30 September 2015

The CPSC Is Recalling 1.5 Million Bicycles Because....

All right.  I'm going to begin today's post with another "Which is worse?" question.  The difference is, this "Which is worse" question will have three choices.

Here goes...

Which is worse: 
  • a technical "innovation" that's superfluous,
  • someone who doesn't know to use it safely, or 
  • some government bureaucrat who doesn't know the difference?

That question entered my mind when I learned of a recall involving bicycles from thirteen different manufacturers.  

The 1.5 million bikes in question have front disc brakes.   As "The Retrogrouch" and others have said, very few cyclists actually benefit from, let alone need,  disc brakes.  

To be fair, I will point out that, although the recall was announced as one involving "bicycles with front disc brakes", the brakes themselves were not the problem.

So why the recall?, you ask. 

According to the US Consumer Products Safety Commission, which ordered the recall, when the bicycle is ridden with the quick-release lever in the fully-open position, the lever is only 6mm (or, as the CPSC notes, the width of a number 2 pencil) between the lever and the brake rotor.   

I'll run that by you again:  If you ride one of those bikes with the front wheel's quick-release lever fully opened, the lever is too close to the brake rotor.

Now, if you're going to ride a bike with quick release levers, you should know how to open and close them, and you should know enough not to ride with them open.  Forget about whether you have disc brakes: If your quick release is open, your wheel can slide or fall out from under you when you turn or hit a bump.  Or the lever can get snagged in your spokes--or, if you have a disc brake, on the rotor.

That last scenario is what prompted the recall.  Three incidents of it were reported to the CPSC.  When the lever came into contact with the rotor, the wheel came to a sudden stop or fell out of the bicycle.  One of those incidents resulted in injury.

So, because someone who doesn't know how to use a quick release got hurt, 1.5 million bicycles are being recalled.   That's good, sound judgment from the CPSC, isn't it?

Here's how you can tell if your bike is part of the recall:


29 September 2015

Allen Brumm: A Cyclist Follows The Law And Is Blamed For His Own Death

Which is worse:  An ill-conceived law-- or a law enforcement official who is ignorant of, or misinterprets, a law?

The death of Allen Brumm seems to beg such a question.

The 57-year-old California cyclist was riding in a time trial when he was struck head-on by an oncoming motorist.

California Vehicle Code 21751 mandates the following:

Passing Without Sufficient Clearance 21751. On a two-lane highway, no vehicle shall be driven to the left side of the center of the roadway in overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction unless the left side is clearly visible and free of oncoming traffic for a sufficient distance ahead to permit such overtaking and passing to be completely made without interfering with the safe operation of any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction. 

Now, I'm not a lawyer. But it seems to me that the key clause in that passage is "unless the left side is clearly visible and free of oncoming traffic for a sufficient distance ahead".  In other words, if you're driving, you're not supposed to pass unless the left lane is clear for as much distance as you need to pass.

The 35-year-old-driver had pulled to her left to pass another cyclist on County Road 19 in a rural area of Yolo County, west of Sacramento. Mr. Brumm was riding in the oncoming lane.

This is a Google Streetview of a section of CR 19 near the crash site.  As you can see, there was nothing to obstruct her view almost clear to the horizon.  

California Highway Patrol Sergeant Andy Hill, in describing the accident, said "both parties" contributed to the collision.  He did not specify the driver's culpability, but said that Mr. Brumm's fault lay in his riding "as far to the right" as possible.

This is what the Golden State's Vehicle code specifies:

Operation on Roadway 21202. (a) Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway…. 

 Again, take my reading of this, as a non-barrister, as you will.  But it seems to me that the key part of this statute--as it pertains to the accident in question--is "shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway.

The last time I checked, "practicable" does not mean quite the same thing as "possible".  Were Tour de France riders to descend any Alpine road as far to the right as "possible", there wouldn't be enough riders left to continue the Tour de France!  Even the most skilled rider would have a hard time not falling off a virage were he or she to ride as far to the right as possible.

On such roads, riding as far to the right as possible could mean riding on rocks or on the edge of a cliff.  In other situations, it could mean riding on ice or on a soft shoulder that would act as quicksand under a bicycle tire tread.

That last scenario is--from what I've read--what Mr. Brumm encountered.  Riding as far to the right as possible would have meant not riding at all.  So he rode as far to the right as was practicable in that situation.

Once, on a ride in Pennsylvania, I got into an argument with an officer about that very point.  The Keystone State, like many others, has (or had, at that time) language similar to CVC 21202 in its laws.  To the right of the roadway on which I was riding was the muddy bank of a stream, which would have been all but impossible to ride on the road bike I was pedaling.  That road was similar to the one on which Mr. Brumm died--a two-lane county road in a semi-rural area.

I explained to the policeman--who, I believe, was not a cyclist--the near-impossiblity of riding "as far to the right as possible".  He said, "Well, maybe you shouldn't be riding this road."  I think he knew that I didn't live in the area and, to his credit, suggested another nearby road, which I rode back to the bridge in Uhlerstown.

And, of course, I rode as far to the right as was practicable into New Jersey.  Poor Allen Brumm did the same in California and is being blamed for his death.

My sincere condolences to his friends and family.

28 September 2015

Saluting An Early Morning Fog

This morning, on my way to work, I pedaled into a horizon of light, high fog.

The air was still pleasantly cool and, surprisingly, didn't seem very humid.  At least, I was pedaling at a vigorous, if not furious, pace because I could, and I wasn't sweating.

Perhaps it had to do with the stillness of everything around me.  They say this city never sleeps.  Well, sometimes I'm out before people--and machines--have awakened:

Or are they saluting the skyscrapers, veiled in mist on the other side of the river ?

Oh, it's such a treat to ride my bike to work!

27 September 2015

Less Stressful Than The Greenway


Yesterday, after co-leading a workshop in the Bronx, I had an errand in Chelsea. The ride, about sixteen kilometers, would have taken me across the 145th Street Bridge and up a couple of short but fairly steep climbs in the Sugar Hill and Strivers' Row sections of Harlem.  Then I would descend, probably at 129th or 125th Street (Believe it or not, they intersect in the far western section of Harlem!), under the IRT Viaduct to the Hudson River Greenway, which I would have ridden down to 18th Street.

I followed the itinerary I've outlined up to the hill climbs.  Yes, I did pedal up them, and felt invigorated on a mild autumn afternoon, but decided to ride down the "Valley"--Manhattan Avenue--from 125th to 110th Street before turning toward the river and Greenway.

At 110th, I took a quick left on Riverside Terrace and rode (the wrong way, but there was no traffic) a block, where I crossed Riverside Drive and entered Riverside Park and, finally, the Greenway.

Hudson River Greenway

I shouldn't have been surprised that so many people were cycling, running, strolling,skateboarding, rollerblading, riding Segways, walking themselves and their dogs and stopping to kiss their loved ones along the Greenway on such a beautiful Saturday.  And, really, I can't begrudge any of them:  Only a mole wouldn't want to be outdoors, by the river, on a day like yesterday.

But some of the strollers, skateboarders and others were--not surprisingly--texting.  Actually, a few looked as if they were playing video games or doing other things that required them to interact only with their electronic devices.  Perhaps it's because I came of age in an era of high crime and was victimized a couple of times---or, maybe, because I grew up without the electronic devices--I still can't understand how people can walk, skateboard or whatever and text at the same time.  I simply can't divide my attentions in that way and--again, this may be a result of having lived through the age of "Fort Apache, The South Bronx"--I feel that I must remain aware of my surroundings.  
Only the cyclists and runners seemed to be going about their way without electronic distractions.  

To be fair, most people moved aside when they heard me. A couple of knuckleheads wouldn't get out of my way even after I rang my bell and shouted, and they seemed to make a point of making it impossible to maneuver around them.  

After dodging and weaving for a few minutes, I exited the Greenway at 96th Street and started riding down Riverside Drive.  I pedaled all the way to its southern end, at 72nd Street, without seeing a single driver of a car, bus or other motor vehicle.  In fact, the only vehicles I saw were parked along the side of the drive.

Then, after turning left on 72nd and right on West End Avenue, I encountered another major thoroughfare that was all but traffic-free.  To my knowledge, neither WEA or RD was closed to traffic.  Nor was 11th Avenue, which is what WEA becomes south of 59th Street.  There, I played tag with a few cars and a couple of buses--probably going to some event or another at the Javits Center--but stopped only once--at 34th Street, one of the busiest streets in Manhattan--on my way to 18th and 9th Avenue.

I still can't get over the irony of it all:  Riding the streets from 96th to 18th was actually relaxing--almost bucolic, really--in comparison to the Greenway.

26 September 2015

SunTour's Achilles Heel

We all have heard of the "Achilles heel":  a weakness that causes the downfall of an otherwise strong person or thing.

We have all heard--probably from a junior high school teacher--the origin of the phrase:  After giving birth to Achilles, his mother Thetis tried to make him immortal by dipping him into the River Styx.  As she dipped him, she held him by his heel--which, of course, remained untouched by the magical waters.

Until I read the Iliad for myself, I--like most people--assumed the original myth about Achilles said that his weak spot was his heel.  However, the Iliad identifies his weakness as his pride; the first story to say that his weakness was in a part of his body was Ovid's Metamorphoses, published more than a millenium after the Iliad.  Roughly half a century after that,the Roman poet Statius was the first to imply that it was his heel.

Practitioners of traditional medicine all over the world have said that pride, as well as other emotions such as anger, manifest themselves in the body.  Perhaps, then, it's not a stretch to say that organizational pride or overreach can become the "Achilles heels", if you will, in the products they make. 

Image result for SunTour VGT derailleur
SunTour VGT-Luxe rear derailleur,  circa 1973

Such was the case with a bicycle part from a company that had enjoyed enormous success for two decades.  From the time SunTour introduced the slant-parallelogram rear derailleur in 1964, it took both the original-equipment and replacement-parts market by storm; by the end of the 1970s, the traditional European derailleur manufacturers commanded only small niches of the bicycle market.

But there were clouds on the horizon for SunTour.  For one, its patent on the slant parallelogram would expire in 1984.  Other derailleur manufacturers were waiting with bated breath; practically the minute the patent expired, Shimano would incorporate SunTour's design into its SIS derailleurs. Campagnolo would follow suit when it developed its first intergrated indexed shifting system.  

Image result for Huret Duopar
Huret Duopar rear derailleur, circa 1981

Another sign of trouble preceded the end of its slant-parallelogram patent:  Huret's introduction of the Duopar rear derailleur.  Frank Berto, who had so lavishly (though not unjustly) praised SunTour derailleurs for the better part of a decade, pronounced the Duopar as the best wide-range touring derailleur available.  The majority of SunTour's market in the 1970s and early 1980s was bicycle tourists and other cyclists who wanted and needed wide-range gearing.  The Duopar represented the first viable threat to SunTour since its first GT derailleurs were introduced during the late 1960s.

There was, at least, a silver lining in the Duopar cloud:  Huret's new wide-range touring derailleur indeed shifted flawlessly over the widest gearing available at the time--at least, when it was new.  But its double-parallelogram (hence the name Duopar) design necessitated more robust materials and construction than Huret offered.  So, it would rather quickly develop play and slop in the joints, especially if it was ridden in rain and mud, and would typically last about 2500-3000 kilometers.  

SunTour wanted to re-establish itself as the go-to derailleur company for dedicated bicycle tourists.  While the Duopar shifted better--when new--than any other wide-range derailleur, it wasn't that much better.  Apparently, the designers at SunTour figured they could develop a derailleur that would out-shift and out-last--and, by the way, look more elegant than--the Duopar.

The folks at SunTour, I imagine, also must have been thinking that such a derailleur would take the then-nascent world of mountain biking by storm:  the Duopar was simply too fragile, and the derailleurs Shimano made at that time didn't shift nearly as well.

SunTour Superbe Tech, 1983

So, in 1983 SunTour came out with the Superbe Tech rear derailleur.  Like the Duopar, it had a double pivoting system.  The difference was that, instead of a second set of pivoting  parallelograms attached to the main one (as the Duopar had), the Superbe Tech featured a spring inside the upper pulley wheel.  That meant, of course, that the pulley wheel had a much larger "drum" than the upper pulley of any other derailleur and was therefore not interchangeable even with the pulleys of other SunTour derailleurs.  

But its sizing isn't the only thing that made it an "Achilles heel."  The spring was not adequately protected from dirt, mud, rain or anything else one might encounter. So the spring and pulley drum would become clogged, which in (relatively short) time would cause the pulley wheel to seize, and the spring to fail.  Even the most dedicated shop mechanics couldn't fix it--or the fully-enclosed main parallelogram, which had even more complicated internals. 

click to enlarge
The spring-loaded pulley wheel helped to make the Superbe Tech the best-shifting derailleur available--when it was new.  But, after some use, the pulley wheel  would seize up and turn the derailleur into a paperweight.  

In trying to defend itself against an onslaught from its competitors, SunTour created a derailleur with a sophisticated design and elegant appearance that indeed shifted better (in part, because it eliminated the need for cable housing) than any other derailleur--when it was new. However, just as Thetis didn't think to dip her son a second time to ensure that his heel would be soaked with Stygian water, the folks at SunTour apparently didn't go back and correct the weakness inherent in their new design.  So, in trying to protect themselves from the threats imposed by Huret and, later, Shimano, they made themselves vulnerable in a seemingly-small area.  

While the Superbe Tech's flawed pulley wheel did not, by itself, cause the demise of SunTour, many in the world of cycling believe it was where SunTour suffered its first debilitating wound. 

25 September 2015

Pedaling Into The Wind--And Understanding Vincent?

On Sunday, I felt I had done a Fall ride, even thought the season hadn't "officially" arrived and the temperature felt more like early summer.  But the signs of the season were there, including fallen leaves on a trail.  And the wind into which I pedaled on my way up to Connecticut had an autumnal tinge to it.

Today, I rode into an even stiffer wind out to Point Lookout.  At least when I rode to Connecticut, I was pedaling Arielle, my Mercian Audax, and could shift gears.  On the other hand, I had to push my way through an even stiffer wind on on a fixed gear:  I chose to ride Tosca, my Mercian fixed-gear, because the route is flat and, well, I felt like riding a fixed gear.

When I got to Point Lookout, I saw this

and thought, "I pedaled into that?!!"

I could feel the effort in my legs, but they didn't ache and I wasn't tired.  I just needed a little nourishment and hydration.  Best of all, I felt I was experiencing an elemental, intimate truth through my senses, as if an old wound had turned into a pore, an ear, an eye.

The wind seemed to be a form of light.  And that light was a motion, the "motion" part of "emotion":  a life force that illuminated and moved everything in a dance of the sprit--which I don't mean in a religious way.

Visions of Vincent Van Gogh's "Starry Night", "Irises" and "Mountainous Landscape behind Saint-Remy" flashed through my mind.  Of course, there is some visual connection between what I saw today and what Van Gogh painted from his asylum room.  However, I soon realized why I was thinking of Van Gogh, and those paintings in particular:  They, more than any others I've seen, render those transformations and transmutations of light, wind, motion, emotion and the life force I was seeing in Point Lookout.

I then realized that my favorite visual artists do exactly that, each in his or her own way:  The forces of nature and the forces of the human spirit--in other words, the very forces of life itself--become, not only manifestations or expressions of each other; they become each other and they seem to emerge from the canvas, paint, stosne, bronze or whatever the artist used.  

Now, you might think all of this is just hallucinatory rubbish resulting from an overflow of endorphins after riding into a 40-50 KPH wind.  If it is, well, what can I say?  It was still worth it.  The ride, I mean.

24 September 2015

Riding To Eat, Eating To Ride

It's been said that there are basically two types of people:  those who eat to live and those who live to eat.

I think you can substitute the word "ride" for "live" and describe a lot, if not most, cyclists.  If you think I'm in the "ride to eat" category, I wouldn't argue with you!

The ride I did today proved it.  Now, we have all sorts of wonderful places to have breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks or anything else you can think of here in New York--and, for that matter, in my own neighborhood. But today I rode about 70 kilometers each way, and crossed a state line, to go and eat in a specific place.

Why?, you may ask.  Well, the place where I had my late lunch/early dinner is something we don't have--at least, to my knowledge, in Queens or anywhere else in New York City.  

You may be wondering what sort of restaurant New York wouldn't have.  Think about a Maine lobster shack.  It makes sense that we wouldn't have them here because we don't have lobsters in our local waters.  For that matter, I don't think any stretch of shoreline within 400 kilometers of New York has them.  

So...Imagine the lobster shack without the lobsters.  I know that sounds contradictory. So let me clarify:  The spirit, the essence of the lobster shack.  In other words, a place that serves up fresh seafood, without fuss or pretense:  what fishermen and their families might cook for themselves, and each other.

The place I'm talking about also sells fresh, uncooked seafood.  Some--like shrimps--don't come from anywhere near these shores.  But other things in the shop come from about 30 kilometers, or more, out to sea from the shop.

That place is the Keyport Fishery in New Jersey.  When I was in high school, my mother used to buy fresh fish from them every couple of weeks or so.  It's probably the reason why my siblings and I grew up liking seafood:  The stuff we ate was always fresh.  One of the best meals we ate every year was a traditional Italian Christmas Eve feast consisting of calmari, scungilli and other marine delicacies.  The fish my mother and grandmother cooked came, of course, from the Keyport Fishery.

Every once in a while, I get a craving for one of their platters or sandwiches.  Today was one of those occasions.  So I rode down to Keyport, via back roads, and opened the door to a shop and kitchen that's hardly changed in four decades.  

I went with a flounder platter.  Three large filets are lightly battered and fried, and served with KF's homemade cole slaw--yes, it tastes home made; it's not drowining in mayonnaise--and Freedom Fries.

Yes, they call them Freedom Fries.  Of course, they weren't calling them that when I was young.  But, apparently, they started calling them Freedom Fries, as so many other places did, during the Iraq War, when France wouldn't commit their troops to the effort.  One of the sons of the family who owns KF served, as a Marine, in the war.  And the family includes others who've been Marines in other wars.  So I guess I can understand why they never bothered to change the name back.  

After eating that moist, flaky flounder and savory coleslaw, I can forgive that. The fries were good, too!  

23 September 2015

Cycling In Autumn--Or Fall?

So...Is today the first day of "fall"?  Or is it the first day of "autumn"?

Whichever word you choose, it's the season that began this morning in this part of the world (i.e., the Northern Hemisphere). Most people use "Fall" most of the time.  I do, too, at least when I'm speaking.  Using "autumn" in most everyday speech sounds affected or like a translation from another language.  At least, that's how most English-speakers hear it, I think.

But each of those words has its purpose and flavor.  "Fall" is both visual and visceral:  You can picture leaves dropping from branches and feel the descent from the fulsomeness of summer.  "Autumn", on the other hand, has more of a melancholy feel to it:  You can hear the echo of sadness being born, of an ache that is just beginning to pulse.  "Fall" is what happens in parables and allegories; "autumn" is what reverberates through poems from poets as diverse as John Keats, Stephane Mallarme, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson and Edgar Allan Poe.

From Wheelsuckers (UK)

Today I discovered a very good reason why cyclists should say "autumn" instead of "fall". It's not that we need polysyllables to make ourselves look smart.  Rather, if you Google "cycling autumn", you will see images of people riding bikes along paths and roads ablaze with trees that have turned from green into the colors of the setting sun, as well as links to websites with information about rides in places like Vermont, where people are riding (or will soon ride) along those paths and roads.  You will also find advice on what to wear and eat, and reasons why cycling in autumn is so "awesome".  (The assonance of "autumn" and "awesome" alone is reason to ride this season!)

From Cycling across America

On the other hand, if you Google "cycling fall", you'll find some of those same images and websites. But you'll also see pictures of riders tumbling off their bikes and "worst bike crashes" videos.  You'll also find articles on how to prevent falls and the things that can happen to you if you do happen to take a spill while on two wheels.

Now you tell me:  Are you cycling in autumn, or fall?


22 September 2015

The Forgotten Brooks Saddle.

Mention "Brooks saddles" to most cyclists, and the first model that comes to their minds is likely to be either the B17 or the Professional.  The former, as Brooks proudly states in its catalogues, has been in continuous production--almost unchanged--since 1898.  Very few bicycle products--indeed, very few products other than, say, foods made by secret family recipes-- have been made for longer.  A narrower version appeared after World War I and has been in production ever since. The Professional evolved from the B17 during the 1960s.

Other familiar models from the venerable saddle-maker include the B66, a sprung, double-railed model made since 1927, and the B67, which is a B66 made to fit modern seatposts with integrated clamps.  (The B66 comes with its own clamp, which fits only on plain-tube seat posts.) Similar in size and shape to the B66 and B67, the B72 replaces the straight rails and coiled springs of the "sister" models with rails that loop at the rear.  The B72--the saddle that came with many English three-speeds--offers a somewhat cushier ride than a B17 but not quite as boingy as the B66 or B67.

Other Brooks saddles have remained in production for decades and have loyal followings.  They include the Swallow and Swift.  The latter looks like a refinement of the narrow version of the B17, while the Swallow, with its cut-away sides, can be seen as a minimalist version of the Professional.  It was popular with track riders until lighter saddles with plastic bases were developed during the 1960's.

Then there are the super-heavy duty saddles one still sees on utility bikes all over the world.  An example is the B33, with its triple rails, rear coiled springs and front coils.  If you are installing one on your bike, just be careful not to drop it on your foot or your cycling season might be cut short!

Anyway, other Brooks models have been produced for a long time--or have been reintroduced-- and have their loyal riders.  Examples include the Flyer, introduced in 1927, and the stylish Colt--which, as the Brooks website slyly notes, was " first produced in 1979" but "discontinued amidst mysterious circumstances a few years ago".  Mysterious circumstances?  Hmm...was it "disappeared" by the MI6 during a covert operation in the Middle East?

Today, as I was browsing eBay, I came across a "forgotten" Brooks saddle:  the B68.

Image result for Brooks B68
Brooks B68

I couldn't find information about its production history.  But I know that it had a leather top of the same dimensions as the B66, B67 and B72.  However, it did not have the coiled springs of the B66 or B67, or the looped rail of the B72.  Instead, it had the straight rails found on the B17, Professional and other road saddles.

Image result for Brooks B68
Brooks 68, side view

That last attribute might be the reason why it was discontinued.  From what I've noticed,  most cyclists who want wide saddles like the B66, 67 or 72 want springs or some other kind of shock absorption.  And those who want cushy saddles aren't likely to look at any stretched-leather saddle.  On the other hand, if you ride a B17 or Professional (I ride bikes with both)--let alone a Swift or Swallow--you would probably find the B68 too wide.
That left the B68 with a market that's, at most, a niche:  People who ride in an upright position but don't want or need anything to soften the blows meted out by broken pavement and rocky trails.  Interestingly enough, it might have been a good saddle for fat-tire bikes.  With so much rubber between the bike and the road or trail, it's hard to imagine that a rider would need any additional cushioning from a saddle or any other part of the bike.  I could also imagine a B68 on a bike like the Surly Long Haul Trucker, particularly if it is set up with handlebars like the Nitto Bosco or the Velo Orange Left Bank.

I can recall having seen only a couple of B68 saddles.  But, from what I've read, the relative few who rode them loved them.  Perhaps Brooks will hear from those riders and the B68 will no longer be the "forgotten" Brooks saddle.

21 September 2015

Don't Try This With Your Car

As I've mentioned in other posts, the bicycle is the progenitor of the automobile and the airplane.  It's no coincidence that the earliest inventors and innovators in the automotive and aviation worlds were bicycle mechanics, designers or makers.  After all, almost everything--including pneumatic tires and ball bearings-- that has made the car faster than the horse and the airliner more viable as a transoceanic and transcontinental form of transport than the ship or the wagon had its origins on the bicycle. 

So, it's both strange and makes perfect sense that bicycles and cycling should be used to sell cars.  The practice seems to have become more common in recent years.  I don't watch much TV these days, but I have seen commercials in which a paceline snakes along a road that rims seaside cliffs--with, of course, the car approaching and passing.

But I haven't seen a commercial with freestyle BMXers in it.  This video takes us behind the scenes as such a commercial was made:

I must say that after watching Bike Parkour, I'm not sure I'd want to buy the car that's being advertised. After all, even the most nimble motor vehicles couldn't make the jumps, hops, turns and stops the Parkour riders make on their bikes with 20 inch wheels.  I mean, driving almost anything would seem boring after that!

And no one could navigate the streets of New York  in any motor vehicle the way Desmond Rhodes does on his bike:

Now, there's proof that you don't need a car in the Big Apple!

20 September 2015

More Signs (Of The Season, And Other Things)

The weather during the ride I took to Connecticut on Monday was a sign of Fall's impending arrival.  Today, during--you guessed it--another ride to Connecticut, I saw yet another sign the season will soon be upon us:

This trail, part of the East Coast Greenway, connects Pelham Bay Park, City Island and Orchard Beach with Westchester County.  Along the way, it passes by a horse riding academy, golf course and the shores of Long Island Sound before twisting its way through woodland that straddles the line between the upper Bronx and Pelham Manor.

Although the temperature was slightly higher (rising to 25C by mid-ride), it really didn't feel that way, in spite of the bright sunshine.  As I mentioned in my post about Monday's ride, the days are growing shorter, so the ground and buildings aren't absorbing as much heat as they did even two or three weeks ago. But, perhaps more important, the wind was even more brisk:  At times, it reached 40 KPH.  And, yes, I was pedaling into it on my way up.

The wind didn't deter these folks who were enjoying the light and vistas of Mamaroneck Harbor:

Back to the subject of signs:  When you ride, you see the kind I've mentioned as well as the ones posted on buildings.  I hope this isn't a sign of things to come:

All right:  The name of the bowling alley has nothing to do with firearms or survivalists.  Rather, it's located near the intersection of Gun Hill (great name, huh?) and Boston Post Roads in northern Bronx.  What amazes me is that the sign looks so pristine while keeping to the look of the 1950's or early 60's.  I don't believe it's anyone's attempt at self-conscious irony:  There are no hipsters in the neighborhood around it. (Most of the residents are Caribbean immigrants or their children; not long ago it was a blue-collar-to-middle-class Italian-American neighborhood.)  I think life throws enough irony at those people.

Seeing such a sign on an absolutely beautiful and bright day, as Fall knocks at our door, is plenty or irony for me.  I love it!

19 September 2015

A "Breaking Away" Reunion

I'm not a religious person.  Not really.  I was raised a Roman Catholic and was--OK, here's my most shocking confession to date--an Evangelical Christian for a time, when I was in college.

Then I didn't go to church for more than three decades. (I went into churches, mosques, synagogues and temples to look at art, hear music and attend weddings, funerals and all of those other things most of us attend under duress.  That's not the same as going to church!)  Finally, about two years ago, after someone's suggestion, I started attending church again for a time.  I got over that.  Now here I am again, without religion.

I mention my history of faith--or, more precisely, lack thereof--because I still believe in the concept of sin.  To me, the US invasion of Iraq is a sin.  So is any other form of genocide.  I would add slavery and any form of personal mendacity (though I am not without guilt!) to the list.

Oh, and here are two other sins, at least in my book:  remakes and sequels.  At least, that's what they are most of the time.  Thankfully, no one has been depraved enough to try to remake Citizen Kane, The Godfather (The Godfather, Part 2 is one notable exception to what I've said about sequels), Casablanca, La Grande Illusion or Ladri di Biciclette.

Or Breaking AwayAt least, no one has mentioned the "r" word.  If anyone had mentioned it, surely it would have been heard at the Interbike show this week, where Dennis Quaid, Dennis Christopher and Jackie Earle Hayley--three of the four "Cutters" from the movie--reunited.  Daniel Stern, who played the goofy, lanky Cyril, was the only one missing.

Dennis Christopher at Interbike, 17 September 2015. Photo by Jason Ogulnik, published in the Las Vegas Journal-Review.

Although Quaid became, arguably, the most famous of the quartet, Christopher's character--the wannabe Italian bicycle racer Dave Stoller--is the most memorable of the film.  I'd daresay he's one of the most memorable characters in all of filmdom.

One way you know that Breaking Away is, in its own way, a masterpiece is that it resonated even with people who've never had any desire to ride a bike.  Some have compared it to Rocky (which, I think, is a better movie than most highbrow critics are willing to admit), but I think it's both sweeter and more complex.  For one thing, there are so many subplots--about social class, generational conflicts and about youthful dreams vs. parents' aspirations for their children.  It also showed, interestingly, Dave's parents rekindling their sexual lives in late middle age.  That might be an even more radical thing to include in a film today than it was in 1979, when Breaking Away appeared in movie theatres.

Steve Tesich is the screenwriter who wove all of those elements into what I believe to be one of the best screenplays ever written. How many other screenwriters have written something that became both a film and a movie, appreciated by film critics and movie reviewers as well as general audiences?

He died in 1996, at the age of 53.  Anyone who tries to remake Breaking Away will incur his wrath. (As if I would know about that!)


18 September 2015

Andy Would Park Here: Tivoli On The Hudson

I think I've found Tivoli on the Hudson.  Or, at least, Tivoli on the East River.

It's not far from where I live.  In fact, I've gone there a number of times and passed by on other occasions.  There were always bicycles parked there, but never as many as I saw today:

That's just one bike rack on one side of MOMA/PS 1 in Long Island City, Queens.  (It's right across the Kosciuzcko Bridge from Greenpoint and Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  Are you surprised?)  Here's what the full contingent of parked bikes on the museum's north side looks like:

Directly across from PS 1, on 46th Road, is a fenced-in parking lot.  This is one side of the gate:

Here is the other:

I was impressed by the sheer variety of bikes.  Of course, the one I was happiest to see was this Cinelli:

It might not be a classic model.  But at least it's made from Columbus Spirit tubing in Italy:  It's not a new ersatz "Cinelli" that's poured out of a mold in China.

(I'm sorry I couldn't take a better photo with my cell phone, and without getting flattened by a truck!)

One of the strangest bikes had to be this:

In the mid-to-late 1970's, Raleigh's top-of-the-line racing bike was the "Team."  The bike in the photo is a "Team":  It's the "Team Record", a Record--then Raleigh's bottom-of-the-line "sport" ten-speed--painted in Team colors.

The frame was made of mild steel, as were most of the components.  However, someone fitted a carbon fiber fork and a Shimano aero wheel to the front.  And, of course, the bike was turned into a "fixie".

Somehow it makes perfect sense that it was parked near that Cinelli--and across the street from bikes with everything from Brooks saddles and hammered fenders to carbon fiber aero bars.  And it makes sense that they're all at PS 1.  If Andy Warhol rode a bike, that's probably where he would have parked it.

Would she have been the next Edie Sedgwick?:

17 September 2015

More Fruits Of The "Harvest", After Work

Today brought more of what we've had for the past couple of days--and what meteorologists are forecasting for the next couple of days:  summer warmth and early autumn light.

All right, they didn't forecast the light, except to tell us what time the sun will set.  But the sun is taking on an early twilight glow and, as I mentioned yesterday, I am seeing a few trees start their color changes.  It's quite lovely:  the first signs of autumn hues haven't yet brought the melancholy that comes later in the season (which, by the way, I often enjoy). 

Another day in the cusp of two seasons gave me another opportunity to relish my harvest, so to speak: I took an after-work ride to Coney Island.  While I enjoyed the ride, I did notice it more when I pedaled into the wind today than I did yesterday or on Monday, when I rode to Connecticut.  Perhaps it was a result of riding late in the day, after work.  Or it may have just been a matter of riding my  Schwinn LeTour instead of one of my Mercians.

Whatever the case, I had an easy ride back.  And it was interesting, to say the least, to see how much difference a week and a half makes on the number of people who go to the beach:

Some folks, like the ones in the photo, will go to the beach on any day the weather is remotely summer-like--and sometimes not-so-summery.  They are the ones who have decided it's still summer (which, of course, it still is--at least officially).  They are not like the ones who don't ever go to the beach after Labor Day or before Memorial Day, whatever the weather.

I guess we have equivalents to both kinds of people in the cycling world.  Some hang up their bikes as the days grow shorter, while others take any opportunity, at whatever time of year, to ride.

As for me, I will continue to enjoy the "harvest" for as long as I can--and continue to ride as long as the streets aren't covered with ice.

16 September 2015

The Harvest Begins

The other day felt autumnal.  It wasn't just the cool, crisp air or the fact that I was in Connecticut.  I couldn't pinpoint exactly why I felt the fall had begun, or was well on its way, but I think I now know why.

Today the temperature reached 31C (88F), but the day still seemed autumnal.  Granted, we didn't have the sauna-like humidity we had during an earlier heat wave. But there was something else.  At first I thought it was just a feeling, but I realize now it was as visual as it was visceral.

Before going to work, I managed to ride by the Concrete Plant Park along the Bronx River.  I could swear I saw the first tinges of yellow and orange in a few trees:

And, because there is less daylight every day than there was earlier in the summer, the sun isn't as intense, and the ground and buildings don't have as much time to absorb the heat. So, while the air temperature climbed over 30C, the heat didn't feel as oppressive as it did a few weeks ago.

There's one more signal of Fall, for me.  My rides, whether to Connecticut or the college, seem easier now.  That is one of the things I've always loved about cycling in September and October, at least in years when I've done a decent amount of riding:  I can climb hills in a gear or two higher than I did in, say, April or even June.  Also, on my ride the other day, I was pedaling into a 20-25 KPH wind most of the way to Connecticut and barely noticed it.

Since I have never farmed (and probably never will), the kind of cycling I've experienced this week is probably the closest I will come to a harvest:  I am enjoying the fruits of all of the pedaling I've done over the past few months.