30 September 2014

Nice Old Cranks

Some of my favorite vintage components are Stronglight cranksets.

You might thing I'm being sentimental about the days when I was young, carefree and riding my PX-10.  Well, there are some things I miss about those days, though I have no wish to repeat them.  But more to the point, I have good memories of the Stronglight 93 crankset that came with that bike because it really was very nice.

I loved the shape and mirror polish of it.  Even more important, though, was its practicality:  Chainrings from 37 to 58 teeth were available for it. In a way, it was a precursor to today's "compact" road double cranksets.  So, they were commonly ridden, not only by racers, but by tourists with relatively light loads or who simply didn't want to deal with the finicky shifting and other issues that came with triple cranksets.

What was probably an even nicer--and, to my eye, even prettier--crankset was the "99" model.


It wasn't readily found here in the US, and not many bikes came equipped with it.  But it offered an even wider range of chainrings than the 93:  from 28 to 54 teeth.  In the late '70's and early '80's, six was the maximum number of freewheel cogs; seven would be introduced in the middle of the '80's.  That meant the steps between cogs were wider than on today's 8, 9, 10, 11 or 13-cog cassettes.  Consequently, most in-the-know touring cyclists rode with a "half-step plus granny" chainring setup.  That meant, in brief, a relatively small gap between the two larger chainrings and using the smallest available chainring for the "granny" gear.

A common "half-step plus granny" setup included chainrings of 28, 45 and 50 teeth.  The Stronglight "99" was ideally suited for it.  It had a larger bolt circle (86BCD) than the company's "49" model. the Specialites TA Cyclotouriste or the Nervar touring cranksets, all of which used a 50.4 BCD.  Smaller bolt circles mean, at least in theory, more chainring flex.  The 49, Cyclotouriste and Nervar crankset compensated with an extra ring of bolts to hold the two outer chainrings together.  On the other hand, the "99" had only one set of five bolts holding the chainrings onto the crank.

No one seemed to notice any undue flexing on the "99"--or a near-copy of it made by Sakae Ringyo (SR) in Japan.  The SR model was, functionally, the same and a good deal less expensive.  But the Stronglight cranks seemed to be of higher quality and were more beautiful.

So what happened to the "93" and "99"?  Well, the former crankset became the "105" and "106"--the same cranset with an anodised finish and "drillium" chainrings.  There was also a "drillium" version of the "99".  But the real reason why we don't see more modern versions of those cranks is that they had proprietary bolt circles:  122 mm for the "93" and, as I mentioned, 86 mm for the "99".  In contrast, Campagnolo racing cranks, and their clones, had a 144 mm diameter, while Dura-Ace had the now-ubiquitous 130 mm.  Meanwhile, Sugino's touring cranksets came with the now-familiar 110 mm for the outer two chainrings and 74 mm for the "granny" gear.

That means replacement chainrings for the "93" and "99" can be found only on eBay and at swap meets.  The good news is those chainrings tended to be long-wearing, more so than TA's rings. 

28 September 2014

Believe It Or Not, It's Almost Tweed Season

Even though the temperature has reached 28C (82F), it's officially Fall, and has been for five days.

Even so, it's hard not to notice a change in the light surrounding the still-green trees.  It's especially noticeable at dawn and dusk:  The red, orange and yellow hues of the sky are starting to take on their autumnal tones more like the ones we will see on the leaves in a few weeks.

It's not quite time for tweed yet, but it will be soon enough. The folks in the Alpena (MI) Tweed And Bike Club certainly seemed to be embracing the change in the seasons when they announced an upcoming tweed ride a few years ago:

You can't get much more autumnal than that, can you?  But a black-and-white image that accompanied this one also conveys the spirit of the season nicely, I think:

27 September 2014

Turning Back The Calendar

The clock’s been turned back.  Or, more precisely, the calendar:  a month or so, it seems.  At least, one could reach such a conclusion after the kind of weather we’ve been having in this part of the world.

It was as warmer, yesterday, than it was on most days during the past summer.  Perhaps it doesn’t exactly qualify as “Indian summer”:  Autumn began, officially, only four days ago, and the temperature reached 27C (80F).  That says more about how mild the summer was than how much like a momentary heat wave (Is that a contradiction in terms?) the day felt.

At least it was sunny and the sky wore a hue even more turquoise than a pendant I wore when I was in college. (It was actually a lovely piece, if a bit out of fashion at the time.)  Having nothing work-related to do (i.e., I was procrastinating) yesterday afternoon, it was a perfect day to ride.  So what did I do?  I took Arielle for a spin to Point Lookout.

Actually, I had one other motive besides the pure joy of riding Arielle. (What else can you expect from a well-tuned Mercian?). You see, last year or in some previous year, I saw a swarm of monarch butterflies alight from the bushes near the ballfield on the Point.  It was as if a massive cloud of black and gold rose and lifted itself to the heavens and took a right turn just before some pearly gate.

Those monarchs (who really deserve their name, in my opinion) had completed about a quarter or a fifth of their journey, which had begun about a month earlier in Newfoundland or somewhere else in the Great North and would land them in South America in time for Christmas.

As I recall, I saw that great mass of flight right about this time of year:  during the earliest days of Fall.   In purely logical terms, it made sense to hope for such a sight as greeted me on a ride taken on the same spot of a previous year’s calendar. 

Now, some would say that my problem was putting hope and logic in the same sentence, as it were.  By now, you’ve guessed what happened:  I didn’t see my flight of monarchs.  (“My flight of monarchs”:  If that doesn’t betray a sense of entitlement, I don’t know what does.)  I didn’t express my disappointment to the ones who greeted me when I arrived in time for the receding tide:

I guess this avian creature in particular has his/her (Can’t be sexist, can I?) own kind of majesty, or at least imperialness:

All right, I’m not complaining—at least, not much.  Seeing birds colored in the foam the tides leave skipping from rock to rock or resting on a sandbar has its own kind of grandeur, one borne in serenity.  And, of course, I had a great ride on Arielle.

26 September 2014

On (Not) Riding In The Rain

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, every cyclist has his or her own opinions and/or personal policy about riding in the rain—unless, of course, said cyclist lives in a place where it doesn’t rain.  

Mine goes something like this:  If the rain’s so thick I can’t see out my window, I don’t go.  If there’s a steady rain and I’d planned on riding with someone who’s rarin’ to go, I’ll pedal through the precip.  On the other hand, if it’s very cold and raining, I won’t ride unless I must.

Probably the one other condition—besides zero visibility—that will keep me from riding in the rain is gale-force or near-gale force winds driving the rain.  Such conditions are part of what’s commonly called a nor’easter in this part of the world.  Such a storm is what combined with a Category One hurricane—you know, the kind pensioners in Florida endure like marriages in which they’ve grown miserable (“This is hell, but at least it will be over soon enough!”)—to give us Superstorm Sandy.

It was raining heavily when I woke up yesterday morning, and it continued through the day.  There was some hint of the wind that was forecast; by the middle of the morning it looked as if it would blow leaves off trees before they had a chance to turn color.  Even so, it wasn’t quite as strong as I somehow expected.

Did we have a “nor’easter” yesterday?  The weather forecasters said we did.  Somehow, though, I felt a little cheated: not only was the wind not quite as strong as I expected, but I think—perhaps incorrectly—that it’s too early in the season for a true “nor’easter”, which I associate with mid- to late-fall or winter.  (Sandy came just before Halloween.)  Still, I didn’t ride.  And I feel I kept to my unofficial policy:  At times throughout the day, it was all but impossible to see through the rain.

25 September 2014

The Captain's Next Career?

Tonight, Derek Jeter is scheduled to play the last home game of his career.  After he takes off his Yankee uniform for the last time, who knows what's in store for him?

Perhaps he could follow in the footsteps of another Yankee icon and officiate at bicycle races.

Yes, you read that right.  At the old Inwood Velodrome--just a sprint and a long fly ball away from Yankee Stadium, one of the Italian-sounding names wasn't that of one of the racers.

Il Bambino himself fired the starter's pistol that sent legs pumping and wheels spinning up and down the embankment on the the track's opening night, 30 May 1922.

Babe Ruth in 1922, at the Inwood Velodrome

Baseball's first great home run-hitter--and one of its most (in)famous party animals (which was saying something during the "Roaring Twenties") --was playing his third season for the Bronx Bombers, who'd bought him from the Boston Red Sox for $125,000, or half of what it cost to build the Inwood Velodrome.

One thing that's particularly intriguing about this bit of history is that the opening of Yankee Stadium was still a year in the future.  That season--1922--would mark the last in which the Yankees would share the Polo Grounds with the New York (now San Francisco) Giants.

What's perhaps even more interesting is that some of the cyclists who competed that day--including Ray Eaton, Alf Goullet and Orlando Piani--were actually earning more money than The Babe, or any other baseball player (or, for that matter, American athlete).  In spite of its popularity, baseball was only at the beginning of its evolution (some would say devolution) into a big-money sport.  The National Football League had begun only two years earlier, and the National Hockey League--which did not yet have a team based in the USA--three years before the NFL.  The National Basketball Association wouldn't start play for nearly another quarter-century.

Believe it or not, even some soccer (football to the rest of the world) players in the US were making more than baseball players were.  If I had to explain why guys in shorts were making more money than flannel-uniformed ballplayers, I'd guess it had something to do with the international popularity of cycling and soccer.  Baseball's popularity, on the other hand, was almost entirely confined to the United States.

Anyway...I could see Derek Jeter sending the racers off the starting line in Trexlertown, Encino, St -Quentin -en- Yvelines or Vigorelli.   Couldn't you?

24 September 2014

Goodbye To A Season

Summer ended--officially--yesterday.

Even if the coming winter is anything like the one we had last year, I reckon there are still about two months, possibly more, of really good cycling yet.  Then the fun starts.

23 September 2014

From Blogger To Advisor: A Reader Asks About A Mercian

If you blog about something for long enough, are you an expert on it?

(If you use "blog" as a verb, are you creative or just someone who didn't listen when your English teachers said, "Don't verb nouns!")?

Well, one of my regular readers asked for my opinion about a frame listed on eBay--a Mercian, of course.

Now, I won't tell anyone not to buy a Mercian unless it's the wrong size or has damage that can't be repaired.  The frame in question doesn't seem to fit in the latter category:

My dear reader says it's "a little on the small side" but rideable.  Some people don't mind, or even prefer, a frame that's a bit smaller than what's normally recommended for them.  There are legitimate reasons for that, and I wouldn't try to talk someone out of buying such a bike--especially if it's not available any other size.  (If you can't get the right size, too small is definitely better than too big.) Of course, my reader could get a new Mercian in the right size.  But, I think the reader likes the look--or, perhaps the spirit--of a vintage bike.  Or it may just be that the frame in question could be had for a good deal less money than a new one.

Speaking of which:  My reader wondered whether the price was "on the premium side."  Well, I told him, perhaps it's possible to find a similar frame for less.  But that might mean waiting, possibly for a good long while.   After all, there are only so many old Mercians--or any other old classic frames--being sold at any given moment.

I told my reader that if I were looking for another bike and it were closer to my size, I'd buy the frame in question.  I'd buy it even if I were simply looking for an interesting restoration project:  It looks like the frame has the old British-made TDC headset and, possibly, bottom bracket.  If I had the time and money to do a resto, I'd build it up with British-made parts like GB handlebars, stem and brakes, and possibly even a Benelux or Cyclo derailleur.  

I don't think my reader has any such plans.  I think I gave the best advice I could--although, in my heart of hearts, I think a Mercian is always worth it.

22 September 2014

Jill Tarlov, R.I.P.

Sad news:  Jill Tarlov, the Connecticut woman who was struck by a cyclist in Central Park, has died.

As of this writing, no charges have been filed against the cyclist.  That he remained at the scene, I think, shows that he isn't a scofflaw.


And, as I said in an earlier post, I don't want to place blame anywhere.  There are indeed reckless cyclists.  Perhaps I was one in my youth; I don't think I'm one now.  I try not to be, anyway.  I think the same could be said for most cyclists.  At the same time, most pedestrians are careful, as Ms. Tarlov probably was, but sometimes they let their guard down.

Anyway, after this incident, I don't think I'll be riding in Central Park any time soon.  I very rarely ride there, as I said the other day.  I simply cannot enjoy a ride when I have to dodge pedestrians, skaters, skateboarders, horses and carriages and food vendors' carts.   I think the park is actually more congested than the streets and the hazards are less predictable.  I actually feel safer on most streets than I do in Central Park.

21 September 2014

Greeting Me

This morning I had a visitor.

Is he/she a bug?  A baby bird?

This interesting creature took up residence on my LeTour some time since Thursday night, when I last used the bike.  It had been parked on the street ever since.

Maybe he/she likes black metal.  Hmm...a new Black Sabbath fan, perhaps?

20 September 2014


NIMBY stands for "Not In My Backyard".

We could have our own version, NOMBY, which would mean "Not On My Bike...Yet">

I said that about STI, clipless pedals and a myriad of other bicycle parts and accessories.  

Perhaps there could be another acronym, NOMBE--"Not On my Bike, Ever",

I think this would fall into that category:

 The Scootrix Bike Noise Maker makes me think of the bike radios Radio Shack used to offer in every color in which ice pops were ever made.  But Scootrix is to those radios as modern bike computers are to the old Lucas cyclometers.  Scootrix can make rocketship roars, police siren wails, hot rod screams or--get this--the sound of a UFO, whatever that is.

All right, this accessory isn't NOMBE for me; it's NOMBY.

19 September 2014

How And Why A Cyclist Struck A Pedestrian In Central Park

I very rarely ride in Central Park.

Perhaps that makes me a jaded, cynical New Yorker—you know, the kind who think “only tourists” go to the Statue of Liberty, take in a Rockettes show or go to the Village and expect to see musicians, artists and writers living “bohemian” lives.

To tell you the truth, I’ve never been to the Statue or Radio City Music Hall.  And I can’t remember the last time I walked around in the Village.  

I also don’t go into the Park very often for any reason.  Don’t get me wrong: It’s a lovely place, a masterpiece of urban landscape architecture.  And a couple of laps in it can give you a good mini-workout.

Something that happened yesterday reminded of why I so seldom pedal into, or around, the Park.  A 31-year-old man was riding at a good clip when a woman nearly twice his age crossed into the lane.  He shouted for her to get out of the way.  Neither he nor she had time to get out of each other’s paths.  Even if they had, they probably wouldn’t have had any room to maneuver:  On a clear, mild day, the bike lanes are full of cyclists of all kinds:  racers, wannabes, other athletes-in-training on bikes, those who are riding to unwind, the ones (usually tourists on rental bikes) who want to take in the sun and a leaf-fluttering breeze with the skyline as their backdrop and those who want to be seen in the latest team kit and the most expensive bike they could find.

In other words, the bike lanes are clogged with cyclists of varying abilities, pedaling at various speeds and with even more disparate levels of awareness of their surroundings. 

Even the least alert cyclist is probably paying more attention than some people who are strolling across the meadows and around the lake.  I don’t mean to impugn all pedestrians in the park; I am simply saying that those on foot—especially tourists—are more likely to let their guard down while walking through the park than cyclists are while rounding the turns.

That is not to say that neither the woman who was struck—or, for that matter, the cyclist—is to blame.  Rather, the incident should serve as a cautionary tale for everyone who goes to the Park.   That is also not to say the Park can’t be enjoyed by all: Those who ride, walk, run, skate, skateboard or otherwise venture into, around or through the park simply need to act more or less as if they all were motor vehicles on the streets.

As for me, I probably won’t be riding in Central Park any time soon because it’s become so crowded.  I actually feel as though I have more space on most streets.  And the traffic is more predictable.

The woman--Jill Tarlov of Fairfield, Connecticut--has been declared brain-dead.  The cyclist--identified as Jason Marshall--has not been charged, though the NYPD says they're still investigating the incident.

18 September 2014

Late Summer

 While taking an apres-work ride on the paths of Astoria Park and Vernon Boulevard, I couldn't help but to think about how they--and the other streets and paths I've been pedaling--will soon be covered with leaves.