30 November 2014

The Black And White Club

I have a question for those of you who have kids:  Did you ever have to explain to them that, no, you didn't see things in black-and-white when you were young?

Believe it or not, I actually had to reassure one of my students that we were not colorblind back in the day.  Of course, that student could have taken that statement as an explanation of why we needed to have the Civil Rights Movement.  And I've been accused, at different times in my life, of seeing things in the presence or absence of all colors.  They'll say that about you if you have convictions and stand up for yourself.

I got to thinking about the world before technicolor because I came across a copy of a 40-year-old issue of Bicycling! magazine. Everything printed in it was in black and white. The November 1974 issue was one of the first I read, and I was introduced to all sorts of things not mentioned in Eugene Sloane's Complete Book of Bicycling.  (The mid-'70's was probably the last time an American could publish anything with such a title without seeming arrogant or ignorant or both.) 

In addition to Reynolds and Columbus (which Sloane referred to as "Columbia" in the first edition of his book) tubing, I learned about Tange, Falk, Vitus, Ishiwata and Durifort.  That last name was the trademark of a high-quality French carbon steel tubing (Those terms weren't considered mutually exclusive in those days) that came in straight-gauge and double-butted. 

 "Club racers"--a kind of bike all but banned from the US market when a bunch of lawyers with too much time on their hands decided they were "dangerous"-- were often made from it. The Stella SX-73--of which reviewer Larry Burke wrote glowingly forty years ago--is an example of such a bike, if with slightly longer (and therefore more amenable to light touring) geometry.

Such bikes typically had racing geometry and came with basic or mid-level components, save for tubular ("sew-up") tires and rims.  The idea was to offer a fast, responsive bike at a reasonable price, or one that could be used, without too much modification, for light touring.

(These are different from British "club bicycles" of the 1930's to 1960s, which were typically constructed from Reynolds 531 tubing and had higher-quality components.  However, they usually had Sturmey-Archer internally-geared hubs--usually one of the higher- end or close-range models--or a "flip-flop" hub on the rear, as derailleurs were not widely used in the British Isles until the 1960's.  Tosca, my fixed-gear Mercian, is modeled somewhat on such bikes.)

A few people crashed those French club racers and the frame tubes collapsed. When the CPSC lawyers got wind of stories about them, they decided the public simply had to be protected from them--never mind that most riders walked away intact from such crashes in spite of not wearing helmets, as was the practice in those days of "leather hairnets".

Anyway, I've noticed that a few high-end builders and producers are offering their own versions of "club racers".  Could British club bikes be next?  Then Tosca will get even more attention than she gets now, and nobody will remember her in black and white!

I'll close this post with a funny story:  I actually used the photo I've posted in a paper I wrote about circadian rhythms.  The trees look somewhat autumnal, but the guy on the bike is wearing shorts and a T-shirt.  Even though the weather was warm, the trees were still losing their leaves, as they are wont to do at that time of year.  

If I recall correctly, I got an A on that paper. 

29 November 2014

Evolutionary Cycling Gifts

We all know that cyclists are the highest form of humanity.  We are the ne plus ultra of evolution.  

This is not a biased opinion.  It's cold, hard scientific fact--or, at least, a very well-founded theory.  I have evidence:


That T-shirt can be found on Zazzle, where I also found this poster:

 Bike, Bicycle, Cycle, Sport, Biking, Motivational Posters

among other fun and interesting cycling gifts.

Hmm...Is it hypocritical of me to promote the purchase of gifts the day after I wrote a diatribe against Black Friday?  If it is, I'm sorry:  I'm human--though the most evolved sort because I am, after all, a cyclist.;-)

28 November 2014

Black Friday Bicycle Shaped Objects

"Toys come in boxes.  Real bicycles come assembled and ready to ride."

I don't remember who said that.  I'm guessing it was the proprietor or a salesperson in one of the bike shops in which I worked.  And I'm guessing the proprietor or salesperson was admonishing someone who brought in a department-store bicycle for assembly or who tried to assemble such a bike and made a bad thing hopeless.

I'm recalling that bit of wisdom, if not the sage who imparted it, because today is Black Friday.

For those of you who are not in the US, this day--the day after we give thanks and exchange heart-warming stories (or get into fights) with people with whom we would not sit at the same table at any other time--and give thanks for, well, whatever.   This is the day on which stores--mainly the big-box variety--run "sales" on some of the worst junk imaginable, much of which will end up under Christmas trees four weeks later and in landfills four years--or even four months--later.

The boxes full of stuff meant to be assembled into bicycle-shaped objects are among the sale items I'm talking about. One of the "big-box" retailers--which, thankfully, does not have a store anywhere near me--has offered, on each of the few Black Fridays--a "freestyle BMX" bike with pegs and helmet for $49.99 and boys' and girls' 20 inch bicycles for $29. 

If you're a vegan,  bear with me for a moment as I use an analogy most people (Americans, anyway) will understand.  It's scarcely possible to get a steak dinner, let alone a good one, for $29.  Add drinks and dessert and you'd be hard-pressed to keep the tab below $50.   At least, that's the case here in New York.

Now, you might be thinking that buying a cheap bike for a kid isn't such a bad idea because he or she will trash or outgrow it within a couple of years.   Or you might be on a tight budget (Trust me, I understand!) and are shopping for a few kids or grandkids.  I don't have kids or grandkids, but I understand the joy in seeing a kid's eyes light up on Christmas morning.  (I've experienced it with my nieces and nephews as well as the children of friends, if that counts.)   However, I'd think about what I'm teaching kids when I give them disposable junk.  

More to the point, though, I'd be concerned about giving a kid (or anyone) something that's potentially unsafe.  In bikes, as in most things, you get what you pay for (up to a point, anyway).  Cheap bikes are made cheaply, from cheap materials.  Now, if I were buying such a bike for a kid (which, of course, I wouldn't), I at least have some residual level of skill as a mechanic and could at least ensure the bike is properly assembled.  However, not everyone who buys such a bike can make such a claim. Nor can some of the "mechanics" employed by some stores that offer assembly.

If you were to bring such a bike to a shop to be assembled, you'll pay enough for the service that it, combined with the price of the bike, will total not much less than the price of  a bike shop bike.  Shops don't charge what they charge out of spite or to gouge customers:  Proper assembly and repair (which bikes in boxes sometimes need) takes time and therefore costs money.  And a mechanic in any bike shop worthy of the name wants to take the time to do it right because the shop's reputation rides on the work done in it.

So...If you really, truly, must participate in that orgy of consumerism called Black Friday--which has been likened to the running of the bulls--don't buy a bike, especially one for a kid, in a big-box store.  If you're a regular reader of this blog, I don't have to tell you that.  But you might want to tell your less-informed (about bikes, anyway) friends and relatives what I've said--or pass along this post.

27 November 2014

Bicycles, Turkeys And A Feast For The Senses

If you grew up in the US, you probably made "hand turkeys" for Thanksgiving.   If you're still making them now, don't worry:  It'll be our little secret! ;-)

Since we're grown-up cyclists (Well, most of us, anyway!), we have to make more sophisticated Thanksgiving props or decorations.  In other words, we have to make them from bike parts.

For all of you messengers, hipsters and other urban rider, here's a bird made from single speed parts:

From B!ke

Those of you who insist that everything you ride must be NJS-compliant probably don't approve.  Just indulge yourself--and us--for one day, today.  After all, isn't Thanksgiving the day when it's perfectly acceptable for people to go off their diets and do all manner of things they never do at any other time?

Since, ideally, this day should be a feast for the senses, I am including this image from Ecovelo:

Happy Thanksgiving!

26 November 2014

Oooh...Those Lines...Those Curves

Of course we all know that sex sells.  Not for nothing are photos that highlight velocipedic lines and curves called "bike porn".  

Some parts, and some types of frames, lend themselves particularly well to hints of eroticism.  The classic handlebar stem (often referred to as a "gooseneck"), crank arms come to mind for me.  And, during the late 1970's and early 1980's, it seemed that every other hub was made in an hourglass shape.

It seems, though, that some people thought hubs were sexy even before that time:

Now tell me...what do you make of a poster with a fadeout of a nude model--for a hub called Mussel-man?

Hey, it gets even better.  Read this morsel from the penultimate paragraph of the copy:

     These beautiful broad flanged hubs appeal to all riders who like to go places and do things in Olympic fashion.  Their dazzling brilliance and rugged racy lines appeal to every boy who hears the call of the open road.

A siren call?  I find it interesting that the first sentence is an appeal to "all riders" but the second is to "every boy".

With Mussel-man hubs, would he get the girl?  Would I?

25 November 2014

Holiday Cycles

Christmas will come exactly one month from today.

We and our bicycles must be ready for the holiday season.  Now, some of you might fret that spending time on such preparations will take time away from your cycling, or vice-versa.  Is there a suitable compromise?

I remember seeing a movie called "The Electric Horseman" in my youth.  Starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, it was like a lot of other movies that came out around that time:  The hero got as mad as hell and wouldn't let him--or, more precisely, his horse--take it anymore.  But what was supposed to be a journey of self-discovery turned into mushy, sentimental tripe about a romance between two characters played by actors who, while they looked good together, had absolutely no chemistry.

But I digress.  Not long before "The Electric Horseman" was released, the much better "Breaking Away" came to movie houses.  What if someone made a movie called "The Electric Cyclist"?  Would the title character look like the figure in the photo?

Before screening, the producers could have had a dinner with a platter that looks like this:

Note:  Photos originally appeared on CELL Bikes.

24 November 2014

Does This Person Ride To A Cheese Shop In California?

I wonder whether he/she rides a bike:

I mean, when someone has a name like Shimano-witz, how could I not wonder?

That sign crossed my path during my ride the other day.  So did this one:

At least it was no surprise.  I actually rode to, and into,Cheesequake in my youth.  I also hiked and camped there with the Scouts.  If they could see me now...;-)

I long ago gave up trying to convince anybody who isn't from New Jersey that the park--or, at least, the name--actually exists.  When I say it, they think I'm joking or hallucinating, or that it's the name of a fromagerie on the San Andreas Fault.

Maybe Shimano-witz would ride to such a place.

23 November 2014

Spreading A Shawl Of Autumn

I love roses and sunshine and rainbows as much as the next person.  I mean, really, who doesn't.  Still, the kinds of light that really touch the core of my being are what one sees on an overcast day at the seashore, or on just about any kind of coast. (I love the sea and whatever borders it, though I don't consider myself a beach lover.  I never understood the point of lying on sand and frying myself. But I digress.)  I also love the soft, diffuse light one sees on overcast days in much of France and in parts of neighboring lands.  

I love just as much the shawl of clouds the November sky spreads over windows that lose their guile as they gain the depth of their own clarity, surrounded by splintered frames, bubbled paint and stone that is worn but not broken.  A long sleep, if not a dream, awaits.

Well, yesterday's ride offered me two of those three kinds of light.  I didn't get to France.  (How is it that the cheapest way to get to Paris from New York is by way of Moscow or Istanbul?)  But I was treated to the fine gravity of an autumnal littoral sky.

I encountered that scene in Laurence Harbor, NJ.  I hadn't really intended to ride to that particular spot, though it is more or less along the way of the ride I'd planned on taking, and the one I actually took.  And, as you can see, I got there late in the afternoon, not long before sunset.

Before I set out, I left enough food to last Max and Marley through the night.  I knew what sort of ride I needed to take; there were a few things I needed to sort out in my head.  I knew that I wanted to head out to the part of the New Jersey coast I cycled so often in my youth, when it seemed that riding was one of the few things I understood.  (Sometimes I think I don't understand a whole lot more all of these years later!)  I considered the possibility of riding late and checking into a motel or, better yet, a bed-and-breakfast, if one was open.  

Well, I started a bit later than I should have.  And, along the way, I found roads and bridges closed, some still damaged from Sandy.  So I found myself wandering through parts of Newark and Union County I know hardly, if at all, and, just before I entered Monmouth County, a road that, I thought, paralleled Route 35, until it didn't.  Then I wended through some county roads and residential streets in areas where suburban sprawl gave way to tightly-kept blue-collar areas where many homes have fishing boats in their driveways or yards.  None of the drivers honked their horns at me; women who were walking to and from neighbors' houses and stores, and men to and from VFW halls, waved and greeted me with "Howya doin"" and "Hopeyer having'a good weekend." I smiled back.

I did, finally, find myself pedaling along boardwalks and quiet streets where the lazy waves of the bay lapped against rocks, then sand, then rocks again.  I got as far as Ideal Beach in North Middletown, which was known as East Keansburg when I was a teenager. (Apparently, someone realized that having "Middletown" in a community's name was better for property values than "Keansburg" in that part of New Jersey.)  It's actually cleaner--if a bit more self-consciously "beachy"-- than I remember it from the days when we snuck there when we were cutting classes or otherwise looking over our shoulders, or simply didn't have any money.

Because I got lost (I can admit that now:  I'm a woman!), it took me nearly two hours longer to get there than I'd planned.  Oh, and I was riding into 20-40KPH winds all the way down.  Really.  So I knew I wasn't going to get to Long Branch before drinkers and drunks started pouring into and out of the bars and their cars.  Plus, I figured that if I would encounter even more damaged or destroyed roads, paths or bridges--and therefore need to take more detours--than I already had.  In fact, I might not be able to get to some areas at all.

So, sadly, I turned around and started riding back.  I figured I'd ride to the nearest train station--or at least the first I found.  That's how I found myself in Laurence Harbor. comforted by the November sky.

Oh, and my favorite flowers are lilacs.  Nothing against roses, mind you.  Just my preference.  Some might say that it's the flower that looks best under such a sky.

22 November 2014

This Manual Comes With An Invitation To The Undertaker

How many of you had bicycle safety classes--or were given safety manuals--when you were a kid?

I wasn't.  Perhaps it had something to do with being in Catholic school, and being in Brooklyn, until I was thirteen years old.  Then again, in suburban New Jersey--where my family moved--I didn't see such things.  Nor did my two youngest brothers, who were in early grades of elementary school.

Not encountering a bicycle safety class, manual or film seems all the more striking when I realize that my family moved just as the '70's Bike Boom started. It seemed that every kid in our neighborhood got a new ten-speed bike the first year I was there.  Some of those kids' parents also bought bikes for themselves.  (Those bikes may still be gathering dust in the same garages in which they were hung after said parents decided they were too old, out-of-shape or simply unmotivated to ride.)  I bought my first derailleur-equipped bicycle--a Schwinn Continental--a year after we moved.

But it seems that there were attempts to inculcate young people with notions (however misguided some were) about bicycle safety.  It also seems that the style of those attempts--or, at least, of the manual I'm going to show--hadn't changed in about 15 or 20 years.

These illustrations come from a 1969 manual:

21 November 2014

Fifty Years, And Still No Bike Lane

"Are we there yet?"

Just about every kid who's ever gone anywhere with an adult has whined that line.  I include yours truly.

"Is it done yet?"

Just about every kid has moaned that one when his or her mother or grandmother (or the equivalent in the kid's life) was cooking or baking something.  As adults, we intone it when we're waiting for a repair, a project, or something else to be finished.

(Asking that question is also the easiest way to annoy an artist--or to reveal yourself as a philistine to the artist.)

The first time I uttered the question the way an adult would was in my childhood. (Was I a precocious child?)  In my early years, I witnessed the building  of what I still consider to be one of the most beautiful--and exasperating-- manmade structures in the world.  

It opened to the public fifty years ago today.  By now, you might have figured out that I'm talking about a bridge. I am:  specifically, the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, which opened to traffic fifty years ago today.

The span, photographed by the Wurts Brothers when it opened fifty years ago today.  (From the collection of the Museum of the City of New York,)

At the time it opened, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world. It's still in the top ten, I think.  It's so long that engineers actually had to take the curvature of the Earth into account in designing it.

Please indulge me for a moment if I sound like a sexist male.  (Some things aren't cured even with years of hormone therapy and surgery!)  I have long thought its towers looked like long, elegant goddesses rising from the waves of the inlet of the Atlantic Ocean for which the bridge is named.  The lady is serene on days when sunshine refracted through high cirrus clouds glints on waves; she is looks dramatic, even stern, but still beautiful as clouds gather and storms brew in those waves.

All right:  Some of you are might think I'm more guilty of bad poetry than sexism in that passage. Fair enough. My talents, such as they are, can only accomplish so much.

Anyway, I have pedaled (and, on occasion, walked) under the bridge any number of times and have never grown jaded to its majesty.  Monsieur Verrazano (He was Fiorentino but sailed for le Roi Francois I.) would be honored to have the bridge, and the body of water it spans, named for him.  But the fact that I'm always pedaling underneath the bridge is precisely what exasperates me about it.

You see, the bridge has never had a bike or pedestrian lane.  In a way, it's not surprising, given that the bridge was the last major work of Robert Moses, whose mistakes have been replicated by urban planners all over the world for decades.  Through most of his career, he showed a complete disdain for anything that didn't have an internal combustion engine.  It's especially odd when you consider that he built the Kissena Velodrome near the World's Fair site just a few thousand pedal spins from my apartment--and that he himself never had a driver's license. 

There has been a movement (in which I am playing a small role) to have a bicycle-pedestrian lane added to the bridge.  Many people say it would encourage them to use their bicycles to commute or simply travel between Brooklyn and Staten Island, and would link a number of already-existing bike routes in the two boroughs, which in turn would make parts of New Jersey more accessible to cyclists in the Big Apple.

I would like to have the same thrill I knew as a child when I saw the bridge under construction.  I would also like to experience the same thrill I had when I rode across the bridge the only times it was possible:  during the Five Boro Bike Tour, when the lower deck of the Verrazano is closed to traffic. 

Note:  The "Verrazano Narrows Bridge" link in my seventh  paragraph will take you to an excellent article on The Bowery Boys, one of my favorite non-bike blogs.

20 November 2014

To The Moon

What do you see when you look at the moon?

We have all heard of, if not seen, the "Man in the Moon".  Some cultures have mythologized "him".

Even if you are the most hard-core rational empiricist, it's not hard to understand why people would see "him":  The lights and shadows, at times, do bear a resemblance to a face.

Modern psychology has confirmed something artists, poets and philosophers have long understood:  We are tend to find the familiar in the unfamiliar, to find meaning and shape in the seemingly-random and formless.  So it's really not so odd that someone might think, for example, that he or she has seen the face of Elvis in a potato chip.  This phenomenon is called pareidolia.

Thus, other cultures have myths that acribe a handprint (India), tree (Hawaii) and, yes, a woman (New Zealand).  And people in some East Asian cultures see a rabbit in the moon.

Somehow I always liked the idea of a rabbit in the moon.  Apparently, illustrator Claudia McGehee does, too.

I love this.  I'll love it no less if I find out she created it after watching E.T.

19 November 2014

Crankin' Up The Insanity

Back in the good ol' days--the '90's--it seemed as if every twenty-something dude in California whose father had a lathe in his garage was making bike parts. Most of them were intended for mountain bikes, but a few were made for road and fixed-gear bikes, which were just in the process of being discovered by the hipster-equivalents of that time.

A few, like Chris King and the makers of Paul components, still make superb, if pricey, stuff.  However, a number of would-be challengers to Shimano (and, later, SRAM) fell by the wayside--some deservedly so.  It seems that some of the more notable and spectacular casualties are those who tried to make the lightest cranksets they could.

One such misguided attempt was the original Kooka crank.  Back in my off-road riding days, I knew a number of riders who rode--and broke--them.  But, hey, they were the hippest and lightest things available.  And they were available in all sorts of color combinations, including some that were conceived by folks who smoked things not made by RJ Reynolds and Philip Morris:

and some of them weren't even Rastafarians:

(My dear Bob Marley, I mean no disrespect to you or any other Rasta!)

These cranks had an alarming habit of breaking on where the spider attached to it, or around the square axle mounts or the holes into which pedals are installed.  The latter makes sense, as those are the weaker areas of the cranks.  But the for a spider to separate from an arm means that--well, it wasn't attached very firmly in the first place.  In the case of those early Kooka cranks, only a set screw held them together.

I mean, it had been known for much of the history of cycling that a crankset is stiffer and stronger when the spider arms are integral with the drive-side crank arms.  On the best cranks, they are cold-forged; on less-expensive but still-serviceable cranks, they are melt-forged.  On still less expensive cranks the spider is swaged (pressed) to the arm.  Still, I know of many people who rode the latter kind of crank, as I did, for many miles without any problems.

But, oddly enough (Well, was anything really odd when it came to these cranks?), axle-mount failures usually came on the non-drive side, where there is supposed to be less stress.  The reason, it seems, is that the spider was actually designed to reinforce the drive-side arm, which was otherwise identical to the non-drive-side arm.

Even though I would have loved to get the "ultra violet" finish, I had my doubts about their strength even before some of my old riding buddies trashed theirs.  I'm glad I listened to those misgivings.

Kooka later redesigned their cranks in a more traditional way, but the damage to their reputation was done.

Another example of how, in spite of what Robert Browning wrote in Andrea del Sarto, less is not always more, can be found in the Topline cranks of that era.  To be fair, the few people I knew who rode them on the road had no problems with them.  But some off-roaders had failures similar to those on the Kooka cranks--though, again to be fair, they weren't just riding the local trails.  

Like Kookas, Toplines were redesigned after a few years and became part of the Cook (no, not Koch) Brothers' line of components. That is probably what kept them in the marketplace, as CB had by that time established a reputation for sound, reliable design.

 Oh, but I love that purple.  I really do.  But not enough to pay $350 on eBay.  Believe it or not, people are actually paying even more for the original Kookas!



18 November 2014

This Young Man Delivers

Three decades have passed since I was a bike messenger in Manhattan.   As far as I know, none of the other messengers I knew from those days is still "in the business" in any capacity, not even as a dispatcher or owner of a courier company.

Still, I feel a certain kinship with anyone who makes deliveries on a bicycle (though not on e-bikes or motor scooters!).  I was a messenger, in part, because at that time in my life, I couldn't have worked in an office or any other place with four walls, and I couldn't deal with any other human being--with one or two exceptions--for more than a few minutes at a time.  

Also, even though I was quickly forgotten when I stopped making deliveries--after all, it wasn't hard to replace me--I still sometimes feel as if no work I've done since those days was as vital.  Or, at least, the absence of anything I've done since then wouldn't be noticed as much as my failure to deliver the blueprints, letters, packages and lunches(!) I brought to offices, businesses and, on occasion, people's homes.

Even so, I never did anything as important as Sizwe Nzima has been doing for the past four years.

He was waiting--and waiting--on line for his grandparents' HIV medication.  They couldn't get to the Cape Town, South Africa clinic where the medicine was dispensed, so Sizwe--who was still a high school student--made frequent trips there.  He realized that others who were waiting with him on line had similar stories, or were themselves people who arrived only after great difficulty.  They usually came, as Nzima did, from the city's low-income townships, far from the center. 

Poverty and unemployment are rampant in those areas.  Most of the residents are black.  Nzima found out that while many companies delivered medications to people's homes, none went to the impoverished communities like the one in which his grandparents lived.  The companies told him they weren't acting out of prejudice:  They simply couldn't find the homes--wooden and metal shacks--because they don't show up on Google or other search engines.

Sizwe Nzima, right, and one of his six employees deliver medicines to patients in a Cape Town neighborhood.
Sizwe Nizma (r) and one of his employees deliver medicines in a Cape Town neighborhood.

Only someone with local knowledge could navigate the area.  Nzima has that.  While sitting on a hard wooden bench at the clinic, he realized he could use that knowledge to deliver HIV medicine to those houses the companies' maps and electronic devices couldn't find.

After a while, he branched out and started bringing people medications for other chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and epilepsy.  From having two customers--his grandparents--four years ago, he and his staff of six riders (some of whom work full-time) now serve 930 clients.

Now his business may branch out again:  an international shipping company wants to start delivery to Cape Town's urban townships. They, like the companies he contacted four years ago, can't find the houses.  Therefore, they need someone with local knowledge, and have contacted him.  They want him and his crew to do the work.

Not bad for a 23-year-old, eh?

17 November 2014

Neither Rain Nor Snow Nor The Gloom Of Night Stops These Bikes

The James Farley Post Office, known to New Yorkers as "The Main Post Office" often has some interesting exhibits--including one that's there now.

It's said to be a postal delivery bicycle from the 1940s. From the looks of it, the date sounds about right.

I couldn't find any markings to identify where, or by what company, it might have been made.  Some features, such as the seat lug and cluster and the rod brakes, mark it as an English bike from that time.  Probably the only American bike builder that made frames with lugged joints was Schwinn, and that was only on its top-of-the-line Paramounts.  Also, the Paramount might have been the only American bike built with cottered cranks, as cotterless cranks were still new, rare and expensive.   And, to my knowledge, no American (and, for that matter few, if any, non-British) bikes had rod brakes.

It would be interesting, to say the least, to know that the bike was made elsewhere, as it was all but unheard-of for the US Government or military in that era to have its supplies made for them overseas.

Here is something else that marks the bike as British or otherwise non-American:

The stand, when kicked back, would snap into the curved piece of metal protruding from the rear fender.  Probably no kickstand would be strong or stable enough to hold up the amount of weight held in the front basket:

Speaking of which:  That basket, combined with the small front wheel, make for some of the strangest proportions I've seen on a bike. But it makes sense, as such a small front wheel is probably the only thing that makes the bike maneuverable with as much weight carried in the position it would have been carried in that basket.

Many of us in the US don't realize that in many countries--including Denmark, the Netherlands, France and New Zealand--significant amounts of mail are still delivered by men and women pedaling two wheels.  The practice seems to have begun in those countries, as well as in the US and UK, during the 1890s.  It declined in the US after World War I, as highways and motorized vehicles became more common, and routes became longer.  However, bicycle deliveries enjoyed a resurgence during the 1930s and World War II, when gasoline and other commodities were rationed.   Then it fell off again during the 1950s and today seems to be limited three American municipalities:  Sun City in Arizona and the Florida communities of St. Petersburg and Miami Beach.

Since the USPS, like other government agencies, has been ordered to "go green", I wonder whether  hope that we will see more mail carriers on bikes.   The three cities I've mentioned have warm year-round weather and are flat; there are other such places in the US.  Also, in traffic-choked urban centers, bicycles can be faster and more efficient than cars.  (It is in such centers that much of Europe's postal bike fleets and personnel are deployed.)  Perhaps we're looking at a new career opportunity for hipsters and their fixies!

16 November 2014

With Or Without Cage

Unless you’re a purist who keeps your fixed gear bike NJS-compliant or someone who doesn’t ride much beyond your neighborhood, you use some sort of hydration system. 

Some of you use “Camel Back” type backpacks that hold bladders.  I did when I was doing a lot of mountain biking, although I’ve never really liked carrying anything on my back when I ride. But now I, like most of you, use a bottle-and-cage system.  For all of the diversity of cage materials and designs, most bottles marketed for use on bicycles fit on most cages.  That means you can buy a cage from someone who makes cages, not bottles (like King, who made the stainless steel cages I use) and not have to worry about whether your bottle will fit into it.

Most bikes sold today have threaded  bits on the downtube (and, sometimes, the seat tube) for mounting cages.  But, back in the ‘70’s Bike Boom--around the time I became a dedicated cyclist—most bicycles didn’t have them.  In fact, about the only bikes that came with such provisions were made by constructeurs and other custom builders.  Even top professional-level bikes like the Raleigh Professional and Schwinn Paramount didn’t have bottle mounts.

That meant you needed a pair of clamps—which, in those days, were usually supplied with the cage.  Some would argue that a true “vintage” restoration should include a cage with such clamps—unless, of course, the frame is from a constructeur or other custom builder.  If you look at racing photos from before the early ‘80’s or so, even the top professional riders—including Eddy Mercx on his sunset-orange De Rosa—you can see the clamps.

It was during that time that a few enterprising companies—some of them in the US—came up with some interesting ways of mounting bottles on bikes.

One-clamp cage from Specialites TA, ca. 1975.

Specialites TA of France, which made the cages most racers and high-mileage riders used in those days, made a single-clamp cage.  I mounted one on my Romic and never thought about it:  Like TA’s other cages, it held the bottle securely while allowing easy removal and was all but indestructible.

A Tennessee-based company called Hi-E, which made ultra-lightweight (for the time, anyway) hubs, pedals and other components, came up with their own version of TA’s cage.  Hi-E made their cage from aluminum alloy and it was fixed to the frame with a stainless steel hose clamp.  American Classic would later make a similar cage in Ohio, along with its own lightweight components.

Others found ways of doing away with the cage altogether.  Rhode Gear came up with what was probably the most popular of them.  Their bottle had an extrusion with “tracks” on each side that fit into grooves on the plastic clamp mounted onto the bike.  It was actually quite good—I had one on myPeugeot “fixie”—and became very popular with club cyclists.  Other companies imitated it.

Rhode Gear bottle, ca. 1978

Its advantages were its simplicity and (if you’re a weight weenie) the elimination of 100 grams or so of steel cage and clamps.  Also, it could be mounted on the seat tube of a bike with short chainstays and little clearance between the tire and seat tube.  In fact, I put another Rhode Gear bottle on my Trek racing bike, which had water bottle mounts on the down tube but not the seat tube.

Plus, after a while, they were made in a bunch of colors as well as basic white and black.  The white ones could be had with the logos of a few large bike manufacturers (I had one with a Peugeot emblem) or, for a time, with club logos or other custom designs.

The disadvantage, as you may have figured, is that it was a proprietary design:  You could only use the bottle designed for the system.  At least the bottle was easy to use and sturdy:  I never heard of one cracking or springing a leak, though a few wore out at the tracks, albeit after a lot of hard usage.

Cannondale made a bottles that attached to its “mated” holders with Velcro.  I never tried such a bottle, but a few riders I knew liked them.  The best thing about them, it seemed, was that the bottle could be put into the holder from any angle.  As one fellow club rider said, “When I’m tired, my aim isn’t as good.”  While riding, he could put the Velcro-coated bottle back in its holder without looking at it.

Cannondale bottle and "cage" with Velcro

One other cageless bottle I used had indentations on its sides designed so that the bottle would “snap” in between the seat stays of most bikes. Most bikes at that time had parallel stays of more or less the same diameter placed more or less the same distance apart.  Of course, such a bottle wouldn’t work on many of today’s bikes, including those with monostays.  Also, as you might expect, the bottle was small:  less than half the size of a standard water bottle.  It did come in handy, though, especially on a training ride on a hot day.  

I don’t know what happened to that bottle.  I think I stopped somewhere, drank from it and absentmindedly left it.  When I realized I no longer had it, I couldn’t find another:  Apparently, they were made only for a year or two. 

As water bottle cage fixtures became standard features on mass-produced bikes, the demand for cageless bottles and single-clamp cages fell off.  By the late 1980s, it seemed that no one was making them anymore. 

RDR Bologna bottle

 However, a few years ago, RDR Bologna made a water bottle with a slot in the rear that’s designed to slide directly onto the water-bottle braze on.  I haven’t used one, and don’t know anyone who has.  But, from what I can see, it has all of the advantages and disadvantages of the Rhode Gear bottles I used back in the day.