31 December 2016

2016: It Never Ends

Now it is time to say "goodbye" to 2016.

A lot of people I know are glad to see this year end.  One reason is, of course, the Presidential election here in the US.   The day after the election, at the college in which I teach, a mournful, even funereal haze seemed to envelop the hallways and the surrounding neighborhood--which happens to be part of the poorest (of 435) Congressional District in the United States.  The atmosphere brought to mind the accounts I've read of the 1952 "Killer Fog" in London:  Students and faculty members, as well as people I saw shuffling along the Grand Concourse and 149th Street, seemed to have had the energy even to gasp for air sucked out of them.

But even Trump supporters (yes, I know a few of those!) seem happy to see this year end.  For one thing there were the deaths of great and merely famous people.  I haven't made a count, it does seem that more have left us during the past twelve months than in other years I can recall. Some, as sad as they were, weren't so surprising:  I'm thinking, for example of Elie Wiesel, who was an old (if still vibrant) man and Muhammad Ali, who had been deteriorating for decades.  But others, like Prince, George Michael and Carrie Fisher, took most of us by surprise.  Then there were the no-less-tragic deaths of people of whom we never would have heard save for the ways they died.  I am thinking, in particular, of Melissa Ann Fevig-Hughes, Suzanne Joan Sippel, Debra Bradley, Tony Nelson and Larry Paulik, all out for a late-day ride in Michigan when they were mowed down by an SUV driver who was charged with murder.

Also, even though many voted for Trump based on empty slogans and other rhetoric, misperceptions about what (if anything!) he actually represents or simply plain, flat-out lies they believed, they (at least the ones I know) are no less angry or disillusioned than they were before the election.  What I find interesting, and almost amusing, is that they sometimes talk about the "liberal" media lying to them about crime, immigration and other issues--and tell me (and probably others) that the "liberal" media disseminated lies and misinformation that, in fact, came from the lips of Trump or his troupe during the campaign.

Anyway, the election has come and gone.  So have some celebrated people.  But there was still much for which I am grateful and happy.  My work life has gone well.  I have been writing (apart from this blog!) and my students and I are moving forward (I believe) in my "day job".  As for my love life...Well, let's say I've had a semblance of it, without really trying.  I don't think I've met (or will meet) someone with whom I will spend the rest of my life.  But then again, I haven't been looking for anyone like that.

This year, though, has brought me reunions with a couple of old friends and the beginning of a reconciliation with an estranged relative.  And it--like the past couple of years--has brought me into contact with people, mainly through this blog, in other parts of the world.  Perhaps we will meet some day.

If we do, it might be on a bike ride.  Cycling, of course, has been one of the constants in my life for decades.  This year was no exception.  I did some rides I've done dozens, or even hundreds, of times before, and saw, heard, felt and thought what I couldn't have--or couldn't have even conceived--when I first started riding. I also did a couple of new rides I hope to do again and, of course, took a trip to Paris, where I spent many happy hours pedaling through valleys flanged by gray and beige stone building facades, and along pathways that cut through parks and line the canals.

Riding has been, this year and in others, not merely a means of escape or even transportation, although it has served those purposes.  It has, I now realize, taken on another interesting role in my life.  When I first became a dedicated cyclist, as a teenager in the 1970s, it was a kind of rebellion:  Other kids abandoned their Schwinn Varsities and Continentals, Raleigh Records and Grind Prixes and Peugeot U08s the moment they got their drivers' licences.  I continued to ride.  Then, in college, a lot of my fellow students rode their bikes to class or for errands, but not for any other purpose.  So, even though I wasn't consciously rebelling, I was seen as if I were--or, at least, as some sort of misfit (which I was, though in other ways).  

After college came a series of jobs and moves (including one to Paris).  I continued to ride, and the wind and vistas--whether of wide boulevards or narrow alleys, or of industrial soot turning to suburban sprawl and, finally, to orchards and fields of horses--or of seeing the ocean spreading itself before me after a couple of hours of pedaling--have all imprinted themselves on my consciousness.  In fact, I feel as if they are part of my body, intermingled with every ion and neuron in me.

In brief, my cycling started off as a kind of rebellion--conscious or not--but has become the very thing that has kept me from feeling alienated from the world around me and, most important, myself.  If I've learned nothing else this year, I feel that lesson--along with my riding, blogging, writing and experiences with people--have made this year worthwhile, even rewarding, amidst all of the pain and confusion in the world around me.

30 December 2016

The Oldest Tour Winner Dies: Ferdinand "Ferdi" Kubler

Yesterday, I mentioned that Scots have made more than their share of contributions to the development of bicycles and cycling.  Today I am going to mention a country that has produced more than its share of world-class cyclists, and one of those cyclists in particular.

After Belgium, Switzerland has probably turned out more elite racers in proportion to its population than any other country.  One thing both countries have in common, besides great chocolate, is that they're both small and multi-lingual.  Now, whether that has anything to do with their status as velocipedic hotbeds, I don't know.  (Personally, I think the chocolates would be more of a factor!)  One might also argue that topography is a factor.  Belgium has a wide variety of terrain, from mountains in the south to table-flat land in the north, which also means varying weather conditions.  Switzerland also has widely varying weather, but as a result of one type of landscape that dominates the country:  mountains.

So, not surprisingly, some of the sport's best climbers came from the Alpine nation.  One of them can be seen in this photo, climbing Mont Ventoux during the 1955 Tour de France:

He is none other than Ferdinand Kubler, who became the first Helvetian winner of the Tour in 1950.  This victory was particuarly sweet for "Ferdi", who won stages of the 1947 and 1949 editions of the Tour but did not finish either.  The 1947 running of the race was the first since 1939, when World War II broke out--and when Kubler was beginning his professional career.

Ferdi Kubler encouraged by his wife, Rosa, at the peak of a grueling climb.

So, even though he had a more impressive palmares than 99 percent of those who've ever raced, it's still difficult not wonder "What if?"   When he won the Tour, he was already 31 years old:  an age at which even the best riders are starting the downward slope of their careers. (Eddy Mercx retired at 33.)  He would stand on the Tour podium one more time, four years later, when he finished second. In 1951--the year in which he also won the World Championship--and 1952, he finished third in the Giro d'Italia.  He never entered the Vuelta a Espana, but at that time, it didn't have the stature it now enjoys.

Hugo Koblet in 1950

Interestingly, in 1951--the year after Ferdi's win--Hugo Koblet would become the second Swiss Tour de France champion.  The two riders could hardly have presented a greater contrast, each defying Swiss stereotypes in entirely different ways. While Kubler was devoted to the family who accompanied him to his races, he was known as a high-spirited and even impulsive rider who sometimes made strategically unwise attacks.  Koblet, on the other hand, was a "rock star" of the racing world:   Female fans flocked to see the "Pedaleur de Charme" with matinee-idol looks, and he had a reputation for high living and hard partying.  He married a model who would divorce him a few years later.   However, on the bike he was a very disciplined and pedaled with an elegance and grace that would not be seen until Stephen Roche came along three decades later. 

Hugo Koblet as he is often remembered.

Another contrast can be seen in what happened to Kubler and Koblet after their respective Tour victories.  Although he never replicated the Tour victory, Kubler continued to race at a high level for another half-decade, continuing to win a number of "classics" before retiring from competitive racing in 1957, at age 38.  Koblet, however, "crashed" after the 1951 Tour: Jean Bobet (brother of three-time Tour winner Louison Bobet) said, "we saw him unable to ride over the smallest hill".  The writer Olivier Dazat described a "suddenly aged" man who "seemed preoccupied"--probably with his marital, debt and tax troubles.  

Koblet's death at age 39, in 1964, is widely believed to be a suicide.  Kubler, in yet another contrast, spent his 97th Christmas with his family before dying a few days later--yesterday--in a Zurich hospital.  He was the oldest living Tour de France winner.  And, in a nation that has produced many great bicycle racers, he was chosen as Sportsman of the Century.

29 December 2016

This "Mac" Is Almost 200 Years Old. Would We Have Gore-Tex Without It?

If someone were to ask you which countries contributed the most to the development of the bicycle, which would you name?

I'd bet that most of you would name one or more of the following:
  • England
  • France
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • United States.
Any or all would be valid choices.  A case could also be made for Germany:  like the US, it played significant roles in the early history as well as the current development of the bicycle, although there was a "gap" of a few decades.

One country that played an inordinately large role in the early development of the bicycle is Scotland.  Now, some of you may argue that it's part of the UK and therefore the Scots are British.  But, as much as I love the English and things English (Hey, I teach their literature!), I see the Scots as an independent people who have had a history and culture distinct from their neighbors.  If I don't understand that, well, I've had no business teaching Macbeth.

The single most important technological development in the history of cycling--indeed, one of the most important technological developments in history, period--came from the hands of a Scottish veterinary surgeon who practiced in Northern Ireland. 

There is still a company that bears his name.  These days, it's best known for tennis equipment and tires for motorcycles, cars and trucks.

And, yes, it made bicycle tires until the 1960s.  In fact, their clinchers were regarded as the best available and were original equipment on many quality bikes, including Raleighs.  Owners of Raleigh three-speed got very, very creative in extending the life of their tires because they couldn't be replaced with anything that wore as well.  Likewise, owners of Raleigh sport bikes like the Lenton did whatever they could to keep their original Dunlop tires rolling, because the only way to match, or exceed, their performance was to use tubular ("sew-up") tires.  Dunlop also made a steel rim, the lightest of its time, to use with the tire.

John Boyd Dunlop's invention--the pneumatic, or air-filled, tire-- essentially completed the modern bicycle which, arguably, was created by John Kemp Starley a couple of years earlier when he created a machine with two equal-sized wheels driven by sprockets and a chain.  Starley's bike was, essentially, the final major stage in the evolution of the pedal driven bicycle, which was invented by Kirkpatrick Macmillan, another Scotsman. (With a name like that, what else could he be?)

As I said in an earlier post, it's difficult to overstate the importance of the pneumatic tire.  Without it, bicycles would still be slower and less versatile than horses.  So would motorcycles, automobiles and trucks.  And modern aircraft could not take off or land.

Even if no other Scotsman invented anything to improve the bicycle, or the bicycling experience, I think Scotland could lay claim to being one of the most important countries in the development of cycling.  However, I am going to mention another Scotsman who created something that, like pedals and pneumatic tires, made it possible to ride a bicycle under a greater range of conditions.  Some might even argue that his invention made Dunlop's work possible.

One way in which the invention I'm about to mention is different from pedaled bicycles or pneumatic tires is that it wasn't developed specifically for bicycles.  In fact, he probably never rode anything we would describe as a bicycle.  For that matter, he might not have ever seen one.

You are all familiar with his name and the invention that bears it, even though most of you probably have never owned one--or, at least not a "real" one.  There is only one factory in the whole world that makes the "authentic" version.  Still, it has influenced many, many other products in its genre--and items far beyond the scope of said genre.

As I mentioned, it helped to make, if indirectly, Dunlop's tire possible.  And what did that tire--and just about every tire made since--consist of?  Rubber and fabric.  Remember, the original Dunlop tire didn't have a bead:  It was rather like a modern sew-up (tubular) tire.

So what else is made from rubber and cloth?  A certain raincoat:  the Mackintosh.  Its inventor, Charles Macintosh, was born 250 years ago today.

Charles Macintosh was a self-taught Scottish chemist who originally worked on new ways of making dyes.  He succeeded at that, but neither that nor anything else he did would immortalize him in the way his coat--and, most important, the fabric he created for it--would.

He found a way to sandwich a layer of liquid rubber between two layers of cloth.  The key was in mixing naphtha into the rubber compound, which gave it enough liquid viscosity to spread between the layers of cloth but allowed the rubber to remain supple when it dried. 

Mackintosh coats became an instant success:  Everyone from police officers and firefighters to Arctic explorers wore them.  As a result, they became very fashionable and were, perhaps, one of the first unisex pieces of outerwear.

An early Mackintosh:  The Granddaddy of Gore Tex?

But the most important result of Macintosh's work is that he created what was, in essence, the world's first waterproof fabric.  Other attempts had been made to create waterproof jackets and coats:  They either were too stiff to wear or were, well, not exactly waterproof.  The main drawbacks to early Mackintoshes were their stiffness (though they were still more supple than other raingear), smell and tendency to melt in hot weather. All of these problems were solved by Macintosh and later chemists--and with the vulcanization of rubber.

If you have a Gore Tex jacket, the way it was made was, really, not so different from how Mackintoshes have been made for nearly two centuries.  The Gore Tex membrane is bonded between layers of fabric. And, just as the original Mackintosh (made in a factory in Manchester, England) is taped at the seams, so is any Gore Tex garment that can claim to be waterproof.  Of course, Gore Tex overcomes the other drawback of the Mackintosh, or any other rubberized garment:  Its lack of breathability.

So, I think it's safe to say that the "Mack" did as much to make cycling an activity that can be done in adverse weather conditions as another "Mac" did--at least in the eyes of its fans--to make personal computing easier and more versatile.

(N.B.:  I have composed this, and everything else on this blog and my other, on PCs, mainly out of habit.)

28 December 2016

A "Bridgegate" For Cyclists?

I lived through a time when the word "nuclear" was almost invariably followed by "holocaust".

Then again, I also experienced a few air raid drills when I was in elementary school.  One of the first stern glares a Carmelite nun directed at me was in response to my innocent (well, maybe not-so-inncocent) question:  "How is this going to protect us from an atom bomb?"

(Of course, now everybody knows that this is what you do in case of a nuclear attack:

  • Duck under desk or table.
  • Curl up in foetal position.
  • Place head firmly between legs.
  • Then, kiss your ass goodbye.)
Anyway...just as "nuclear" went with "holocaust", it seems that these days, "bridge" is followed by "gate".  And "Bridgegate" is the first thing people think of when you mention the George Washington Bridge.

Traffic jams have been as much a part of the bridge's 85-year history as corruption has been a part of the politics on both sides of the bridge.  Most of those tie-ups, unlike the ones caused by Governor Christie's acolytes, are not deliberate.  Nor will the ones that will  probably come soon and plague the bridge for the nest seven years.

Actually, the Port Authority's renovation project began last year, when lead paint was removed from the lower deck.  Removal of said paint will continue, and most important of all, the vertical cables will be replaced.  The PA says it will try to time the work to cause the least possible inconvenience to commuters.

Just as the term "human being" meant "white man with property*" to the Founding Fathers, "commuters" means, in PA parlance, folks who drive into the city and, well, maybe those who take the bus.  So, for that matter, does "traffic".

Now, to be fair, the PA plans to improve access to the bridge's bike and pedestrian lanes.  Then again, almost anything would be an improvement over what exists:  Hairpin turns on the New York side of the lane on the south side of the bridge, and steep stairs on both sides to access the lane on the north side.  Worse yet, the stairs on the New York side can only be entered by crossing a heavily-trafficked street that has become a de facto exit lane for the bridge an the Cross-Bronx expressway, and for buses entering and leaving the George Washington Bridge bus terminal.

Image result for George Washington Bridge bike lane pinch points
It's like this on a good day.

But those entrances aren't the worst part of the lanes.  For one thing, in more than three decades of biking (and, occasionally, walking) across the bridge, I have never seen both lanes open at the same time.  Worst of all, though, is that each of those lanes is seven feet wide at its widest. At some pinch points--where, for example, towers are located--the lanes are considerably narrower.  And, of course, the structures that cause the "pinch" also make for very poor sight lines.  At times, I've wondered that collisions and conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians aren't more frequent than they are.

To give you some perspective:  The Federal Highway Administration recommends 14 feet for a two- way bike lane.  And the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials recommends 16 feet.  

In other words, the lanes are half as wide as is generally recommended.  And, just as the GWB is the nation's busiest commuter crossing for motorists, its bike and pedestrian lanes are also among the nation's busiest.

Now, are you ready for this?  The Port Authority's plans call for reconstructing the bike and pedestrian lanes.  The north lane will be designated for cyclists, and the south for pedestrians.  Sounds good so far, right?

Image result for George Washington Bridge pedestrian bike lane pinch points
New Jersey entrance to the bike/pedestrian lane on the south side of the George Washington B

And the bike lane will indeed be wider.  How much wider?  Check this out:  one foot.  So the new bike lane, according to the plan, will be 8 feet wide.  There is nothing to indicate that narrower "pinch points" won't be eliminated.  Perhaps they can't be.  But I have to wonder why, if the Port Authority is planning what is essentially a once-in-a-century project, it can't or won't build the bike and pedestrian lanes to modern standards. Instead, it plans to rebuild the lanes to the standards that existed in 1931, when the bridge opened.  

Now, I don't know much about the economics of major public works projects.  I can't help but to think, though, that in relative terms, it wouldn't cost much more to build a modern path than the one that's planned--and, better yet, to build  a bike path on a separate, lower lever from the pedestrian lane.  Certainly, doing so would cost less than building another lane as a stand-alone project at a later date.

Weissman's proposal would put 10-foot bike lanes to the side of the existing paths. Image: Neile Weissman
Artist's rendering of a possible bike laneconstructed at a lower level alongside the current lane on the north side, which would be reserved for pedestrians.

Oh--one other thing is planned in the reconstruction:  a fence, a.k.a. a suicide barrier, along each lane.  I'm not going to argue that such a barrier shouldn't be installed:  It's likely that most of the suicides that have occurred from the bridge were preventable.  I can't help but to wonder, though, whether the barriers will make riding or walking across the bridge feel even more claustrophobic than it already is at times.

27 December 2016

Exposing "What Have We Here"

Now I'm going to expose you to some real "bike porn."

I stripped a bike bare.  Yes, stripped it.  And photographed it when it was in a compromised position. 

I'm so heartless and exploitative, aren't I?

Well, I didn't strip the bike completely bare.  Three parts that came with the bike--and which I intend to use--are on it.

That thing clamped near the bottom bracket is a cable guide.  The only things brazed to this frame are a "stop" on the underside of the downtube for the shift-lever clamp and a cable guide on the chainstay.  When this Trek was made, such an arrangement was common.

Somewhat more significant is a part you can't see:  a Sakae Ringyo Laprade seatpost. In keeping with the time the bike was made, it's fluted.  

Image result for SR Laprade fluted seatpost
Sakae Ringyo (SR) Laprade

But most important, it's good.  In fact, some might say that it's the first modern seatpost.  That is wrong only because its design copied the French Laprade seatpost made by a small company called JPR.  Very few of those posts made it here to the 'States--or, from what I can tell, anywhere outside of France. 

JPR Laprade seatpost

SR's version is slightly heavier but, frankly, has a nicer finish (much as it pains me, as a Francophile, to say such a thing) and cost a fraction of the French version.  Moreover, SR was one of the major original-equipment suppliers to bike manufacturers of the 1970's and 1980's.  Finally, it seems that SR offered a greater variety of sizes than JPR did.  So guess what people bought when they upgraded their old bikes or built new ones?

The rest, as they say, is history:  Most modern seatposts adapted the Laprade design: one easily-accessible bolt on the underside of the clamp.  In fact, some companies even call their versions "Laprade-style" seatposts.  The Nitto seatposts on my Mercians all share the design.

The third part on the frame turned out to be one of the most pleasant surprises on this bike.  I took apart the headset to clean and grease it

Yes!  Roller bearings!  That means it's the legendary Stronglight A9 headset.  Best of all, it's alloy, not the plastic version that came on some bikes of that era.  

Stronglight A9:  the headset that came with this bike

That headset is almost as nice of a surprise as the Phil Wood rear hub that came with the bike.  One of my loyal readers asked about that hub, and we're working out a swap.  I would have kept it, except that it's 48 hole.  As I don't think I'll ever own a tandem, I really don't need that hub.

I sold the crankset that came with the bike.  It's an SR forged set, with a nice finish, but it has an obsolete bolt pattern (118 BCD).  I'm guessing the buyer (on eBay, where else?) is doing a period restoration. I could have gotten satisfactory gearing with that crankset, but I'm going to use another that will make it easier to get useful (for me) gearing.  Don't worry:  It has a classic five-bolt spider and doesn't look like a Christmas ornament left on a radiator and painted with anime graphics.

So far, I think I lucked out:  Remember, this bike came from an estate sale!

26 December 2016

A Christmas Day Ride

The other night, I was talking to my brother.  He was in his car, across the street from his in-laws' house.  I heard some of the shouting and laughter (including one particularly loud cackle) from within.  He said that it was a typical holiday scene and that, even after so many years of going to such gatherings, he's unaccustomed to the noise level. "I don't remember it being like that when we were growing up."

"Nor do I."

I was thinking about that exchange yesterday, as I rode.  I knew that the gathering I would attend, with friends.  There would be laughter and music, but I could actually have a conversation with one or two people without having to read their lips.

Before that gathering, my ride was quiet.  Actually, tranquil is a more accurate word:  There were a few cyclists, and a few more people walking, alone or with partners, dogs or children. I think they were all enjoying, or more precisely, losing or immersing themselves, in the calm.

Of course, the ocean itself calms me and, I imagine, most of the people I saw along the Rockaway boardwalk and the South Shore of Nassau County.  Even the bright sunshine soothed my eyes, and much else, in the way the echo of the waves in my ears.

Funny that the weather reports said the wind was calm.  Can a wind be calm?  Or, if it's calm, is it wind?  I felt a slight breeze off the ocean, but I didn't have to pedal into, or with it.  And, because my ride was flat, I felt I could have pedaled all day.

Such conditions are, naturally, ideal for riding a fixed-gear bike, which is why I took Tosca, my Mercian fixie, out for the spin.  I started early, so I had enough time to ride to Point Lookout and back--105 kilometers in all--before joining my friends for the holiday dinner.

They weren't nearly as loud as my brother's in-laws.  And I had a few hours of the best kind of calm before our gathering.

24 December 2016

An "Elf" Hopes To Open A Bike Shop

My cheapest trick for getting my students' attention is to intone, "I've been to Rikers".

I could write a whole post--or, if I were a sociologist or historian, a book--about the implications of that.  Suffice it to say, my students-- most of whom are members of groups that are considered "minorities" but won't be in 2042--react with varying degrees of disbelief or skepticism on hearing such a claim from a middle-aged white woman.

The truth is that I did indeed go to "the island" one morning and leave late that afternoon.  And, if I recall correctly, I ate take-out Chinese food that night.

No, I didn't go by bicycle.  That's not possible:  Once can get there only on a special bus or other authorized vehicle. (I tried cycling there once and was stopped.) If you're an employee, you can drive to the island--which is accessible only by one bridge--with your pass.

But I digress.  I went there to conduct a workshop back when I was working as a writer-in-residence in schools and community centers through the Teachers and Writers program. (The single most spiritually rewarding--and heartbreaking--experience of my working life was the time I spent working with kids in the school at St. Mary's Hospital for Children.)  On the bus from the island, I remember thinking, "How can that place reform or rehabilitate anybody?"  Especially kids:  How does anyone expect a 16-year-old who got busted for stealing a jacket from The Gap to spend time with much more incorrigible offenders--and some of the guards, who aren't, shall we say, the most upstanding citizens themselves-- and emerge with a greater sense of right and wrong (at least as the world outside the walls defines those things) than he had when he was hauled in?

I hear that, if anything, conditions in Rikers (and many other prisons and jails) are worse than they were in those days.   For one thing, many of the educational and vocational programs have been cut.  Moreover, the neighborhoods to which parolees return, or land, have fewer jobs and more social ills than they had back in the late '80s.  Studies show that large numbers of arrestees have learning disabilities and lack educational credentials or useful job skills.  Worst of all, there are few opportunities for inmates to engage in activities--whether educational, vocational or in service to others--that can help them to re-integrate in society when they are released, as most are at some point or another.

That is why I was happy to learn about Mauricio Argueta.

He is an inmate at Folsom State Prison in California.  You--and he--might say he is one of "Santa's eleves". He even has a workshop where he fixes and assembles bikes that will brigten up Christmas morning for needy kids in the area.

He works as part of a program run by the Cameron Park Rotary Club.  The program turned 30 years old this year and, in years past, has employed several inmates at a time.  However, this year, Argueta is the only one working on the bikes.  

All of the inmates who have participated in the program were non-violent offenders.  Argueta, who is scheduled to be released in 2019, is serving a sentence for DUI.  He says that after he is released, he hopes to open a bike shop.  Then, perhaps, he'll get to see the expressions of delight on the faces of kids who get the bikes he's put together.

P.S.:  I did my Rikers workshop when I was still living as male.  

23 December 2016

If Mayor De Blasio (or PETA) Took On Santa Claus....

I simply cannot make an animal do something I wouldn't do myself.  It's just not in me.  I am reminded of that every time I see Max and Marlee dozing on the couch whenever I go to work!

So, when New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio said, on the day he took office, that he would ban the horse-drawn carriages tourists love, I was rooting for him to succeed--even though, deep down, I knew he wouldn't.  And, of course, he didn't:  In this city, a politician needs the endorsement of the Teamsters Union--of which the carriage operators are members--in order to get elected or stay in office.  

Also, there are just too many other people, not all of them tourists, who simply could no more imagine the area around Central Park without the horses and carriages than they could imagine Santa without his sled and reindeer.

Speaking of which:  What if the amimal rights activists (with whom I am in sympathy 99 percent of the time) mounted a campaign to stop Santa from driving his airborne bovines?  How would he bring all of those eagerly-awaited gifts to kids of all ages all over the world?

Hmm...Perhaps he could try this:

Image result for bicycles Christmas
Hmm...Maybe Mayor de Blasio tried to ban the wrong animals.  From Life Of Bikes.

The question is, of course:  Who would pedal those bikes for him?  And could he find a cyclist with a bright, shiny nose to lead the pack?

For that matter:  What race leaders sported bright red noses instead of the maillot jaune or maglia rosa?

22 December 2016

Wearing The Maillot Jaune On The Streets Of San Francisco

Long before he was Gordon Gekko, Michael Douglas was Inspector Steve Keller in The Streets of San Francisco.

I now realize that the chief reason why I liked the show so much during its run was that it looked "authentic".  At least it seemed that way to me at the time, before I had ever set foot in "The City Over The Rainbow".  Even in my adolescence, I could tell that the acting was mediocre and the writing was contrived or just plain silly. (NYPD Blue was much better on both counts.)  But it sure was fun to watch all of those chases with the bay and the bridge in the background.

I haven't been to SFO in a while, but from what I hear, it's changed a lot.  Whatever it's like now, I imagine few street scenes can match what's in this video called, appropriately enough, "The Streets of San Francisco".

The young dude in the maillot jaune--OK, yellow T-shirt--really got my attention!

21 December 2016

Happy Solstice!

In my half of the world (Who owns the other half?;-), it's the first day of winter, a.k.a., the Winter Solstice.

For my dear readers in Australia and other places in the other half, it's your first day of summer.

Where I live, we'll have about nine hours of daylight today.  Now, some of you don't think its such a short day--and with good reason.  I know my readers in Scotland and Finland (I won't drop any names here!) aren't getting much daylight. This morning, on the public radio station, the weather reporter mentioned northern Finland, where--if I recall correctly--the sun rose after 11 am and set before 2 pm.

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Does your Winter Solstice Ride look like this?

Some organizations have Winter Solstice rides.  I've never participated in one--at least with any organization.  Once in my youth, however, a few of my riding buddies and I went on a ride that began with sunrise and ended with sunset on Solstice Day.  We did a century (in miles)--which, especially in the condition we were in, wasn't that difficult, even with all of the stops for hot cocoa with peppermint schnapps.  With each successive stop, the ratio of schnapps to cocoa increased.  I think each of us brought schnapps.  One of us, I forget which, brought his in one of those TA flasks we all hope someone will put in our Christmas stockings.

Great for carrying Schnapps in your jersey pocket.  But I'm told that cognac goes even better in it.

I'm not going to do anything like that day, in part because I didn't wake up until well after sunrise.  But I'm going to sneak in a short ride between grading exams and papers. 

20 December 2016

Turn, Turn, Turn (And We're Not Talking About The Byrds)!

Until recently, I believed most bike lanes were designed by people who don't ride bicycles.  You may think I'm cynical, but I've ridden on too many lanes that ended abruptly ("bike lanes to nowhere"), had poor sight lines, let cyclists out into the middle of major intersections or were, for various other reasons, simply not any safer than the streets they paralleled.

Now I'm starting to wonder whether lane designers are acting under orders to reduce the population of cyclists.  I guess, for them, that's the easiest way to appease motorists upset that we're "taking the road away from" them.  

I mean, what other reason is there for this?

Had the bike lane continued in a straight line, or simply ended at that intersection, it would be safer for anyone who has to turn left from that intersection.  Instead, a cyclist riding through that loop has to make two sharp left turns almost within meters of each other in order to go where one left turn would have taken him or her.

And studies have shown that left turns are significantly more dangerous than right turns for motorists.  (That is the reason why, for example, all United Parcel Service delivery routes are planned so that the drivers make only right turns.)  What sort of diabolical mind would force cyclists to make two such turns in succession?

This strange piece of transportation "planning" was inflicted on the cyclists of Nottingham.  I thought planners in England knew better.  Oh, well.

19 December 2016

Would The UCI Allow This In A Cyclo-Cross Race?

Early yesterday morning, we had one of those "blink-and-you'll-miss-it" snowstorms.  It dropped maybe a couple of inches on us before the temperature rose dramatically and turned the falling flakes to rain.

Still, it was a reminder that winter is indeed no longer in the future.  Last night, the temperature dropped even more precipitously (had to use that word!) than it rose the other day.  So, some of the snow that turned to puddles in the rain were frozen when I rode to work this morning.  Fortunately, none of them were in my path.

The snow, cold and ice got me to thinking about commuting this winter.  Last winter, we had one blizzard that dumped nearly two feet of snow on us, but otherwise a pretty mild season. Somehow I think that this season will be different.

So I want to be ready. 

Unfortunately, this "snow bike conversion kit" is no longer available.  Even if I'd never bought one (which I probably wouldn't), it's still nice to know that such a thing available.

It, however, begs the question of what exactly was converted, and to what.  It doesn't look like it began with a whole bicycle.  The wheel looks like it came from one, or could have been part of one.  And how is that thing powered?

The seller promised a "full or partial refund if the item is not as described".  That's reassuring, I guess. 

18 December 2016

The Biko Bike Project

If you are a student in the University of Manchester (UK), you can rent a bike for one pound a week, with a 40 GBP deposit that's returned to you when you return the bike.

You have your choice of road bikes, mountain bikes or city bikes.   What they all have in common is their colour (it's in the UK, remember!) scheme:  The frame is yellow and the front fork is an Easter-egg purple.

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These bikes are rented by the Biko Bikes Project, organized by members of UM's Student Action, the self-described "volunteering arm" of the UM Student Union.  They are involved in community-based volunteer projects that help, among others, the homeless and refugees, and in cleaning up the environment. (Manchester was one of the first cities changed by the Industrial Revolution.)  The Biko Bikes Project aims to promote "the best mode of transportation":  cycling.

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The bikes are "rescued" by agreement with the university, having been abandoned in various places in and around the campus.  Then the bikes are stripped, painted an rebuilt by students who take the repair workshops the Project conducts.

In addition to bike repair, the Project also offers workshops in "bicycle confidence", in recognition that for many people, one of the greatest deterrents to cycling is the fear of traffic and other conditions they might encounter on a bicycle.  

The Project is named in honor of Steve Bantu Biko, who is considered one of the "martyrs" of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. 

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Like Frantz Fanon, he studied medicine but developed an intense interest in black consciousness, which led him to the organizing activity that would get him banned from the university in which he was studying.  The protests he organized culminated in the Soweto Uprising of June 1976.

A little more than a year later, on 18 August 1977, he was arrested at a police roadblock in Port Elizabeth under the Terrorism Act No. 83 of 1967, enacted specifically as an attempt to thwart activists like Biko.  The arresting officers took him to a police station, where he was subjected to a 22-hour interrogation that included torture and beatings that sent him into a coma.  He suffered a major injury and was chained to a window grille for a day.

On 11 September, police officers loaded him--naked and manacled, and barely alive-- into the back of a Land Rover for an 1100 km (685 mile) drive to Pretoria, where there was a prison with hospital facilities.  He arrived the following day.  Not long after, he died.  The original report said he'd died of a long hunger strike, but an autopsy revealed, in addition to numerous abrasions and bruises, a brain hemorrhage from his massive head injuries.

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Were he alive, Steve Biko would turn 70 years old today.  The students at the University of Manchester could hardly pick a better person to commemorate than a man who "they had to kill" at age 30 to "prolong Apartheid".

Who made that trenchant observation?  Somebody named Nelson Mandela.

Update (23 December 2016):  Timothy Loh of Biko Bikes says that, for budgetary reasons, the bikes are no longer painted.  They still, however, are affixed with the Biko decal.