30 April 2016

What Do You Learn While Cycling?

You learn all kinds of things while cycling.  Some come from those deep ruminations that naturally come with that meditatative state you fall into while pedaling.  You start to ponder the Big Questions, like "Do I cook that wild farm-raised alligator shrimp fish I bought last week?  Or do I go for takeout Chinese?  Tacos?  Pizza?"

Other great lessons come from the things our bodies tell us.  Like the time you tried to do that half-century on two hours' sleep after you pulled a hamstring.  Or plunged down that rock-strewn hill the day after you broke up for the fifth or sixth time with someone with whom you have nothing in common but talk about marriage anyway.

Then there are those little bits of information we get from fellow cyclists and other people we meet along the way.  You know, news about sales, new "dive" bars and the "in" bike cafes:  All the important stuff.

Finally there are the things you would never, ever have found out had you not taken that ride a little later or a little earlier than usual, along some route you told yourself you'd never ride, ever again:

Hillary may well have stolen New York City.  She wouldn't be the first.  Some would argue, as I would, that a Dutchman did the same in 1624.  (Actually, Native Americans have had a whole continent stolen from them, just as African Americans' history and community was taken from them.) For that matter, I wouldn't be surprised if the one who wrote that graffito was involved in stealing the very spot--on the waterfront of Williamsburg, Brooklyn--from some working-class Italian or Jewish or German or Puerto Rican family who used to live there--or the jobs they might have had.

And we all know that Bush The Second stole the election of 2000.  Which means, of course, that he not only stole this country, he stole the 21st Century and, possibly, the third milennium.

Oh, the Five Boro Bike Tour will pass that very spot tomorrow.  Except that it will be going in the opposite direction from the one I'd been pedaling along the Kent Avenue Bike Lane.  So they might not ever learn that Hillary Stole NYC--or that there's construction in the bike lane, and they should proceed with caution.

29 April 2016

More Designers And Engineers Are Into The Fold

I have owned two folding bikes in my life.  The first, a Chiorda from the 1970's, I didn't have for very long.  But I rode the second, a Dahon Vitesse, to work for a year and a half.

As I've said in my post about the Dahon, I am not against folding bikes per se.  In fact, I see a real need for collapsible bikes that give a satisfying ride.  I just think such bikes are few and far between, although that could change one day.

That last statement is not just something I said to appease those of you who love your collapsible bikes or to prevent a flame war.  My optimism about the future of collapsible bikes is based on the fact that a number of designers and engineers are creating new and interesting ones.  Perhaps one really will be the folding bike of the future.

For some, getting a folder--or any bike--might be part of "going green".

It seems that Josef Cadek took that notion literally in designing his "Locust" folding bike.  It seems that whenever someone is creating a "modern" design, he or she seems to think it must be done in shades of white, gray or beige.  Not that I dislike those colors:  I just like variety.  (It drives me crazy that every other bike made is black, or so it seems.)

I have no idea of how the Locust rides.  One thing I will say for it, though, is that it's hard to fault for its shape or size when folded.  The same could be said about Thomas Owen's "One" which looks, well, more modern, at least in its tonal palette:

Since we live in a world in which we have to do so much in so little time, we have to "multitask."  So must our devices and gadgets.  So, since many cyclists ride with backpacks (I rarely do), Chang Ting Jen perhaps thought it was natural to come up with this:

Yes, a backpack bicycle!  Supposedly, it weighs only 12 pounds.  Of course, most people wouldn't want to carry much else if they have such a bike, as light as it is, on their backs.

You can read more about these, and some other interesting concept bikes on the Incredible Things webpage.


28 April 2016

Lance Or The Donald?

A few weeks ago, in a comment on one of my posts, a reader mentioned "he who must not be named", or something to that effect. 

That commenter was referring to Lance Armstrong.

This morning, I got into my first conversation with someone I've seen around the neighborhood for years.  We were in a Dunkin' Donuts. (shh...Don't tell anyone!)  I was sitting at a two-seat table; the only remaining seat was across from mine. "Mind if I sit here?"

"Why should I?"

So we got to talking about one thing and another, including music.  She thinks hip-hop is just awful.  It isn't my style, I explained, but I understand why some, especially the young have taken to it.  

"Why?  It's so mean and nasty."

"Exactly.  People are scared, anxious, confused--and angry.  And a lot of their anger comes from feeling that they have no control."

"But why would people choose something like that to express it?"

"The same reason why people vote for Donald Trump..."

She stopped me. "You simply must not say that man's name!"


I'm sure she's not the only one who's reacted that way to hearing about The Donald, just as my commentor probably isn't the first person to say that the one who's been stripped of seven Tour de France titles must not be named.

That got me to wondering:  Who's more unmentionable:  Lance or Donald?  Who would score lower in a public opinion poll?

27 April 2016

Starstruck? No, A Moonshock!

Bicycle suspension--at least in forms we would recognize today--first started to appear, mainly on mountain bikes, a bit more than a quarter-century ago.

Those early attempts to make bikes more stable as their riders bounced them over rocks and rumbled along singletrack consisted of hinged handlebar stems with springs in them, seatposts that were like pogo sticks and "telescoping" forks.  That latter system--first popularized by Rock Shox--would become one of the standard ways of suspending bikes.  The other--suspension built into the rear of the frame--would come a few years later.

Most riders at the time thought all of those attempts to absorb shock were new innovations.  Of course, they weren't old enough to have been reading American Bicycling (the forerunner of Bicycling) when it featured Dan Henry's homemade suspension system on his French constructeur bike.  And, at the time, even I (a professor who's supposed to know everything, ha-ha) didn't realize that bicycles have been built with suspension for almost as long as bicycles have been built.  What is the pneumatic tire--one of the most important technological innovations of all time--but one of the first, and one of the most enduring, forms of suspension?

Even with such knowledge, I was a little surprised to come across this 1975 Redline Moonshock BMX bike:

Only five or six bikes like this one were ever made, according to the Classic Cycles website. In the then-nascent sport of BMX racing, bikes were designed to consciously emulate their motorized counterparts.  That makes sense when you realize that, at the time, most BMXers were pubescent boys who, like lots of other kids, pretended they were on motorcycles or in racing cars as they plowed along paths and jumped ramps and mounds.  

Note the year:  1975.  Schwinn had ended production of their "Krate" series, which probably best exemplified "muscle" bikes that echoed the "muscle" cars of that era.  If those bikes weren't at least partially responsible for the birth of BMX, it's still not merely a coincidence that kids started "revving" bikes with slick fat tires and "banana" seats during that time.  

It was also during that time--at least, according to the accounts I've read and heard--that Tom Ritchey, Gary Fisher, Joe Breeze and their friends were bombing down Northern California fire trails in Schwinn baloon-tired bikes made before they were born. 

Why do I mention that?  Well, the first problem that most of those proto-mountain bikers discovered had to do with one of Newton's laws--best expressed (at least for mathematically-challenged people like me) by a Blood Sweat and Tears lyric.  What goes up must come down--but what comes down can't always be brought back up, especially if it weighs 60 pounds and has only one gear.  So, according to lore, in 1975 (or thereabouts), Gary Fisher outfitted one of those balloon-tired bombers with derailleurs and multiple gears.

Apparently, some BMX bike designers thought absorbing shock to make the bike steadier was a greater priority.  Mountain bike designers wouldn't come to the same conclusion for another decade and a half.

Not surprisingly, the Moonshock BMX bike shared a couple of unfortunate traits with early suspended mountain bikes.  They were slow, basically for the same reasons.  For one thing, they were heavy--although, in fairness, the Moonshock had the greater weight penalty because of its tanklike gussetted steel frame, wide rims and tires.  (By the time mountain bike suspension was developed, relatively light frames, tires and rims were available.)  But, more important, the springiness of both kinds of bikes absorbed much of their riders' energies.  Thus, the few kids who rode the Mongoose, much like mountain bikers nearly a generation later, found ways to lock out their suspension systems.  That left them riding almost-rigid bikes that were several pounds heavier than their non-suspended counterparts.

It seems that the idea of suspension on mountain bikes died with the production of the Moonshock, or not long after.  Apparently, BMX riders felt that it was more important for their bikes to withstand the pounding they would take.  And, because BMX frames and wheels are smaller than their mountain or road counterparts, it's possible to use relatively thick gauges of steel, with reinforcements, and end up with a bike that isn't terribly heavy.

On the other hand, it's all but impossible to buy a new mountain bike (or any made in the past fifteen years or so) that doesn't have suspension in the front fork, rear triangle or both.  Best of all, many new systems seem to have some way of locking them out--or regulating the firmess or softness of the ride--built into them.  And a typical suspension fork of today is a good deal lighter than the Rock Shox Judy fork--top-of-the-line in its time--I rode on my old Bontrager Race Lite.

26 April 2016

The Pulaski Bridge Bike Lane Is Open. It's A Victory--Almost

One sure way to elicit chuckles or groans, or both, from a longtime New Yorker is to mention the Second Avenue Subway.  It has been planned for nearly a century, and construction on it began in 1972, only to be halted by the city's near-bankruptcy in 1975.  

The tunnels were dug in three non-contiguous sections.  By the time new construction on the line began eight years ago, those tunnels were unusable.  So, the whole line has to be built from scratch.  It was supposed to open last year; now the city's Metropolitan Transit Authority is saying, in effect, "maybe next year, or the year after."

On this blog, I have also mentioned the Randall's Island Connector, which seemed to take nearly as long to build and open as it took for the island--and neighboring Manhattan, Long Island and the Bronx--to form during the Taconic and Acadian orogenies.  Finally, in spite of the snark and cynicism (entirely warranted!) of people like me, it opened late last year, and is actually a good, well-designed bike route.  My only complaint is that the Bronx entrance, while not difficult to access, is easy to miss if you're not familiar with the area.

Speaking of difficulty in access:  That has always been one of my complaints about the Pulaski Bridge pedestrian path.  That difficulty in entering it--especially if you're coming from the east on 49th Avenue or the north on 11th Street, which just happen to be the two ways I usually access the bridge--is one of the reasons I usually ride in the traffic lane.  Another reason is that the pedestrian path is so narrow--actually, there are signs telling cyclists to walk their bikes across the span--and heavily used by pedestrians (some with dogs), skateboarders, skaters and others, that it's actually easier and safer to ride the traffic line, where visibility is pretty good.


I get the feeling that when the bridge--which connects Long Island City in Queens with Greenpoint in Brooklyn--opened in 1954, nobody anticipated that so many pedestrians and cyclists use it.  As I've mentioned in other posts, I can recall riding over it, and through the neighborhoods it joins, twenty or thirty years ago and not seeing another cyclist.  Then, most of the people who lived on either side of the bridge were longtime blue-collar residents who stopped riding bikes as soon as they got their drivers' licenses--if, indeed, they ever rode bikes in the first place.  Now, of course, Greenpoint and Long Island City--as well as nearby neighborhoods like Astoria (where I live) and Sunnyside in Queens, or Williamsburg and DUMBO in Brooklyn, are full of young people who've discovered that it's OK to ride a bike even though they're old enough to drive.

Someone in the city's Department of Transportation no doubt noticed the changes I've described.  So, that person reasoned, a dedicated bike lane was in order.  A plan to create one was first proposed about four years ago. Then, we were told, it would take about two years to complete.

Now, I understand there were challenges in creating that particular lane.  For one, the bridge carried six lanes of traffic over the entrance to the Queens-Midtown Tunnel and near entrances to I-278, and is located near industrial areas.  Thus, the bridge receives a fair number of vehicles, some of which are trucks and vans.  Surely, the drivers of those vehicles--who, in some cases, are independent contractors and businesspeople of one sort and another--would not be happy about losing traffic lanes.

Another difficulty in creating the bike lane is that the Pulaski is a drawbridge.  So, anything used to separate the bike lanes from traffic would have to be sturdy enough to do the job yet could be separated when the bridge is opened for a ship. 

Then, of course, there are the usual causes of delays, such as obtaining funds and working with contractors.  Those wrinkles were ironed out and, when I rode down 11th Street the other day, I saw--yes!--cyclists using the lane.  That, even though the path is not officially open:  ribbon cutting is supposed to take place today.

While I am glad for the lane, I think it doesn't resolve one problem of the pedestrian path:  access.  On the Long Island City side, one still has to make awkward turns across lanes of traffic, and on the Brooklyn side, the "merge" with the traffic lane is fairly smooth for cyclists coming off the bridge, but makes it difficult to enter the lane.

So--we got our lane, better late than never.  But, as with too many other bike lanes, the person who planned it probably isn't a cyclist and therefore doesn't realize that simply providing a separate lane for cyclists does not ensure our safety.


25 April 2016

Because I Am Not A Horse

Having the day off from work on Monday is one of life's guilty pleasures.  I feel as if I'm getting away with something when I see kids going to school and adults doing the work they normally do on weekdays.

Of course, I sometimes forget about the traffic that results from all of that activity.  At least, where I rode today, I encountered only two real clots in the circulatory system of this city's traffic.  When I rode through and around them, I experienced more guilty pleasure.  Surprisingly, the drivers didn't look as angry or resentful as some of them can be.  Perhaps with the beautiful weather we had--a high of 23C (72F), sunshine, high clouds and strong breezes that made things a bit cooler by the ocean--nobody could be really upset.

In fact, some were taking it easy:

And those knots of traffic I experienced were balanced by this:

Yes, it's the same parking lot that was totally full the last time I rode to it, the Saturday before last.

So, if you're a regular reader of this blog, you might have an idea of where I rode.  Here's another clue:  105 kilometers, round trip.

I did indeed ride to Point Lookout.  Of course, outside the gas station and shops, nobody was there to work.   So the relaxed vibe came as no surprise.

Oh, and the tide was out.  People and their dogs skipped along the sandbars, their manes bouncing and billowing in the wind.

Mine did, too.  I confess:  I rode for a few kilometers without my helmet, just to feel the breeze that rippled the sea and the embryonic reeds that are being planted along the newly-built dunes.

I put my helmet back on--because I am not a horse.

24 April 2016

Crystal-Clear: Aurumania Is Expensive!

When I first started reading Bicycling magazine--about four decades ago!--Lambert of England was advertising a 24-karat gold-plated "Professional" bicycle.  It went for the princely sum of $279.88.

Apart from the gold plating, this, erm, model was interesting in other ways.  For one thing, it was filet-brazed:  that is to say, constructed without lugs.  The joints were built up with brass solder and brazed at a low temperature.  While Lambert was not to employ this method of construction, it was one of the few to do so--and, apart from the Schwinn Sports Tourer (which later became the Superior), one of the few high-quality mass-production bikes to feature it.

As for the frame material--it was called "aircraft tubing" but was just straight-gauge chrome-molybdenum steel.  Plenty of moderately-priced bikes have used it, but it was nothing unusual.  The forks, however, were often called the "death fork", as a number of them broke.

Most of the bike's components were made in-house and patterned after other well-known parts of the time. So, for example, their centerpull brakes looked like Weinmann Vainqueurs and the cranks resembled those of TA.  However, some of those parts had their own proprietary specifications.  As an example, the bottom bracket--probably the worst part of the bike--had an axle that didn't taper, so the cranks had a habit of working loose and getting gouged.   Also, the threadless bottom bracket assembly was held into the shell with circlips and was not interchangeable with other setups.  So, when the crank (or simply the bottom bracket) had to be replaced, the frame's bottom bracket shell had to be tapped to accept standard bottom brackets.

But, oh, that gold-plated frame!  At the time those Lamberts were made, the price of gold had risen from $35 to $58 per ounce.  As of this writing, the going price is $1236.  I wonder whether it would be possible to simply take off the gold plating and melting it down.

If I am thinking that way, I am obviously not in the market for a bicycle that was produced a few years ago.  It, too, is gold-plated--not just in the frame, but on all of the major parts, including the cranks, hubs and rims.  As near as I can tell, the parts are standard:  the sort of stuff you'd find on fixed-gear bikes today.  And the Brooks saddle and hand-sewn leather handlebar covers are the brown, just like the ones you can buy in your neighborhood shop.  They sure look good with the gold frame.

But perhaps the most striking part of the bike is the headlugs.  Adorned with 600 Swarovski crystals, they wrap like glittery necklaces and bracelets around the frame's headtube, top tube and down tube.

The bike, created by Aurumania, was made in very limited quantities--ten or fifty, depending on whom you believe.  If the latter numer is true, then you have to buy the wall rack that goes with the bike.  You're not going to prop the bike against your carved mahogany door, are you?

And let us not forget the Campagnolo gold-plated corkscrew you'll need to celebrate your new bike  After all, you're not going to use something you found in Bed Bath and Beyond to pop open that bottle of Romanee-Conti Grand Cru you're going to drink in celebration, are you?

23 April 2016

Bike Bard

Four hundred years ago today, William Shakespeare died.  

Interestingly, this date--the 23rd of April--might also be his birth date.  We do not know his birthday with any certainty; the first record that exists of him is his baptismal certificate, dated the 26th of April, 1564.  

I am so thankful for Bill.  After all, if he didn't exist, I'd have to torture my students in some other way.  And, really, it's not as much fun to torment people with Tennyson or Chaucer.  I couldn't really haunt my students with Milton, because I'd have to spend more time explaining Paradise Lost than I would for any of the Bard's plays.  By the time I'm finished, most of my students would be too dazed to be terrified.

(That last statement is conjecture.  Now I'll make a confession:  I've never tried to teach Paradise Lost, or any other poem by John Milton.  I'd bet a lot of English instructors today could say the same.)

Seriously, though...Where would we be without Shakespeare?  He has given us so many of the figures of speech and common expressions we use every day.  The only source of more of those pithy words and phrases is the Bible.  And, even if that book is directly inspired by God, as many believe, I'm sure that it wasn't all written by the same person.  Then again, every generation or so, someone makes the claim that not all of Shakespeare's works were written by the same person because, as one commentatior put it, "How could one person write all of that?"

Even if there was not one "Shakespeare"--or, as some have said, the name was an alias--I'd probably still believe that he (or she?) existed.  S'il Dieu n'existait pas, il faudrait l'inventer:  According to Voltaire, if God didn't exist, it would be necessary to invent him.  I think of Shakespeare in the same way.

Now, even though I am a writer (yes, really!) and I teach English (would I lie?), you are probably wondering why I'm devoting a whole post in a bicycling blog to the Bard.  Well, he was an avid cyclist.  Oh, come on:  You don't believe all of the official versions of history, do you?  Especially the ones that say the bicycle wasn't invented until two centuries after Shakespeare died?  Well, if you read almost any of his plays, you realize that time isn't linear--at least, not in his plays.  (One notable exception is his last play, The Tempest.)  He shifts action back and forth between places and times, three centuries before moving pictures--let alone split screens and other effects--were invented. 

From Morna Murphy Martell

So, it's not only likely he pedaled; it's certain.  The clues are sprinkled throughout his works.  To wit:

       "...thou and I have thirty miles ere dinner time".  Henry                IV Part I, Act III, Scene 3.

I mean, if that isn't something somoene would say during an audax or brevet, I don't know what is.

During such a ride, he was almost surely complaining about his equipment:  

         "to ride with ugly rack" --Sonnet 33

         "thou hast worn out thy pump"--Romeo and Juliet, Act                II, Scene 4

And the ride continued after dark:

         "Lights, lights, lights!"--Hamlet, Act III, Scene 2

         "Lights, more lights!"--Timon of Athens, Act I, Scene 2

Hey, he even rode in  Critical Mass:

          "For tis the sport to have the enginer hoist with his                     own petard."--Hamlet, Act III, Scene 4

One thing about Bill:  He liked to kick back at the end of a ride:

          "do you look for ale and cakes here, you rude                            rascals?"--Henry VII, Act V, Scene 4


22 April 2016

The Wheelie Bar

The eve of the 1970s North American Bike Boom was, interestingly, the heyday of "muscle" cars and "chopper" races.  So, it's no surprise that bicycles were made to evoke, in every way possible, the roaring engines and screeching tires of Daytona, Indy, LeMans and other motorized races.

The best-known of those bicycles were probably the Schwinn "Krate" series and Raleigh "Chopper".  Sometimes I think the latter name referred to what happened to bones when we attempted some of the stunts we saw on "Wide World of Sports".

Whatever our skill (or stupidity) levels, we all could do "wheelies".  We didn't need "training wheels", as we derisively called this item:

21 April 2016

The Cosmos, By Zeus

Last year, "The Retrogrouch" wrote an excellent article about the Basque component (and bicycle) maker Zeus, which was based in Spain.  They began manufacturing in 1926--a decade before Campagnolo--and seem to have continued until the late 1980s, or possibly the early 1990s.

Zeus is interesting for a number of reasons. One is they made almost everything on their bicycles:  Apparently, only the tires, tubes and spokes were not made by them, or one of their subsidiaries.  Perhaps only Raleigh, at least before the Bike Boom and on their three-speed models, manufactured as much as, or more of, their bikes than Zeus did. ("Schwinn-Approved" components were made by other manufacturers, e.g., Weinmann and Dia-Compe brakes, and Huret and Shimano derailleurs.)

Another reason why Zeus is worth looking at is that, while they developed a reputation for copying the designs of other manufacturers, they added their own touches and enhancements.  For example, their centerpull brakes were patterned after Weinmanns but were made with tighter clearances, tire guides (like the ones found on high-end sidepull brakes of the time), recessed allen bolts in the pivots--and a nicer finish.  And other components, such as the cranksets and derailleurs, used their Campagnolo counterparts as their starting points but departed in some details that didn't change their function but gave them character--and, often, made them lighter.  And perhaps no components more conspicuously exemplified the "drillium" trend of the 1970s than the "2000" line of components.

The funny thing is that the more Zeus came up with their own designs --they accumulated over 100 patents in their history-- the more they were criticized as "Campy copies".  Or so it seemed.

Even more ironically, those who made such criticisms probably never saw the Zeus part that was, perhaps, the nearest clone of the Campagnolo part that inspired it.  Actually, most of those critics didn't even realize the part in question--and others of the "gruppo" of which it was a part-- were made by Zeus because they were sold under the name "Alfa".

(The Spanish language doesn't have "ph" and "gh" diagraphs, as we have in English.  That is why it's spelled "Alfa", not "Alpha".)

Now tell me this "Alfa" derailleur doesn't look like the first version of the Campagnolo Valentino Extra:

Zeus Alfa

Campagnolo Valentino extra, first version

About the only visible differences between the two are the toothed pulleys on the Alfa, and the finish on the pivot bolts and adjustment screws of each one (black on the Alfa, chrome on the Valentino).  I never tried the Alfa, but I imagine that it doesn't shift much, if at all, differently from the Valentino--which was unexceptional, even for its time.

At the end of my first paragraph, I said that Zeus seemed to have continued until the late '80's or early '90's.  I could not find any information on when they succumbed (If Nietzsche were Greek, would he have declared that Zeus is dead?), but I had long thought that it was in the early or mid-80s, not long after they produced the 2000 series, their most renowned components.  Yet, while trolling eBay, I came across this:

European derailleur makers began to copy Shimano and SunTour designs during the early and mid-1980s, when those Japanese companies' patents started to expire.  Now, for all I know, Zeus may have made the "Cosmos" derailleur before that, as Spain was notorious for its lax patent laws.  Then again, it may have been made for them by someone else, although Zeus wasn't known for contracting other manufacturers.

Whatever the case, I never saw a "Cosmos" derailleur before.  Perhaps they were not produced for very long, or were not exported to the US.  If nothing else, it--ironically enough--belies the stereotype of Zeus as a "Campy copier".

20 April 2016

The Arc Of My Commute

Yesterday, I wrote about seeing the cherry blossoms budding on my way in to work.

Well, my ride home included a different sort of visual spectacle.  Because I was carrying a lot (and was being a bit lazy), I took the new connector bridge, which is flat, to Randall's Island, rather than the steep, zig-zaggy ramp up to the Bronx spur of the RFK Bridge.

The connector passes underneath the Hell Gate viaduct--where the Amtrak trains run--and over the Bronx Kill, which separates the rusty but still running industrial areas of the Bronx from the parklike expanses of Randall's Island.

My commute may be only ten kilometers in each direction.  But I felt as if I'd experienced a whole spectrum of color, a wide panaroma of light and forms, on my way to work and back.

19 April 2016

Cherry Blossoms Bloom In The Bronx

I have been at my current job for almost three months.  Most days, I have ridden my bike there and home.  It seems that I have settled into a basic route with a few minor variations.  But, whichever way I go, I seem to notice something new or different, if not every day, then at least very often.

It shouldn't be too surprising, I suppose to see a lot of trees growing in the Bronx, especially given that one grows in Brooklyn.  (By the way, I am not endorsing the book or any movie made from it.  The title is catchy, though.)  Today, it seemed, I saw them in places where I never expected.  Did they grow overnight?

Best of all, some of those trees--more than I expected--are cherry blossoms, just starting to bloom.


Cherry Blossoms Bloom In The Bronx.  How's that for a book (or something) about bike commuting in New York?


18 April 2016

And This Man's Fancy Turned To (A) Spring

Some cyclists always seem to ride as if the wind is at their backs. 

It wouldn't surprise me if somebody tried to create a perpetual wind-at-your-back machine.  (Now, honestly, isn't that the only kind of perpetual motion you would actually want?)  If it could be done for a subway train, why not a bike? 

I am not making up the part about the subway train.  There are several predecessors to the current New York City subway system, which opened in 1904.  One of them was the Broadway Underground Pneumatic Railway, which operated from 1870 until 1873. 

It was a railway in the sense that it ran on rails. However, calling it a "subway system" would be a stretch, as it was only a block, or about 100 meters (300 feet long) and included only one station at each end.   But it attracted notice, in part for its novelty, but also because of who created it and how he went about constructing it.

Alfred Ely Beach, an inventor and editor of Scientific American, demonstrated an air-driven tube system at the American Institute Fair of 1867.  He really wanted to show that it would be viable as an underground transportation system and applied to the New York City government, under the rule of Tammany Hall for a permit to build a tunnel.  He was denied--at least for a train tunnel.  He did, however, receive a permit to build a pneumatic package delivery system--one of the first of its kind--consisting of two tunnels.  Then he had his permit changed so he could build one large tunnel in order to "simplify" the system.  Of course, you know the real purpose of that "simplification"!

While cited as an important early development in New York City's transit history, it's not clear that pneumatic tubes could have been practical for a full-scale underground rail system.  Beach's line never expanded beyond the block--from City Hall to the intersection of Broadway and Murray Streets--under which it ran.  Multiple-unit traction trains and electric locomotives were developed not long after Beach's experiment ended, so investors were no longer interested in pneumatic subterranean rail lines.

Reading about Beach's experiment got me to wondering about other ways of propelling trains--and bikes.  Hmm...a pneumatic pedi-train?  Or how about one with a coiled spring that's wound up?

If such a system were to be built, it might come from the garage of these folks:


N.B.: Beach Street in the Tribeca neighborhood of lower Manhattan is named for Alfred Ely Beach. Very few New Yorkers know that.

17 April 2016

Waking Up And Finding A Bull's Head In Your Box

Today's weather was just like yesterday's, just a couple of degrees warmer.  Still, I did a shorter ride:  I got off to a late start.

But I enjoyed it nonetheless.  I rambled through some Brooklyn and Queens streets.  It's funny how I can roll through neighborhoods I know well, yet as I pedal down a particular street, I might think, "Hmm...haven't been here in a while.

So it was as I cycled down one of the major streets in a pocket of Brooklyn that no one seems to agree on whether it's in Williamsburg, East Williamsburg, Bushwick or Wyckoff Heights. 

("East Williamsburg" is an actual part of Brooklyn.  It's not just something you say when you're trying to impress someone--a potential date, perhaps--but you don't want to say you live deep in the heart of Bushwick.  For that matter, "Wyckoff Heights" actually exists, but about the only people who've heard the name are the ones who use it in reference to the area I rode through today!)

The street is bounded by the Broadway elevated train line and a cemetery.  On one side of the avenue I rode are projects and a senior center; the other side is lined with old factories, warehouses and storefronts.  If that doesn't sound like the sort of place in which artists live for about a decade before the neighborhood gentrifies--or becomes Hipster Hell--well, it is.

Not surprisingly, there are "vintage" and "antique" stores that charge more than most of those artists can afford for things other people threw away.  I stopped in one because it  had a couple of interesting-looking bikes and trombones (How often do you see them together?) outside the door, tended to by a rugged-looking woman in a long black skirt whom I took for one of the Orthodox Jews who live nearby but who, in fact, is the wife of, and co-owner with, a who looks like he could be one of the artists.

The woman was actually nice to me:  She invited me to bring my bike in.  The man was dealing with a haggler--actually, someone who was trying to shame him into giving her something at the price she wanted.  "I just bought property in this neighborhood.  I have a stake in it," she said, stridently.  Yeah, you're going to price all of the artists out of this neighborhood, I said to myself.

Anyway, there was some rather interesting stuff in the store.  This caught my eye:

I wish I could have better captured what I saw:  The curves of the handlebars and trombones.  It wasn't so surprising to see the latter.  But a box full of handlebars?  Even though a few bikes were for sale, that was a surprise.  I asked the female co-owner.  She didn't know how he came upon them.  "Probably they were getting tossed out," she speculated.  Perhaps, I thought, by some bike shop.  Most of the bars were cheap steel and alloy dropped bars, so I'm guessing the shop had them from old ten- and twelve-speeds that were "hybrdized".

Given all of the artists in the area, I wouldn't be surprised if at least one of those handlebars ended up in a sculpture or installation.  Could the next Picasso's Bull's Head be sitting, embryonic, in that box?

16 April 2016

The Point Of Today's Ride

Today I took my first 100k ride of the year to...where else?...Point Lookout.

The day was fairly warm, topping out at about 18C (64F), though the temperature dropped a few degrees as I neared the ocean, from which brisk breezes blew. I didn't mind:  along my entire ride, scarcely a cloud cluttered the sky.

The last time I rode to the Point, I saw almost no cars along the roads.  The playground and playing fields were deserted.  As I recall, it was a Suday not long before Christmas, and people were at home or in bars, watching (American) football on TV.  Apparently, one of the local teams was in the playoffs, or was vying for a spot in them.

Today, though, more cars and even vans rumbled down the streets leading to the Point.  And, when I got there, the parking area was full.

I soon realized why.  It's Saturday in mid-April, which means kids are playing baseball.  Someone told me Little League season had just begun.

While some kid on the ballfield did something to make his family and friends cheer, other kids perched on rocks jutting out from oncoming waves, terrified at their mother or grandmother or somoene who was screaming at them to pose for a picture.

They all left, but I would have been happier, I think, if just the grown-ups (alleged) had gone.  Whatever.  I got to hear the surf throbbing against rocks.

There is absolutely no reason to use a kickstand with a fixie!

Tosca, my Mercian fixed-gear bike, enjoyed everything at least as much as I did.  I chose her for the ride because I actually hadn't planned to go to Point Lookout--or any other place in particular--when I got on my bike.  I reasoned that if I took a shorter ride, I'd still get a good workout from spinning her fixed gear.  As it happened, she took me to Point Lookout today.  I am happy.

15 April 2016

One Out Of Ten Europeans Can't Be Wrong! Right?

One of the most common problems with old English three-speed bikes is that the hubs (and, in some cases, bottom brackets) have not been oiled in a long time.  I am guessing that British working-class people and farmers, who used such bikes regularly, if not daily, knew enough to drip some oil into their Sturmey-Archer SW hubs every month or so, depending on weather and other conditions.  Was that knowledge that was passed on from parents to children, or taught to them in school?

Most Americans have never had such knowledge.  (I know I didn't, until I encountered it in Tom Cuthbertson's Anybody's Bike Book.)  So, on this side of the Atlantic, Raleighs and Dunelts and Robin Hoods and whatever-other-brand three-speeds were ridden with Sturmey Archer hubs that had less oil in them than Japan or Western Europe

For that matter, the chains on those bikes--and others ridden, or at least owned, by the vast majority of Americans were just as dry.  One day, while parking my bike, I recognized the bike of a co-worker and saw that its chain was almost as orange as my safety vest.  The following day, I brought a little bottle of Tri-Flo with me and, finding the bike parked just a couple of spots away from where I saw it the day before, dripped some lube into the chain.

As it happened, that night we left at the same time.  On such nights we rode together, as her place was along the way to mine.  About ten minutes into the ride, she said, "My bike feels different tonight."  I could barely suppress my grin. "Why does it feel so much easier to pedal?"

From that night onward, she lubed her chain. And kept her tires inflated.  It may not sound like much, but it's more maintenance than most other people do--or want to do.

For that matter, in oiling her chain and pumping her tires, she's doing more than the average IKEA customer would ever do.  Someone at the home furnishings store chain figured that out.  Actually, that person (or group of people) came to realize that the fact that chains have to be lubed is exactly what prevents some IKEA customers from even buying a bike in the first place:  They're afraid that oil or grease will stain their nice new furniture, or simply clash with the décor.

So, the company--on whose beds one out of every ten living Europeans was conceived--has just announced that it is going to start selling the Sladda--a unisex bicycle "designed to fit an urban lifestyle"--in Europe this August.

The Sladda will come equipped with a sealed internally-geared rear hub and a cogged drive belt that, according to company literature, is good for about 15,000 kilometers (9,320 miles). 

Now, of course, a bike with such a system is not new:  Trek introduced one nearly a decade ago, and other bike-makers preceded and followed them.  But the Trek District and Soho are available only in bicycle shops, as are (or were) most of the other belt-driven bikes.  Some clever marketing person in IKEA's employ recognized that the sort of person who's put off by chains or hubs that require oil will probably never set foot in a bicycle shop. That realization, more than the design or even the seeming novelty of the bike itself, is probably what is motivating IKEA to offer the Sladda.

The bike-- designed by Oskar Juhlin, Jan Puranen and Kristian Eke of the design consultancy Veryday--will also have what the designers describe as a "click system" for attaching accessories, including  a basket, a rack and a cart.  Juhlin hints that third parties might create others:  "Sladda is like tablet apps:  you can add endless accessories to enhance ease of use."

That statement, I believe, says as much as anything else about the intended market for the bike.