31 August 2016

Early Morning On The Island

If you are looking to transcend the place and time in which you live, you can move out and away from them.  Or you can go inside them.

This morning, I did the latter, without even trying.  

Randall's Island sits in the East River, between Manhattan and Queens.  If you know that, but you've never been there, you might expect it to have a skyline like Manhattan's, if on a smaller scale--or, perhaps, dense residential neighborhoods, as you would find in much of Queens.

Instead, you would find fields--some of them open, others designated for baseball and other sports--as well as wetlands, clumps of woods and gardens ringed by a rocky shoreline.  The relatively bucolic landscape is shadowed only by the Hell Gate Viaduct, used by the Metro North commuter rail line and Amtrak, and the overpasses for the RFK Memorial Bridge. (The conjoined Wards Island, once separated by a channel that was filled in about 100 years ago, contains a water treatment plant, mental hospital and state police barracks in addition to ballfields and picnic grounds.)  Even when you look toward the tall buildings of Manhattan, the houses and apartment buildings of Queens and the factories and warehouses in the Bronx, it's easy not to feel as if you are in New York City.

Especially if you're cycling the island early in the morning:

The smokestacks you see in the background are on Rikers Island.  Even they don't look so menacing just after dawn.  (Still, I'm in no hurry to go there!)   Behind the trees to the right, and a few kilometers back, is LaGuardia Airport.  I'd much rather go there.  But riding on Randalls Island this morning was just fine!

30 August 2016

Suspending Disbelief

I started mountain biking right around the time suspension front forks were becoming a standard feature of serious off-road machines.  Back then, it seemed that designs were changing every week, and that if you bought a Rock Shox Mag 20, or a Marzocchi or Manitou telescoping fork, a year later you could get something lighter, more durable and with more travel--whether from those brands or one of the new marquees that seemed to appear every month.

Suspension (telescoping) fork advert, September 1992

By the time I stopped mountain biking and sold my Bontrager Race Lite, in 2001, new suspension forks bore little resemblance to the ones I saw and rode nearly a decade earlier.  Moreover, bikes with suspension in the rear of the frame had become commonplace, with designs that changed as rapidly as fork designs had been changing.

Even with all of that design evolution, there were some ideas that, apparently, no one ever considered.  Can you imagine how mountain bikes--and mountain biking--would be different if the first suspension system looked something like this?:

To be honest, I'm not sure I'd want to ride such a bike, especially on rocky ground.  I'd guess that even when I was skinnier and more flexible than I am now, I wouldn't have been able to keep my feet on the pedals for very long.



Then again, maybe the bike isn't made for spinners or sprinters.  It's called a "Flying Bike" because, I believe, it's made for riders to pedal for a few rotations before lifting their feet and "flying".  But I have to wonder whether it would feel like flying if the bike is bouncing through potholes and over rocks.

If you think the "flying bike" is weird, check this out:

 Can you imagine what mountain bikes would be like today if that had become the paradigm for suspension?

29 August 2016

For Hydration Purposes Only

This lady is riding a road that may or may not have been part of a Tour de France route.  And her preferred hydration substance is one that more than one TdF rider--as well as riders of other races--have used, whether on or off the bike.

Her name might give you a clue as to what she imbibed:  Madame Lily Bollinger.

Yes, that Bollinger.  And even though the bottles bearing her family name have never needed advertisement, she was not shy about extolling the virtues (or pleasures, at any rate) of their contents:

I only drink Champagne when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I am not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it—unless I’m thirsty.

All things in moderation, right?  

A bottle of Bollinger is surely not the cheapest way to hydrate.  But it might be the most elegant--unless, of course, you prefer Piper-Heisdeck or Veuve-Clicquot.  (Don't ask me which is better!)  But for those whose tastes--or desire for social cachet--exceeds their budgets, there are alternatives--like beer.  Of course, if you're a hipster or live in Portland, you don't drink any ol' brew:  You have to down a "craft" beer infused with passion fruit and vanilla beans--or cacao beans, or Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee beans, or some other ingredient that never would have found its way into mugs of Bud' downed by denizens of a real "dive" bar.

(Curiously, given how such viticulturally rich countries as France, Italy and Spain have dominated the history of bike racing, wine doesn't seem to have flowed as freely from Specialites TA bidons as one might expect.)

But what if you do not heed the "last call for alcohol"--or the first, or any in between?  Well, as I've mentioned in earlier posts, countless cyclists--including yours truly--have partaken of "the pause that refreshes".  The great thing about Coca-Cola is that it also doubles as an energy-booster:  Back in the day, we used to call it "rocket fuel".  These days, I rarely drink it, and I never drink any other soda at all.  But once in a while, I drink the Mexican version because it's the same as the Coke I grew up drinking.

As a kid, I drank stuff that's even less likely to be found on training tables.  Hawaiian Punch is one such concoction.  When I was a NORBA member,  I knew of a few mountain bikers who also drank it.  A few even filled their Camelbaks with it--and stuffed Pop Tarts in their pockets!

Now, of course, we drank Hawaiian Punch and Coca Cola the way Madame Bollinger drank er, um, bubbly grape juice:  strictly for hydration purposes.  Just like people add Jim Beam to their hot tea for medicinal purposes.

28 August 2016

Taking It All With You

Everyone has his or her own idea of what "camping" is.  Most people would agree that it is something done outdoors, or at least outside the confines of one's home.  Beyond that, it's hard to say exactly what it is.

For some, it means being in remote wilderness areas, be they mountains, virgin forests, glaciers or undeveloped coastlines.  To others, it can mean setting up a tent or tarp in a backyard.  Still other people think that camping is anything that deprives you of access to a mall. Someone, I forget whom, described those who "camp" in a trailer or Winnebago-type vehicle with all of the accouterments of modern life--you know, flat-screen TVs, microwave ovens and the like--as "out-of-car-doorsmen".

I'll confess that it's been a while since I've done anything that might be described as camping.  But I've gone on bike trips and slept under the stars (or, in a couple of instances, in rain and even sleet), with and without a tent or a tarp.  I've set up camp under a canopy of branches and on a bed of wildflowers; I've also unrolled my sleeping bag under bridges and in farmers' fields, cemeteries--and a golf course!  Of course, I didn't realize I was in a golf course when I called it a day (night) of cycling!

I'll also admit that I never went on a cycling trip during which open spaces, or even KOA-style campgrounds, served as my lodgings most nights.  I camped  when I was nowhere near (as far as I could tell, anyway) a hostel, hotel or pensione, or couldn't afford one--or, in the days before widespread ATMS, when I was nowhere near a bank or other place where I could cash a traveler's check.  I also sometimes camped simply because the night and landscape were beautiful, or because I wasn't confident enough in my skills in a local language to knock on a stranger's door.  So, I didn't carry what one might think is a full set of camping equipment.  I never toted a stove:  My meals consisted of raw foods purchased at the last market or store I saw that day, or from prepared foods that were lukewarm or even cold by the time I got around to eating them.

I have respect for all of those cycle-campers (perhaps you are, or have been one) who carry everything they need for a wilderness expedition on two wheels, without motorized assistance.  Moreover, I admire those who tow trailers full of equipment (and, in some cases, their child(ren) and pets) across long distances on their bikes, though I have never aspired to be one of them.  

What would those hardy cycle-campers make of the Bushetrekka Cycle-Camper trailer?

29. Bushetrekka Bicycle Camper Trailer: Going for an overnight adventure or two? Carry everything you need and catch a little bit of shuteye at the end of the day.:
For your next adventure....

It comes with the oversized tent cot you see in the photo. For the modest sum of $849.95, you "can carry anything you need and catch a little bit of shuteye at the end of the day"  on your "overnight adventure", according to its maker's advertising.

According to the advertising copy, the trailer--complete with cot--weighs 55 pounds.  According to people who've actually bought it (Yes, such people exist!), it actually weighs about 10 pounds more.  Worse, according to at least one commmenter, the wheels aren't sturdy enough.  

When I saw it, I had this question:  What, exactly, can that trailer do that even the biggest, heaviest and most expensive tent can't do--at a fraction of the weight and cost?

Worst of all, it could never be used for any of the "stealth" camping of the kind I did in my youth. In other words, I couldn't have set myself down in any of those fields, cemeteries or golf courses--or under the bridges--and scampered off at the crack of dawn if I had to collapse or dismantle or do whatever is necessary to the trailer so I could ride with it.

27 August 2016

A Sign For The Road I Was On

Today was warm and sunny, without much humidity.  So, of course, I rode--Arielle, my Mercian Audax, to be exact.

We took another spin to Connecticut.  I spent some more time on back roads that wind through farms where horses are stabled and, I assume, taxes are sheletered.

That last assumption comes from something someone pointed out while I was riding through Vermont years ago.  On a road near Killington, I passed three organic herb farms within a stretch of about three kilometers.  I wondered, aloud, what it was like to farm in such a place.  After all, late in the previous afternoon, the temperature dropped from 52 F to 15F  (from +11 to -9 C) and rain turned to sleet and snow from skies that, that morning, had nary a cloud.

The local who accompanied me on that ride said that those farms "most likely" belonged to "rich people from Boston or New York" who, he said, "probably lost money but wrote it off." But they "didn't care," he explained: "It's a hobby, a tax shelter, for them."

Now, one would think that anyone who could think of how to such a thing is pretty smart, and possibly has some education.  And, perhaps not surprisingly, Connecticut perennially ranks among the top five US states in the percentage of its population who hold college degrees.  By that metric, Greenwich is one of the most educated municipalities in the Nutmeg State.

As someone who's taught in colleges, I've spent lots of time with educated people--or, at least, people who've spent lots of time in school.  Let me tell you, they are not immune to saying things that make you wonder just how educated they are.  I'll confess:  I make such blunders, too.  But I make sure that nobody notices them! ;-)

At least, I've always been careful to make sure that my mistakes won't be seen by some smart-ass cyclist:

A "dismissal entrance"?  One has to wonder what is being taught in a school where tuition is $66,060 for the Upper and Lower Schools (and a mere $45,000 for the Foundations program).  

After passing that sign, I continued along Glenville Road, which leads to the Empire State.  Someone at Eagle Hill, I am sure, was quoting Groucho Marx: "There's the road out of town.  It's the one I wish you were on."

26 August 2016

How Many Hipsters--Or Pimps--On The Head Of A Spoke?

How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

That was, apparently, the question-of-the-day (or -century or -millenium) among medieval theologians.  If nothing else, it tells us that medieval theologians had lots of time on their hands.  Somehow I suspect that modern theologians do, too!

Apparently, some physicists have idle hours as well.  At least one took it upon himself to look for a possible answer to that question through a study of quantum gravity.  Now, I last took a physics class before most of you were born.  So, while I had a lot of fun reading the article, I can't tell you, exactly, what--besides its very premise--made it so amusing.

So now that I've waded into the territory of idle inquiries and can't get out  (a black hole,  perhaps?), I will plunge into another pointless probe.   

Here goes:  Is it possible to be a hipster and a pimp?

Such an inquest is not as impractical as it sounds.  It actually has profound implications for the bicycle world.  

After all, we really need to know whether it's possible to design a bike that will appeal to both a hipster and a pimp!

(Humor me and agree with the previous claim!)

A tiny company in Italy by the name of La Strana Officina may have given us the answer:

 At first glance, it might look like one of any number of "hipster fixies" you can find in almost any first-world city.  But the Cellini Uomo, to be fair, has touches won't find on very many other bikes.

As an example, the frame--made of TIG-welded from Nivacrom steel tubing--is bronzed before it is painted, in several stages.  Care is taken so that the dropout is not covered, and that the matte black paint does not completely mute the lustre of the metal.

The handlebars are 24-karat gold-plated.  So are the cable-housing ends! The handlebar covering on the right side is faux-python leather and the lever is, according to the company's website, of their own design, based on a joystick.

My favorite detail, though, is the gold anodizing on the pedals, which are built around titanium spindles.  The classic Christophe clips are great, but I'm rather surprised that those aren't gold-plated, or at least anodized.  That wouldn't be a deal-breaker for me (assuming, of course, I would buy such a bike).  However, this would:

Even if I were to buy the bike as a wall decoration (in what kind of space, I don't know), I would not want wheels with "bread tie" spokes.  They were a fad, mainly among mountain bikers, about twenty years ago.  I never saw the point of them--and I don't even like the way they look.  (Why they're on a "luxury" bike is beyond me.)  Both wheels of Cellini Uomo are spoked that way.  I guess if you were to order the bike, you could ask for a more conventional spoke pattern.

Somehow, though, I don't think a pimp or a hipster would care.   And either or both of them is the intended audience for this bike.  I'm not. 

Note:  The La Strana Officina website is only in Italian.  I interpreted it as best I could.

25 August 2016

Wearing Your Message On Your Sleeve (Or On Your Chest And Back, Anyway)

I stopped wearing bike-specific clothing (except for gloves and helmets) years ago.  I just might start again, at least in response to folks like Peter King and Heath Evans.

Actually, I would have a whole wardrobe of cycling tops.   For rides in which the possibility of encountering homicidal drivers is relatively low, I might wear this:

For times when there's a greater chance of a brush with a drunk or simply inconsiderate motorist--I could slip into this:

On days (or nights) when there might be more careless drivers--and there is a chance that one might be somewhat homicidal--I could sport this:

Finally, when it seems every other person behind a steering wheel has regressed to the emotional age of twelve, this just might set the right tone:

These jerseys are on Active.com.

24 August 2016

They're So Funny I Forgot To Laugh

If you have ever taught a remedial class, you know that none of the students in them are happy.  I can't blame them, for a number of reasons.  What used to bother me, though, was that they sometimes directed their hostility--usually in passive-aggressive ways, but sometimes more covertly--toward me, even though, as I would point out, I was doing everything I could to keep them from repeating the class.

One day, in one of those classes, a student remarked that he'd seen me riding my bicycle on the way to class.  "How do you do it?" he wondered.

"I get on my bike and pedal," I said, somewhat impudently.

Another student, in the rear of the class, chimed in, "I'm going to run you over."

I stepped out of the room and summoned a campus security officer.  (This was before cell phones were widespread.)  I told the officer what happened.  "He had no business saying that to you," he declared.  Then he came to escort the student out of the room.

"I didn't mean it!  I was only kidding!," the student squealed.  The officer took him away, and I never saw or heard from him again.

Nearly two decades have passed since that incident.  Apparently, some things haven't changed:  Some guys (Sorry: It is usually dudes who engage in such behavior!) still think it's a joke to talk about putting cyclists' lives in danger--or, worse, actually doing it.  Some even think it's funny, or simply their "right" to kill cyclists for taking up "their" roadway.

Even when I was more of a fan than I am now, I used to watch many sports events--especially NFL games--with the sound turned off.  Most sports have their share of television announcers and commentators who were star performers in their day but have never grown up.  It always seemed to me that American football commentators in particular had the need to pepper their chatter with the kind of "humor" that only frat boys of all ages find funny.

Just within the past two days, two such commentators openly expressed their contempt for cyclists.  One actually engaged in behavior that could have maimed or killed a rider--or a jogger or a mother or father pushing a stroller--while the other, who wears his "Christianity" on his sleeve, said that he wants to kill cyclists.

First, to the one who was reckless:  

NFL writer Peter King sent this tweet of his car speeding through a bike lane.  "I told driver Jenny Vrentas to get to Qualcomm as fast as she could," captioned the photo. 

That he thought he was being funny makes sense, I guess, when you realize that he writes for Sports Illustrated, a rag that, as Bike Snob NYC points out, keeps itself in business by publishing a soft-core porn issue every year.  I admit that a long time ago, I actually used to read SI (Someone gave me a gift subscription.  I swear!).  Then again, I also used to read Mad Magazine.  Point is, my tastes grew up (or, at least, I like to believe so)--and, to be fair, I made a major life-change.  Sometimes I think SI's readership never graduated from their junior high-school locker rooms.  So of course they would think endangering cyclists (After all, if you don't have a motor, you're not a man) is just good fun.

Speaking of locker rooms:  Heath Evans played in the NFL for ten seasons.  It's fair to assume that he took a pretty fair number of hits.  So, perhaps, we could chalk up occasional incoherence or silliness on his part to a concussion or some other injury his own helmet couldn't prevent---and, perhaps, another player's helmet caused.  But even the most brain-damaged of former players doesn't casually talk about killing people.  

Apparently, Evans is in another category.  

If there is anything amusing about that tweet, it's that he used the word "Respectfully" before declaring his wish to hit cyclists with his car.  Maybe he is brain-damaged.  Or maybe he was one of those "student-athletes" who went to college on a football scholarship and took classes in tackling and trash-talking for his major, whatever it was.

(I think now of the coach who said of one of his players:  "He doesn't know the meaning of the word 'fear'.  In fact, I just saw his grades, and he doesn't know the meaning of a lot of words.")

Now, if he couldn't see the incongruity of his word choice, it's understandable that he could profess to be a Christian, or adherent of any other faith that instructs its followers to do unto others as they would do unto themselves, or to love their enemies.  Lots of other people have the same gap in their cognition:  Countless kings and generals have led their minions into war "in the name of God."

(Interesting that the NFL has so many players who are adamant about their faith.  Why is it that the most violent sports have the most doggedly religious players?)

Anyway, both King and Heath have gotten a lot of backlash on the Twittersphere.  But neither seems in danger of losing his job, or anything else that matters to him.  As long as guys like them can get away with, essentially, pinning targets to cyclists' backs, building all the bike lanes in the world isn't going to make us any safer.

N.B.:  Thanks to Alan Snel of Bicycle Stories and the inimitable Bike Snob NYC for their reporting on King and Heath.

23 August 2016

Impressionist Camouflage?

When you get to a certain age, you become more honest with yourself because, really, you have no other choice.  I think that it was the Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset who said that at age 45, a person can no longer live in fictions.

One thing I've finally admitted to myself is that when I talk about what I "should" or "am supposed to" do, I'm actually just forestalling, even if only for a second, doing what I actually want to do.

And so it is that on days like today, I can tell you there were things I "should have" done--which, of course, I didn't do.  At least I managed, pretty early, to admit to myself that I wasn't going to do them.

It just took one look out my window--which was wide open (save for the screen, of course).  The morning was delightfully cool in a way it hasn't been in a long time.  Breezes were light and skies blue, full of sunshine.  

Well, it wasn't just any old mild, sunny day--with low humidity, to boot.  The qualities of that day seemed all the more vivid because it followed a long heat wave.  Something else made it truly unusual, though.

You see, the morning felt like early autumn and the early afternoon felt like one of those late-summer days we experience a week or so after Labor Day.  That made for delightful cycling weather.  The relatively cool air, however, was accompanied by the sort of refulgent summer light one sees in Impressionist paintings of picnics or other outings in the country.  Even the concrete canyons and brick-lined boulevards seemed to be bathed in the deep greens of the rippling leaves and the deep yellow sunlight.

I took a ride to--where else--Connecticut--where even the War Memorial in Greenwich seemed to camouflage itself in that light.

And the bike I rode--Arielle, my Mercian Audax. (Sorry about the poor quality of my cell-phone photos!) 

22 August 2016

A Season In The Boogie Down?

My academic year begins on Thursday.  Today I rode to the college for a meeting and workshops.  

Through the Spring semester (which began a couple of days after a blizzard struck this city), I saw gradually-increasing numbers of cyclists on the RFK Memorial Bridge lane and on Randall's Island on my way to the college.  I saw a similar slow but steady increase in the number of bikes parked in the racks on the college campus, and along the streets surrounding it.  Those increases, of course, could be attributed to the warming weather.  

So, perhaps, it was no surprise to see more cyclists crossing the bridge than I've ever seen on a weekday.  Some looked like they were riding for fun or fitness, but others seemed to be on their way to work or some other obligation.  More than a few, I'm sure, were motivated by the the clear skies and mild temperature, and not deterred by the brisk wind.  Then again, that wind some of them across the island and bridge as I pedaled into it.  

It also wasn't a surprise to see only two other bikes in the racks.  No doubt there will be more once classes begin.  I wonder how many students, faculty and staff will continue to ride as the season grows colder, and possibly wetter.   Three subway lines stop right in front of the entrances of the campus's two main buildings, and four bus lines stop within a block.  So, I'm guessing that some of the bike commuters are "seasonal", if you will:  They use mass transit when the weather becomes less favorable for cycling. 

Perhaps the most interesting development I noticed is that on the South Bronx streets between the bridge (and Randall's Island Connector) and the college, I've seen more cyclists than I've ever seen before.   Some were riding the old ten- and three-speeds (Nobody calls them "vintage" in such a neighborhood!) in various states of disrepair--or with seats, handlebars and other parts that clearly are not original equipment.  You see people riding bikes like those all the time in low-income communities:  They have become basic transportation vehicles and, in some cases, beasts of burden that tow shopping carts or baby strollers piled with that day's shopping, or cans, bottles and other items that are being hauled to the recycling center.

I did notice, however, more than a few bikes that were clearly not being used for such purposes--and riders who almost certainly have never ridden their bikes in the ways I've described.  As we say in the old country, "They sure don't look like they're from around here."  I even noticed two people riding Citibikes, even though the nearest docking station is about 5 kilometers--and a world--away.

Will I see those non-utility cyclists in the South Bronx come November or December?  For that matter, I wonder how many of the riders I saw on the bridge or the island today will still be on their bikes as the season turns in "the Boogie Down". 

21 August 2016

For The First Time, Again

It seems that every year I take at least one ride like the one I took today.

I didn't ride to or through anyplace I'd never seen before today.  Conditions were not at all challenging:  rather humid, but not oppressively so.  Probably the worst (or best, depending on which way I was riding) was the wind, but even that wasn't so bad.

Certainly, I didn't cover a lot of ground, at least compared to some other rides I've done.  I stayed within the confines of three New York City boroughs:  Queens (where I live), Manhattan and Brooklyn.  Then again, I hadn't really planned on doing a century--metric, imperial or otherwise--or a brevet, or any sort of ride with a name.  In fact, I didn't have any sort of plan at all.

I spun up and down major avenues, sprinted from traffic light to traffic light on 57th Street, made furtive turns into alleys and weaved among riders of Citibikes, skaters toting yoga mats and the self-consciously a la mode pushing strollers with the names of designers or athletic-wear companies emblazoned on them.  All of this was pleasant enough, even exhilarating at times.

One thing that seemed strange, even for a Sunday at this time of year, was that some of the streets were all but clear of traffic, whether of the motorized, foot or pedal variety, even though said streets weren't closed.  In fact, I could ride longer and faster in a straight line along those thoroughfares than I could on the bike and pedestrian lanes.

It seemed that almost all of the people--whether on foot, bike or skate--were in the places where one expects to find tourists:  around the Intrepid Air and Space Museum, the South Street Seaport, at the terminals for the ferries to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, on the Brooklyn Bridge. (I like to think that one of the signs I'm a "real" New Yorker is that I don't ride across the BB:  when I cross the East River, I take the Queensborough/59th Street, Williamsburgh or Manhattan Bridges, depending on where I'm going.)  In contrast, the shopping areas along 14th Street and Sixth Avenue (No New Yorker calls it "Avenue of the Americas"!) were all but deserted even though most of the stores were open.

As I cycled up First Avenue near the United Nations, I realized that everything I'd seen was a sign that it's almost the end of summer.  I realized that I take a ride like this one around this time every year:  a week or two before Labor Day.  This is the "last chance" for a lot of New Yorkers to leave town and for many tourists to come here.  And, of course, New Yorkers with lots of money and vacation time have been out of town for weeks already.  It'll be a week or two before they, and other vacationers, start trickling back in--and before the tide of tourists becomes a trickle.

It's at this time of year that I feel most like a "fly on the wall" in my own city.  I am not a tourist, but at the same time, I feel as if I am looking at familiar streets and buildings from the other side of a two-way mirror.  Although I live here, I feel as if I am not entirely here.

I don't mean any of what I've said as a complaint.  If anything, I find it interesting.  In a way, I am privileged:  Although I am far from rich (by the standards of this city and country, anyway), I was able to take a vacation of my own choosing, to a place of my own choosing and do it on my own terms.  And I have had little to worry about since I came back.

In fact, I realize now that since coming back from Paris--three weeks ago, already--I've spent a fair amount of time outside the city, with the bike rides I've taken to Connecticut and the more bucolic parts of New Jersey and Long Island.  So, in a way, I haven't been living like a resident of this city.  But I haven't been a tourist, either, because at the end of the day, wherever I've ridden, I've come back to my own bed and cats--and, as often as not, prepared my own meals.   

Could it be that this time of year--the latter part of August and the first few days of September--is a season unto itself?   Is this the season of The Outsider--and was today's ride my annual Outsider Ride?  

Perhaps no matter how often we've ridden a street or trail, seen a building or field, swum in a sea or opened a particular door--whether for the first time or the last, for a moment or a lifetime-- we are visiting:  We are coming in from the outside.  But we are coming in, and we can stay as long as our time, resources and imaginations allow us.  And one day we can come back.

And we can do the same rides, again, for the first time, from the outside.  At least, that's what I feel I did today.

20 August 2016

The Music Of The Spheres (Or The Wheel, Anyway)!

The Music Of The Spheres (Or The Wheel, Anyway!)

Now, I know most of you, my dear readers, are sensitive, socially-conscious people.  (Even if you aren't, nod in agreement!)  So, I'm going to share some "forbidden knowledge" with you that I know you never, never will use.  Right?  (Again, nod in agreement!) It's something I never, ever used myself and wouldn't, in a million years, ever use. Really!

OK, here goes:  If you really want to insult a musician (or, more precisely, someone who fancies him- or her-self as one) and be politically incorrect (Now why would you want to do that?), here is what you say:

"You're a real artist.  You have a Van Gogh's ear for music."

Now, I assure you, I love Van Gogh more than any Japanese banker who paid $100 million for one of his paintings.  (When you're poor, you console yourself by saying things like that!)  One of the high points of my second bike trip in Europe was stopping in Arles and sitting on the cafe terrace Vincent graced with his paintbrush.

So... what would it be like to have a Van Gogh's ear for music--at least, before he did that little bit of DIY surgery on himself?  Somehow I think he would have heard things most of us can't.  After all, isn't his painting about seeing what most of us don't?  (Perhaps the same could be said for any great artist.) Sometimes I think that in "Starry Night", he was hearing--and feeling, and perhaps even smelling and tasting, as well as seeing-- all of those lines and colors as he painted them.  

Likewise, I wonder what other artists heard in the music they listened to.  Many a writer has expressed his or her perceptions about Mozart, Marley and Monk, as well as musicians in every other part of the spectrum--and alphabet!   But we don't often hear what painters, sculptors and others who work in visual media feel when they listen to musical maestros.  If they were to turn to pianos instead of palettes, or using their voices instead of violet and vermillon (or cellos instead of celeste green)--or if they composed instead of chisled--what kind of music would they make?

(Let's hope that if they write, they won't over-use alliteration!)

I believe I may have stumbled onto what sounds Marcel Duchamp might have made had he turned at least one of his objets into a musical instrument:

Now tell me:  Whatever you think of him, who else but Frank Zappa could have done it?  

And who else but Steve Allen could have gotten away with bringing a then-unknown musician onto his show, and letting said musician do, basically, what ten-year-old boys (and, sometimes, girls) had been doing for decades with their bicycles?  Who else could have, in front of a national audience, treated such a musician as if he were, well, a musician?  

At the time of that broadcast--1963--most American audiences weren't ready for the Beatles or Bob Dylan, let alone Frank Zappa.  I'm not sure Steve Allen was, either.  At least he deserves credit for his willingness to expand his own horizons--which, of course, was the first step in helping to expand the horizons of his audience.

What would Marcel Duchamp have played on that bicycle wheel in his studio?  

Marcel DUCHAMP, Bicycle wheel

19 August 2016

How Did They Stay On Track?

I have ridden on two velodromes in my life:  Kissena and "T-town".  The first time I rode Kissena, which is just a few kilometers from where I live, it more closely resembled some trails I rode in Vermont than any other track.  Another rider, who was a bit of a tinkerer, quipped that it was inspiring him to design the world's first dual-suspension track bike.  The Lehigh Valley Velodrome--commonly called "Trexlertown" or "T-town", today known as the Valley Preferred Cycling Center--was like a mirror by comparison.

Riding on both tracks gave me butterflies in my stomach, along with an adrenaline rush.  I don't know how fast I rode (Somehow, I don't think Chris Boardman or Francois Pervis had anything to fear!) but I know I was riding faster than I ever did on a road or trail--without even trying!  and at angles I couldn't even imagine myself reclining or sitting!  It was probably as close as I ever came to defying gravity.

One thing you have to remember when you're on a velodrome--or any time you ride a fixed-gear bike:  Keep pedaling!   If you stop, you'll fall off--and, if others are riding on the 'drome, into their path. 

I have never ridden a high-wheeler ("penny farthing").  But I imagine that the same principle holds true:  After all, if the wheel is moving, so are the pedals.  I also imagine that if you suddenly stop pedaling, the resulting fall could be even nastier than the tumble from a modern track bike.

Perhaps one day I will ride a high-wheeler.  But I simply cannot imagine riding it on the track.  I wonder how these guys did it:

18 August 2016

Edward Adkins: A Victim of Phantom Law Syndrome

During one of my many rides to Point Lookout, I was riding between a traffic jam and the shoulder of Lido Boulevard, just west of the Meadowbrook Parkway entrance.  As I recall, it was a weekday, so I wondered why there so many cars along the Boulevard headed away from Point Lookout. 

I soon had my answer.  Just past the high school, a truck crashed--apparently, from swerving.  The light turned red; I stopped.

"Ma'am.  Get over here!"  I didn't think the burly man in a suit was yelling to me--until he scuttled in front of me.

"I'm talking to you!  When I say come, come!"

"Why?  You're not my father!"

"Don't get cute with me!"

"As if I could..."

"Listen, I don't wanna arrest you..."

"For what..."

"Never mind.  See that truck over there."

I nodded.

"Well, there's a guy on a bike under it, with his skull crushed.  Doesn't look like he's gonna make it."

"Oh, dear..."

"Listen, that coulda been you!"

"Well, I'm careful."

"Well, you were riding carelessly."

"How so?"

"You were riding between cars..."

I wasn't, but I didn't argue.  Then he lectured me about bicycle safety, pointing out that he was a "bicycle safety officer" for the local police department.  I had the impression that everything he knew about bicycle safety, he learned from one of those movies they used to show kids back in the days of "air raid drills".

"That's against the lore (translation:  law), ya' no'."

Then he ordered me to take off my sunglasses.  "Doesn't look like yer under the influence."  Squinting, I slid them back onto my face.

"Where do ya live?" he demanded.


"You rode all the way from Queens?"  Again, I nodded.

"Well, at least you're wearing a helmet.   The guy under the truck wasn't."

Silence.  Then, "Listen, be careful. I really don't want you getting hurt.  And remember...don't ride between cars.  If I see you doin' that again, I'll hafta write you up."

Later, I looked up the traffic and bicycle codes for the town where I encountered that officer.  I couldn't find any prohibition against riding between cars.  Nor could I find any such regulation in county codes or New York State law. An attorney I contacted called that officer's assertion "nonsense".

Now, the officer I encountered that day may have been upset after dealing with a cyclist who got his head crushed under a truck. Or he may have been having a bad day for some other reason, or had some sort of unspecified rage--or a more specific animus against cyclists, or me as an "uppity" (at least, in the eyes of someone like him) female.  

Or he may have just been suffering from what I call "Phantom Law Syndrome".  

To be fair, police officers aren't the only ones prone to PLS. Lots of people think there are, or aren't, laws against one thing or another in their jurisdiction.  So, they might break a law without realizing it, or keep themselves from doing something because they believe, incorrectly, that there's a law against it. Or they might accuse someone of breaking a law that doesn't exist.

Also--again, to be fair--laws change.  Sometimes they're struck down, aren't renewed or replaced with other laws. Or  they're passed with little or no fanfare.  So, it's not inconceivable that some officer or detective wouldn't be aware of such changes.

I was reminded of those things, and the encounter I've described, when I came across the sad saga of Edward Adkins.

Edward Adkins

Nearly two years ago, a police officer saw the Dallas native riding his bicycle, sans helmet, in his hometown. Apparently, the constable didn't realized that the city's ordinance mandating helmets had been struck down, at least for adults, a few months earlier.  Adkins, 46 years old, lives off odd jobs and didn't have $10 to pay the fine.  

Now there is a warrant for his arrest, which he can pay off--for $259.30.  

Now, I am not a lawyer, and I certainly am not familiar with the police or courts in Dallas.  Still, I can't help but to think that there must be a way to lift the warrant--and to void the ticket because it shouldn't have been issued in the first place.

Even if he has such recourse, though, I imagine it would be very difficult for Adkins to pursue.  After all, doing so would take time and money that he, apparently, doesn't have. 

It also doesn't help Adkins that, in addition to being poor, he is black and lives in a neighborhood comprised mainly of people like him.  Living under such circumstances leaves you even more vulnerable to police officers and other authorities with PLS.  For that matter, laws that actually do exist for such things as wearing helmets and against such things as riding on the sidewalk are more often, and more strictly, enforced in poor minority neighborhoods than in other areas.   I have witnessed it myself:  Not long ago, while riding through the East New York section of Brooklyn, I saw three officers grab one young black man who rode his bike on the sidewalk while a young white couple pedaled through a red light.

Now that I think back to that encounter with the "bicycle safety officer" on Lido Boulevard, I can't help but to wonder how it might've turned out if I'd been darker and poorer (or, at least, riding a bike that wasn't as nice as the one I was riding)--or if I hadn't been wearing a helmet, whether or not one was mandated.