31 January 2016

The Family After The Storm?

After The Fall That Would't end (Did I want it to?), winter finally came right about the time I took off for Florida.  Since I came back nearly two weeks ago, I haven't done much riding.  In fact, today I got on my bike for the first time since last weekend, when a blizzard dumped more than two feet (65 cm) of snow on us.

The day after the storm, a travel ban was in place, which meant that all non-emergency vehicles were banned from the city's streets.  Now, nobody defined exactly what "emergency" means, so there were a handful of cars slipping and sliding along the roads.  The only cyclists I saw were making deliveries for local restaurants and diners.

I could have ridden a couple of days ago, but I was busy preparing for a new job I started on Friday.  More about that later.  Also, I was working on a bike-related and a writing project.

But I got out for two and a half hours this afternoon.  The weather was mild for this time of year:  10C (50F) late this afternoon.  Most of the snow is gone, but there are some mounds in out-of-the-way spots, like the parking lot of the Long Island Rail Road station in Hunters Point:

Hmm...Was she feeding her young?  Or instructing him?

Has the one on the left turned his back on her? Is he an absentee father, a shadow?

After I took the photos (on my cell camera), I resumed riding.  After all, I don't want to be involved in a family feud!

30 January 2016

Horses Or Bikes, She Is A Real Freedom Rider

As you’ve no doubt heard by now, last month marked forty years since the release of Patti Smith’s album Horses

I was a senior in high school then.  It semed that my classmates fell into one of three categories:  the ones who loved it and didn’t want it to end, the ones who were looking forward to college or whatever else they were going to do after graduation, and those who just couldn’t wait to get out.

Those of us in the third category were, in one way or another, the class “geeks”.  Most of us were bookish; nearly all of us had some interest or talent that wasn’t fashionable in that high school where the unofficial motto seemed to be, “If you can’t f*ck it, smoke it or drive it and it ain’t Led Zep’, it ain’t worth it.”  More than a few of us read and/or wrote poetry or songs we would perform only for very close friends (who, naturally, were as introverted as we were); we loved poets like Patti who, we felt, told the truth—at least as we understood it at the time.

I had been writing stories, articles for the school newspaper and stuff I can’t categorize—most of which I lost or destroyed along the way from then to now.  Around that time, I started writing what some might call “free verse” poetry, or simply chopped-up sentences.  Whether or not it was “any good” (Let’s face it, how much of anything that we do at that age is?) is, I realize now, not the point, any more than whether or not I had the capability of becoming a world-class racer did or didn’t make the amount of cycling I was doing “worth it”.  Yes, I wrote and rode—as I do now—because I enjoyed those activities.  But more important, I could not envision life without them.

Actually, that’s not quite right.  I did those things, not only for pleasure, but also for survival.  And, in those days, the work of a poet like Patti Smith or Gregory Corso or Arthur Rimbaud was sustenance for “the journey”, whatever that might be.

I think what I really loved and admired about Patti Smith, though, was something I couldn’t articulate at the time, or for a long time afterward.  Now I’ll express it as best I can:  She did something interesting and unique, whatever its flaws (which I only vaguely understood at the time) and did it on her own terms.  At a time when I still did not have the terms or tools to articulate, let alone embody, the “differentness” I saw in myself—which others, especially the adults in my life, misunderstood as “rebelliousness”—Patti Smith gave us an image of how someone can become someone only he or she can become. 

When Horses came out, she was often described as “androgynous” because of the way she was dressed, and the way she carried herself, in the photo on the album’s cover.  The truth, I realized even then, was that she was actually showing that it was possible to be a woman in a way that didn’t fit into the boxes constructed by the governing institutions and individuals of our society.

She upset those authority figures in much the same way as the women who abandoned their corsets and hoopskirts for shorter skirts or “bloomers” so they could ride bicycles in the 1890’s. Most of those women weren’t consciously rebelling; they simply to wanted to live their lives as they saw fit.    

It might take a long time but, ultimately, independent spirits who realize their visions change the world and inspire us while those who try to suppress such spirits or the change they engender are forgotten or even vilified.  Most people, at least in the industrialized countries, think nothing of women wearing pants or skirts that don’t constrict their movement, and of working in what were once considered in “men’s” jobs.

Or of writing a line like, “Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine."

Knowing what I’ve just said, are you surprised to see this image of Patti Smith?:

29 January 2016

They Were Sooo Continental

You don't wear Continental clothes or a Stetson hat!

That line comes from Otis Redding's Tramp.  The song is an argument between a woman and Otis.  She accuses him of being a tramp because, as she says, he's "straight out of the Georgia woods". 



We in the United States of America are as continental--in the literal sense of that word--as anyone in the world.  After all, we occupy a large part of the North American continent.  However, when we say "Continental", we use it in the way the British mean it:  of mainland Europe, particularly France, Italy or Germany.

Even though we Yanks like to think we tossed off the yoke of the British crown, it seems that we still emulate them in every way we can.  We speak their language. We may have a different accent, but so often, we mean it the way they do--sometimes even more so.

And so it is with the adjective "continental".  It not only refers to the geographical location; it also has the connotation of "sophisticated", "refined" or "elegant".  Or it can be just a politically correct way of saying "exotic" or a polite way of saying "sexy".  And here, as in Blighty, it is also a way of saying "French" without saying it.  (Hmm...What if "Freedom Fries" were called "Continental Chips"?)

That latter connotation was commonly employed in British cycle advertising just after World War II. Before the big fight, the worlds of British cycling and the British cycling industry were very insular.  Brits thought, as Americans would in the years just after the war, that if it was made in their country, it must be better. 

In some cases, their biases had at least some basis in truth.  Pre-war Schwinn Paramounts were built from Accles and Pollock tubing; all over the world, some of the finest frames have been, and still are, constructed from Reynolds tubesets.  Six-day racers favored BSA components, particularly their cranks, pedals and hubs; town bicycles all over the world were equipped with Sturmey Archer hubs and, to this day, all manner of bikes in every place imaginable sport Brooks saddles.

However, for all the vibrancy of the club-cycling scene, bicycling in Britain was still, in the main, utilitarian.  On the other hand, France, Italy and other countries on "The Continent" had lively cultures of racing, and many people, at least superficially, emulated the riders of the peloton.    It is said that British service members who fought on "The Continent" brought back a taste for Contiental bikes and parts--as well as other things.

British Cyclo Gears with 1/8" chain

British cyclists started to demand bikes with derailleurs.  However, until 1954, Raleigh did not supply any bikes with them.  And, in 1955 British Cyclo were still making most of their cogs for 1/8" chains, even though increasing demand for three- and four-speed freewheels meant that more and more riders wanted and needed cogs for 3/32" chains.  Other bike and parts manufacturers in Britain were slow to respond to those changes.  In fact, some simply continued to offer the same products the were making before the war, as if it were somehow unpatriotic to pattern new products after, let alone offer, the freewheels, derailleurs and such that were made mainly in France.

Once they started to make or import (as Ron Kitching did) those items, they were still loath to make Gallic references.  So, those items--particularly, for some reason, large-flange hubs--were called "Continental" parts.  In an article he wrote on the Classic Lightweights UK site, Steve Griffiths said this habit may have been inspired by the Prior hubs made in France during the 1930s, which had some of the largest flanges (and most profuse drilling) ever seen. 

Prior Hubs. I love them.  Did someone use Spirograph to design them?

The flanges on that hub were riveted to smaller flanges which, as on most hubs at the time, were attached to a steel shaft.  So, the British Hub Company did the same with their Airlite hubs.   Collectors pay more for Priors and Airlite Continentals than most people pay for bikes.  They look interesting and, from what I've read, they spin smoothly. However, they both share a problem:  Prolonged use can loosen the rivets.

They're Continental, all right.  So is Swiss cheese.


28 January 2016

Vintage? Classic? Both? Neither?

I started working in bike shops in 1975, at the tail end of the '70's Bike Boom in North America.  One thing that makes me feel old is that many of the bikes I assembled, repaired and rode (whether they were my own, borrowed or test-ridden) are considered "classics" or "vintage" now!

So what is the difference between "classic" and "vintage"?  As a student of literature and history, when I hear of a "classic", I think of something that is still just as interesting, relevant or useful, or having as much artistic merit, as it did when it was first created or introduced to the world.  Some obvious examples would include most of Shakespeare's writings and Michelangelo's and Rodin's sculptures.  And, as a velophile (Does that word actually exist?), I would classify bicycles and frames from some of the greatest builders and constructeurs, as well as Brooks B17 and Professional saddles, the Huret Jubilee derailleur, Mavic and Super Champion rims, almost any SunTour derailleur or Campagnolo Record, Nuovo Record or Super Record part from the 1960's through 1985 (when they ceased production).

Now, to "vintage".  It's actually a term that refers to wines made from grapes grown in a specific year. The term took on the connotation of "high quality" because wines of certain years are particularly prized.  It took on the additional connotation of "old" because those prized vintages, especially in red wines, develop their reputations over time.

So almost all things you can buy in a thrift store--including bikes--are called "vintage", especially in any neighborhood or forum (e.g. Craigslist) with pretentions to hipness.  Now, some "vintage" items are very nice and offer things (such as design, material, craftsmanship and, in the case of bikes, a ride quality--or simply character) that are difficult or impossible to find today.  But other "vintage" items serve as reminders that "they don't make 'em like they used to, thank God!"

You can blame ;-) "Mike W." for what I've written in the previous four paragraphs. His comments on yesterday's post reminded me that not all "vintage" bikes were great, or even good.  Sure, if you have a bike from a French constructeur or an English  builder like Mercian, Bob Jackson, Ron Cooper or Jack Taylor, it's probably excellent, even if it has mid-level componentry.  Ditto for top Italian builders like Colnago, DeRosa and Cinelli.  And the same could be said for some of the American builders who came along at that time, like Albert Eisentraut.

After those bikes, there were some fine mass-produced (or high-production) machines from manufacturers whose names we all have heard.  For example, a Raleigh Carlton frame from that period is most likely very nice (especially if it's the blue mink-and-sable Professional).  So is a Schwinn Paramount.  Those companies also made some nice mid- and upper-middle-level bikes.  But a famous name doesn't always make for a bike that's better or even more unique than what is made today.

Bikes like this one are commonly listed as "vintage" on Craigslist, eBay and other sale sites.

The truth is, back in the day, we thought some of the machines called "vintage" were great because we didn't know any better.  Most young people today can't understand how exotic that first bike with a derailleur we saw back in the day (say, the late '60's or early '70's) seemed to us, let alone how other-worldly entry-level racing bikes looked and rode in comparison to the balloon-tired bombers, English "racers" or "muscle" bikes we'd been riding.

For me--and, I imagine, for folks like "Mike W.", the glow dimmed when we started putting together and fixing those bikes a few hours a day.  Any of us who worked in bike shops at that time can recall supposedly "good" bikes that came out of the box with bent forks, mis-aligned frames, improperly cut bottom bracket and headset threads, wheels that were all-but-hopelessly out-of-round, not to mention paint that fell off if you breathed too hard in the vicinity of the bike. (And that's before you started drinking!)  One bike I assembled--considered a "good" bike in those days--had a bottom bracket full of cardboard.  Another from the same maker had what looked like a combination of paint chips and sawdust.

I have a theory as to why we saw such bikes.  Before the Bike Boom, very few adults in the US rode bicycles.  Typically, they bought bikes for their oldest kids who, as often as not, passed them down to younger siblings and on to neighbors.  Families replaced their cars, but not bikes, every couple of years.

Then, when the Bike Boom hit, American bike factories weren't prepared.  Not only couldn't they make enough bikes to meet the demand; they weren't equipped to make the kinds of bikes the new cyclists were demanding.  So, dealers and distributors turned to foreign manufacturers.  Because bike sales had been declining in Europe during the '50's and '60's, factories there couldn't make as many bikes as Americans wanted.  (With the exception of large companies like Raleigh and Peugeot, European bike makers usually built just enough to supply local or regional demand.) However, they had been making "lightweight" bikes with derailleurs.  So, those makers increased their production.

We all know that when a company suddenly increases the number or amount of anything it makes, quality is almost certain to suffer.  What made the situation worse, though, is that many of those makers had outdated factories and equipment.  When bike sales were slow, they didn't bother to replace worn-out machinery and tools. (This is often given as the reason why Sturmey-Archer hubs started to decline precipitously in quality in 60's and, by the 1980s, new ones were all but impossible to adjust and maintain.)  The result is that those bike makers--including such industry giants as Raleigh, Atala and Gitane--shipped out bikes that were, frankly, shoddy.

(Rumor had it that Atalas and other low- to mid-level Italian bikes were made by prisoners.)

Now, if you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that I like a lot of--but not all--vintage equipment.  My Mercians are, in many ways, inspired by favorite "vintage"--or, more precisely, "classic" bikes-- in their practical (at least for me) designs and sweet rides. Yes, I ride Brooks saddles, toe clips with straps, Nitto bars, stems and seatposts (or Velo Orange items patterned after them) and cranks with square tapered axles.  And, oh yes, canvas-and-leather bags.  I admit I chose the bags for style as much as function, but I also expect them to last longer than most of their high-tech counterparts.

My point is: "Vintage" (the way most people use the term) is not always classic.  I like a lot of vintage  and vintage-inspired stuff, but I don't ride it just because it's vintage.  I ride it because it works, and has worked and will probably continue to do so in ways that new stuff can't or won't.  In other words, I believe that much of what I ride is, or is based on, classics.  They work for me.  And I always buy the best quality I can, for classics are not disposable: they endure.

27 January 2016

Before Carbon Fiber: Plastic Bicycle Components

Early in the 1970's Bike Boom, boatloads of ten-speeds from Raleigh, Peugeot, Motobecane, Dawes and other European makers came to these shores.  You may have had one of those bikes; perhaps you have one now. 

If it was made before 1975, chances are that its derailleur was made by Campagnolo, Huret or Simplex.  The latter company supplied the derailleurs for most Peugeots until the early 1980's, as well as for some models from the other bike-makers I've mentioned.  My Peugeot PX-10 came with the Simplex Criterium; the entry-level U-08 came with the company's "Prestige" mechanism.

Simplex Criteriun

In design and function, the Criterium and Prestige were the same.  The Prestige had a red-badged parallelogram while the Criterium had silver badge and cute red plugs in the pivot bolts.  Most interestingly, though, the parallelogram and knuckles on the Prestige were made entirely of Delrin plastic, while the Criterium's parallelogram had a steel reinforcement.

Simplex Prstige

Because of the materials used, Simplex derailleurs were often perceived to be "cheap" or of low-quality.  Actually, given the standards of what was available at the time, they shifted reasonably well--not as well as anything SunTour made, but at least as well as most of Campagnolo's offerings.  The chief objection to those plastic Simplex derailleurs was, aside from aesthetics, their durability.  When I worked in bike shops, I saw many on which the plastic had worn at the pivots and joints, leaving them with sloppy shifting.  In all fairness, though, I must admit that I didn't see as many broken ones as I expected, and I think stories of Prestiges or even Criteriums that exploded under normal pedaling pressure were exaggerated.

From the time the first all-plastic (except for the cage plates and bolts) Simplex derailleurs were introduced in 1962, increasing amounts of metal were added to the higher-level models.  Lucien Juy probably figured that racers and tourists rode more miles and under worse conditions than recreational riders did, so more durable derailleurs were necessary for them.  (While a Prestige would wrap up the amount of chain necessary for a triple crankset, it wasn't torsionally rigid enough to last very long in such use.)  By 1975, he had come full-circle:  His "Super LJ" was constructed entirely of alloy and intended to compete with the Campagnolo Nuovo Record, Huret Jubilee, SunTour Cyclone and other top derailleurs of the time.

(This state of affairs may have made Simplex the only component manufacturer whose professional-level wares were heavier than its entry-level stuff, or anything in between!)

Before carbon-fiber frames gained widespread popularity, Simplex derailleurs were among the few components to be made of plastic.  Another is one that, unless you were riding during the '80's, or have a bike from that period, might surprise you.

Stronglight cranks and headsets came on many of the same bikes that included Simplex derailleurs.  I never had any problems with the ones that came with my PX-10E; in fact, I have a soft spot for the Stronglight "93" crankset.  (The only reason, I believe, it's not popular today is its proprietary bolt circle of 122mm.)  The headset was ugly but at least it was smooth-running, sturdy and didn't require any special tools.

Stronglight A-9

Later, Stronglight made what some regard to be the best headset, ever: the A9. (The "Delta" is the A-9 with more seals and more smoothly curved cups.) I had one on my Mondonico Criterium; it was as well-made as anything I've ridden.  Many 30-year-old A9s are still in use today and people pay premium prices for them on eBay.  It's the headset I'd still be using if it weren't for Chris King.

Stronglight B-10

Although it was the lightest headset available at the time (and lighter than most headsets available today), someone though a lighter version was necessary.  So was born the B10, which shared the A9's tapered roller bearings but replaced the alloy cups with ones made out of--you guessed it--Delrin.

(The B10 sometimes bore the name of Tour de France champion Bernard Hinault on its locknut.)

I never used a B10 myself, and I never installed one. However, it came on some of Trek's touring machines during the 1980s, as well as other bikes.  Not surprisingly, they ran as smoothly as the A9s--at least for a while.  Accounts vary on how long.  But because roller bearing headsets are tightened with more force than ball-bearing headsets, owing to the tolerances of the roller bearings, tightening compresses the plastic cups more than it does to alloy ones.  From my limited experiences of working on B10s, I found they were more difficult to adjust so that they turned smoothly without play. 

I heard a few accounts of cups that broke.  If they were true, I wonder how many were the result of failure during a ride or of over-tightening. Or both.

B10s, apparently, were not in production for very long.  On the other hand, Simplex made plastic derailleurs for more than two decades.  That could be the reason why we see more extant Simplexes than B10s.  That, and the fact that during the Boom, many people bought ten-speed bikes, rode them once or twice and relegated them to basements and garages for decades afterward.  Then again, the same could be said for some of the Treks that came with plastic headsets:  People bought them for tours they planned but never did, or they actually did their planned tours and, afterward, their lives took them away from cycling.  Or thet simply found they didn't like bicycle touring.

In any event, it seems that--unless you count carbon bikes and parts as plastic--there have been few, if any, attempts to render major bicycle parts in the material during the past three decades or so.  Could it be that carbon bikes are really a disincentive for parts manufacturers to make plastic components and accessories to be used on non-carbon bikes?  Or is it--as rumors have it--that plastic derailleurs, headsets and other parts really disintegrate under you as you ride, or break at the worst possible moment?

26 January 2016

What They Did Before And After They Raced: Jean Hoffmann and Jacques Anquetil

An article in BicycleQuarterly No. 54 outlined the life and career of Jean Hoffmann.

Jean Hoffmann.  From pdw

Chances are, unless you’ve read BQ 54, you haven’t heard of him.  I hadn’t either, until my copy of the magazine showed up in my mailbox. On the other hand, anyone who has followed bicycle racing for as long as it takes to lap the Arc de Triomphe has heard of someone who “served in the trenches”, if you will, with him.

That compatriot is none other than Jacques Anquetil, the first five-time winner of the Tour de France. 

Jacques Anquetil.  From Ina.fr

They rode for the same team—the legendary Raphael Geminiani —though not at the same time.  They did, however, serve together with the same French Army battalion in Algeria.  (At that time, even such luminaries as Yves St.Laurent had their careers interrupted for mandatory military service.)  Although Hoffmann crashed and was dropped after the 14th stage of the only Tour he rode, in 1959,  he arguably was, in his own way, as much of an iconic figure of French cycling in the 1950’s and ‘60’s.

In those days, someone who won amateur hill-climbing competitions like the Poly de Chanteloup or rode at or near the head of a major randonnee like the Paris-Brest-Paris could garner nearly as much attention as the professional riders who won multi-day racers (which France certainly didn’t lack!) enjoyed.  In fact, Hoffmann was known in the cycling press—a major part of the French media at that time—before anyone heard of Anquetil.

It didn’t hurt Hoffmann’s popularity that he so dominated the qualifier for the Poly—on, as he recalls, a heavy old bike with a single chainring and “way-too-large gears” at age seventeen that Rene Herse loaned his own bike to Hoffmann for the actual competition.  It almost goes without saying that Herse was delighted to have Hoffmann on his team—so much so that he gave Hoffmann a velo de service that was chromed, like Rene’s own, rather than the typical Herse blue (a lovely color, by the way) other team members received.

After riding on Herse’s team for a few years, Hoffmann couldn’t resist the urge to race.  He quickly found success, mainly because of his climbing abilities.  One of his major successes was winning the climber’s jersey in the 1955 Peace Race, often nicknamed “the Tour de France of the East”.  He was selected to ride in the 1956 Olympics.  But, fate intervened:  He—and Anquetil—were drafted.

After completing his military service, Hoffmann continued his racing career, turning pro in the year he rode his only Tour.  He would retire from racing after three years.  He never stopped riding, though:  He rode gentleman races—which pitted young riders against older ones and gave the latter a handicap based on his age—as well as rides like the Audax and Randonee Paris-Brest-Paris.  Today, at age 81, he does a 50 km ride (which includes at least one climb) every day. 

Interestingly, he rides a Look carbon bike.  He has no interest in machines like the one he rode for Herse’s team in the ‘50’s.  In those days, it was the most technically advanced bike available; being a racer at heart, he moved on to what technology offers today.

As we all know, Jacques Anquetil not only rode in the Tour; he would become the first cyclist to win that race five times.  No one disputes that he is among the handful of greatest racers of all time: in the same league as Eddy Mercx, Bernard Hinault, Gino Bartali and a few others.  He retired in late 1969. 

In contrast to Hoffmann, Anquetil did not come to racing from the world of randonees and other such endurance rides.  He also didn’t retreat to that milieu.  In fact, Anquetil got on his bike only three times after retiring.  “I have done enough cycling,” he declared. He died in 1987, at the age of 53.

After reading the BQ article, I have the impression that Jean Hoffmann might live to be 100—and won’t stop riding!

25 January 2016

Going Dutch In The Snow

Yesterday, for the first time in years, I didn't anyone riding on the streets.  Today there were a few people pedaling; I think they were all making deliveries.  

The cold, snow and wind were enough to keep most people off their bikes.  However, I think that fear was also another factor in keeping cyclists off the road.  

Even under optimal conditions, cyclists (at least here in the US) are seen as "crazy".  Of course, someone who imputes insanity to others is portraying him- or her-self as sane or right and, by implication, entitled.  Thus many motorists see themselves as the rightful owners, if you will, of the streets and roads.  They expect cyclists to defer to them or simply to get off the road altogether, ostensibly for their own safety but actually to, as a British neighbor of mine says, to "keep up that All American idea that everything should facilitate the movement of automobiles".

Now, I know that there isn't much of a comparison between my hometown of New York and a city like Utrecht in the Netherlands.  Still, I think the following video of cyclists commuting in the snow in the ancient Dutch capital can offer some lessons to American urban planners:

24 January 2016

This Made The World A Little Smaller

It is indeed a small world.  (You can add the "after all" if you like.)

And, yes, technology makes it smaller all the time.  

Case in point:  eBay.

I have bought and sold all sort of things, most of them bike-related, from and to people in Canada, England, France, Germany, Belgium, Italy,the Czech Republic, Slovenia,Japan, China and Korea as well as places in the United States I'd never heard of until I encountered them on what's been called "the world's largest garage sale".

Occasionally the interaction involves more than just the sale or purchase of something.  I have had exchanges about people's names (including one with a customer who just happened to have the same name as one of my favorite poets), hometowns or some aspect of cycling or local culture.

My latest such interaction, though, is one of the most interesting.

I sold a nice Nitto stem that, I finally admitted to myself, I'd probably never use.  It was not the right size for a current project.  Perhaps one day the "right" bike or situation would come along--but when?

I kept it mainly because it's a Nitto (Each of my bikes except my LeTour have at least one item from that company on it!) and because it's interesting. It's one of a brief run of TIG-welded chrome-moly stems Nitto made in the early '90's.  Of course, being a Nitto, the welds were much cleaner, neater and  less bulky and blotchy than on other welded stems of that time--including those of pricey after-market stems like Syncros and Control Tech.  The stem I sold is probably one of the few welded stems that wouldn't look out of place on a vintage road  bike.  

The fellow who bought the stem e-mailed me.  He said he received the stem and left nice feedback.  Then this: "I noticed the name on the shipping label.  Are you the gal with all of the Mercians?"

It is a small world indeed!  

P.S.  This is not the first time eBay has "outed" me.  A couple of years ago, a fellow bicycle blogger (whom I read regularly) also connected my eBay ID with me when he saw my name above the return address on the package I sent.  

23 January 2016

"The Big East Coast Blizzard" Is Here! Don't Tell Anyone That Bike Is Mine!

By now, you've heard about the Big East Coast Blizzard.  Some of you in Montana and Alberta are laughing at us for making such a "big deal" about it.  You have the right to.  For us, though, the storm really is a "big deal", with the most snow and strongest winds we've had in a long time.  When it's all over, we might have two and a half feet (72 cm) of snow.

The city is indeed shutting down: The post offices (and most stores and offices) are closed,  the buses were halted at noon, and the above-ground trains are going to stop at four pm.  People will, no doubt, be stranded.

Yes, that is my blue LeTour.  Don't tell anyone! ;-)

22 January 2016

What If The Bike Thieves Are Bullies?

If you've read any of my posts about bikes I used to own and ride, you know that I've had a few stolen. 

If you've had a bike stolen, you know that few things can make you feel worse.  Actually, at the moment you realize your bike is gone, it seems that nothing can make you feel worse--even if you've experienced the three D's--deaths, divorce and depression. As Tom Cuthbertson wrote in Anybody's Bike Book:  "Stealing a bike from someone who loves and depends on it is one of the lowest things one human being can do to another.  For God's sake, if you have to steal, steal something else."

Recalling that passage, for me, begs the question of how to treat a kid who steals another kid's bike.  Should the kid who stole the bike be punished?  If so, how?  And, if that kid beat up the kid whose bike he/she (Let's not be sexist here!) took, does that change your mind about whether or how to punish?

According to police in Hallandale, Florida, on 4 January two second-grade boys punched another boy and tried to get away on his bike.  Shortly after, police arrested the two boys.  Prosecutors then decided the boys are too young to be charged.  Instead, they will attend a mandatory after-school counseling program.

The comments on the article I linked showed no sympathy for the boys.  Whether they are counseled, punished or dealt with in some other way, the goals should be to show them that there are consequences to their actions and help them to change their behavior--not for adults to exact revenge or express anger or frustration. 

I've never been a parent, so make what you will of what I recommend.  On the other hand, I am an educator, so I think I know a thing or two about what helps kids grow up.  Then again, I remember how pissed off I was when my bikes were stolen...

21 January 2016

A Wrap From The Past

It came in a rainbow of colors and was, by far, the lightest product in its category.  It was easy to apply and use, and even easier to replace.  As delicate as it seemed, it actually fared as well--or, at least no worse--than any other item in its category.

Even at 25 cents, nobody wanted it.  So, in the first bike shop in which I worked, we threw it out..

Fast-forward a few years:  I'm working in another bike shop.  Everyone, it seemed, wanted the stuff we tossed out of the previous shop.  Some even grew irate when we didn't have the color(s) they wanted.

What happened?  Well, the '70's became the '80's.  Neon colors became all the rage in everything from ski wear to cycle gear.  ( I rode several winters in a hot pink-and-black Italian cycling jacket.)  Some riders wanted multiple colors to create all sorts of patterns and special effects.

What am I describing?  

Image result for benotto cello handlebar tape

It's something you may well have used if you're about my age.  Maybe you're still using it.  If you weren't born the first time it  was en vogue, you may have discovered it recently and think it's the coolest stuff you've ever seen.

I'm talking about a thin cellophane handlebar tape from Benotto. Almost no bar wrap was ever slicker or shinier.  I, like many other riders, wondered how that stuff could ever provide any kind of grip.

Image result for benotto cello handlebar tape

Truth was, it didn't.  And that was part of its appeal, especially if you were a time trialist or some other kind of super-fast rider. You see, its surface made it easier to change hand positions on long rides.  On the other hand (pun intended), the only thing resembling grip the tape provided came from the overlaps. 

I'll admit, I used a couple of sets myself.  On my black Cannondale road bike, I wrapped my bars with red Benotto tape; on my Trek 510, I used a rather nice set in a kind of shimmery café crème hue.

Image result for benotto cello handlebar tape

 The tape could be had in almost any shade imaginable, as well as in certain patterns, including the flags of Italy, France, Germany and other countries.

By the time customers were demanding it, the price had gone up to around a dollar. At that price, you didn't worry about tearing it in a fall or some other mishap!  And it took practically no time to rewrap a bar with new Benotto tape.

I don't know how long it stayed on the market.  From what I could tell, production seemed to have stopped some time around 1990.  These days, new-old-stock Benotto tape goes for as much as $25 (yes, for a two-roll set) on eBay.  And some company is making reproductions of the thin cellophane tape. 

Imagine that:  A "retro" product made of cellophane. 

20 January 2016

One Way To Prepare For The Coming Storm

According to the latest weather forecasts, snow will begin to fall late Friday night here in New York City.  The fluttering flakes will turn into a whirlwind of white on Saturday before tapering off Sunday.  By that time, according to forecasters, we could have 30 cm (12 inches) of the powdery stuff.

We've been told such things before.  Late last January, we were told to prepare for a "Snowpocalypse" that could have left us with 60 cm (24 inches or two feet) of the stuff.  We got a storm, all right, but it wasn't anywhere near what anyone expected.  The Mayor closed the schools and transit system for the day; when he announced he was doing so, people in my neighborhood went to the Trade Fair supermarket to stock up on canned foods and such, then headed down the block to Angela's Wine & Spirits , where an around-the-block queue awaited the store's noon-hour opening.   

Perhaps the best thing can have for snow emergency preparedness is this:

From Steve In A Speedo? Gross!

19 January 2016

From Sunshine To The Empire

Today I leave my parents, and Florida.  I took some great rides on bright, sunny days and spent time with my parents on the chilly, stormy days.  Make what you will of that.

In New York, I might experience a winter like the previous two, with weeks of snow and ice on the ground.  Or it could be a very mild season, as we had a few years ago.  One thing is certain:  I will be with bikes that are much nicer than the one I rode during the past week and, most important, my own.  The question is how much I will get to ride them during the next couple of months.

Goodbye, Sunshine (State)--for now, anyway. Hello, Empire (State), my home for more than three decades and most of my life.  Going from Sunshine to the Empire.  Hmm...what do I make of that?

18 January 2016

Riding To Lunch With Rockefeller

I'm really living it up here in Florida.  Today's ride took me to lunch at one of the Rockefeller mansions.

Now, you might be wondering whether the fame and celebrity that's come to me from this blog is the thing that led to an invitation into such exclusive circles.  Well, perhaps such a thing may happen one day (!) even if it wasn't my goal in starting this blog.  You never know where wit, erudition and a unique prose style may lead you.  If you find out, let me know.

Seriously, I took a ride to Ormond Beach, about ten kilometers north of Daytona on the same strip of land that's squeezed between the Halifax River and the Atlantic Ocean.  After making a left from  Route A1A onto East Granada Boulevard, the street with cutesy boutiques and overpriced ice cream shoppes tucked into Victorian buildings, I coasted toward the bridge that spans the river.  Just before the bridge, I hopped off the bike and parked in front of The Casements.

As the name indicates, the house is named for the large hand-cut windows that adorn it and keep its interior cool, even during Florida's notoriously hot and humid summers.  Contrary to popular belief, Rockefeller did not build it.  Rather, he purchased it in 1918, eight years after it was built for Rev. Harwood Huntington as his retirement home.

Rockefeller made The Casements his winter residence.  While there, he hosted such famous guests as Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, the Prince of Wales and Will Rogers.  The latter once quipped, "I'm glad you won (at golf) today, Mr. Rockefeller. The last time you lost, the price of gasoline went up!"

Rockefeller hoped that spending his winters in the house would help him achieve one of the few dreams he didn't realize:  living to be 100.  In this home, he died in his sleep on 23 May 1937, just days short of turning 98 years old.

The Rockefellers sold the house two years later.  It became a girls' boarding school and a residence for the elderly before it was abandoned and fell into such a derelict state that it was nearly demolished.  Only its inclusion, in 1972, on the National Register of Historic Places spared The Casements from such an ignominious fate. The following year, the City of Ormond Beach purchased it and renovated it for use as a cultural center.

Fun fact:  J.D. Rockefeller suffered from alopecia, which caused him to lose all of the hair from his head, face, moustache and body when he was in his early 40s.  The hair never grew back, so the tycoon began to wear rotating wigs of varying lengths to give the impression of his mane growing and being shorn.

Another fun fact:  For all of his ruthlessness as a businessman, Rockefeller was an ardent abolitionist.  So was his wife, Laura.  So were her parents, Harvey Buel Spelman and Lucy Henry Spelman.  In 1882, Rockefeller began to donate money to the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary.  Two years later, the school changed its name to Spelman Seminary, in honor of his wife.  In 1924, it became Spelman College, one of the first black women's liberal arts colleges in the United States.

One more fun fact: I rode 85 kilometers today and got a good bit of sunburn.  OK, this wasn't as important as the others.  But it's fun.  The ride, even more so!

17 January 2016

A Rainy-Day Journey

Rain was forecast for today.  So, I made a movie date with Mom and Dad.  Surprisingly, we all picked the same film:  The RevenantDad likes anything with action in it; Mom likes Leonardo di Caprio. I'd heard it was a really good film.

And it was, mostly.  If someone asked me what it was "about", I'd say "revenge".  The same could be said for any number of other films or plays, including HamletNow, I'm not going to whine that this film isn't as good as Shakespeare's classic.  After all, how many things are?  I am happy that The Revenant features fine acting perfomances as well as some of the most powerful cinematography I've ever seen.  

I haven't read anything the critics have written about it, but I'll venture that at least one has used the word "uncompromising" in his or her review.  It is, in a certain way:  It didn't try to soften the horror of the brutality and carnage that takes place in it.  In that sense, it's rather like Picasso's Guernica which, to me, is a good enough reason to see and recommend the film.  

However, there is another way in which the film didn't go far enough.  Yes, we see the events that motivate the killings, and I could, at least to some degree, empathize with those characters who sought revenge.  On the other hand, I don't think the film probes very deeply into the characters' hearts and minds.  So, instead of a probe into man's inhumanity to man, we're given a portrayal of the sort of masculinity found in a John Wayne or Sylvester Stallone movie.

So...how does all of this relate to cycling, or even this blog?  Well, very few pursuits have taught me as much about myself as cycling has.  Also, whatever perseverance I might have is, in part, a result of pedaling to the tops of mountains or simply not giving up when I'm tired.  More often than not, there is a reward at the end, even if it is as seemingly trivial as my food tasting better.

Speaking of which: We went to dinner at Cracker Barrel this evening.  Their Sunday Chicken dinner--which consists of bird fried in buttermilk batter, along with two sides (I had carrots and friend okra.) and a choice of biscuits or cornbread.  Soo good!

16 January 2016

Riding Into--And Out Of--History

During my first trip to France, I walked around the Place de la Concorde.  While encircling the Fountain of River Commerce and Navigation, I admired the elegance of the fountain, the obelisk and the buildings that flank the Rue Royale.

But then a sadness and a sense of terror and grief.  I recalled, at that moment, that the Place had witnessed one of the greatest scenes of savagery.  It was there, of course, that the French monarchy as well as a number of well-known people who were, or merely suspected of being, friends of the executed King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and prominent members of the aristocracy.  Although I am no fan of monarchy and aristocracy, I could not help but to feel that it must have been truly appalling to see the Place "covered in blood" and for people like Georges Danton, one of the chief forces in the overthrow of the monarchy, to lose his head to advocates of revolutionary terror who believed that he gave succor to enemies of the revolution.

I was thinking about that today, after cycling to this place:

Why?  Well, this bucolic scene was once part of the Bulow plantation.  My ride today took me there, as well as other places.

Some ruins of the plantation remain nearby.

They give little, if any, hint that one scene of this country's two greatest sins (along with the physical as well as mental and spiritual massacre of Native Americans) took place there.  I rode the trail in and ate my lunch; others drove in to fish, paddle canoes or simply spend the day in a green setting.

And, I admit, after spending about an hour there, I continued to ride to places where people tend not to think much about history.  I didn't.  I enjoyed the ride, though.