you I won't be seeing the movie.  

Apparently, a trailer for the flick, which is scheduled to be screened--when else?--next Valentine's Day, is on the web.  Someone named "Christine B." who has a stronger stomach than mine or is getting paid for her troubles, posted the one and only scene that might even be mildly interesting.  That's because it features the only credible character, if you will:  a bicycle.

25 July 2014

A Bicycle, In A Ceremony For Two

It's been a while since I've been to a wedding.  I guess I'm just at an age in which most of my friends, acquaintances and colleagues are already hitched (whether through marriage or other means) or have simply resigned themselves to not, or have written off the idea of, being so.

I've never been to a bicycle-themed ceremony.  However, I did once go to a reception for two of my old riding buddies from the Central Jersey Bicycle Club.  They got married in a very small ceremony that included only their immediate families.  They held their reception outdoors, in a public park, on a gorgeous day around this time of year.  I, like many of the other guests, arrived on a bicycle.

Although they invited me, my appearance surprised them.  It wasn't the fact that I showed up:  I had promised I would, and unless other circumstances intervene (Is that phrase open to interpretation, or what?), I keep my word about such things.  And, even though I was young and did a lot of crazy things one associates with youth (and, I admit, excessive consumption of alcohol and an overflow of testosterone: now I can blame almost all of the jejune excesses on them!), I didn't do anything stupid or gross.  

What shocked them was my wheeling into the park on, if I recall correctly, my Trek 510.   All of the other club members who arrived on two wheels lived nearby--or, at least, within a half-hour ride or so.  On the other hand, I had moved to New York.  So, by the time I started eating the barbecued chicken and hot dogs and drinking, I think, Beck's (Microbreweries were in their infancy, so all good beer in those days was imported.), I had pedaled about 40 miles.

Granted, that wasn't a long ride for me or anyone else who rode to the reception that day--or for Ed and Elaine, the honorees. But they were nonetheless impressed.

I don't recall any bike-themed decor at the party. (Let's call it what it was!)  But, apparently, there is something of a vogue for it at weddings today.  If I were to attend (or--egad!--have) nupitals, here's something I'd like to see:

Hey, I could even get away with putting those wheels on my bikes!  At least, the colors are right.  And in a wedding, colors are everything.  Right? 

Would these folks have approved?


24 July 2014

The Light I Followed At The End Of The Day

Yesterday I gave you three images and a lot of words on a subject (and a couple of topics) of interest mainly to cyclists.  

Today I'm going to give you three images and fewer words.  I don't know what the subject or topic is.  All I know is that I captured them with my cell phone while riding home from work

Here's one from the Pulaski Bridge"

The light is interesting and unusual (Can one be without the other?)for the end of a late-July day.  Perhaps it is a foreshadowing...of what, I don't know.

My LeTour commuter-beater seems to blend right in:

A little later, camouflage would have been a bit more difficult:

That street is in--where else?--Williamsburg.


23 July 2014

Vessels Of Reflection

The heat's been turned up, again.

No, I'm not being chased. (Nor am I chaste--at least not by choice!)  And, thankfully, I'm not talking about my apartment or workplace, at least not now.

Instead, I'm talking about the weather.  The weekend, clear through Monday, was very mild for this time of year.  So I did a couple of good rides--ones I've written about before on this blog, but pleasant to do again nonetheless.

Yesterday the heat and humidity began to creep up.  Today's a full-blown "dog day".  I'm glad I brought a water bottle with me when I rode to work.  If this weather continues, it's going to get a lot of use.

If you've been following this blog, you've probably noticed that I use stainless-steel bottles.  I got into that habit around the time Chris started Valo Orange.  I think my first, or possibly my second or third, order from them included two of those bottles.

Like most cyclists of the past half-century or so, I'd been using plastic bottles.  I think the best was one of the first I had.  Specialites TA of France made it. 

At the time, I had no idea that my bottle differed from the ones used by most riders in the European peloton only in the graphics.  More precisely, mine had none:  It was just plain, stark white.  But what made it so great was its nozzle:  To this day, I haven't used any other that's easier to drink from while riding.

Specialites TA continues to make bottles and cages to this day, but they seem to have discontinued the nozzle I've mentioned not long after I got my bottle.  I know that if I really wanted another one, I could get it on eBay. All I'd have to do is outbid some Japanese collector who would pony up $200 or so.  I don't know which would be more questionable:  paying that much for a plastic bottle (even if it is TA!  even if it is French!) or drinking from a 40-year-old plastic bottle.

Before plastic, there was stainless steel, which brings to mind the joke about the "permanent" that's guaranteed for 90 days. (Old stainless steel took six months, vs. three for normal steel, to rust.) And there was aluminum, which most cyclists used.

Of course, aluminum had its own hazard:  People were poisoned by bottles that weren't properly cleaned or aired out.  (I heard of similar stories about aluminum canteens, like the one I had when I was a Scout.)  But they certainly had style.

So did the folks who decorated them:

Now, here's a question for all of you straight guys and lesbians:  Does this heat you up more than the water in it could cool you off?

If you prefer fast machines to fast...well, OK, I won't go there...here's something for you:

Interestingly, Monet Goyon was a manufacturer of motorcycles as well as bicycles in Macon, France.  Believe it or not, there were once two dozen or so French companies making motorcycles (or motorized bicycles of one kind or another) on French soil.  Most, like Peugeot, Motobecane and Solex, started as bicycle manufacturers.  Some abandoned either the motorized or human-powered markets; others, like Monet Goyon folded altogether.  Today there are a number of specialty and custom motorcycle makers, as well as a couple of reincarnations of old marques, making their wares in France.

Now, for those of you who don't care about motorized vehicles or gender politics, and are saying to yourselves, "I came here to read about bicycles," here's something you might prefer:

Actually, even if you don't care about bicycles, you might like that one.  I think it's one of the more tasteful testaments to France's most famous bicycle manufacturer I've seen.

All of the bottles pictured in this post are reproductions and are available from Vintage Bike Shop.