31 August 2014

Flora And Fauna

I have to admit:  I've never cycled in a desert. 

If I ever do, will I know a cactus when I see one?

From Wanderlust and Lipstick

30 August 2014

The Day After: Flight

So far, so good. If yesterday's ride was smoother and faster than I anticipated, today's ride made me feel as if I had a smoother pedal stroke than Jacques Anquetil.

I had ridden Tosca, my fixed-gear Mercian, only twice since my accident, and each time for no more than a few kilometers.  So I wondered whether not being able to coast would allow me to ride pain-free for a second consecutive day.

Pain?  What pain?  I felt myself spinning faster and more fluidly with each kilometer I rode, up through Astoria and Harlem and Washington Heights and down the New Jersey Palisades to Jersey City and Bayonne, then along the North Shore of Staten Island to the ferry.

Once I got off the boat in Manhattan, I just flew, without effort.  Granted, a light wind blew at my back, but I was passing everything on two wheels that wasn't named Harley.  Really, I'm not exaggerating.  I even flew by those young guys in lycra on carbon bikes.  

What does that say about me--or Mercian bikes?

29 August 2014

To The Point: Recovery

Today I took my first ride of more than 35 km since the accident two weeks ago.

I could hardly have had a better day:  Scarcely a cloud interrupted the blue sky just as barely a whitecap broke the nearly calm sea.  Best of all, on a long straight stretch, I was pedaling into a 15-20 KPH wind that blew me almost home.

You might’ve guessed that I pedaled out to Point Lookout—on Arielle, my Mercian Audax.  Even with her sprightliness, I expected to slog through part of this ride as it would be, by far, the longest I’d taken since the accident.

But I should have known better, given that I was riding in such favorable conditions on a familiar ride and the bike on which I feel I have the most elan. Much to my surprise—and delight—I pedaled the 105 or so km in half an hour less than I took any other time I’ve done the ride this year.

Best of all, at the end of the ride, I wasn’t in any pain, even where I’d been bruised or on the spot under my rib cage where I felt a stab of pain, then days of throbbing, after the accident.

The forecast for tomorrow calls for somewhat warmer and more humid weather than we had today.  I think I’m ready for another invigorating ride.

28 August 2014

Gender Role On A Tandem?

Seeing a tandem on the road isn't quite as rare as a UFO sighting.  But it's uncommon enough that I tend to remember it for a while.

Therefore, I feel confident in saying this:  Every time I've seen a man and a woman riding a tandem, the man was the "captain" (in front) while the woman rode as the "stoker" behind him.

I confess that when I was a man and rode a tandem with a woman, I also took the front seat.  However, there was a very good reason for that:  She was blind.

Most men, though, don't have such a rationale.  They might argue that they have another:  Most of them are taller than their wives, girlfriends, daughters or other females who ride with them.  Now that I think of it, I wonder what Tammy and I would have done if we'd ridden a tandem:  She stood three inches (7.5 cm) taller than me but, as athletic as she was, I was still the stronger rider.

Which of us would have been the "captain" of this tandem?:

1996 Coventry Quadracycle For Two

27 August 2014

Checkered--Or Good Vibrations?

Those of us who have been riding a long time notice, not only a cyclist's riding style and what kind of bike he or she is riding, but also his or her bicycle aesthetic.

Some prefer the clean, classic lines of, say, a silver Cinelli or a bike from one of the classic French constructeurs or British or Italian custom builders.  I'm in that camp, almost all the way.  I like to spice up the classic, classy look just a bit, with some touches of color.  You probably could tell that from looking at the photos of my bikes. 

I'm not a fan of V-shaped rims in clashing neon colors, or of bikes or parts with graphics that look like they were lifted from a Japanese anime version of Star Wars.  I liked the all-black look during my punk rock phase--now, not so much.  I also once liked the black-red-and-white combination; now that it's nearly ubiqitous, I'm sick of it.  Also, it marks a bike as one of this decade just as neon pink-and-aqua fades scream '80's and purple-and-teal don't let you forget the '90's. 

Still, every once in a while I see a bike that's so over-the-top that I admire it, even if I never would ride such a bike myself:

From Uncovet

If this bike were ridden on the Ho Chi Minh trail--or a few streets I've ridden in the Bronx and southeastern Queens--could it induce seizures?  Or would it start a revival of Op Art?

26 August 2014

My Kind Of Team

One probable reason why I'm a writer,  teacher and cyclist  is that I'm not a particularly good "team player."  Yes, I played football (soccer) long ago, in a faraway galaxy (i.e., high school).  However, I developed a strong preference for individual pursuits--or, maybe, I was born with it.  So, most of what I've done for work and fun has involved my working alone, or working, without necessarily collaborating, with people.  And I very rarely join organizations of any kind.

But I might have joined this team:

From Buy A Fixie

Women on bikes--with clubs!  What's not to like?

25 August 2014

A Lesson In Bicycle Economics

As the academic term begins in colleges all over this country (and world), thousands of students will purchase Professor N. Gregory ( Mankiw's Principles of Economics.

Those students will, I believe, learn more about economics  by shopping for the book than by actually reading it or attending their Econ 101 classes:  The most recent edition of Professor Mankiw's book goes for nearly $300. 

I'll put that in perspective:  The price of that book is nearly the same as my tuition for each of the first six semesters (out of eight) of my undergraduate schooling.

I mention this because of another lesson in economics I got, rather unexpectedly, a few days ago.  And it didn't come from Professor Mankiw or anyone else who served as a Presidential advisor.  Rather, it came from an authority I trust far more:  a bike mechanic I trust with any repairs or other work for which I don't have the tools, time or patience.

I'm talking about Hal Ruzal of Bicycle Habitat. He was re-tensioning the rear wheel on Tosca (my fixed-gear Mercian), which he built for me seven years ago.  That I rode it for so many miles--and, in fact, for a thousand or two on my DeBernardi before I transferred it to Tosca--is a testament to his skills.  

We chatted about one thing and another and somehow we got onto the topic of past jobs or our youth, or something related.  Anyway, he mentioned that during his senior year in high school, he had a job that involved drawing maps for an insurance broker.  In two weeks of working that job, he said, he'd saved up enough money for the bike he was lusting after:  a Frejus Competition.

As I mentioned in another post, that bike practically defined "Italian racing bike" for many of us who first got into cycling during the early days of the '70's Bike Boom.  I never owned one myself, but I admired it if for no other reason that it was one of the prettiest bikes available at that time.  And while accounts of its ride qualities vary--and the workmanship, while not bad, is not as nice as that of similar bikes I'd encounter later.

At the time Hal bought his, it retailed for around $375. The frame was constructed of Reynolds 531 double-butted tubes, rather than the Columbus SL or SP most Italian builders were using.  The frame was adorned with then-top-of-the-line Campagnolo Record components, including the Nuovo Record rear derailleur.   (Super Record was a couple of years in the future).  And, from what I've heard, Tom Avenia--whose New York City shop was, for decades, the main retailer of Frejus as well as other Italian marques and Campagnolo components--would replace the stock saddle (a Unicanitor, I believe) with a Brooks for an additional five dollars.

Hal, not given to hyperbole, put his job and purchase in perspective:  "Today, a kid could work all summer and not have enough for a 105 bike!"  Shimano's 105 components are good stuff--I've used some myself--but they are not top-of-the-line, as Campy Record was.  And, even though 105 derailleurs and brakes (or even cheaper ones) work better than anything produced at the time Hal bought his Frejus, nothing made today has the kind rugged construction or workmanship of those old Campy components.

Hal's lesson in economics followed one I heard recently in a lecture:  For the minimum wage to have the purchasing power it had in 1968, when it was $1.60 an hour, it would have to be $10.90.  Of course, even that doesn't get you much of anything--in terms of housing, food or clothing, let alone bikes--in places like New York (where I live), San Francisco or Boston. But what kind of lodging (or bike) can you get at the current minimum wage of $7.25?

24 August 2014

Oil And Mud

On Charles Street in Greenwich Village--just a couple of pedal strokes from the Hudson River and the Greenway that rims it--there's a shop that calls itself the "Downtown Upright Bike Shop."  I guess I'd prefer that to a Downright Uptown Bike Shop, and I'm sure I'd like it better than a Frowntown Uptight Shop.

In any event, Hub Cycles is an interesting place.  With its open front, entering it is rather like walking into a flea market.  It's somehow appropriate--among the rows of "Dutch style" and "city" bikes from Biria, Linus and like companies, one finds the unexpected, such as this:

The red bike behind the Biria has an unusual combination of design and construction:  It looks as if someone crossed an English three-speed from the 1930's with an American baloon-tired bike from built by, say, Schwinn or Columbia during the same era.

As you can see, it has the "camelback" design common on the old Schwinns.  The curved top tube connects the head tube with the seat tube cluster. On diamond-shaped bikes,the seat stays would connect the cluster to the rear drop outs or fork ends.  However, on this bike, a pair parallel tubes arcs from the downtube, across the seat tube and down to the dropouts.

What's really oee is that the top tube is joined by lugs while the curved twin tubes are spot-welded.  I guess there really is no other way to join them.  Still, I was a bit surprised to see such a construction method on a British bike.

The bike, as it turns out, was made by Dunelt, one of the best-known manufacturers of classic English three-speeds.  (It, like many other makers of such bikes, was acquired by Tube Investments--the parent company of Raleigh--during the 1950's.)  The head badge and chainring bearing the manufacturer's name were present, as was a faded transfer or decal on the seat tube.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the bike is this:

The hole on the bottom bracket shell is meant for an oiler.  If that sounds familiar, you probably have a classic Sturmey-Archer multigear hub--or, perhaps, some old BSA or Chater Lea pedals, hubs or headsets.  Those components--and the bottom bracket in the shell of this bike--were not made to be greased.  Instead, the oil--which had to be applied regularly--served as both lubricant and cleanser, helping to flush grit out of the mechanism.  

Such designs make a lot of sense when you realize that bikes like the one in the photo were made to be ridden on dusty country lanes that frequently turned to mud developed ruts big enough to have their own representation in Parliament.  People who rode such bikes often were far from the nearest bicycle shop and did not have specialized bicycle tools.  So, bikes and parts were designed to need "tear downs" as infrequently as possible.

Generations of people who used such bikes as their main means of transportation as well as for recreational riding were accustomed to the notion that their Sturmey-Archer hubs needed a teaspoon of oil every month or every time they rode in heavy rain or other harsh weather.  

Americans, on the other hand, got out of the habit of depending on their bikes--or of adults riding bicycles at all.  So what was common knowledge in Britain and the rest of Europe was forgotten.  That, I believe, is the reason why so many Yanks end up with otherwise-good three-speed bikes on which the gears don't work:  Necessary maintenance, minimal as it was, went by the wayside.  

The good news is that Sturmey-Archer three-speed hubs made before the mid-1970's or thereabouts can usually be resurrected if the inner parts haven't corroded or rusted together entirely.  The bad news is that fewer and fewer mechanics know how to service those classic parts.

Anyway, in a rather perverse irony, the bike I saw today was equipped with a new-production Sturmey-Archer hub that doesn't need to be oiled.  That, to me, was more offensive than seeing the other replacements and modifications--including the hammered fenders, which I actually like on the Dunelt.

23 August 2014

Ex Cathedra, Sine Sella

Anyone who rides a fixed gear regularly will probably say, "Coasting is bad for you!"

It may well be. It seems a near-certainty, though, that sitting--too much of it, at any rate--is bad for you.

That must have been on the mind of whoever designed this bike:

Now comedians aren't the only ones doing "standup"!

22 August 2014

When Your Rack Is Not "U"

When I first started cycling "long" distances (i.e., 40 km) four decades ago, you locked your bike with some combination of a lock with a chain or cable.

And you crossed your fingers.

Locks could be picked or broken; chains and cables cut or snapped.  Thieves figured out that the loops at the end of most cables could be twisted off almost as easily as a cap off a bottle of Coke.

Then, much as Drs. Montagnier and Gallo did work that got each of them credited, by different groups of people, with the same discovery, a bicycle mechanic and an MIT engineering student each created a different--and, each of them claims, the first-- version of something nearly every urban cyclist uses today.

I'm talking about the U-shaped lock.  One legend has it that the original Kryptonite lock--which looked, more than anything else, like a medieval torture device--was conceived in the brain of a young bike mechanic as a young female customer complained of having her bike stolen.  The other says the MIT student conceived of the Citadel lock as his senior thesis project. 

The ubiquitous U-shaped lock influenced another aspect of urban cycling:  parking racks.  For a time, it seemed that all newly-installed bike parking racks looked like Citadel or Kryptonite locks missing their crossbars.  Or, if you like, they looked like Breuer-inspired tombstones rising from concrete sidewalks. 

But now it seems that those bike racks are taking on new shapes:

At Grand Hope Park, Los Angeles

Should you lock your bike or hitch your horse to them?  

If they installed this rack just a little bit further to the left, there'd be no need for a lock:

That was a University of California-San Diego student's project.  Hmm...I wonder what sort of career this portends.

On the other hand, some designer took the slogan, "Make Love, Not War" to heart:

If love is your thing, maybe you want to ride on a covered bridge--or, perhaps, an un-covered one:

Or, perhaps, it could be Breuer's take on a certain Norwegian's painting.

When it comes to turning utilitarian objects into art, leave it to an Australian to come up with something new and interesting:

But, if you prefer that your bicycle storage racks unambiguously announce their function, here's one for you:

21 August 2014

The Spirit Of Hasidic Cycling In Brooklyn

Citibike, the bike-sharing program in New York (my hometown), began nearly fifteen months ago.

During the first days of the program, leaders of the Hasidic Jewish community in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn, petitioned against it.  They weren't against bikes, they said; they just didn't like the idea of "scantily clad" cyclists rolling through their neighborhood.

A couple of years ago, Hasidic leaders in Borough Park, another Brooklyn enclave, protested the construction of bike lanes on exactly the same grounds. 

I haven't heard about the Borough Park rebbes lately.  I've ridden through the neighborhood a few times and found no Citibike ports.  For that matter, I didn't see very many adult cyclists.

On the other hand, a few days after the South Williamsburg leaders made their complaint, Hasidim for Bikes clamored for the blue bikes.  Not surprisingly, Williamsburg--sometimes called "Brooklyn's Portland" or "Hipsterville"--was one of the first Brooklyn neighborhoods to get Citibikes.

Not long afterward, I started to see bearded, black-clad men in top hats pedaling up and down Kent Avenue, Berry Street, Havemeyer Street and other neighborhood throughfares--even on the worst days of a record-breaking heat wave we endured last summer.

Note that I mentioned the men.  I hadn't seen Hasidic women pedaling or coasting on the blue bikes--until today.

It wasn't exceptionally hot, but it was warm and humid enough for me, in my shorts and tank top, to break a bit of a sweat when I sprinted, however briefly, because, well, I could.  I tried to imagine how it must have felt for those women, clad in long sleeves and skirts, sweaters and thick opaque hosiery of the kind I might wear with boots in the winter. 

I didn't take any pictures--Years ago, I discovered that Hasidim really don't like to be photographed, especially by outsiders--so I've included this image because it probably comes closest to showing what it must have been like for the women I saw today:




20 August 2014

My Tribute To Robin Williams On The "Huffington Post"

Last week, I noted the death of Robin Williams.  In addition to possessing an amazing, unique talent and all sorts of other wonderful qualities, he had a great passion for cycling--as a participant as well as a spectator.

In case you're interested, here's a link to a piece I wrote about him for the Huffington Post.

I hope he and his Pegoretti are on an absolutely amazing ride somewhere.

19 August 2014

First Ride After An Accident: Going Bonkers

If you've done at least one long ride or have been training with a group, you've heard of "bonking".  You've more than likely experienced it--admit it! ;-)

You've also probably heard it referred to as "hitting the wall". In scientific terms, it's the depletion of the glycogen stores in your liver and muscles.  You know it's happening when, all of a sudden, you can't pedal another stroke or run or swim another stroke.

It happens even to  the most experienced cyclists, runners, swimmers or other endurance athletes.  We do what we can to prevent it, mainly with proper nutrition and rest.  But every once in a while, some condition we didn't anticipate--such as a change in weather or a detour up a mountain (Yes, that's happened to me!)--presents itself.  Or, something causes changes in our metabolism or other bodily function or condition.

Today I felt myself "bonking" after just a few miles.  The ride wasn't difficult and, although I was trying to give myself a workout, I wasn't riding at an exceptional pace.  The temperature and humidity were, if anything, a bit lower than one might expect at this time of year.  And a scrim of cirrocumulous filtered the midday sun.

I don't think my sudden fatigue had anything to do with food, or lack thereof:  I'd eaten shortly before I started riding.  I can only wonder whether it had something to do with whatever trauma, however mild, my body experienced from my accident on Saturday.  I'm still feeling a pretty fair amount of pain on my left side, below my rib cage, though it's not quite as bad as it was yesterday or the day before.  And the bruises are more noticeable than they had been.

Hmm...Maybe it took my body a few miles to figure out that it was still hurting, still in shock.  After all, this ride--I did about 20 miles (32km)  in all--was my first since the accident.

Whatever I was experiencing, I find it amusing that it might be described with a term ("bonking")  that the British use as a less-rude synonym to "shagging" or the f-word.

18 August 2014

Why Did This Cat Cross The Road?

Marley is curled in my lap.  So, I feel almost guilty in writing this.

The other day, the breeze into which I’d pedaled to Point Lookout lapped against my back for my ride home.  Hardly a cloud besmudged the clear, bright sky that would soon blaze with the sunset.  Even the splintered, blistered houses that had weathered the harshest winter in decades just a year after Superstorm Sandy tore at them floated through my vision like images from a dream.

From a patch of cement and shrubs in front of one of those houses, a big black cat darted into my path.  If you are a cyclist, you have had hundreds, if not thousands, of such encounters with felines.  And, to the extent that I thought about it, I expected this one to be simply another.

If you are a cyclist, you also know that cats almost invariably run as close as they can to your front wheel, then cut at a sharp angle away from it. 

Note that I used the word “almost”.  The black cat (You can’t make this up!) wasn’t one of the invariables.  He/she actually ran straight into my front wheel, and glanced off it. 

My front wheel made a U-turn to my right.  The rest of the bike, and I, didn’t follow:  It stuttered and teetered on the pavement. I flung my left leg out.  But it did not stop me from tumbling into the back of a parked car.

The sky hadn’t yet grown dark, but I saw stars.  A gust of steel lashed against my side.  And the leg that couldn’t break my fall flung to the side and left my right calf to take a blow against the car’s bumper.

“Are you OK?  Are you OK?”  A young Caribbean-Indian woman ran toward me.  “Are you hurt?”  I couldn’t talk; I could just barely inhale without feeling a stab under my rib cage.  She pulled my water bottle out of its cage on my bike.  “Here, take a drink.”  I sucked at the nozzle; after I swallowed, my next breath came easier.  “How do you feel?”

“OK, I think.”

“Just take it easy.”

She crouched beside me while a man—her boyfriend or husband, I guessed—watched from a nearby porch.  He held a cell phone.  “Is she all right?” he yelled.

The woman and I both nodded.

“Where did the cat go?” I wondered.  “Does it belong to anybody here?”

“I don’t know”.

I think she saw my frustration.  “I hope it’s OK.”  I meant that, even though a part of me was damning it.  “Don’t worry about it,” she commanded.  “Can you get home all right.”

“Yeah, I think so.  Thanks.”

The bruises are just starting to appear.  But I’ve felt the pain, just under my rib cage, every time I’ve bent over to pick up something or feed my cats.  Hopefully, it’ll fade:  I want to ride, and I don’t want Marley or Max to go hungry!  At least, they’ll never run into my wheel.

15 August 2014

Three Rings I'd Never Seen Before

While trolling eBay, I came across this:

You could be forgiven for thinking, "another French bike". From the style of the paint, decals and graphics, it looks similar to many Gallic velocipedes of the 1960's and 1970's.

From what I can see, it looks like the sort of bikes the British used to call "club racers".  Most of the components--like the Normandy hubs, Simplex derailleurs and shifters and Mafac brakes--are what one might find on many basic ten-speeds, like the Peugeot UO8, that were exported to the US during its "bike boom".  However,  it has a tighter wheelbase and angles than basic bike-boom ten-speeds like the Peugeot UO-8.   

On closer inspection (or, at least, as close as I can make from the photos), this one--from Beha, a name I'd never before seen--is a little better than most club racers.  For one thing, it's made from Vitus 172, a maganese molybdenum tubing of slightly thicker wall thickness (and, arguably, of somewhat lower quality) than Reynolds 531.  Most club racers were made of the same sort of carbon-steel tubing as what was found on the U-08 and other bikes like it.  Also, the Beha seems to have forged, rather than stamped, dropouts. 

Another thing this bike has in common with other club racers is its tubular tires and rims, the latter made by Mavic.  Racers often used wheels like the ones on this bike--basic hubs, nice rims--for training.  In the days before Michelin came out with its Elan tire (and, simultaneously, Mavic introduced its "E" rim), riding fast almost meant riding tubulars.

But the most interesting part of this bike--at least to me--is this:

When this bike was built, it seemed that every maker of cranksets made a cotterless model on which the chainring was attached with three bolts, rather than the four or five that are standards of nearly all modern cranksets.  It makes sense when you realize that nearly all cottered cranksets with double chainrings were of the three-bolt variety.  So, too, was the crankset many regard as the nicest ever made:  Rene Herse's own.

I don't know when Herse stopped making his. (Now the Colorado company calling itself "Rene Herse" offers a replica of it.)  But it seems that after Campagnolo turned its three-bolt Gran Sport into a five-bolt crank in the early 1980's or thereabouts, the three-bolt design disappeared until the Herse revival.

The crank on the Beha bike is from Specialtes TA, which also made the better-known "Cyclotouriste" crankset.  I always thought TA's three-bolt crank was the prettiest of the genre, which also included models from Stronglight, Nervar, Shimano (the original 600 crankset) and Sugino.  

The TA came as original equipment on a variety of bikes, including the Motobecane Grand Record (on which it was teamed with Campagnolo Nuovo Record derailleurs) and Raleigh Competition (with Huret Jubilee).  On those bikes, and others, the crank came with two chainrings.  I never saw it equipped with three rings--that is, until I came across the Beha. I'd really like to see it in person.