31 January 2015

Into The Fold: Bickerton

Mention folding bicycles today, and the first name that comes to most people's minds is Dahon.   Discerning (or rich) cyclists would probably mention Brompton.  

Those of us who came of age during or before the '70's Bike Boom recall the Raleigh Twenty and similar bikes made by Peugeot and other European manufacturers.  For a few days, I owned an Italian-made Chiorda from that era.

Interestingly, "folders" may be the one genre of bicycles not made by Japanese manufacturers of that time. At least, I don't recall any from Fuji, Nishiki or any of the other bike-builders from the Land of the Rising Sun.

One of the most interesting folding bikes of all--at least for its time--is almost entirely forgotten now.  However, it might be said to be the forerunner of today's folding bikes.  Andrew Ritchie said the bike I'm going to talk about was his inspiration in designing the first Brompton bicycle.

Harry Bickerton was one of those eccentric tinkerers who so often come from England.  He worked as an engineer at Rolls-Royce and De Havilland. In 1968, a driving ban made his commute difficult.  Dissatisified with using his road bike and the best folding bike he could find, he set out to combine the best features of the two.

The result was patented four years later.  It could fit into a shopping bag and, best of all, weighed only 17 pounds--less than almost any road, or even track, bike available at that time.

He achieved the feat with a hinge he developed that remained relatively rigid when the bike was opened up--and by constructing the frame from aluminum.  Also, most of the components were made from aluminum alloy--in contrast to the all-steel folding bikes from Raleigh and other makers--and the handlebars were made to be folded relatively easily.

Notice that I used the word "relatively".  In comparison to other folding mechanisms of the time, Bickerton's worked more smoothly and reliably.  However, it had to be handled with care.  As Tom Cuthbertson wryly noted, the manual that came with the bikes was one of the greatest pieces of instructional literature ever written because it had to be. 

Perhaps the most unique feature of the bike, though was that there were no welds or brazes anywhere in the frame.  Rather, it was constructed from aluminum profiles fitted together. 

Like other aluminum bikes that preceded Klein and Cannondale, the Bickerton is an example of a "flexible flyer".  Or, at least, a flexible magic carpet.  People who rode Bickertons almost always said they were great as long as you didn't mind the flex.  

I never rode a "Bickie" myself, but I suspect that its flexibility gave it more ability to absorb shock than other small-wheeled bikes.  I would guess that if you rode into one of those potholes with its own Zip Codes that we have in some parts of New York, you might have more chance of coming out of it without the mishap I incurred on my Dahon.

Perhaps the Bickerton's floppy qualities made it less durable, and might be a reason why so few can be found today.  Production stopped in 1989 and the factory closed in 1991, but bikes bearing the family name are being made in Taiwan for a company headed by Harry's son Mark.  The new Bickertons look a heck of a lot like Dahons.

Bickerton has a distributor in Mexico but not in the US.  Hmm...I wonder whether Dahon has anything to do with that.

30 January 2015

Eat Your Croissants

According to a sign in my local Starbuck's, today is National Croissant Day.

I'd guess that the croissants are among the more popular foods with cyclists.  I've eaten them before and during many a ride.  


Now, they may not be a training-table food.  But a croissant has enough carbs to keep you going for a while.  And, when they're fresh, few things taste as good or have a texture that's as interesting and pleasant at the same time.

Plus, they're easy to carry in a jersey pocket or bike bag.  Speaking of the latter:  It's no surprise that Velo Orange's saddle bag is called the Croissant.

29 January 2015

Taking It All With You

Writing my post on Monday got me to thinking about the ways bikes can be made into utility vehicles.  I'm not talking only about riding from place to place.  I mean using bikes as real, viable forms of transport.

That, of course, means carrying things while riding.  There are many ways.  I've tried just about all of them.  I still use just about all of them at one time or another.   My method depends on what I'm carrying, how far (or how long) I have to carry it and which bike I ride when carrying it.

Laura Lukitsch's video shows a few of those methods.  Best of all, she shows urban riders who are not racers, hipsters or messengers using their bikes as the versatile urban transport vehicles they are, and can be:

28 January 2015

What Juno Actually Brought

Don't you love when "meteorologists" (i.e., newscasters who have been taught how to read weather reports off teleprompters) tell us that an approaching storm is "bringing" or "bringing with it" x number of inches of snow or rain.

The storm that first came this way the other day was supposed to turn into a blizzard in the wee hours of yesterday morning, "bringing with it" two, or even three, feet of snow.

What the storm--Winter Storm Juno, the first winter storm to have a name-- actually did was to drop about six inches of snow.  That's more than the average storm in this area, but still nothing that would bring the city to a standstill--and certainly a lot less than was forecast.

I think this bike brought more snow with it than the storm brought:

27 January 2015

A Bike As Pure As The Driven Snow!

What's to do on a day like this?

The NYC Mayor and NYS Governor, in essence, declared a curfew as of 2300 hours (11pm) last night.  Oh, you could still go outside. You just couldn't drive or even ride a bike(!).  The only things with wheels allowed on the roads were emergency vehicles.

Hmm...If I'd hopped on my bike to rescue a cat from the cold, snow and wind, would that have been considered an emergency?

Then again, I doubt even the most feral cat is out in the elements today.  He or she has probably found an overhang or something else that will block at least some of the wind and snow.

While the storm didn't leave nearly as much snow as was forecast, the ban on vehicles remained in effect until a little while ago.  So, most people stayed home from work if they could.  And schools were closed.  So there still aren't very many people outside.  Perhaps I'll go out for a bit, just to experience the serenity.  Maybe I'll make a snow angel. Who says I'm too old for such things?

Better yet, I'll make a snow bicycle:

From Desert Rose Press

The creator of this one, Clifford Burke, assures us that it's "made from 100 percent pure New Mexican snow."  

He sounds like someone I'd like to meet.  He says that bicycles have been an important part of his life:  "They have taken me to places in America, and in my own inner world, I never imagined I would travel to".  Yes!  Even into the snow and back.

26 January 2015

Plowing Through The Snow On A Bike--Sort Of

Well, it's official:  The northeastern USA--which, of course, includes the home of yours truly--is about to get hit with an "historic" blizzard.  

Being the New Yorker that I am, I greet such forecasts with an attitude (if that isn't a New York thing, I don't know what is) of "Oh, yeah?  I'll believe it when I see it."  Yes, even after Superstorm Sandy, I still react that way.

But I'm becoming more inclined to believe the forecast.  The flurries that started fluttering down early this morning are growing thicker and heavier, and the wind is blowing them around.  Maybe we really will get the kind of storm that usually strikes only in places like Buffalo. 

Whenever a winter storm is on its way, I think about ways of attaching a snow plow to the front of a bike.  I think the connection is the most difficult problem: It would need to be strong enough yet not burdensomely heavy.  After that, it would just be a matter of finding the right gear ratio.

I've never acted on the idea because, well, I think about it only when a big snowstorm comes along.  I mean, who thinks about snowplows in the summer?  All right, engineers and people who work in public safety might.  And I am not either.

Apparently, someone thought about my idea for even longer than I ever did--and acted on it.  Bob Beechy took an adult tricycle and rigged up the plow with various used bike parts, plastic pipe and "other miscellaneous pieces".  


25 January 2015

Check Your Pressure!

I took Physics in my junior year of high school.  That was, oh, let's say some time before the first Star Wars movie came out. So, I admit that I've forgotten much of what I learned that year, and that some of the basic tenets of that branch of science have changed since then.

But I'm pretty good at detecting male ungulate excrement, if I do say so myself.  And I've been told I have a sense of humor.  (I don't know how anybody could think that!)  So, very few things uttered by famous people have made me laugh as much as New England Patriots' coach Bill Belichick's explanation of the under-inflated footballs used in the American Football Conference's championship game.  

 Inflate a bicycle tire

Now, in all fairness, the pressure--or, more precisely,lack thereof--in the footballs probably had little or no outcome on the effect of the game, which the Patriots won in a rout.  The Pats--and I say this as someone who isn't a fan--were clearly the better team in that game.

Still, you have to wonder what Belichick would be doing if he weren't a football coach.  Can you imagine him as a science teacher?  Or a minister?  A lawyer, perhaps:  He might win cases just by confusing people.  He's the only person I've ever seen who can channel Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon at the same time.

I'm mentioning him, and the "Deflate-gate" "scandal" because it got me to thinking about how many controversies there have been in cycling over doctored equipment.  While the two-wheeled sport has not been without such incidents, given bicycle racing's 130-year (give or take) history and the number of events held during that time, there actually have been relatively few controversies about equipment.

Some might argue that there seem to be few such scandals in cycling because they're overshadowed by doping.  Fair enough:  a Google search of "bicycle racing scandals" turns up a lot of entries about substance abuse--and, of course, Lance.  However, I think that the presence of drugs in cycling might now be overstated:  The incidents of doping attributed to Lance (and some of his peers) were a decade in the past by the time he had that now-famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view)  interview with Oprah.  

Still, whether or not you accept that cycling isn't as "dirty" as has been alleged (I think that it's a "cleaner" sport than it was, say, a decade or two ago.), you have to admit that drug scandals aren't the reason why we don't hear more about scandals involving doctored equipment.  There are a couple of good reasons for this.

One is that cycling's governing bodies have, for the most part, fairly stringent regulations about equipment.  For example, the Union Cycliste International decrees that no bike ridden in a road race can weigh less than 6.8 kg (14.99 pounds).  Some have argued that this weight limit is too high, given today's technology.  But I believe that most people--whether they are racers, fans, coaches or the sport's administrators--agree that there should be a "floor" for bike weight, whatever it is.  After all, I don't think anyone wants to see a sport in which technology matters more than the physical conditioning or tactics.  At least, I wouldn't want to see such a sport.

The Nihon Jitensha Shinkokai is another governing body that tightly regulates equipment used in bike races.  The NJS, which oversees keirin track racing in Japan does not allow riders to use bikes or components that it hasn't approved.  What's interesting is that NJS-approved equipment isn't always the lightest available.  However, it stands up to the stress and abuse of track racing and the training involved in it.  NJS officials explain that such regulations help to ensure the safety of the riders as well as the integrity of the sport, on which considerable sums of money are wagered in Japan.

What I've long found interesting is that, even in the absence of regulations, racers ride remarkably similar equipment.  So, while the UCI has a weight limit, it doesn't specify which components or frames can or can't be used.  Even so, nearly all of the riders are spinning wheels made by the same three or four manufacturers and are pumping on cranks and shifting gears made by the about the same number of companies.  Still, the equipment used in today's peloton is far more diverse than it was in the days of Eddy Mercx, when nearly all of the European pros were riding bikes equipped with Campagnolo components.

One reason for such uniformity in equipment is, of course, that Campy was making the most reliable stuff available at the time, and nobody wants to lose a race because of equipment failure.  At the same time Campagnolo had a near-monopoly on the equipment preferences of the European peloton, Japanese racers--even greater in number than their European counterparts--were using SunTour derailleurs.  

So, in brief, most racers and coaches have figured out that there's little, if any, benefit to using altered or unorthodox equipment.  Still, they should check their tire pressure! ;-)

24 January 2015

Daring It All To Fall

Now you are going to see one reason to have a "beater" bike:

Some would argue it's not fair to treat a bike that way.  Perhaps.  Certainly, I would never leave a cat or dog in the cold, snow, sleet, slush and rain.

Yes, that's a description of the weather we've had since just a few minutes after midnight.  How can I pinpoint the start of the storm so accurately?, you ask.  

You see, after doing things I had to do yesterday and hearing dire predictions for today's weather, I figured I'd take a ride, however late the hour.  Actually, I got on Tosca at about 10:30 and got home just as light flakes were eddying to the ground. 
Almost as soon as I walked in the door, the flakes turned to needles of frozen precipitation and thus were more affected by the force of gravity.  Now that's one kind of weather condition in which I won't ride if I need not.

In other posts, I've written about "playing chicken with the rain".  This time, I rode as if I were daring every kind of precipitation Nature could have thrown at (or, more precisely, dropped on) me. I still have enough childish mischieviousness to revel in last night's little victory.

23 January 2015

Get An Education--But Don't Lose Your Bike!

If you get all of your news from the mainstream media, you might think that the most common crimes on university campuses are date rape and other kinds of sexual assault.  I am glad that such incidents are now taken seriously; when I was an undergraduate, victims usually suffered in silence.  

However, such crimes are not the most common on higher education sites.  Nor are other assaults or driving under the influence.  None of those crimes comes close, in frequency, to the most common offense of all.

And what might that offense be?  Well, because you're reading this blog, you might have guessed:  bicycle theft.  According to one study, one out of every thirteen bikes students bring with them to school will be stolen.  What's equally disturbing, I think, is that only one out of every 315 stolen bikes is recovered.

From Visual.ly

What's most surprising, though, is the campuses that experience the most theft:  those of elite (or, at any rate, expensive) private universities and suburban campuses.  In other words, bikes are most often stolen from those campuses that are perceived to be "safe".

Why is that the case?  Perhaps students are more likely to let their guard down on such campuses.  Or, perhaps, those students come from environments that didn't inculcate them with the wariness of someone from a lower-income, higher-crime area.  

My guess, though, is that thieves, being the opportunists they are, go to the campuses where rich kids study and congregate.  On such campuses, thieves are more likely to find bikes worth stealing and, most important of all, one that is unlocked.  Also, it's not unusual to find bikes that, while locked, have been on the same spot for weeks, or even months, such as when students go on field trips or internships.  Sometimes a person who has never before stolen anything in his or her life will assume that such a bike was abandoned and therefore there for the taking.

While some might not think bike theft is a serious problem--and I'm not about to suggest that it's on the same level as sexual assault--for many students, and even faculty and staff members, bicycles are the main (or only) means of transportation.  Also, a bike is many a student's most valuable possession.  Those, I believe, are reasons to take bike theft on campuses more seriously.

22 January 2015

Why Do Women Ride?

Why do we--women--ride?

I came across this infographic that shows some of the most common reasons.  What I found most interesting are that 78 percent of female riders in the Seattle area ride their bikes to run errands, and that 49 percent of all bike trips in the US are less than three miles.  

From Velojoy.com

As the infographic says about that last statistic,  "Women ride because it's smart."

I find that comment perceptive and very funny.  Just today, I remarked to a friend, "I did a lot of stupid things when I was living as a man."  She said, "Well, I'm sure you did some smart things, too."

Yes, I did at least one.  And it's something I still do.

Aren't you glad I didn't ask, "What do women want?"


21 January 2015

Death In The Sunshine State

Some people think Florida's climate makes it a cycling paradise.

Me, I prefer the change of seasons.  But I admit that I don't mind going there for a few days, and that I have had many enjoyable rides in the Sunshine State.

However, I am more cautious when cycling there than I am here in New York, or just about any place else.  Florida's roads--indeed, much of the state's infrastructure--is designed around the automobile.  And most drivers--I'm not talking only about the elderly ones--are not cyclists.

So I wasn't surprised to read, a few months ago, that in 2012, as many cyclists were killed by motor vehicles in Florida as in Great Britain, a country with three times as many people and many more cyclists.  That same report said that pedestrians are killed at four times the US national rate.

Having cycled some of the causeways that connect the innumerable islands, peninsulae and other outposts with the mainland, it's easy to understand why there are so many cyclists and pedestrians have fatal encounters with motorists.  Those causeways are, too often, more like speedways:  wide, flat, and without a shoulder.  Worst of all, speed limits are enforced loosely, if at all.

So it was that yesterday, on the Rickenbacker Causeway in Key Biscayne, two cyclists were struck.  One of them was killed; the other is in the hospital.  Even by Florida standards, it was a horrific accident.  A news helicopter caught the grisly aftermath:


20 January 2015

Who's Walking Whom?

A few days ago, I mentioned people who "walk" their dogs while riding a bicycle.  I've actually seen big canines pull their owners along; other times, I winced when Yorkies and other pup-sized adult pooches couldn't keep up with owners who were barely pedaling at all--or were even dragged.

Then, when I saw this, I thought people were trying to "walk" their kids:

Or was it the other way around? 

Of course, the real purpose of the harness is to help the kid learn to ride without training wheels.  I don't know anyone who's tried it, but it looks like it might be a good idea.

19 January 2015

One Way To Commemorate This Day

Today, on Martin Luther King Day, I thought it would make sense to share something I learned just recently:  He actually gave his "I Have A Dream" speech--albeit in a slightly different form-- for the first time in Detroit, some two months before the whole world heard him deliver it from Washington.

It's interesting that such a fact has been all but lost to history, especially when one considers how much sense it makes.  After all, he made his speech in Detroit right around the time it became a majority-black city.  Also, King had, by that time, realized that the struggles of the labor movement were part of an overall struggle for justice, and no city has ever been more emblematic of the American labor movement than Detroit.

It's thus fitting that there's a "Tour  de Troit" taking place today. If today's weather in the Motor City is anything like what it normally has at this time of year, I give "props" to whoever rides it.  

The name of the ride is kind of funny.  The name of the city itself means "strait" in French; Francophone settlers who came by way of Quebec named the then-settlement for "le detroit du lac Erie", which separates it from what is now Windsor, Ontario.

(If you are under-age, or of delicate sensibilities, please skip over everything else in this parenthetical element.  The second syllable--"troit"--means "narrow" and is pronounced the way Anglophones pronounce a vulgar term for a part of the female anatomy.  In fact, it's believed that British soldiers in World War I introduced the term in to the English-speaking world.)

Anyway, congratulations to everyone who is riding today. And thank you for everything, Dr. King!

18 January 2015

A Matter Of Condiitoning?

In response to the post I wrote yesterday, Steve A made some really good points.

For one, the US states with the lowest rates of cycling and walking to work were, for the most part, developed later than the ones with the highest rates.   Those states have sprawling metropoli—As Steve points out, Dallas-Fort Worth is half the size of the Netherlands!—in stark contrast to more concentrated cities like New York.

Newer conurbations, for the most part, were surrounded by open land:  Think of Las Vegas, for example.  They were not constrained by water, as New York, Boston and San Francisco are, or by established communities or other natural or artificial boundaries.  And the sprawl of cities like Las Vegas and Jacksonville, FL was enabled, in large part, by the multilane highways that were carved through them.

Moreover, most of the newly-developed cities in the Sunbelt did not build meaningful—or any—mass-transit systems.  As cities and suburbs sprawled, the lack of trains, buses, trolleys and other public vehicles essentially forced dependency on the automobile that would have been merely enabled by the highways.

(In stark contrast, the bike-friendly cities of Europe have expanded their boundaries little, if at all, since the Middle Ages. And they are not divided by expressways in the way American cities are.)


Another point Steve makes is that much Sun Belt development has been spurred or aided by air conditioners.  I recall now the times I’ve gone to Florida and Texas during the summer:  People spend most of their days indoors, in their homes or in movie theatres and shopping malls.  If they walk, cycle, run or engage in any outdoor activities, they’re out early in the morning or evening.  I usually did the same:  If I was outdoors in the middle of the day, I was in a body of water!

And, interestingly, the states with the lowest rates of cycling and walking to work are, mainly, the ones that depend on air conditioning.  Cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas would be all but nonexistent without it; they are also not cities known for cycling or pedestrian advocacy.

Hmm…Steve’s Law of the inverse relationship between cycling and the use of air conditioners.  Interesting.  That flies in the face of what most people (most non-cyclists, anyway) believe about the relationship between weather or climate and cycling.  It makes sense to me.  Good work, Steve.  Now, if you don’t want to take credit for it…;-)

17 January 2015

Where The Bicycle Commuters Are

You don't ride in this weather, do you?

I can't begin to count how many times I've heard that question, or some version of it, between Thanksgiving and Easter.  

Granted, I don't ride as much during the months of short days and long cold spells as I do when flowers bloom and leaves begin to fall.  But I still ride to work most days during the winter.  I don't mind cold: I don't mind wet, but a combination of the two might drive me to the N train.  In fact, so far this year, I've used the MTA only once, when wind drove snow and sleet during the time I would have been riding to work.

I'll also grant you that I don't do as many rides of 20km or more as I do in, say, June.  But I think that has more to do with the number of daylight hours than with the temperature. I don't avoid riding in the dark altogether, but I prefer to follow dawn and lead dusk.  Also, I feel more motivated to take a ride after work when there's still some daylight left.

I mention my riding habits because of something I came across that seemed, at first, counter-intuitive (at least to most non-cyclists): The US state in which the highest percentage of the population walks or cycles to work is Alaska, which has the nation's coldest weather.

In fact, America's Land of the Midnight Sun is one of five states in which more than five percent of the population commutes by bike or on foot.  If you guessed that California is one of them, you'd be wrong.  Move one state up the coast: Oregon.  That's not surprising when one considers Portland's reputation as one of the world's most bike-friendly cities.  The City of Roses is the only major area in any of the five states in question that has what most people would describe as a mild winter.

As for the other three states, only one probably wouldn't surprise you:  New York.  The Empire State's high percentage of people who get to work on two wheels or two feet is concentrated in my hometown, the Big Apple.  Even so, upstate cities such as Syracuse, Rochester and Albany have surprisingly high numbers of people who use their own power to get to the office or wherever they work.  That, even though upstate New York winters aren't the sort many people would call "mild". 

OK: Alaska, Oregon and New York.  So which are the other two?, you ask.  No, not Arizona or New Mexico.  Texas?  Actually, the Lone Star State has one of the lowest rates of cycling and walking to work.  Florida does a bit better, but not much.


The other two states in which more than five percent of the population cycles or walks to work are---wait---Vermont and Montana.  

I've never been to Montana, but I have an e-mail pal (What's a better term for the modern version of the pen-pal?) who has told me about waking up to -15C weather before Columbus Day.  Having ridden in the Green Mountain state in all parts of the year, I can tell you that there's a good reason why old-time  Vermonters joke that their state has two seasons:  winter and the season between Fourth of July and Labor Day.  

But, having spent a fair amount of time riding in Vermont, I'm not surprised to find it on the list:  Wherever I rode, I encountered other cyclists.  It's one of those rare places that both breeds and attracts independent spirits.  

More to the point, Vermonters' habits, and those of the cylo-commuters in New York, Oregon, Montana and Alaska underscore a point I've made in other posts, and which others with greater expertise than mine have confirmed:  How much--or, for that matter, whether--people pedal has very little to do with the weather or climate.

Just look at Europe:  the cities and countries with the most bike commuters are in the north:  think Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Malmo. That all but mirrors the pattern in the US.

Why is such the case?  Well, I think--as I have said in earlier posts--cycling thrives in areas where there's an infrastructure, if you will, of cycling.  I'm not talking about bike paths:  Rather, I think advocacy organizations for cyclists (as well as pedestrians and mass transportation) and other formal and informal networks do more to encourage people to get out of their cars.  

Even more important, I believe, is a consciousness of, and respect for, cyclists among those who are behind the while rather than on two.  That is what I found in France, Switzerland, Belgium and other parts of Europe in which I've ridden:  The drivers always seem to understand how much space you need, how quickly you can stop and start on a bike and carious other intricacies of cycling.  One reason is, I believe, that a driver is more likely to have a "double life", if you will, as a cyclist than someone who's plying American roads in an SUV.

I know, from experience, that to the extent that such consciousness can be found in the US, it present in New York and Vermont.  From what I've read and heard, it also exists in Oregon, Alaska and Montana.  And it's nowhere near as prevalent in other parts of the US in which I've ridden.