31 May 2015

Comic Bikes

Geeky as I was, I was never much of a comic book fan, though many of my junior-high and high-school peers were.  However, they missed--by a decade or less--what many consider to be the "golden age" of animated magazines.

That period, it seems, began during the 1930's and continued until the early or mid 1960's. (Interestingly, that period is sometimes referred to as "the Golden Age of Radio".) Kids--boys, mostly--spent their allowance or money made from delivering newspapers or selling lemonade on cartoon-filled booklets that parents, teachers and other authority figures hoped the kids would "grow out of" in a hurry.

Around the same time, many a young lad saved his money for something that was much more socially acceptable--and which he "grew out of", usually without any prodding from said authority figures.

The thing typically lured a boy away from that second obsession was driver's permit.  As soon as he got it, the object of his former obsession was passed onto a younger sibling, tossed in the trash or left to rust in a basement or barn.

That object is, of course, a bicycle.  And many a boy's dream--at least here in the US--was a two-wheeler from Schwinn, which was sometimes referred to as "the Cadillac of bicycles." 

Not surprisingly, during the "golden age" of comic books, Schwinn very effectively used that medium to promote their products.  (They also used such publications as Boys' Life magazine, which every Boy Scout received.)  Not surprisingly, those magazines and comic books carried advertisements from the Chicago cycle colossus.  But more than a few had "product placements" not unlike the ones seen in movies or TV shows:  You know, where you can see--if only for a second--the Schwinn badge on the bike some character is riding.


Given everything I've just said, it shouldn't come as a shock to learn, as I recently did, that Schwinn issued its own comic book in 1949: the very middle of the Golden Age of comics.    Schwinn touted them as "educational", which indeed they were:  Included were segments about safe riding, locking up the bike and Alfred Letourner's speed record--accomplished, naturally, on an early Schwinn Paramount. 

Including Alfred Letourner's ride (and the bike he rode) exemplifies what I have long known about most "educational" publications:  They are teaching the consumer to buy a specific product, or to influence said consumer's parents to buy it for him or her.  And, indeed, most of what was in Schwinn's comic book--even the parts that showed the development of the bicycle during the century or so before Ignaz Schwinn started making bikes--had the purpose of showing that Schwinn bikes were at the top or end (depending on your metaphor of choice) of the evolutionary chain, in much the same way that the "history" we're taught as kids is meant to show us that all historical events were props that help to set the stage for our country's greatness--or, at least, the dominance of the group of people to whom the writers of the history belong. 


Still, I have to admit, I had fun looking at the Schwinn comic book.  Sure, it's schlocky, but it does offer a window into the almost-adolescent exuberance of the United States just after World War II.

30 May 2015

Another Misty Morning Starts Off, And Turns, Sunny

Got out nice and early today.  How early?  Well, it was so early that…

I didn’t know what the weather was, or would be during the first hour of my ride.

Usually, weather reports on the radio tell you what the current temperature and conditions are at some central stations.  And they tell you what will be at that station, and in a generalized area around it, for the rest of the day, and possibly for the next three days. 
When I left my place, it was a bit cooler and breezier than I expected.  I didn’t mind that, but I had to remind myself that even in the four or five kilometers between the Central Park weather station and my apartment, conditions can change.  

What that means, of course, is that the weather could be even more different as you go further away—especially if the terrain is different, there is greater or lesser density of buildings, or some other factor affects the speed and direction of the wind.

Although it was about 15C (60F) when I left my apartment—vs 17C (65F) at Central Park—it was as sunny here as the weather report said. However, when I pedaled over the Veterans Memorial Bridge, 27km (about 15 miles) from my place, this is what Rockaway Beach looked like from the Jamaica Bay side:

 The weather report didn’t mention the low-lying fog.  I wasn’t upset to see it; instead, I was looking forward to riding through it as droplets of the cool sea mist clung to my skin.  Best of all, that fog had spread itself all through the Rockaways, as far as I could see in either direction—left to Atlantic Beach, Long Beach and Point Lookout, right to Fort Tilden, Breezy Point and Brooklyn.

I turned right only because I rode to Point Lookout yesterday.   The ride did not disappoint:

Light like that makes me wish I were a painter!  As a cyclist, I let and fill and lift me.  At least, that’s how I feel when I allow it to direct my ride.  Arielle was game:

29 May 2015

I've Done It Before, But It Was Perfect Today

Today I felt truly privileged.  I had the day off, the day was all-but-perfect for riding and I had a choice of great bikes to ride.  I picked what I believe is the best of them and it felt absolutely perfect.

After the heat, haze, humidity and intermittent rain of the past couple of days, this one brought a nearly cloudless sky and just enough wind to give me a bit of a challenge on the way out and to make me feel as if I’d been flying on my way home. 

The funny thing was that I made almost exactly the same time in both directions.  To be fair, I took a slightly longer route home to avoid the traffic that was building when I was about an hour’s ride from my place.  And I stopped to pick up a platter from the King of Falafel and Shawarma.  Their food is always great but even better at the end of a ride.

Really, I couldn’t have planned this any better.  I rode Arielle, my custom Mercian Audax, with a wheel Hal Ruzal of Bicycle Habitat just built for me.  The ride was one I’ve done hundreds of times before—to Point Lookout and back.  Still, it felt cathartic, transformative and all sorts of other superlatives.  I feel like I’m no longer in the throes of my winter layoff.  In fact, this ride felt better, physically and emotionally, than any I’ve taken in a few years, at least.

I cried, laughed, let out shrieks, sang and had moments—perhaps long ones—of Zen-like calm.  I don’t know why this ride went as it did, but I am happy with it.  If I do say so myself, I know Arielle’s looking great.  And somehow I feel that I just felt more “right” on a bike than I have in a while. 

Have you ever taken a ride you’ve taken many times before but felt it, and you, transformed?

28 May 2015

A Golden Gate To A Jersey Joke

Because I've been around bicycles for ever and ever (OK, since the last Ice Age, at least) and because I have a vivid imagination, I can answer all sorts of "What's that?" inquiries.  Sometimes I find myself doing that for customers in bike shops even though I haven't worked in one in years.

But I have to admit that yesterday I saw something that stumped me.  I was in Bicycle Habitat--where I bought three of my four Mercians--and I saw a bike hanging from the ceiling. 

At first glance, I thought it was just another fixie with a weird paint job.  I saw the "Langster" name  and realized it was yet another iteration of what may be Specialized's best-selling bike, at least in certain urban neighborhoods.  

I didn't mind the color scheme, but the graphics were a bit much for my taste.  But I couldn't help but to notice another strange detail:

When I saw it, I thought of all of those bikes I see with the stubs or bases of water bottle cages, the cage having broken off.  Very often, I suspect, the person riding the bike has no idea of what that piece is, as he or she probably inherited the bike from someone or bought it on Craig's List or in a thrift store. The cage had probably broken off before the person bought or inherited it and the bike probably sat around for years, or even decades.

So I wondered why someone would buy a brand-new bike with a broken-off water bottle cage.  One shop employee explained what it is:

"It's a bottle opener," he explained, "shaped like the Golden Gate Bridge."

"Ohh, I see...", which of course I didn't.  

All right, I thought, I can understand that someone would feel the need to have a bottle opener on a bike. Such a person probably doesn't carry a keyring, much less a pocketknife or any other implement that would have a bottle opener on it. (If that person were really in the know, he or she would have a Maillard Helicomatic tool, whether or not he or she has a Maillard Helicomatic hub!)  After all, such things would not fit into the pockets of a hipster's too-tight jeans--and would poke holes in the pockets of a $200 jersey.

Maillard Helicomatic Tool.  The left side is the world's best bottle opener.

As I was making that completely pointless analysis to myself, the Habitat employee said something that really got me scratching my head:  The Golden Gate Bridge bottle opener, he explained "adds about $300 to the base price of the bike".

"And it's a $600 bike".

"Yes, it is. Believe it or not, we just sold one of those--yes, for $900--to a guy from Jersey." 

OK, I won't make any snide remarks about Snooki's home state--and not just because I lived there for ten years!

27 May 2015

Maintenance And Makeovers

I've been back to riding regularly, more or less, for nearly two months.  It feels really, really good:  I'm starting to overcome how little riding I did this winter, and my age.

It's a good thing I'm back in the saddle most days.  You see, being the old-time mechanic I am, when I'm not riding I work on my bikes.  Now, there's some maintenance I normally do during the winter:  I usually replace my cables and chains. Sometimes I install tires, brake pads, cogs and handlebar tape.  More rarely, I'll put on other new parts or accessories, depending on how badly they're worn.

But this past winter I went "above and beyond" what I needed to do.  You see, I changed the looks of my bikes a bit.  

Here is Arielle, my Mercian Audax, with her "makeover" that she didn't need, if I do say so myself:

After Ely of Ruth Works made those bags for me, I had a feeling that they would look even better with a Brooks honey saddle and handlebar tape.  I asked Ely; he encouraged me and assured me that (in his opinion, anyway), it would look fine with the paint, whether it was showing its purple or green side. (It's Mercian's #57 "flip flop" finish.) 

I was fortunate to find this slightly-ridden "pre-softened" Brooks Professional--with copper-plated rails--for $100.  Apparently, it was made during the time Sturmey-Archer owned Brooks. At least, the style of the nameplate on the rear (which I like a lot on this saddle) would indicate as much.

Tosca got a similar revamp, except that she got a current Brooks Professional.  Somehow I don't think it's that much, if at all, stiffer than the "pre-softened" saddle was when it came out of the box.

Somehow I get the feeling the bikes, the leather and canvas are going to grow old together nicely.  I could say the same for Vera, my green Miss Mercian mixte:

The saddle is a B17 and I used one roll of tape on the handlebars.   The front bag on this bike--and the British Racing Green paint--seemed to call out for the honey leather even more than my other bikes did.

And, no I didn't leave Helene--my other Miss Mercian--out.  I'll have some shots of her soon.

26 May 2015

A Ride For Sally

When we're young, it's difficult and even hurtful to learn that people we admired--whether celebrities or family members, teachers or others in our everyday lives--are, well, people.  We might find out that our favorite actor, writer, athlete, aunt or uncle did immoral or even illegal things.  Sometimes finding out the dark side of someone we took as a model for one aspect or another of our lives is painful even after we thought we'd "seen it all".

One celebrity about whom I never became disillusioned is Sally Ride.  In fact, I found myself admiring her even more as the years went by.  It seems that being the first American  woman in space was just one of many accomplishments in her life.  Few people have ever done more to encourage girls and young women to study math, science and technology--fields from which they were too often discouraged, dissuaded or even bullied out of studying or working.  

I think now of Sophie Germain, whose parents took away her clothes--and heat and light at night--in an attempt to stop her from studying mathematics, which was deemed inappropriate for a "proper" young lady.  I also think, in this vein, about 1977 Nobel Laureate Rosalyn Sussman Yalow, whose parents wanted her to get a college education but protested when she decided to study Physics on the grounds that "no man would want to marry" her.  

If Dr. Ride faced such opposition from her family or anyone else, she never let on.  In fact, she did not let on much about her personal life, including her relatively brief marriage to a man and her later, much longer partnership with a woman.  Most people did not know about those things until they read her obituary three years ago.

Whatever the circumstances of her life, she understood the difficulties young women and girls faced--and still face--in pursuing STEM careers.  So, she did everything she could to help them--and their teachers, who sometimes were not confident of their own abilities to encourage their students in those areas.

Here she is helping a student understand some of the principles of gyroscopic motion with--what else?--a bicycle wheel:

She would have been 64 years old today. If I could be in Northern Virginia two weeks from now and I were still racing, I'd take part in the Ride Sally Ride.

25 May 2015

Why I Didn't Spend A Day At The Races

Sometimes I start a ride with no particular destination or itinerary in mind.  Believe it or not, every multiday tour I have ever taken was such a ride.  I would buy a plane ticket to Paris or San Francisco or Rome or some other place and bring my bike, bike luggage and whatever I planned on carrying in the bike luggage with me.  Then, upon arriving at Charles de Gaulle or Fiumicino or SFO, I would decide to ride in one direction or another and decide on destinations—or, more precisely, a series of destinations—some time after checking into a hostel and looking at a Lonely Planet guide or a Michelin map.

It’s easier to do such things when you’re young—and male.  Although I never stopped riding altogether, save for a few months after my surgery, I don’t have nearly as much strength or endurance as I did when I was still living as a man.  Also, because of the circumstances of my life, I don’t have as much disposable income as I did as a male in my thirties. (It must also be said that I was in my thirties during the ‘90’s, when the dollar went so much further abroad as well as in its own country!)  But I sometimes go on day rides when without a set route, or even destination in mind.  It gives me, however briefly, the same sense of freedom I used to feel when embarking upon those multiday tours.

More often, though, I find that I start a ride with a destination or route in mind and find myself changing my mind when on the road.  Call me fickle if you will, but sometimes external factors—or a simple turn—can cause me to change my ride.  The latter is what happened to me today. 

I intended to ride to Somerville so I could see the races.  And I had a vision of riding home as the late-afternoon early summer sun descended the Watchung hills on my way back to the city.  That last vision came to pass, but for reasons I hadn’t planned.

For one thing, I started riding a few hours later than I intended.  I still could have made it to Somerville in time to see some of the later criteriums.  And, although I was pedaling into a wind blowing out of the west, from the hills I was ascending, I was still making fairly good time.  I was riding up more hills than I did on previous rides to Somerville because I took—part of me says unintentionally, but another part of me would claim or credit my subconscious—a slightly different, and unfamiliar, route.  In spite of my relative unfamiliarity with the route, I knew I was going in the right general direction.

Neighborhoods that haven’t quite recovered from riots nearly half a century ago gave way to suburbs and, finally, rather charming little towns with real old-time shopping strips and, in one town, an “opera house”.

Late in the 19th, and early in the 20th, centuries, nearly any town of any significance had an “opera house”.  Now, those places weren’t staging productions of Tosca or The Marriage of Figaro.  Rather, they showed musical plays or vaudeville acts.  When “moving pictures” came out, they were often shown in such halls.

Some of those “opera houses” were merely workmanlike or had a kind of sentimental charm.  But others were, if not masterpieces, at least interesting works of architecture.  Sadly, some were lost during “urban renewal” or other “development” schemes.  But others, like the one I’m showing in this post, were converted to everything from art galleries to concert spaces to restaurants.

My ride included that opera house as well as hills and meandering river valley.  Somehow I lost my incentive to see the races; it became very, very satisfying for me to ride through moments, light and the warmth of the sun on my skin. I didn’t see any place exotic.  Perhaps that will come again another day.  But for today, I was happy.  I didn’t take the ride I’d planned, but perhaps I took the one I needed.