30 April 2015

A Unique Handle

During the past few years, it seems that more new handlebar shapes and configurations have come to market than I saw during my first three-plus decades as a cyclist.

I must correct myself:  Most of those handlebars are revivals or updates of long-forgotten or disused designs.  Velo Orange, for example, brought back the classic Porteur bar (which I ride on three of my bicycles) and Soma has been making the once- and now-popular Lauterwasser bend.  We have also seen updates of--or new takes on--handlebars that never really went out of fashion, such as the North Road, Major Taylor and "moustache" handlebars.  Hey, I've even seen new productions of the "bull moose" integrated handlebars and stems found on early mountain bikes like the Stumpjumper from around 1984.

As far as I know, though, no one has reproduced this handlebar:


I'd love to know how that handlebar was made and fitted to the bike. When I enlarged the photo as much as I could, it appeared that the "wings" of the handlebars were bolted onto the stem.  I don't know how else the parts could have fit together:  Had the handlebar been of one piece, the "V" bend could not fit into anything resembling the round clamps we see on almost all modern stems.

Now, if you're going to ride handlebars no one else has, you have to fit them with unique grips.  How about these?:

They're made from sterling silver and mother-of-pearl and were standard equipment (!) on the 1920 Columbia Ladies' Safety Bicycle.

Of course, if you're going to ride such grips, ordinary cycling gloves simply won't do.  You'll need these:

29 April 2015

Will We Finally Cross That Bridge?

You've been waiting and waiting for it.  Whoever's responsible for it tells you to wait "just a little longer".  A New York minute, a Biblical day, or a geologic era (or error)?   "Just a little more time," you're told:

That's what the Department of Transportation has been telling us ever since the early Jurassic period, when Randall's Island was formed.  They've been promising a bicycle-pedestrian bridge from the Island to the Bronx. A posted sign said the bridge would be done in the Fall of 2013.  Then a digit was changed.  Then another.  Then the season.  What's an ice age or two when you're waiting for something you can really use, right?

To be fair, it is indeed possible to use the pedestrian walkway on the Bronx spur of the RFK-Triborough Bridge.  That path is steeply inclined--which I don't mind, as I can use the climbing practice.  But it also zigs and zags, which makes for very poor sight lines.  I am amazed that there aren't more accidents, especially involving cyclists, skaters or skateboarders coming from the Bronx to the Island, i.e. going down the slalom.

The bridge that's been in the works ever since the Randall's Island Salamander first crawled out of the Bronx Kill would, at least, give clearer sightlines, not to mention make it easier to pedal to and from the Bronx:

What's that I saw today?  People actually working on the bridge?  And could it be that they've actually laid something like a foundation for the path over the rows of pipes and girders that have lain across the creek ever since, oh, about the time Laurasia broke apart.

Could it be that we'll actually have the bridge before the cash bundles from Manhattan collide with empty lots in the Bronx and give rise to condominium and office towers? 

Could it actually open during--dare I say it--our lifetimes?  Or maybe an evolutionary period or two later?

One can only hope.

28 April 2015

Queensboro Plaza Dawn

Having an early morning class means, as often as not, being sleep-deprived, both for me and my students.

There are rewards, though:  Students in such classes tend to be a bit more dedicated than those in mid-afternoon classes.  Also, riding to work early can be a very pleasant experience, especially when you're out before the rush-hour traffic and people are walking their dogs--or themselves--rather than rushing to the train or bus.

And then there are the air, light and the relative overall calm of the dawn (or, during the winter, pre-dawn).  Gertrude Stein once said that every great artist she encountered was up before dawn or slept until noon.  I can well understand the former when I see the play of the light of the rising sun on the colors and shapes of a landscape, wherever it may be.

Perhaps "Queensboro Plaza Dawn" doesn't have quite the ring of "Chelsea Morning".  But it offers a vista that, although grittier, is as vivid as the moment Joni Mitchell portrays in her song.  And both are equally transcendent and ephemeral.

27 April 2015

Cyclists Can't Get Off (Or On) The Island

Every decade or so, some resident of Staten Island tries to resurrect the movement to “free” his homeland from the colonial clutches of New York City.  Much of that impetus is really no different from the change in politics people undergo when they morph from single city dwellers to suburbanites with lawns, SUVs and broods of kids:  No matter how much evidence (statistical and otherwise) they are shown to the contrary, they become convinced that the taxes they’re paying for their plots of land and shelters are subsidizing freeloaders in the city they’ve left behind.

Ironically, there is a strong argument for those Staten Islanders who want to liberate themselves from the Big Apple, even though they never use it:  geography.  You see, although the Island is one of the five boroughs of New York City,  it’s actually closer to New Jersey than it is to Gotham—or, for that matter, any other point in New York State. 

Early governors of both states noticed as much and nearly fought an intercine war over it.  The reason each side wanted it is that the Island, which sits at the point at which the Atlantic Ocean meets New York Bay (at the Verrazano Narrows) and the Hudson River, is the Gateway to New York Harbor.  That distinction was even more important then, long before trucks hauled goods on Interstates and airliners ferried passengers across the ocean. 

So how did the island become a county (Richmond) of New York rather than New Jersey?  It was the “prize” in a boat race.  Or so legend has it. Really, you can’t make this stuff up.  Ever since, some New Yorkers have wondered whether the Empire State actually lost and Staten Island was the booby prize.  That, of course, begs the question of what New Jersey won.  The Nets?

Joking aside, this capsule history is actually relevant to this blog and, in particular, to the subject of this post.  You see, the secessionists’ worst nightmare has come true, in a way—at least if any of the secessionists are cyclists.

From Bikensurf

Right now, it is impossible to pedal to or from the Island.  And the only way to get to or from "the forgotten borough" with your bicycle—aside from hauling it in or on a motor vehicle—is to take the Staten Island Ferry to or from Manhattan.  According to a Port Authority official with whom I spoke yesterday, this situation will continue for “about two years”.  That, of course, begs the question of whether those years will consist of “New York minutes” or Biblical days.

Of the bridges that connected Staten Island to the rest of the world, only the Bayonne had a walkway cyclists were allowed to use.  It was closed in September of 2013 for an extensive rebuild which will result in raising the roadway higher above the water so that newer, larger ships can pass.  From May to October of last year, the Port Authority operated a bicycle shuttle across the bridge.  But that shuttle will not be available this year, as the bridge is closed to all traffic, motorized and otherwise. 

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might recall that I've crossed the Bayonne fairly often.  I could do a nice half-day ride by pedaling across the RFK Bridge, up through Harlem and Washington Heights to the George Washington Bridge, along and down the Jersey Palisades, then to the waterfront of Jersey City and Bayonne before crossing to Staten Island and taking Port Richmond Boulevard, which snakes from Superfund sites to the hill of Snug Harbor and some of the most stunning views of the lower Manhattan skyline.  Then I’d hop on the Ferry and, after disembarking, I could pedal or take the subway home.

Now, I would have to end that ride in Jersey City or Hoboken and turn back—or take the PATH train or one of the boats to the World Financial Center.  I’ve done both, and they’re not disagreeable.  But, to me, neither quite compares with taking the Ferry from Staten Island. 

Besides the Bayonne, three other bridges go to and from Staten Island.  One is the Goethals, which had a very narrow path just barely wide enough for most people to walk across.  When my parents were living in New Jersey, I used to take that path because, while not the most pleasant ride, it was convenient:  Once I disembarked from it, I could ride across Elizabeth to State Route 27, where traffic wasn’t terrible.  However, I tried to use it about three years ago, only to find a gate across it.  When I asked a Port Authority officer whether it would open again, he claimed that it never was legal to ride or walk across.  When I explained that I used to take that path “all the time”—and I wasn’t the only one who did—he said it simply wasn’t possible, for there never was any path.  "Well, I guess I broke the law," I said half-jokingly.  "Maybe you did," he replied, suppressing a grin.

Anyway, the PA official with whom I spoke yesterday told me the Goethals is getting similar treatment to the Bayonne and will have—as the Bayonne also will—a “twelve-foot wide bike and pedestrian lane”.   Yes, in “about two years”.

As for the other two connections—the Outerbridge Crossing and the Verrazano-NarrowsBridge—neither ever had bike/pedestrian lanes. The Outerbridge (which is actually named for its builder and is not, as many believe, so named because it’s the “outer” of all of the crossings) takes motorists from the west shore of the Island to Perth Amboy, New Jersey. 

The Verrazano, on the other hand, brings cars, buses and other vehicles to and from Brooklyn.  In his infinite wisdom, RobertMoses didn’t want to deface his last great project with provisions for people who want to walk or pedal.  (It's claimed that he didn’t want buses to cross the span.)  In his vision of the world, everyone would have his or her own car and get in and use it to get in and out of the city—where he or she would work and perhaps shop, but not live.  Even how people played would be determined by the internal combustion engine:  He built Jones Beach, accessible Long Island’s highways but not by the Rail Road or any bus line. 

(Given what I’ve just described, it’s surprising that he actually built the Kissena Velodrome—and that he himself never learned how to drive!)

For me and other cyclists who don’t live on Staten Island, the situation I’ve described is an inconvenience or annoyance.  But those who live there can’t get off the Island—or escape from New York.  I just hope, for their sake, that they aren’t secessionists.  Somehow I don’t think very many of them are.

26 April 2015

A Nice Way To Recover

Another ride to Point Lookout today.  Trust me, I'm going to do other long(er) rides soon.  But I think I had good reasons for doing the ride again today after doing it on back-to-back days last weekend.

Actually, I hadn't planned to such a long ride (about 105 km, or 65 miles).  I'd been feeling a bit under the weather for the last couple of days.  Today I felt a bit better and the weather was nearly perfect:  sunny, with some wind, 15-17C (60 to 65F).  So I started off down the street from my apartment and down a few more that could have taken me to the Rockaways, Coney Island or other points south in Brooklyn or Queens.

When I crossed Atlantic Avenue on Woodhaven Boulevard, I knew I was headed to the Rockaways. If I pedaled just to Rockaway Beach and back, that would be about 50 km.  I got there, feeling good, and took a left out toward Arverne and Far Rockaway.

Now, there isn't much noteworthy in Far Rockaway except for the beach, where the dunes are lovely but the water is still too cold (about 7 or 8 degrees C) to swim.  Going to the Rockaways on my bike usually means one thing:  crossing the bridge into Nassau County--Atlantic Beach, to be exact--and riding along the South Shore.

Mind you, on my way down to the Rockaways I rode into a wind that buffeted me on my right side as I rode along the coastline.  Still, I was feeling much better than I expected, so I kept on riding.  

The Point was quiet today, but the tide had come in.  So, where I saw sandbars last week, I saw this:

The water must have been rough because I didn't see anyone sailing or windsurfing.  But when you're on a bike, it doesn't matter.  Especially mine:  they always ride great.

On the way back, I felt something go "thump" and heard a clank. I was imagining the worst:  a flat tire and some part fallen off my bike.  But I couldn't imagine what:  Everything is tight and well-maintained.  I looked back and found this:

Most of you have a tool just like it. I have two or three.  It doesn't hurt to have another, as it includes the allen key sizes (4, 5 and 6mm) most commonly used on bicycles.  So I'm going to hold onto it--or give it to someone.  After all, the ride was a fine reward.  I feel good now.

25 April 2015

I Can Get Absolutely Anybody Onto A Bike. Really!

As I've mentioned in earlier posts, sometimes my biggest obstacles to riding my bike are Max and Marlee.  There are times when either or both of them will jump into my lap or circle around my ankles when I'm about to go on a ride. Or they pose on the table, in front of my bikes. They just know what I'm about to do.

So I got this idea that maybe if I got them to ride with me, they wouldn't try to stop me.  Let's see...I tried that with an ex or two...and how did that work?  But, at least neither Max nor Marlee has--as far as I can tell--any of the issues my exes (or, for that matter, I) had.  And they're certainly playful cats.  So maybe I can channel some of their energy into pedal power.

How is it working.  I think this note says it all:

funny cat
From The Journey

24 April 2015

Ride The Lane: You Are Traffic

Three and a half decades ago, John Forester's Effective Cycling was published.  To this day, no one (of whom I'm aware, anyway) has done a better job of elucidating what needs to be done in order for the bicycle to be seen as a viable option for commuting and other purposes.

Essentially, he said that in order for the bicycle to be seen as a vehicle, and not merely a toy, we have to ride as if our bicycles are indeed vehicles.  In explaining what that meant, he showed the folly of bike lanes and other planners' attempts to "accomodate"  us.

In the ensuing years, not much has changed, save for the number of cyclists.  If anything, the situation has gotten worse:  more and more bike lanes are being built and lots of neophyte cyclists believe they are safer in them, and that said lanes are a sign of their city's "bike friendliness" or simply its "cool factor".  

Here is an example of how, not only bike lanes, but prevalent notions of how cyclists ride in traffic, put us in more danger than taking a lane and thus making ourselves more visible to motorists:

By Keri Caffrey

23 April 2015

The Tour Of The Pearl Of The Antilles

Now that the United States seems to be on the road to recognizing that Cuba does indeed exist (Was it just some black hole from which a species of aliens called "Cubans" came? So that's why we have that prison in Guantanamo!), it's hard not to wonder about the future of cycling there.  

Of course, American groups have been taking bicycle tours in Cuba for years--under the pretense of "cultural exchange" as, officially, Americans aren't/weren't allowed to visit Cuba as tourists.  Everyone, it seems, who's gone on such a tour there raves about it:  The roads are quiet, there are plenty of places to stay, the people are friendly--and it's cheap, once you get there.  Hey, I could be enticed into going there.  All I'd have to do is get myself and my Spanish in shape.  About the latter:  I recited a short poem by Federico Garcia Lorca in the original at a recent poetry reading, and all of the Spanish-speakers understood it.  A few even complimented my Spanish afterward.  So maybe I'm better in that category than I thought.  And the rides I've taken lately have felt really good.

Anyway, in cycling the word "tour" can refer to the kind I've mentioned:  riding, seeing the sights and mingling with the people.  But there is another kind of "tour", as in Le Tour de France or other multi-day races.  Unbeknownst to most norteamericanos, "The Pearl of the Antilles" had its own multi-day race that covered much of the island.

Poster of the 1969 Vuelta a Cuba, by Jose Papiol.

La Vuelta a Cuba was held for the first time in 1964 with Sergio "Pipian" Martinez winning.  He would take four of the first six editions of La Vuelta.  Not surprisingly, most editions of the race were won by Cuban riders--and, until 2002, the only non-Cuban winners came from Soviet-bloc countries.  That year, Italian Filippo Pozzato of the Mapei-Quick Step team took the honor; the following year, Todd Herriot became the first and only US rider to win.

The race was not held from 1991 until 1999.  Although no one seems to have said as much, that suspension may have been a result of the fall of the Soviet Union, which probably funded much of Cuba's cycling program (and much else in the country).  Races throughout the former Soviet bloc met similar fates during that time.  Some were discontinued; others, like the Peace Race (which ran through Poland and the former Czechoslovakia and German Democratic Republic), held on for some years but finally succumbed to the difficulties of finding funds after state sponsorship disappeared.

Somehow La Vuelta de Cuba was revived in 2000.  It was held every year until 2010.  In all, the race was held 35 times.  (There was no race in 1970, 1975 or 1982.)  Sergio Martinez's four victories were exceeded only by the six Eduardo Alonso attained, in 1984 and every year from 1986 through 1990.


22 April 2015

When The Sun Was Rising On The Bike Boom

Yesterday I talked about something people younger than "a certain age" probably wouldn't have known:  Cannondale's pre-bikemaking history (1971-1982).

Now I'm going to mention something else us oldsters (some of whom ride roadsters) will remember:  a time when Japanese goods were considered inferior to everything else on the market.  Bike parts, particularly derailleurs, from the Land of the Rising Sun were starting to gain respectability right around the time the 1970s North American Bike Boom was exploding; the bikes would soon follow.

I'm giving you this capsule history because I recently acquired a new-old-stock part from that period.  Although there's nothing exceptional about it, it's interesting and, I believe, good.

I knew I'd had one of an "endangered species" when I saw the packaging:  It looked as if no one had touched it in forty years.  More to the point, it bore signs of an earlier time:

In the days before Shimano came out with its Crane derailleurs and the Dura-Ace gruppo of which it would become a part, nearly all of its parts bore the "wings" "lifting" the "333" logo.  After Dura-Ace and Titlist (the forerunner of 600 and Ultegra) came to market, only Shimano's internally-geared three-speed hubs bore that emblem.  On that basis alone, one could date this hub from 1973 or earlier.

I have tried to show the logo engraved in the hub body and what appears to be a date code:

The letters are "R" and "U".  In every explanation of Shimano's code I've seen, the first letter is the month and the second letter is the year.  The month code goes from "A" to "L", with "A" being January and "L" being December.  The year code starts with "A" in 1976, goes through "Z" (2001) and begins again with "A" in 2002.  

One site suggests that Shimano was using this sequence before 1976 or, at least, that "Y" could be 1974 and "Z", 1975.  If that is the case, the "U" on my hub might mean that it was made in 1970.  But what about the "R"?  Could there have been another code in use for the month?  

Or might those letters mean something else--or nothing at all?

Whatever the case, it's pretty reasonable, I believe, to assume this hub was made before 1973, perhaps even during the late 1960s.  Here's another piece of evidence--which you may have noticed in another photo--that, I believe, supports my hypothesis.



21 April 2015

Before They Made Bikes: Cannondale

There are a few bike brands that even non-cyclists can name.  Here in the US, Schwinn is one of them.  Others include Raleigh, Peugeot, Motobecane and Fuji.  

Cannondale might also be included in that list.  I think they gained notice with the general public because when their bicycles were first introduced in 1983, they looked very different from the others.  While Klein may have been the first to make aluminum frames from large-diameter tubing, Cannondale made them a mass-market (relatively speaking, anyway) item.  To this day, those frames are the first thing most people associate with the name "Cannondale".

What most people, especially those younger than--ahem--a certain age, don't realize is that Cannondale was in business for more than a decade before they built their first bicycle.  Furthermore, even though the first product they ever made was bicycle-related, their early reputation was established as much on non-bike equipment as on accessories for two-wheelers.

In the late 1960's, Joe Montgomery was a self-described "grunt" on Wall Street.  The experience, he later related, taught him how businesses work.  Always an avid outdoorsman, he saw a growing enthusiasm for hiking, camping and related activities--and foresaw the North American Bike Boom.  He knew he wanted to build bikes but didn't have the necessary capital.  So, when he started Cannondale (and named it, as nearly everyone knows by now, after a Connecticut train station) in 1971, he knew he had to develop and market a product that would distinguish his new enterprise as well as help him raise the money he'd need to build bikes.

Thus was the world's first bicycle-towed trailer--the Bugger--born.  One funny thing about it was that it predated, if unwittingly, the luggage that people roll through airport lobbies all over the world.  That's because the Bugger was, in essence, a big backpack on wheels.  Since it was mounted on an angle, it transferred all of the weight carried in it to its tires and didn't add to the weight of the bicycle.  I never owned one, but had opportunities to ride with one.  While it increased the turning radius, it didn't affect other aspects of the ride nearly as much as I expected.

The original Cannondale Bugger, 1972.

Sales took off and in spite (or, perhaps, because) of the connotations of its name, it sold well in the UK.  That allowed the new company to create other products for which they would be known.  They included panniers and handlebar bags with innovative designs and sturdy construction.  

Within a couple of years, Cannondale was also making backpacks, sleeping bags, parkas, and other items for camping, hiking, snowshoeing and other outdoor sports.  LL Bean sold them through their catalogue; one was as likely to find Cannondale products in ski shops as in bike shops. 

The "Trackwalker" is on the left.  Mine was black, with tan leather and red tabs.

During that time, I used several Cannondale products, in part because the shops in which I worked (as well as American Youth Hostels, where I also worked) carried them.  For at least a decade, my "Trackwalker" backpack was my go-to bag when I was off the bike--and sometimes on it.  With its black body, tan leather bottom and red "spider" zipper tabs, it had a very distinctive look.  Also, I wore one of their parkas through a number of seasons.  They, like their bike bags (I used one of their handlebar bags and seat bags on my first few bike tours) were well-constructed and practical.  

But my favorite Cannondale product of all time (Remember, I owned and rode two of their bicycles) was the glove they made--by hand, in Pennsylvania--during the 1980's.  I don't think I've come across another sport glove--or, for that matter, any glove--made from such high-quality materials and with such good workmanship.  It was like a Brooks saddle:  stiff at first, but once broken in, a perfect fit that would last for many years.  I wore mine until the crochet backings deteriorated--a long, long time after I first started wearing the gloves.

The best glove ever made--by far!

I wish I could find a pair of them--or something as good--now.  Back then, a pair of those gloves retailed for $25-30, which, it seems,  is what a "good" pair of gloves costs now. 

 I'm guessing that Cannondale couldn't continue to make them in Pennsylvania--or anywhere in the US--without raising the price significantly.  So production of those gloves was sent overseas.  Later, that of their bike apparel and accessories and, finally, their bikes followed.  Around the time Cannondale introduced their bicycles, they stopped making and selling backpacks, parkas and other non-bike-related gear.

(If you want to learn more about what Cannondale was doing before they started building bikes, check out this site.)

20 April 2015

Suspension Of DIsbelief

About fifteen years ago, I saw a classic Cinelli track bike with a floral basket attached to the handlebars.  I'd never seen such an arrangement before, and I complemented its rider, a young woman with hair in hues that weren't offered even in DuPont Imron.  She grinned, as if I'd gotten some sort of joke.

Now I see all like manner of baskets--including porteur-styled ones--as well as racks and bags on fixed gear bikes.  Granted, those bikes aren't classic Cinellis or classic anything else.  But they are fixed-gear bikes nonetheless, even if they'll never get near a velodrome.  So it's still a little odd, at least for me, to see them so rigged up.

This one, though, takes the genre of the fixed-gear city transporter to new heights:

Or, more precisely, it takes rear baskets to new heights, literally.  Perhaps it redefines "suspension" on a bicycle.


19 April 2015

Same Ride, Different Day--By Choice

Have you ever done the same ride two days in a row?

Back in my racing days, I sometimes did.  Ditto for the early part of my post-racing life, when I was still pretty young and training for…what, I didn’t know.  But, most of the time, I managed to find a different route every day for the hour or two or three I’d ride before or after work.

It’s rare, though, that I’ll follow the same itinerary two days in a row when I’m riding simply for pleasure.  Today was one of those unusual occasions:  I rode to Point Lookout again.

The sun shone as brightly as it did yesterday.  However, the wind blew harder and the temperature barely made it to 15C (60F) in my neighborhood, in contrast to yesterday’s 27C (80F).  That meant that though the temperature dropped considerably as I rode over the Cross Bay Bridge to the Rockaways, the contrast wasn’t as extreme as it was yesterday.

In addition to being stiffer, the wind blew almost directly from the south-south-east.  Yesterday, it came more directly from the southeast.  So, while I had headwinds, then sidewinds followed by more headwinds on yesterday’s ride, I pedaled into headwinds all the way from my apartment to Point Lookout.  On the other hand, I had a nearly perfect tailwind all the way home.  

One other difference: I rode Arielle, my Mercian Audax, for the first time this year.  I don’t know whether it was because I was so happy to ride her again, but the ride felt even smoother than I recall from earlier seasons.  Best of all, my ride out was faster than I thought it would be and I felt as if I were flying home.

Plus, if I do say so myself, she’s never been prettier.  Arielle always gets compliments; they seemed more common today.  Interestingly, of all of my bikes, it seems that Arielle and Vera (my green Miss Mercian mixte) get the most compliments for their looks.

Another reason why I was happy to be riding Arielle is that the gears sure came in handy when I was pedaling into that wind.  On my way home, I never shifted to anything larger than my third-smallest rear cog (on a nine-speed cassette) and I stayed in my large chainring throughout the ride.

So…I did 100K rides on consecutive days.  I guess that’s not bad considering how little riding I during the past winter, which seemed to end only when I went to Florida the week before last.