30 September 2016

A Honeycomb Or A Spider? From Huret?

When I first became passionate about cycling, the best frames--usually made from Reynolds 531 or Columbus SL tubing--featured intricately-cut lugs, like the ones made by Nervex:

Nervex lugs with extra-long tangs on a 1950 Mercian Vincitore

A good production frame like the Peugeot PX-10 would use Nervex lugs "as is"; custom frame builders might file them to even finer points, or make a cutout "window".  

A few builders even cut plain lugs into their own distinctive patterns. The British builders in particular were noted for their distinctive scrolls, trellises and other shapes and patterns.

During the mid to late 1970s, however, bicycle makers--even the small-production custom builders--shifted to plainer "spearpoint" lugs.  Sometimes those artisans filed them to elongate the "spear" or, as they did with Nervex lugs, cut a "window" in a particular shape, such as a heart, diamond or cloverleaf, into the body of the lug.

For all of the fancy lugwork, though, dropouts looked more or less the same.  Again, some custom or low-production builders filed them or did other finishing work to make their bikes all the more distinctive.  Still, because most high-quality dropouts looked so similar, there wasn't as much a builder could do to make that part of the bike stand out.

One notable exception this:

Is it a honeycomb?  Or a spiderweb?  Did Huret make it?

In 1974 and 1975, Gitane "Interclub" and "Tour de France" were made with this dropout.  A few other bikes--all of them French--also featured this unique frame fitting.  

Often called the "honeycomb" or "spiderweb" dropout, its provenance is somewhat mysterious.  It's usually referred to as a "Huret" dropout because the bikes that came with it always seemed to have Huret derailleurs attached to them. (Yes, even on Gitanes, which were notorious for coming with parts that were very different from the ones listed on catalogue spec tables!)  I could not, however, find this dropout in any Huret catalogue or brochure from 1974 or 1975--or, in fact, from 1969 through 1981.

From what I've gathered, it seems to be of good quality.  One discussion board says that it was cast, rather than forged as Huret's (as well as Campagnolo's) road dropouts were.  However it was made, the "honeycomb" or "spiderweb" seems to be robust, as no one seems to know of any that broke or otherwise failed.

Apart from its appearance, the "'comb" or "'web" had one other interesting--and useful--feature: without modification, it could accept Campagnolo, SunTour, Shimano and Simplex as well as Huret derailleurs.  This is particularly serendipitious for anyone who wants to outfit an Interclub or Tour de France frame with modern components.

Huret dropout

Nearly all dropouts made since the 1980s are patterned after Campagnolo, which has a 10mm threaded mounting hole and a "stop" on the underside, at the 7 o'clock position.  (SunTour and Shimano dropouts from the 1970s and 1980s were also made this way.)  A Huret dropout also has a 10mm threaded hole, but its "stop" is at the four o'clock position. 

Campagnolo dropout. Note the 'stop' at the 7 o'clock position, as opposed to the 4 o'clock position on the Huret.

What all of that means is that a Campagnolo derailleur will fit into a Huret dropout, but it might mount at a strange angle, which could impede its shifting.  A SunTour derailleur doesn't share this problem, as its angle-adjusting screw has a lot of range.  In fact, Schwinn Superiors from 1976 through 1979 came with SunTour derailleurs mounted on Huret dropouts.  So did some Motobecanes from that period.

On the other hand, some Huret derailleurs won't work on Campy dropouts at all.  Two different versions of the Jubilee were made:  one for Huret's own dropouts, the other for Campagnolo.  Other Huret models, like early versions of the Success and Duopar, would work with adapters Huret offered; later versions of those derailleurs were made only to fit Campagnolo-style dropouts, which had become the de facto standard.

Simplex dropout

Simplex dropouts, as opposed to the others, had a 9 millimeter unthreaded hole and no "stop".  If you want to use any other derailleur, you have to tap out the hole and grind a "stop":  a rather delicate procedure, especially if the dropout was chromed, as it was on many bikes.  Because SImplex derailleurs attached to the dropout with a recessed allen bolt that threaded into the derailleur's top pivot (in contrast to other derailleurs with top pivot bolts that threaded directly into the dropout), it could be used in a Campy dropout--with a "Class B" fit.

So...If you have a bike with the "honeycomb" or "spiderweb" dropouts, you have no reason to fear, at least according to everything I've read.  But, honestly, you know you like it for its looks, or at least its uniqueness.  They don't make them like that anymore!

29 September 2016

Drawing Bicycles From Memory

In Bob Dylan's "Highlands", the narrator (presumably Dylan himself) wanders into a restaurant in Boston.  He is the only customer; the only other person there is the waitress.  

She says, "I know you're an artist, draw a picture of me."  

He responds:  "I would if I could, but I don't do sketches from memory."

Then she chides him, "I'm right here in front of you," but he continues to hedge.

Some would argue that all drawing (and writing and other creative and re-creative work) is done from memory.  After all, any thought, feeling or other experience becomes past--i.e., memory--the moment it happens.

I, too, have been asked to draw from memory and "in the moment".  I, too, find ways to hem, haw, hedge and politely decline.  Long ago, I realized that I am not that sort of artist:  When I displayed my sketches and paintings, I got a ticket for littering.

OK, so I made up that last story.  But, even with the meager talent I have for such things, I might have continued to paint and draw--from memory--had I known what has been confirmed in many studies:  Most people don't do any better than I did.  In fact, most do worse.

That point was illustrated (pardon the pun) once again when, a few years ago, an Italian designer Gianluca Gemini asked people to draw men's (diamond-frame) bikes from memory.  Most of their renditions bore, at best, only a passing (pun alert!) resemblance to anything anybody rode down the strada or through the piazza.  Recently, he decided to render some of those drawings into lifelike 3D pictures.

The participants in Gemini's study ranged in age from three to 88 and lived in seven different countries.  Across those generational and cultural divides, Gemini found some patterns, especially among genders.  For example, men tended to overcomplicate the frame when they realize they are not drawing it properly.

I want to meet the dude who came up with that.  What I find ironic is that for all of its sharp geometric lines--as if it were designed by Mondrian on crack cocaine--it actually looks good with "moustache" bars.  Also, the brown leather seat and handlebar tape lend it a certain elegance.

Speaking of elegant, here is a bike that reflects a female pattern

Interestingly, most of the front wheel-drive bikes (the ones with the chains and gears attached the front wheel) were drawn by women.  Gemini can't (or doesn't) offer an explanation.  

I very much like that bike--at least, its looks.  Had I more space and money, I'd have it made and use it for a wall hanging.  Heck, I might even ride it.  Put a Brooks brown saddle on it, and very few bikes would be lovelier.

Here's another bike from Gemini's study that caught my eye:

I mean, how can you not love a bike with track gearing, two fork assemblies, a wheelbase longer than the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge--and that yellow flag!

All right, I'll admit:  I really like the color:  a sort of periwinkle/lavender blue.  If you've been reading this blog, surely, you're not surprised.

Gemini's participants also came from a wide variety of occupations, including students and retirees.  Professional or employment status--or lack thereof--seemed to have little or no bearing on how realistic or whimisical participants' drawings came out.  The most "unintelligible" drawing, according to Gemini, was made by a doctor.  I wonder whether he or she is a surgeon!

28 September 2016

Mommy Dearest Rides A Bike

Last year, I wrote about someone who was a BMX rider before there was BMX--or, at least, before anyone coined the term "bicycle motocross".

The moves of this rider could put those of even some of the most accomplished BMXers, never mind hipsters on fixies, to shame.  And said rider made those spins, twirls and climbs with a grace unmatched by just about anyone else--decades before David Mirra or Ryan Nyquist were even born.

This rider's unique style was partly a result of her training.  All right, I let it slip that the rider was a woman.  Moreover, she was at least twice the age of most BMX riders when she made those moves.

Lily Yokoi's best-known (at least to mainstream American audiences) performances were on episodes of The Ed Sullivan Show and another variety show called The Hollywood PalaceThe latter, which aired on 9 October 1965, was hosted by none other than Joan Crawford.

It's easy to assume that show was as close as Ms. Crawford came to a bicycle--unless you've seen this:

Of course, it's easy to dismiss that photo as staged or retouched.  For one thing, it doesn't have a very natural look. (Then again, "natural" wasn't considered a virtue when that image was made.)  For another, the image appeared among other photos of major Hollywood stars on or with bicycles. Those luminaries include Bing Crosby (and his sons in their letter sweaters), Bob Hope, Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman (they were married then), Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. 

I am talking about the 1946 Schwinn catalogue.  Why was there such an emphasis on glamor ?  My guess is that in the first post-war year, people wanted to be dazzled after the austerity that resulted from the war and the Great Depression that preceded it.  The "lightweight" bikes of that year, such as the Continental, seemed to emphasis their "European-ness", which was equated with elegance and sophistication.  In contrast, the wide, swooping curves, wide tires, lush chrome and flashy paint of Schwinn's (and other American bike makers') 1950s cruisers seemed baroque.

But I digress.  Turns out, "Mommie Dearest" wasn't just posing for a one-off photo.  While there are no accounts of her doing audaxes or races, she apparently got around on her bike.  Whatever her riding style, hardly anybody looked better!

As I understand, she was not the only Hollywood actor or performer who was riding in those days.  Some rode just because they liked it; others pedaled off the stresses and frustrations of working, as Jimmy Stewart would after spending hours in a wheelchair, with a fake cast on his leg, for Alfred Hitchcock's thriller Rear Window.


27 September 2016

Grass On Top, Bicycles At Base: From The Vision Of Oculus

Here in New York, we (those of us who aren't architecture critics, anyway) learned of him from this:

Oculus lifts its wings just north of Liberty Tower, where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center once stood.  It rises, like a cross between a ghost and a phoenix, above the transportation center that brings seven New York City subway lines, as well as the PATH system, together.

It lifts and spreads our vision over and across a plaza surrounded by tall glass and steel towers.  In a way, it's almost an inverse image of I.M. Pei's Pyramid in the Louvre courtyard, which directs our vision from a focal point above the ground and, like Oculus, spreads it, though toward the ground, in a milieu of cream-gray Oise stone walls.

Although I like Oculus, I think it's fair to criticize it for housing what is essentially a high-end shopping mall on the site of one of the worst tragedies in this country's history.  (Ironically, it sits in the same concrete bathtub as the 9/11 Memorial Museum, which is as muted and somber as the Oculus is light and airy.)  But I also feel that beauty, in any form, is a fitting way to honor victims of a horrific event.

Oculus' designer created another iconic transit hub twenty-six years ago.  In fact, it is now one of the busiest rail terminals in Europe.  But, in an ironic twist, this terminal, designed to facilitate the movement of people to, from and through a major city, has been plagued with congestion.  Now the architect who created the train station is going to add something to it that might help to alleviate that overcrowding, at least somewhat.

Santiago Calatrava, who hails from Spain but is now based in New York, has unveiled plans a grass-topped office block on the plaza of his Stadelhofen Station in Zurich, Switzerland.  His glass "twenty first century office building" will feature bulging walls with slanted angles at the corners that--to my eye, anyway--are somewhat evocative of the ribs that comprise Oculus.  There will be a triangle of grass on the roof.

But one of the most intriguing aspects of this planned building (and the reason why I'm writing about it on this blog!) is that the plan includes public parking for 1000 bicycles on the ground level.

With his plan, Calatrava becomes the latest in a growing number of architects to integrate cycling infrastructure into an otherwise commercial project.  If successful, it will have the benefit of making both cycling (particularly for transportation) and mass transit more convenient--or, to some, simply more palatable. Whatever you think of his designs, he ought to be commended for that.

26 September 2016

A Beautiful Ride, Indeed!

Perhaps I am more fortunate than most people.  After all, on two consecutive days, I took rides that--as familiar as they were--nourished my mind and spirit, if in completely different ways, as they exercised my body.

And I rode to work with the sun blazing over Hell Gate as a cool breeze floated over me.  "You look happy!" one of my students observed.

Happy, indeed.  After riding to work, I got to talk about poetry.  Between classes, I checked my e-mail.  Someone sent me this:

A beautiful ride, indeed!

25 September 2016

The Beginnings Of Change

Today I took a ride down to the Rockaways, and along the South Shore of Queens and Brooklyn.  

The skies were even clearer than they were at the end of my ride yesterday, and the Atlantic tides seemed benign and powerful at the same time, much like today's sunlight.

Still, I found myself overtaken--at moments, overwhelmed--with melancholy.  The cool breezes and low tides evoked sense-memories of rides I took, alone, along the Jersey Shore between Sandy Hook and Point Pleasant Beach during my teen years, especially during the fall of my senior year in high school.  

By that time, my mother knew I wasn't going to Mass anymore, even though I didn't tell anyone else--including, ironically, my father, who had even less religious belief (though, as it turned out, more belief in a Supreme Being or Higher Power or some such thing) than I have ever had.  Mother knew I was going on bike rides when I told everyone else--or led them to believe--I was going to church.  She wasn't happy about that, but, really, she couldn't say much about it, as she hadn't been to church herself in decades.

I took those rides because I loved riding--but also because I simply couldn't be with anyone else on Sundays, at least before dinner time.  That's when I had to be home; the hour was not stipulated, but I always knew it was some time around three in the afternoon.    

During the fall of my senior year in high school, it seemed that nothing else mattered.  At least, all I cared about on Sundays were riding and my mother's lasagna and salads.  I had no idea of where I'd be a year later:  I'd applied to a few colleges and to West Point and Annapolis--I would receive nominations to each of them--but, honestly, I didn't care which of them would take me, or whether none would.  About all I knew was that everyone I saw every day that year, I would never see again.   And, save for my mother, father, siblings and grandmother, I would probably never hear from anyone again.

Pedaling along the sea, along the curved rainbows the tides left, even if only for an instant, in the sand, was my only solace.  I had two friends during my high school years:  one died, of lukemia, during the early days of my senior year, a couple of weeks before the autumnal equinox. I still miss her.   And the other, as much as I liked him, I knew we wouldn't remain in contact for long afterward:  What we had in common was being the geeks, the outcasts, in that school.

Riding along the sea was my escape--no, it was my life itself--that year.  I don't know how I would have survived without it.  I imagined pedaling across the ocean, to Portugal, to Spain, to Morocco, to France--France!--and Italy and England.  I had never been to any of those places; they were somewhere on the other side of the tides I saw on the horizon.  

If I could have ridden to those places, I would have.  If I could have done nothing but ride that year--and for many years afterward--I would have.  The cycling buddies I would later meet would have understood why I wanted to ride; but, interestingly, my mother--who has not ridden since her childhood--might have been the only person in my life at that time who understood--though, perhaps, she might not have been able to articulate it--why I not only wanted it, but needed--and still need--it.

Somehow, I think she also understands that, in some way, that need is, and was, related to the necessity--the inevitability--of my gender transition.  Riding kept me sane, to whatever degree I was sane--or, at least, intact--and for a time, racing as well as long rides up and down mountains helped to channel the anger and aggression I felt.  So, when I called her today and, during our conversation, I told her about my ride, I could almost hear her recognition of the deja vu.  

After all, I took a ride along the shore on the first Sunday of Fall.

24 September 2016

Following Bliss At The Beginning Of Fall (Apologies to Joseph Campbell)

Fall began the other day, though you wouldn't have known it from the weather.  Today was more like it:  cool and breezy, with bright sunshine showing, like the leaves, just the slightest hints of change in hue.

This also means the days are growing shorter.  So, if you want to ride the same number of miles or kilometers you were riding a few weeks earlier--in daylight--you have to leave earlier in the morning.  Or ride faster.

Today I woke up later than I anticipated.  Still, I decided to sit and enjoy a breakfast you won't find at very many training tables.  I blame the nice, warm baguettes I encountered in the bakery two blocks from my apartment.  (Well, now you know one reason why I'm not as skinny as I was!)  And I just happened to have a nice, ripe slice of Brie in my refrigerator. I took it out before I set out for the bakery.  When I got back, it hadn't started to run, but oozed flavor nonetheless.

Perhaps incongruously, I washed everything down with green tea.  I find, increasingly, that it's what I prefer to drink before a ride, especially since I've started to keep un-bagged tea (from Japan, no less) and an infuser in my apartment.  I'm going to keep those things in my office, too!

(Of course, while in Paris, I drank coffee before rides.  Why wouldn't I?  Who goes there to drink tea?)

Yesterday the weather forecasters told us that last night we would have rain and wind, which would bring in the weather we had today--which began with a heavy cloud cover that broke up through the morning.  Hearing that prediction, I planned on taking a ride to Connecticut.  But I wondered how realistic that plan would be, at least if I wanted to get home in daylight.  After all, it was nearly noon when I got on my bike.

And I started my ride in the teeth of a 30KPH wind. I realized that, if I wanted to return home in daylight, I had three choices:  push myself, ride to Connecticut and, if need be, take the train home from there or some other point on the way back, or just ride as far as I could in a couple of hours and turn back, whether or not I reached Greenwich.

Just about all the way up, I was pedaling into that wind.  But the ride wasn't as strenuous as I expected.  Perhaps it had something to do with the weather:  temperatures of 12 to 17 C (55 to 64 F) with muted but gradually brightening sunshine.  Also, I was riding Arielle, my Mercian Audax, which always seems to make me faster,  without trying.  And, hey, I was just feeling so, so good simply to be out riding!

Even though I took the long route up--which also happens to be the route with more hills--I got to Greenwich more quickly than I expected:  about two hours and forty-five minutes.  That meant about three and a half hours to sunset.  And I would have the wind at my back!

Mind you, I wasn't trying to better a personal record (I didn't) or prove anything to myself.  I simply felt so good today that I couldn't help but to have a great ride.  And, of course, Arielle gives such a smooth ride that I can keep on pedaling without pain, without strain and still get a good workout.

Oh...When I got home, I still had a bit more than half an hour to spare before the sun would begin to set, having pedaled 140 kilometers--and lounged for about half an hour in the public garden by Greenwich Hospital.  Most important, though, I felt so, so good! 

23 September 2016

Is It A Junk Food? Or An Energy Bar? Or A Performance-Enhancing Substance?

Sometimes I give advice in topics about which I have absolutely no business advising anyone.  Sometimes I'm pressed into it:  Someone thinks I know something about some topic on which I'm about as well-versed as Hon. Dana Rohrabacher is on atmospheric science.  Other times, I think I know more about something than I actually do, or--believe it or not ;-)--lose sight of that (very thin!) line that separates my opinions from facts.

When people assume I know more than I actually do about something, they ask--and I give advice--about dating, family relationships, how to deal with co-workers and bosses, love, education, politics, fashion, careers or the existence of God(s).  When I think I know more than I actually do, I find myself giving advice about any and all of those topics, as well as health and almost any academic subject.  (I hope my department chair isn't reading this!)  And, of course, when I start conflating my opinions with knowledge, I start advising people about cycling equipment!

There is, however, at least one area in which I never have given, and do not plan to give, advice.  

Even when I was skinny and in excellent condition, I never presumed to tell any cyclist--or anyone else--what or how he or she should eat.  It's not for lack of knowledge:  I know, probably, as much as any layperson about nutrition--current notions as well as almost any from the past 40 years or so.  Nor is it from any noble desire to do good or not to do harm.  Rather, my reticence about proffering nutritional advice has more to do with the fact that I would have trouble doing such a thing with a straight face.

No matter what kind of advice I might give on the subject, I would be a hypocrite.  Even when my body-mass index was lower than my age, my diet would have appalled just about any nutritionist--whether of the orthodox, holistic or any other variety.  Not only did--do--I eat pretty much whatever I liked, whenever I wanted it, I gulped exactly the things we were told not to touch when riding, or ever.

Now, in my defense, I'll say that while I was on bike tours, I was more interested in sampling the local fare than I was in maintaining a regimen that would keep me at my maximum efficiency. (You would be, too, unless you were in a race!)  So, while in Europe, I downed lots of bread and cheese and dark chocolate--though, to be fair, I also ate plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables I picked up from roadside stands and farmers' markets.  

So..when I should have been gnawing on Power Bars or downing Energy Gels, I munched on jambon-beurre all over France.  In fact, one j-b I ate in a truck stop between Menton and Frejus--more than thirty years ago--remains one of the best sandwiches I've ever had.  Hey, if a place like that can elevate something with three ingredients--a demi-baguette, ham and butter--to an art-form, why in the world would you want a Clif Bar?

But my food choices while cycling have not always been even that elevated.  I was reminded of that today when, before starting a ride to Coney Island, I ate something I haven't had in a while:  Pop Tarts.

Yes, I admit it!  In fact, for a time, I never left for a ride without tucking one of those packets with two 'tarts into my jersey pocket or Camel Back. My riding buddies were doing the same, especially when rumbled up and down the trails in Vermont and upstate.

What made them so popular with our sub-segment of the mountain biking community in those days--about two decades ago--was the "rush" we got practically the second we swallowed a bite of one.  Especially from frosted brown-sugar cinnamon Pop Tarts:  I think they contained every kind of sugar ever concocted in a food processing plant!

Today I ate two cherry 'tarts'.  I was always partial to them, and to the blueberry and strawberry ones. Then again, it's hard to go wrong with any of those fruits.  But coming up with the brown-sugar cinnamon tarts was a real accomplishment.  As far as I know, neither the UCI nor the Olympic Committee has banned them!

I hear that now there's a whole-grain version.  Does that assuage your guilt?

22 September 2016

How Fast Does He Ride To Work?

This morning I was running late.  I worried: I didn't want to be late to a still-new job.  Still, I took the time to talk to, and stroke, Marlee and Max before I left my apartment.

Of course, frolicking with my felines didn't buy me any more time.  So, I knew that I'd have to ride at a pretty brisk pace to get to work on time.

If there are bicycle-commuting gods or goddesses, they were definitely on my side today.  I didn't feel as if I'd been pedaling particularly hard or fast, or as if I'd been flying up 29th Street, across the RFK Bridge, through Randall's Island or across Bruckner Boulevard. But, somehow, I managed to make it to the college earlier than I'd been arriving when I left home on time, or even early.

How did that happen?  Well, it had nothing to do with breakfast, because I hadn't had any (except for a cup of green tea).  My legs felt nice and supple, not tense, afterward.  Still, I'm not sure that my pace had anything to do with my conditioning. 

Or with traffic. During a break between classes, I re-ran my commute through my mind. As best as I can recall, I didn't have to stop for any lights--and, no, I didn't run through any red lights!

But I'm not sure that even my luck with traffic signals had much to do with my timing.  One thing I know for sure:  It didn't have to do with my bike.  I was riding my heaviest and slowest machine, the one with the thickest tires ( the LeTour).  And I had a pannier filled with papers, books, small tools, a pump, an inner tube and a few other things.  

Hmm...I wonder how much faster I would have been had I been riding something like this:

Last week, this Aerovelo Eta set a new speed record of 144.18 kilometers per hour (89.59 MPH)  during the International Human Powered Vehicle Association's annual Human Powered Speed Challenge.  Contestants rode a course along State Route 305 just outside of Battle Mountain, Nevada.  The route included an 8 kilometer  (5 mile) acceleration zone followed by a 200-meter "speed trap" at an altitude of 1408 meters (4619 feet).   The contest was held in this setting for the 18th year in a row.

Eta's pilot broke the record he set last year. Todd Reichert, a Canadian cyclist who holds a PhD in Aeronautical Engineering, also designed the machine--and co-founded Aerovelo.  His specialty is in the design of aircraft as well as land streamlined land-based vehicles, and says he is specifically interested in "blending the functional with the beautiful".  

I won't dispute that he has achieved those goals with the Eta.  But, as the saying goes, beauty must suffer.    Or, more precisely, someone suffers for it:  In this case, I think it was Dr. Reichert himself, when he was inside that capsule!

As much as I admire both his design and his ride, I simply cannot imagine myself inside that cockpit with my rear end hovering just a couple of inches above East 138th Street!  And--as someone who was once in his position, in another manner of speaking, I have to wonder how he felt about riding with his "family jewels" only a few hairs' breadth away from a wheel spinning at nearly 90 MPH! 

21 September 2016

On Track, Or Off The Rails?

If someone mentions a "track bike", you're likely to think of something that's meant to be ridden on the velodrome.


Such a bike will, more than likely, have a frame with a very short wheelbase and steep angles, a single fixed gear and no brakes.  If you actually race with such a bike, you're likely to equip it with very light tubular (sew-up) tires and rims, a very sharply angled handlebar stem and handlebars with a large drop and a very small flat area.

Also, if you're racing, you are likely to, at some point, ride on the top part of the embankment.  On some tracks, you will be riding almost horizontal position, as if you were riding along a wall.  I found that the best way to do this was simply to look ahead, not down, and keep on pedaling at a steady pace.

Now, if you're not confident of your ability to ride on a track, you can always try this:

That bike reminds me of the first "mountain bikes" Gary Fisher and friends concocted from old Schwinn cruisers and parts modified to fit them.  One difference is, of course, that those early mountain bikers barreled down northern California fire trails, while the bike in the photo would be ridden on railroad tracks, which are almost always flat.


Apparently, that bike wasn't "Stinky Pete"'s first "track" bike.  A vintage Panasonic touring bike met an untimely demise when it derailed (and you thought only derailleurs were supposed to do that!) at 16 MPH.

Talk about "going off the rails"!  Let's hope his second attempt stays on track!


20 September 2016

Girls Just Wanna Ride Bikes....In Iran

If you were going to start a movement, would you ban 51 percent of the people from participating in it?

Perhaps that seems like a rhetorical, or merely silly, question. 

It is, however, one that is begged by a turn of events in a country full of paradoxes.

I'm not talking about the US Presidential election campaign.  Rather, I am referring to a something that happened in a country where such things normally don't happen--and what resulted in one part of that country. 

The nation in question is performs more gender-reassignment surgeries than any country except Thailand.  Yet its leader once famously declared that there are no homosexuals in his country.

By now, you may have realized that I am talking about Iran. 

It's not a country noted for its advanced environmental policies.  So more than a few eyebrows were raised when, in November 2015, environmental activists in Aran, an industrial city in the western province of Markazi, introduced the idea of "Tuesdays Without Cars" or, more generally, "Clean Tuesdays", on which people are invited to leave their cars at home and, instead, commute by bicycle. 

The idea quickly spread and now all of the Iran's provinces have joined in.  Now it's on the verge of becoming a national event.

But national events aren't easy to coordinate in a country like Iran.  I have never been there, but I have been told that in at least one sense, it's like neighboring Turkey, where I have spent some time:  there are great cultural differences from one region to another.  So, in a city like Tehran or Istanbul, there are neighborhoods full of people who live lives not too dissimilar from those in Western capitals.  However, in both cities, there are also conservative religious enclaves.  So, it almost goes without saying that in the countryside, customs and interpretations of Islam are, shall we say, not exactly liberal.

In Marivan, a county of Kurdistan province about 500 kilometers from Markazi, some women were stopped on 29 July for the crime of...cycling.  At least, some police officers had the idea that women on bikes were haramFor the time being, women can't ride bikes on the streets in the area.

While there is nothing in Iranian legal codes that prohibits women from cycling, in places like Marivan, the idea of a woman riding a bicycle goes against traditional religious values--or, at least, interpretations of them.

Now, I am certainly no expert on the Qu'ran or Sharia law, but I don't think anything in either would exclude women from riding bicycles, specifically.  But some would interpret those texts, which warn against shameful acts, to mean that women should not ride bicycles.

Or, at least, they would interpret them to mean that women should not be seen riding bicycles in public.  Upon hearing about the July incident, Mamousta Mostafa Shirzadi, the Friday prayer Imam for Marivan, said that officials of the Sport and Youth Organization "need to provide" the women an "appropriate indoor space" for cycling.

In response, organizers of Tuesdays Without Cars pointed out that women, as much as men, need to be able to use their bikes as transportation-- and not just for exercise or recreation, which is all that an indoor space would allow.

Here is a video from a protest against the ban:

Below is a still from a video of a mother and daughter defying the de facto ban on women cycling:

A mother and daughter defy the fatawa against women cycling.

19 September 2016

Davis: Still Trying To Set People On The Path Of Cycling

"It was Portland before Portland was Portland."

That is how someone described Davis, California for me. 

 Today, when you ask people to name a "bicycle-friendly", they are likely to think of the City of Roses.  I will not quibble with its reputation:  Few American cities have done more to promote bicycling as a viable means of transportation (though, as in most places, some of those efforts have been misguided).  Portlanders adopted their first bike plan in 1973; after meeting its goals, which included 190 miles of bike paths, new bike plans followed in 1996 and 2010.

It should be pointed out, however, that Davis was developing a reputation as a bicycle haven as early as the 1950's, at a time when few American adults cycled--and Portland was still a lumber-and-mining town.  (When Bill Walton arrived to play with the Trailblazers, the local NBA team, he was dismayed to find a "redneck" burg.)  The local agricultural college had just become the University of California-Davis (UC's seventh campus); the city's flat terrain and warm climate as well as enthusiasm over a new educational project attracted a diverse group of people who were willing, well, to try something new.  

According to local lore, the real driving (pun intended!) force behind the city's pro-bike efforts were a family who returned from a year in the Netherlands in the early 1960s.  They found sympathetic ears in a newly-elected city council that, no doubt, saw bicycling as a way to promote their city as well as the new UC campus. In 1967, Davis striped what were claimed to be the first bicycle-specific lanes in the US.  

Other efforts and experiments soon followed, which included facilities  and ways of accommodating bicycles at traffic signals.   The university invented the bicycle roundabout, now used on many other schools, to handle the large number of bicycles on campus.  Today, the city of ten  square miles boasts 50 miles of on-street bike lanes the same amount of off-street bike paths.

Even after other cities have ramped up their efforts to make themselves more appealing to cyclists, Davis is still seen as a cyclist's paradise--at least, in comparison to other American locales.  A far higher percentage of its citizens cycle to work or school every day than in almost any other city of its population (67,666, according to a 2015 estimate).  Still, Susan L. Handy muses, "Perhaps even more interesting than the fact that so many people in Davis cycle is the fact that so many more don't."

Professor Handy is the Chair of the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at UC-Davis.  She is also Director of the Sustainable Transportation Center, part of the Federal University Transportation Centers Program.  She is probably  in as good a position as anyone can be to understand patterns of bicycle usage--and, more important, what might be behind those patterns.

She also uses what is, arguably, some of the best bicycle infrastructure in the United States. Still, she says it is not enough.  "[W]hile good infrastructure is necessary to get many people bicycling, it is not enough to get most people bicycling".  The experience of Davis would seem to bear this out:  Although a higher percentage of Davis workers ride their bikes to their jobs than their colleagues even in nearby Berkeley (home to another UC campus)  or Palo Alto (Stanford University), or in other campus towns like Ithaca, New York (Cornell University)  and Boulder, Colorado, the number for Professor Handy's hometown is still only 15 percent.  

Still more telling, a similar percentage of children cycle to their soccer games, even though most don't have to go very far.  

According to Professor Handy's research, whether or not children cycle to their soccer games is influenced by whether or not their parents also ride.  Ditto for whether or not they--or their older siblings who attend high school--ride their bikes to classes.  Of course, as in most places, whether or not kids ride to their high schools is also a function of whether or not they have drivers' licenses or access to automobiles.

Interestingly, according to the research, friends' and peers' attitudes about cycling have little or no effect on whether kids or teenagers ride to school or their soccer games.  Based on my own admittedly informal observations, I would say the same for whether or not adults ride their bikes to work.

Another factors that  helps to depress the numbers of cyclists who ride to school or work is the perception of safety:  People often express fear of traffic, crime or other factors.  (I often hear such anxieties expressed here in New York.) Perhaps not surprisingly, women express these fears more than men do.  And then there are those who simply don't like to ride bikes.

Nobody seems to know how to influence that last category. (I failed with a spouse and a couple of romantic partners!) They, like those who come from families who don't ride or worry about their safety, are not pedaling to work because of their attitudes about cycling.  And, as Professor Handy says, attitudes are even more important than infrastructure in getting people to forsake the steering wheel and grab a handlebar.

If there is anything discouraging about Professor Handy's conclusions, it is this:  She came to them in one of the few places in the United States with two generations' worth of "cycling memory", if you will.  In most other places in this country, most drivers have little or no idea of how to act around cyclists because they haven't ridden a bike  on a street, for transportation or other utilitarian purposes, since they were children--if indeed they even rode then.  In much of Europe, by contrast, far greater numbers of drivers are still cyclists, or have ridden recently in their lives.  And they are more likely to have come from families with at least one member who regularly cycled.  

I offer myself as an example:  I am the first--and, to date, only-- member of my family to regularly ride a bike beyond the age at which I could hold a drivers' license.  (I am also the first to do a number of other things, such as earn a high school diploma and college degree, and to do things that are the subject of my other blog!)   But I am an anomaly:    I simply found that I enjoyed riding and never lost that love.  I rode, even with a complete lack of infrastructure , very little cycling culture and few peers who rode. And I continue to ride. On the other hand, I have never been successful at enticing anyone to ride who wasn't already inclined to do so. The complaints and excuses were the same then as the ones I hear now.  

As Professor Handy points out, the real challenge is to change those attitudes--if they can indeed be changed.  She seems to think it possible.