31 March 2015

Bicycles And The Eiffel Tower

On this date in 1889, the Eiffel Tower opened to the public.

Probably no other manmade structure in the world has served as a backdrop for as many bicycles and cyclists as that most iconic of buildings.  Made to serve as the entrance of that year's Exposition, it was, ironically, slated to be torn down once the fair ended.  And many criticis couldn't wait:  They complained that it interrupted the Paris skyline.

Bicycle with Basket of Flowers and Eiffel Tower, Paris (L)

There are a number of reasons why la Tour and two wheels are so linked in people's imaginations.  One, of course, is that cycling, almost from its very beginnings, has been a seemingly inextricable part of French culture.  Another is that the tower is so associated with romance, like people and couples wending and sashaying along rues diffuse eclaires, in the City of Light and in les pays.

Also, it's difficult to separate the history of bicycles themselves from that of the Eiffel Tower.  When its construction began in 1887, the "safety bicycle", with a chain-driven rear wheel and a front of equal size or smaller, had been on the market a couple of years.  With it, ridership grew by leaps and bounds--and, for the first time, significant numbers of women were riding--because, as its name indicates, it was safer to ride than the high-wheelers that had mainly been toys for strong young men.  And, in 1888, while the la Tour was going up, John Boyd Dunlop introduced his pneumatic tire, which would further improve the rideabilty of bicycles.

Now, I am neither an engineer nor a scientist, so take what I'm about to say for what it's worth.  I think that another parallel between the development of two-wheelers and the tower is that both taught subsequent inventors and researchers much about the possibilities of metal construction.  Contrary to what most people believe (as I did, until I learned otherwise!), the Eiffel Tower and most bicycles of the time were not made of steel.  Although steel had been around for milennia, methods for making it in large quantities had only recently been developed.  Thus, it was expensive and nobody really knew how to use it in construction.

Thus, the Tower and bikes were made of iron--wrought in the case of the former and cast for bikes.  Monsieur Eiffel's team figured out that the structure they conceived would be best built by placing them at angles to each other.  Around the same time, bicycle frames were evolving into something like the shapes so familiar to us today, as different bike-builders experimented with different placements of, and ways of joining, frame members.

As heavy as wrought iron is, it's still much lighter than stone, the most popular material for large structures at that time, and for centuries before.  And the cast iron used for bicycles (which were sometimes made by blacksmiths) was sturdier than the wood that had been used to make bikes.  While iron bikes were heavier, they paved the road (so to speak) for steel bikes, which could be made much lighter because the fact that the material is stronger means that less of it can be used to achieve the necessary strength.

Of course, the work of Eiffel's team made the creation of other large metal structures, just as the new safety bicycle opened up other possiblities in bicycle (as well as other vehicular) design and construction.  That meant that, while the Eiffel Tower was the world's tallest manmade structure on the day it opened, it would hold that distinction for 41 years, until the Chrysler Building was completed in 1930.  Likewise, the construction methods developed for iron bikes, along with pneumatic tires, made it possible to develop, not only better bicycles, but also automobiles and aircraft.

So, if you find yourself thinking about the Eiffel Towers and bicycles together, just remember that they are linked, not only in romantic images, but also in history and technology.

Knowing that, it seems fitting that the Bikeffel Tower was built in Breckenridge, Colorado from recycled bike parts:

30 March 2015

Defining The Season

What's the difference between a late winter and an early spring ride?

Since it's not yet April Fool's Day, this is not a joke.  However, you are free to leave humorous comments.

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, it's been Spring--at least officially--for a bit more than a week.  Some places have had the kind of weather we normally associate with spring for days, or even weeks.  Other places, like Florida, have already had summer-like (at least by the standards of NYC) conditions, if only for a day here and a day there.  On the other hand, there are places like northern New England, much of Canada and the Rockies, where snow still covers the ground.

So what, exactly, makes a ride early spring rather than late winter?  One factor might be the amount of daylight:  There's noticeably more of it than there was even a week or two ago.  And, since Daylight Savings Time began three weeks ago, that daylight (sometimes a gray pallor) lasts to 19h (7:00 pm) or even later.  Of course, the day has begun later, but soon we will have early dawns to go with our late dusks.

That's a fair measure of the seasons.  But the further north one goes in this hemisphere, the more daylight there is.  (Conversely,there is less of it during the fall and winter.) And some of those places are even more packed in snow and ice than this area was after even a series of snowstorms.  For those who are accustomed to such conditions and have studded tires, that might not be such an important factor.  But even such cyclists--some, anyway--do not ride in such conditions.

That brings me to yet another factor in differentiating the seasons:  The number of fellow riders you see on the road or trail. When I rode to Rockaway Beach three weeks ago, I didn't see any other cyclists. Ditto for the ride I took through the Bronx and Westchester a week after that.  But yesterday, I saw dozens of other riders on the bike path that wends its way along the Brooklyn waterfront.  Then again, once I got to the cobblestoned streets around Bush Terminal--deserted on a Sunday--I had them all to myself.  If I go there in a couple of weeks, I'll probably see other riders, though not nearly as many as one encounters on the Kent Street path.

By that standard, the ride I took yesterday was definitely Early Spring, even if the temperature barely broke the freezing mark and the wind whipped against our jackets.

29 March 2015

Post #3000: Celebrating With An Allegro

Between this and my other blog, this is my 3000th post.  

I started this blog nearly five years ago, in June 2010.  My other blog, Transwoman Times, started nearly two years before that.  While TT has about 200 more posts, I have been more active on this one since I've started it.

I'm going to celebrate with an Allegro.  Well, yeah, I mean a musical piece by Bach. After all, I was listening to a classical music program before I went out riding.  But I also mean a derauilleur SunTour made, possibly because I saw one.


It's not the most refined piece they ever made.  But it wasn't meant to be. Like its predecessor, the Honor, it was cheap, sturdy and worked well.  That is enough to make most people as happy as the word "allegro" sounds.

Ah, SunTour:  Of all bike component companies no longer in business (at least in the US; in Europe there is a company called SR-SunTour which seems to share only the name), it's probably the one I miss most.

28 March 2015

Taking Cycling To Heart In Dixie

As Portland goes, so goes....Alabama?

April Fool's Day is on Wednesday, but I'm not putting in an early joke here.  You read the first sentence of this post right:  Some folks in Alabama are doing something folks in the Rosebud City--and Quebec--have been doing for some time.

Since you're reading this blog, you've figured out it's bike-related.  Indeed it is:  Today, the first Alabama Statewide Bicycle Summit brought together bicycle transportation and recreation groups, engineers, builders, planners--and state tourism representatives.

Cyclists in the  Selma 50 ride, which commemorated the 50th anniversary of  the march Martin Luther King Jr. led to Montgomery.  Photo by Mickey Welsh.

Yes, those reps were discussing bicycle tourism in the Heart of Dixie.  Now, I've never been there, but I'm told--even by people whose politics are well to the left of mine (Yes, there are such people!) that much of the state is quite lovely.  The few Alabamans I've met seemed like lovely people and, like neighboring Florida, it has warmer weather for longer parts of the year than most other states.

But those state tourism folks have figured out something their counterparts in Oregon and La Belle Province have learned:  making their state bike-friendly can be good for business.   A few years ago, Portland-based activist/writer/cyclist Elly Blue pointed out that 78 percent of visitors to Portland said the city's bicycle-friendly reputation played a part in their decision to travel there.  And, of course, numerous localities reap economic benefits from large, well-publicized rides such as the Five Boro Bike Tour in my hometown of New York.

So...Will it be long before we see a peloton whistling Dixie on their way through Sweet Home Alabama?  

27 March 2015

What Kind Of A Lesbian Cyclist Am I?

Five years ago, as I was recovering from my surgery, "Velouria" of Lovely Bicycle! suggested that I start a bike blog.  (Now you know who to blame!;-)) At the time, I had been writing  Transwoman Times for a bit less than two years.  When I started Midlife Cycling in June of 2010, I thought TT would run its course and I'd keep it online for posterity--or, perhaps, revisit it from time to time.

Well, nearly five years later, TT is still going.  I can't seem to let it go.  That may be because its focus shifted from my own experience of transitioning, surgery and starting my new life to LGBT-related subjects in general.  Not only that, I can't seem to keep trans (or L, G, or B) themes out of this blog any more than I could keep cycling out of Transwoman Times.  

Once again, those aspects of my life are going to meet--in this post.  You see, I came across something from The Most Cake, a blog by and about young and hip lesbians in London.  

While I've noticed a number of young lesbians and genderqueers (or people who simply don't fit into most accepted definitions of gender and sexuality) at bike-related events and establishments here in The Big Apple, it seems that there is a more prominent subculture of lesbian cyclists in the British capital.  At least, that's the impression I get from The Most Cake and from things I've heard from people who've been in London more recently than I've been. I can't say I'm surprised, really.  

Anyway, according to the author of the post that caught my eye, there are five distinct types of lesbian cyclists in The Big Smoke

1.  Aggressive girls in Lycra
2.  Eco-warrior on self-built touring bike
3.  Feminist cyclist with a cause
4.  Fixie lesbian with tatoos and piercings
5.  The catch-all lesbian cyclist who cycles because she likes it and it's better than public transport or walking or micro-scootering.

 They're on bikes. Sorry just found it we were like okay

Hmm...Had I been living as female earlier in my life, I definitely would have been 1, possibly 3 and/or 4.  Of course, if I'd started living as a woman when I was 20, I wouldn't have been wearing Lycra, as it wasn't yet available.  But I would/could have been the equivalent of type #1.  

If I had to classify myself today from any of those types, I'd say I'm number five, with some of number three thrown in.  And, perhaps, number two--after all, I've built a touring bike of my own and I try to do what's environmentally sustainable.

But I don't plan on getting any tatoos or any more piercings than I already have (on my earlobes).  Or to wear Lycra again, even if I lose weight.  But I do plan to keep on riding.  And, perhaps, I'll meet Ms. Right.

26 March 2015

Playing Hide-And-Seek With The Season

Compared to past winters, this one has been brutal--or, at least, especially dreary--and has seemed endless.  This putative beginning of spring feels more like a truce, one that can be broken at any moment, than a true end to the hostilities.

So far, I've done three rides that weren't commutes or related to some specific purposes. Even though I pedaled along streets, paths and boardwalks I've ridden many times before, those rides felt like discoveries and releases at the same time:  The tears that rolled down my cheeks were not only from the wind.

But somehow I feel I rode as furtively as the season slinking its way among bare branches piqued with buds not yet ready to open.  I am like a cat creeping, ready at any moment to scamper back into shelter.

The rides have been really good.  But I am anxious for the season to take root, for flowers to open and to ride expansively and endlessly.  Hopefully all of those things will happen soon. 

25 March 2015

Riding In "Their" Neighborhood: A Bronx Tale

Normally, I'm not much of a fan of organized bike rides.  But I must admit that the first time I did the Five Boro Bike Tour, it felt great to be "taking over" the Verrazano Bridge and various streets throughout the city.  Sometimes people stood on the sidelines and cheered us on.  But some jeered us, and once I heard someone scream, "Go to Cuba, you f---ing commies!"  

I guess if I feel that I can "claim", if you will, a place by pedaling across or through it, someone's going to feel threatened.  I don't think my "claim" gives me sole possession; rather, it makes me a part of where I've ridden, and that place becomes part of me--and others can feel the same way.  But I guess that's just not how some people see it:  To them, a group of people riding through their neighborhood--especially if they look and dress a little different--is an invasion, an intrusion, on their way of life.

The funny thing is that even though I am white, the most hostile reactions I've experienced were from other white people.  Some of the friendliest receptions I encountered while on organized rides came in Harlem, when it was still entirely black, and Williamsburg when it was Puerto Rican.

So...What kind of a reaction would I and fellow riders had been black or Latina, and riding through some white ghetto? Would the irrational resentments some feel toward cyclists have been exacerbated by racial tension?

I got to thinking about such questions after showing A Bronx Tale to two of my classes last week.  It's the first film Robert de Niro directed.  In it, he plays Lorenzo, an Italian-American bus driver whose son, Calogero, witnesses a mob hit and doesn't "rat out" the perpetrator.  From there, the film follows Colagero--then nine years old, in 1960--through the ensuing decade as he, and his world change.

One of said changes is in the complexions of the skins of people who live in the neighborhood.  By 1968 or thereabouts, blacks have moved within a few blocks of their neighborhood.  A group of them rides down the street where the young Italian-American hoods hang out.  They--with the exception of Colagero--charge into them, knocking them off their bikes, and beat and kick them to the ground.  Colagero--"C" to everyone in the neighborhood--tries, in vain, to stop them.  

As the young black men are being beaten and their bikes trashed, the Moody Blues' Nights In White Satin plays in the background.

24 March 2015

In Living Colors

Back when I was racing, we had to wear white socks.  I don't remember whether that was a UCI, or merely a USCF (now USA Cycling), rule. But wearing any other color under your Detto Pietro cleated shoes got you disqualified from a race.

In the early days of mountain biking, riders wore black socks in defiance of that tradition.

I wonder what they--or the UCI or USCF--would make of this:

From Biking Toronto

23 March 2015

Early Spring Ride: Waking Again, For The First Time

So good to be riding just for fun again.  

Yesterday I took one of my seashore rambles that have been so much a part of my cycling life.  You know something's a part of you when you've been away from it for a while and, when you go back, it's like reconnecting with an old friend:  It's familiar and new at the same time.

The beaches and boardwalks are all imprinted in my mind.  And the bracing wind that pushed at me, whipped me sideways and, finally, took me home felt as if it had always traveled with me, in my skin and on it, yet was as bracing and chilly as the air itself feels to someone who's coming out from layers of stilled dreams, of time itself.  

And there is the light I have always seen again for the first time.

I wish all of my fatigue were that of the kind I experienced while riding yesterday:  of waking again for the first time.

22 March 2015

The Alphabet--Or The Periodic Table?

Many, many years ago, I took Chemistry.  It was so long ago that whatever I learned could just as well have been alchemy.

Anyway, I had a really strange prof.  Since then, I've been told that all chemists are strange because of the fumes they breathe in the laboratory.  Even if that is the case, I still think my prof was strange for all sorts of reasons.

Maybe it's because, on the first day of class, he said, "You may have heard this course will take all of your time.  That's not true, but it does require conscientious attention on your part--say, four or five hours a night."

After a couple dozen people walked out, he continued:  "Now look at the person on your left.  Now look at the person on your right.  One of them will fail, if not you."

Then, after a few dozen more people walked out, he said, "We're going to start this course by learning the alphabet."  I thought, "OK, maybe this won't be so bad after all."  If that didn't show what I clueless freshman I was, I don't know what did.

By "alphabet", he meant the periodic table.  There would be a test on it, he said.  

I thought about that when I saw this "alphabet"--or is it a periodic table?:

From Velojoy

21 March 2015

The First Day Of Spring (With Or Without Powdered Sugar)

Officially, Spring began at 18:45 EDT  yesterday.  And--you guessed it--snow fell.  

This morning, I went to the store.  I'd left the LeTour parked outside.  She complained that I wouldn't treat a dog that way.  I reminded her that I don't have a dog.  Well, then, your cats she retorted.

OK, so I didn't really talk to the LeTour--or, at least, it didn't talk back.  But it certainly captured the spirit of the beginning of this season:

It's interesting to see where snow collects, and doesn't:

I could just imagine some little bug finding shelter under the arch of that cable.

Cycling is sweet.  If that's the case, are our bikes confections

with or without the powdered sugar?

I know what I'm having for breakfast:  waffles, of course.  

20 March 2015

What A Man Grows

In yesterday's post, I decried the sexism and lack of artistry displayed by Allan Abbott in building a bicycle that's supposed to look like a nude woman.

So...how am I going to follow it up?  With a post about one of the most andro-centric topics imaginable.  Why?  Well, for one thing, as one of the few (if not the only) male-to-female transsexual bike bloggers, I am one of the few people in this world who can get away with such a thing.

But, dear readers, please indulge me.  I'm not writing this post to be politically incorrect or contrarian, although I rarely shy away from being either.  Rather, I saw a cartoon and photo on the topic that was purely and simply humorous.

The subject?  Beards.  Yes, facial hair in which some men take pride.  According to the photo, the longer a male cyclist's beard, the greater his bike knowledge.

From Imagur. com

There might actually be some truth to the bike knowledge-to-beard ratio.  The photo at the end of it confirms what you know about Sheldon Brown if you ever looked at his webpages:  The man was a Library of Congress, a Biblitheque Nationale of cycling knowledge.  And Frank Chrinko III, the proprietor of Highland Park (NJ) Cyclery--where I worked--knew more about bikes than anyone in his twenties or thirties should.  During the time I worked for him, his beard grew from "Rides and has built a bike from old parts" to "Wizard" length. 

Me?  I grew a beard in those days, too.  Mine, though, never got longer than "Rides" length.  I didn't let it. 

19 March 2015

Not For Women--Or Anybody

When I was writing for a newspaper, a police precinct commander sold me something I haven't forgotten:  "Lucky for us that most criminals are stupid."

For many perps, their folly begins in thinking that they'll actually get away with what their misdeeds.  But for others, their foolishness shows in the ways they execute--or don't execute their offenses. 

I got to thinking about all of that because I think there's a parallel principle in making works of "art".  We are lucky, I believe, that most of the truly offensive stuff--you know, things that are racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise show contempt for some group of people that did nothing to deserve it--is purely and simply bad.  And that is the reason why it is usually forgotten.

So why am I pontificating about virtue and virtu on a bike blog?, you ask. Great question.

Yesterday "The Retrogrouch" wrote about a bicycle displayed at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS).  Its builder, Allan Abbott, dubbed it "The Signorina."

With a name like that, you might expect a nicely-made women's city or commuter bike with some Italian pizzazz.  Instead, it's a not particularly well-made (for a handbuilt bike, anyway) machine that's supposedly built in the likeness of a naked woman.


So far it sounds like a silly novelty item, right?  But it doesn't seem like anything to get worked up about. Or does it?  

Now, I'm sure there are places where such a bike could not be ridden because it would offend the sensibilites of some people.  I'm not one of them:  I have no aversion to nudity, although I have to wonder whether anyone in his or her right mind would want to see me naked.

But I digress.  If you're going to use a human form, au naturel, in one of your creations, at least show it in all of its imperfect glory--the way, say, any number of painters, sculptors, photographers and writers have done.  Whatever its gender, size, colors, shape, age or state of alertness or weariness, make it a reflection of what we are, and aspire to.  Above all, make it living, human and organic.

The supposedly female form in Abbot's frame is none of those things.  If anything, it's plain creepy:  The "signorina" is on her "hands" and "knees"--and headless.  I'm sure there are people--a few of whom are cyclists or collectors--who are turned on by such degradation.  I guess I'm philistine and reactionary:  I'm not one of them.

But, to be fair, if "Retrogrouch" hadn't described it, I might have needed time and an extra look or two to discern the nude female form straddling the wheels.  Call me slow or un-hip if you must.  Even after reading about it on Adventure Journal  as well as Retrogrouch's blog, I'm still not convinced that the bike in any way--realist or abstract, linear or Cubist, Classical or Impressionist--evokes a female, or any other human, form.

In other words, it doesn't work as art.  Perhaps we should be thankful for that.  

Somehow I get the impression it's not such a great bike, either. 

18 March 2015

Another Celt Blazes A New Path For Cycling--And Everyone

Now, on the day after St. Patrick's Day, I'm going to talk about another Celtic person in the world of cycling.

Unlike Sean Kelly, this person was from Scotland but lived in Ulster (a.k.a. Northern Ireland).  Another difference is that this person I'm about to mention never won any Tour jerseys or classics.  In fact, as far as I know, he never raced at all.  

But we should all be grateful to this person, who invented something that not only revolutionized (in every sense of the word) cycling, but the whole world. 

That last clue may have tipped you off.  Yes, this person's invention had to do with the wheel.  No, he didn't invent the wheel:  That came a few millenia earlier.  But what he did made the wheel--and the bicycle--versatile in ways no one could have previously imagined.

What's just as interesting is that this person not only was not a racer, he wasn't an engineer or a technical person.  In fact, he was a veterinary surgeon at the time he invented the thing I'm going to mention.

Early Pneumatic Bicycle Tire
Early pneumatic tire.  From Dave's Vintage Bicycles

That thing was...the pneumatic tire.  Without it, bicycles are no faster than horse-drawn carriages--and wouldn't be able to traverse some of the terrain our bovine friends have trod for milennia. Ditto for automobiles:  They would have been all but useless, especially given the road conditions of around the time the gasoline-powered engine was invented.  And aircraft, at least as we know them, could not take off or land.

image of John Boyd Dunlop
John Boyd Dunlop

 The man in question is John Boyd Dunlop.  As the story goes, his young son was prescribed cycling as a cure for a heavy cold.  Given the relative cost of bikes at that time, it took a pretty fair amount of audacity to complain that his tricycle--with hard rubber tires on iron wheels-- was uncomfortable.

No one knows exactly how Dunlop pere came up with the idea of bonding canvas together with liquid rubber to make an inflatable tube.  But he did and in 1888 he patented the idea--and, in the process used the word "pneumatic" for the first time.  

A local firm, W. Edlin and company, agreed to make casings for the new tubes and the following year, a well-known cyclist, Willie Hume, used the new tires to win a race at Cherryvale.  A paper manufacturer who was one of the spectators would buy Dunlop's patents a few years later.  By that time, he had moved to Dublin, where he manufactured bicycle frames in collaboration with a local firm, Bowden and Gillies.

17 March 2015

Tour Green: Sean Kelly

Believe it or not, this was the jersey of a French cycling team.

Sem-France Loire jersey

So why does it look more like the flag of Ireland--or, at least, the way such a flag might look if it were designed by an Ulsterman?

The Sem-France Loire team raced from 1980 until 1983.  Directeur sportif Jean de Gribaldy formed it by taking the French part of the Belgian Flandria-Ca-Va Seul-Senair (Try saying that three times fast) team after Flandria withdrew its sponsorship.   The team was originally called Puch-Sem-Campagnolo, but de Gribaldy re-christened it Sem France-Loire in 1981, when Sem became the main sponsor.

In the squad's first year, it was captained by Joaquim Agostinho, a Portuguese cyclist who finished fifth in the Tour de France that year.  But in the summer of 1981, a certain racer who started his professional career on the Flandria team several years earlier contacted his former directeur sportif--de Gribaldy--about joining his new team.

DeGribaldy got the necessary sponsorship and signed said cyclist.  Once you know who he is, it will make--in an ironic sort of way--perfect sense that he wore the jersey in the picture.

I am talking, of course, about someone who would become of the most prominent racers of the 1980's--and one of the most successful Irish riders ever:  Sean Kelly.

With Sem, Kelly rejoined some of his former teammates, including Eddy Planckaert.  With such a strong cast, the team cast a shadow far longer than one might have expected from their small budget.  Their riders accounted for several important victories, such as the French road race championship of 1981, the Swiss Cyclo-Cross championship of the same year, as the Paris-Camembert in 1981, Paris-Nice in 1982 and Liege-Bastogne-Liege in 1983.  And, in 1983, Kelly would win the Tour de Suisse for the Sem team's last major victory.

The following year, power-tool manufacturer Skil became the main sponsor. Sem-France Loire then morphed into the Skil_sem team.  And Kelly went on to bigger and better things.  Although he never won the Tour de France outright, he took--appropriately enough--its maillot vert in 1982, 1983, 1985 and 1989.

16 March 2015

The Man In A Case

March, as you probably know, is Women's History Month.  Does that mean that we don't have a history for the other 11 months of the year?  And what about Blacks?  Not only do they have only one month, but they got the shortest:  February.  So for 337 other days of the year (338 in a leap year), they don't have a story?

All right.  I'll stop ranting.  When I  think about WHM--or women's history or rights in general--I am reminded that in the early days of cycling, riding a bicycle was something a "proper" lady didn't do.  In some parts of the world, that's still the case:  One of my colleagues, who hails from Ethiopia and is in her sixties, has never learned how to ride.  And there are places, I understand, where a woman or girl on a bicycle is not only frowned upon, it's illegal.

From Women's History: About

But back to the early days of cycling:  During that time, Anton Chekhov wrote a short story,  The Man In A CaseDuring the 1970's, Wendy Wasserstein turned it into a one-act play (with the same title) about a marriage between Varinka, a "pretty girl of thirty" and Byelinkov, a much older Latin and Greek professor at a university near Moscow.

You can see how cautious and traditional he is in this exchange:

  VARINKA (takes his hands.) We will be very happy. I am very strong. (Pauses. ) It is time for tea.
  BYELINKOV. It is too early for tea. Tea is at half past the hour.
  VARINKA. Do you have heavy cream? It will be awfully nice with apricots.
  BYELINKOV. Heavy cream is too rich for teatime.
   VARINKA. But today is special. Today you placed a lilac in my hair. Write in your note pad. Every year we will celebrate with apricots and heavy cream. I will go to my brother's house and get some.
  BYELINKOV. But your brother's house is a mile from here.
  VARINKA. Today it is much shorter. Today my brother gave me his bicycle to ride. I will be back very soon.
  BYELINKOV. You rode to my house by bicycle! Did anyone see you!
   VARINKA. Of course. I had such fun. I told you I saw the grocery store lady with the son-in-law who is doing very well thank you in Moscow, and the headmaster's wife.
  BYELINKOV. You saw the headmaster's wife!
  VARINKA. She smiled at me.
  BYELINKOV. Did she laugh or smile?
   VARINKA. She laughed a little. She said, "My dear, you are very progressive to ride a bicycle." She said you and your fiance Byelinkov must ride together sometime. I wonder if he'll take off his galoshes when he rides a bicycle.
  BYELINKOV. She said that?
  VARINKA. She adores you, We had a good giggle.
   BYELINKOV. A woman can be arrested for riding a bicycle. That is not progressive, it is a premeditated revolutionary act. Your brother must be awfully, awfully careful on behalf of your behavior. He has been careless-oh so care-less-in giving you the bicycle.
  VARINKA. Dearest Byelinkov, you are wrapping yourself under curtains and quilts! I made friends on the bicycle.
  BYELINKOV. You saw more than the headmaster's wife and the idiot grocery woman.
  VARINKA. She is not an idiot.
  BYELINKOV. She is a potato-Vending, sausage-armed fool!
  VARINKA. Shhh! My school mouse. Shhh!
  BYELINKOV. What other friends did you make on this bicycle?
  VARINKA. I saw students from my brother' s classes. They waved and shouted, 0Anthropos in love! Anthropos in 'love!!"
  BYELINKOV. Where is that bicycle?
  VARINKA. I left it outside the gate. Where are you going?
  BYELINKOV (muttering as he exits.) Anthropos in love, an thropos in love.
  VARINKA. They were cheering me on. Careful, you'll trample the roses.
   BYELINKOV (returning with the bicycle.) Anthropos is the Greek singular for man. Anthropos in love translates as the Greek and Latin master in love. Of course they cheered you. Their instructor, who teaches them the discipline and contained beauty of the classics, is in love with a sprite on a bicycle. It is a good giggle, isn't it? A very good giggle! I am returning this bicycle to your brother.
  VARINKA. But it is teatime.
  BYELINKOV. Today we will not' have tea.
  VARINKA. But you will have to walk back a mile.
   BYELINKOV. I have my galoshes on. (Gets on the bicycle.), Varinka, we deserve not to be different. (Begins to pedal. The bicycle doesn't move. )
  VARINKA. Put the kickstand up.
  BYELINKOV. I beg your pardon.
  VARINKA (giggling.) Byelinkov, to make the bicycle move; you must put the kickstand up.
  (Byelinkov puts it up and awkwardly falls off the bicycle as it.moves. )
  (Laughing.) Ha ha ha. My little school mouse. You. look so funny! You are the sweetest dearest man in the world. Ha ha ha!,

15 March 2015


After writing about Missy Giove, I got to thinking about how bicycle racers come to be.  

When "The Missile" was flying down mountainsides, downhill racing was a new genre of mountain biking. Before that time--the early-to-mid '90's-- nearly all of the prominent mounatain bikers started off as road racers.  However, she was one of the first mountain bikers who didn't have a significant background on the road. Later in the decade, there would be a "critical mass" of mountain bike racers who spent all or most of their amateur and professional careers as mountain bikers without spending significant time on the road or track. 

Interestingly, by the end of that decade, American dominance of mountain biking would end.  While riders from the US still won more than their share of victories, the best young talent in the sport was coming from Europe--first from France, then from Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Austria and a few other countries.  

One would have thought that the riders from the other side of the Atlantic--where racing culture was, and still is, deeper than it is in the New World-- would have been, if anything, road or track racers before becoming mountain bikers.  And indeed some were.  But those new riders from the Alps, Pyrenees and other mountain areas of Europe also had roots in another sport that is more prominent over there than it is here:  downhill ski racing.  

It makes sense, at least to me:  My own (admittedly limited) experience with both has shown me that downhillers, whether they're on skis or wheels, have to have similar reflexes and moves.  Plus, if you're living in a mountainous area, you simply have more opportunities to do either sport, let alone both.

Now, to a completely different area of cycling: the triathlon.  Of course, it's not strictly a cycling event:  it also involves running and swimming.  Still, one might expect that a large percentage of triathloners to come from the world of bicycle racing.  

I am sure that many do, although I have seen no research to corroborate that. However, from my own admittedly-informal observations, and from knowing several triathloners, I get the impression that most triathloners start off--and identify themselves primarily--as runners. And not many seem to be mainly swimmers 

Promo for mini-triathlon in Marysville, MO, 2012

If what I've seen is indicative of the wider world, I can think of one reason why triathloners might be runners first and foremost .  Of the three triathlon events, running is hardest on the knees and other body parts.  If someone's joints and limbs can stand up to the pounding or jarring that results from hitting the pavement, they can certainly handle cycling and swimming.  Conversely, while swimming is a very intensive physical activity, it places very little stress on the knees. 

So...If some of the best downhill racers were skiers before taking up mountain biking, and the majority of triathloners start off as runners, what were the first bike racers doing before they started spinning their pedals?

14 March 2015

What Congestion Pricing Might Prevent

A few days ago, I wrote about congestion pricing and the wonderful effects it's having on people's physical and mental health--not to mention pedestrians' and cyclists' safety--in Center City London and beyond.  It's been proposed here in New York but it's gone over about as well as lead bagels.

The funny thing is that the people who are most vehemently opposed to it are always complaining about parking.  I should think that, if anything, it would make parking easier.  It might even prevent scenes like this:

Strange Bicycle parking
From XCiteFun


13 March 2015

The Moveable Feast Of Bicycle Racing

Recently, I mentioned Ernest Hemingway in one of my classes.  Not a single student had heard of him, let alone read any of his works.

I have very mixed feelings about that.  On one hand, I'm appalled that they'd gotten to college without knowing about one of the most famous American writers.  On the other, I'm not so sorry, as I've gone through periods of absolutely loathing him (the man as well as the work) for the all-but-complete absence of credible, let alone substantial, female characters and the testosterone-soaked world he created and image he projected.

Then again, there is an economy and precision in his language that few other writers have equaled--and which, ironically, makes him easy to parody.  And for all that he glorified masculine pursuits, few writers have shown war-weariness from a combatant's point of view as well as he did.  

Whether I've loved or hated him, there is one work of his I always loved:  A Moveable Feast, which was published posthumously.  Even after having lived in Paris and enjoyed a few extended visits in the City of Light, I am still moved by his descriptions of his life there.  Also, I always had the sense that if he ever let his guard down as a writer, he did so in writing that book.

If he was capable of sighing, he did it in that book.  In particular, he expresses regret--and seems almost apologetic--in talking about one topic about which he couldn't write: bicycle racing.

One of the things that all of those English teachers never mentioned while they were ramming The Snows of Kilimanjaro and A Clean, Well-Lighted Place down the throats of my generation was that, while in Paris, he became a big fan of bicycle racing and that he was an active cyclist through much of his life.  A friend of his, Mike Ward, introduced him to it after giving up betting on horse racing because, he said, he'd found something better in bicycle racing. 


Hemingway similarly became enamored of two-wheeled pursuits after turning his attentions away from the trotters.  Given that he wrote stories about hunting and fishing, which he also loved, it's no surprise that he would want to write about bike racing.  But, as he recounts in A Moveable Feast:

"I have started many stories about bicycle racing but have never written one that is as good as the races are both on the indoor tracks and the roads."

 He gives one possible reason why he couldn't write a story he liked about racing:

"French is the only language it has ever been written in properly and the terms are all in French and that is what makes it hard to write."  

Still, he is glad to have been introduced to the sport:

"Mike was right about it, there is no need to bet. But that comes at another time in Paris."

 Maybe it's time for me to read him again.


12 March 2015

A Sign In Late Spring

As I mentioned in an earlier post, there was a time when I actually regarded Coca-Cola as an energy drink.  I'm sure some cyclists still do.  In fact, some might regard it as a performance-enhancing drug.

Like nearly every cyclist in the developed world, I've seen innumerable Coke ads on billboards, storefronts and even painted on the sides of buildings.  But I've never seen one quite like this:

It's a still from Late Spring (Banshu), a 1949 film directed by Yasujiro Ozu.  Based on Kazuo Hirotsu's novel Father and Daughter (Chichi to musume), it belongs to a genre of Japanese film called shomingeki, which deals with the ordinary daily lives of modern working- and middle-class Japanese people.  This genre flourished during the immediate postwar period, in spite (or, some say, because) of the heavy censorship imposed by Allied occupying forces.  
Such films usually focused on families, featured simple plots and were shot with static cameras.  This genre might be compared, in some ways, to the Italian neo-realist films of the same period (such as Rome, Open City and The Bicycle Thief) and the French New Wave that brought us the likes of Le Quatre Cent Coups (The 400 Blows) a decade later.

There's a certain irony to seeing a Coca-Cola road sign in a film that's supposed to--at least on the surface--celebrate an idealized version of Japanese family life.  Then again, some have seen it as one of the ways Ozu subverted the censorship of the time. 

Hmm...Coca-Cola presented as a threat to traditional authority in order to subvert the censorship imposed by an occupier.  It's a bit much to wrap my head around.  Maybe it's easier to think of Coke as an energy drink--or even a performance-enhancing drug!

11 March 2015

A Cycling Catalogue Becomes A Software Company

I may not ever need their services.  But if I do, I'll be sure to call them, just because of their name.

I'm talking about an outfit called Cycling '74. Their home page describes them as "a full kit of creative tools for sound, graphics, music and interactivity in a visual environment."

Hmm...It sounds like a few bicycle races I've been to. 

Headquartered in San Francisco (where else?), Cycling '74 was founded in 1997 by David Zicarelli to serve as the distributor for his various collections of software. 

According to the company's website, he took the name from a 1974 bicycle catalogue that contained many of the images used on the company's original website.

He could have done much worse:  1974 was an interesting year in cycling.  It was probably the apex of the Bike Boom in America.  Eddy Mercx won the last of his five Tour de France titles.  The World Championships were held for the first time in North America--in Montreal, to be exact.  And SunTour, Campagnolo and other component makers would make significant changes to their lineups.

Most important, I think, is that the iconic images of the Bike Boom--the bikes, the riders and the rides--seem to come from that year, or thereabouts.  When people think of a "Bike Boom bike", images of that year's  Fuji S-10S, Raleigh Grand Prix or Super Course, Motobecane Mirage and Schwinn LeTour, among others, come to mind.