28 February 2017

A Royal Family Goes Dutch

When people think of "cycling nations", one of the first that comes to mind is the Netherlands.

Indeed, in a country of 16 million inhabitants, there are 18 million bikes.  More important, though, are Dutch attitudes about cycling.  Someone who rides to work or for pleasure is not seen as an outlier or renegade:  Even Prime Minister Mark Rutte rides to work.  Hmm...What kind of a country would the US be if our President rode to his office every day?

Oh, but it gets even better.  You see, although the Dutch royal family--like its counterparts in the UK, Denmark and other European countries--has little actual power, it is still seen as a "face" of the nation.  Their day-to-day activities help to form the image their subjects have of their nation, and the image that nation projects to the world.

So it's no surprise that King Willem-Alexander, who has occupied the throne for nearly four years, cycles--as a Cycling NL video notes, "not only for the annual so-called photo opportunities, but also in private."  He is regularly accompanied by his Argentinian wife--Queen Maxima Zorreguieta-- and their daughters.

It's also not surprising that he inherited his love of cycling from his family.  His mother, Queen Beatrix, did not cycle much while she was queen, but did enough riding before that to warrant a statue of her astride a bike in the Dutch capital. 

 Her mother, Queen Juliana--one of the best-loved monarchs in Dutch history--was an avid cyclist throughout her life.  Here we see her during a visit to the Frisian Islands in 1967:

It's widely reported that her entourage didn't ride behind her merely for appearances or out of courtesy:  the Queen actually could, and did, out-ride all of those men!

27 February 2017

On The Streets And The Silkroad

Today I will start with a quiz.

Take a look at this bike:

Now check out this:

What do they have in common?

Now, if you know anything about either of these bikes, you might think it's absolute heresy to posit that they might share any trait besides two wheels.  The first machine, a Schwinn Clairmont, can be purchased in Wal-Mart and other fine stores. ;-)  

The second, on the other hand, is a Silkroad from Tout Terrain.  Somehow I don't expect to see it parked on a street near me, or anywhere else.

So what trait could such disparate bikes share?

Believe it or not, it's in the frame!

All right, I'll tell you:  They both have rear racks that are integral to their frames.  In other words, you can't remove them.

Such an arrangement has been uncommon for a long time.  Interestingly, even it was more common, it was found on bikes at the top and bottom of the price spectrum.  

Once upon a time, British and French custom builders made frames of which the rear carrier--intended to lug loaded panniers and other items for long tours--were constructed as part of the frame.  Of course, those were special-order items and customers would wait months, or even years, for theirs. 

I recall seeing a Jack Taylor tandem and Rene Herse single built in this way.  I tried finding photos of bikes like them, to no avail.  

You won't find such an integrated carrier/frame on anything but a bike dedicated to loaded touring, even from the elite builders I've mentioned.  I'm not sure that any of today's builders construct bikes in that way:  It is an extremely labor-intensive process, and if the height of a stay is off even by a little, the carrier--and possibly the frame--will be misaligned.  

Also, the market for fully-loaded tourers---even during the peak of their popularity (at least here in the US) during the early- and mid-1980s--has always been small.  Not many people want a bike that is so purpose-specific:  Few cyclists go on more than one long tour in their lives.  Most cyclists, understandably, would rather press their racing or trekking bike into touring service and remove the racks and bags once the tour is over.

Of course, loaded touring is not the only purpose for which an integrated rack is useful.  They also make a lot of sense on cargo bikes, or even city bikes that are abused.  I think those purposes are the ones Tout Terrain had in mind when they designed the Silkroad and other models.  

But you have to wonder for what purpose--other than big-box store sales--the Schwinn Clairmont was designed. Perhaps it is meant to evoke balloon-tired kids' bikes sold in the US during the 1940s and 1950s, some of which came with built-in racks.  The funny thing is that on such bikes--from the likes of Columbia, AMF and other low-budget manufacturers--the rear racks were seldom used to carry books, sneakers or anything else besides other kids.

If anyone from Tout Terrain (or Peter White, who seems to be their main dealer here in the US) is reading this, I hope you are not offended by my comparison.  I simply find it ironic that your bikes can have something in common with a bike that just might disintegrate in the very spot where I saw and photographed it (with my cell phone) today--or end up in a landfill in a year or two.

26 February 2017

What To Ride On The Streets

It's expensive to live here in New York.  Maybe not London-expensive or Tokyo-expensive, but plenty expensive nonetheless. Probably the only US city where it costs more simply to let the force of gravity hold you in place is San Francisco.

Still, even with our high housing costs and such, there are ways to have a good time for little or no money. Sure, it costs more to go to the movies in The Big Apple than it costs anywhere else.  And it's long been rumored that one needs a winning lottery ticket in order to buy a ticket to a Broadway show.  

But why would you want to spend your money to see 42nd Street?  That's for tourists, as we're fond of saying.  And you didn't move here to go to the movies, now, did you?

There are all kinds of other entertainments available.  Some include poetry readings, art openings and concerts in small spaces.  And you can even get into most museums for little or no cash--as long as the admission price is "suggested" or a donation.  Of course, if you're a student with a valid ID card, you can get into a lot of places for free or not much.

(Once, years ago, I was dating a woman from Italy.  I made it a point of showing her some of our fair city's cultural treasures. One day we went to the American Museum of Folk Art.  I got us both in for free when I told the young man and woman at the counter that we were both students:  I was teaching her English and she was teaching me Italian.)

But the real entertainment in this city is found on its streets.  I guess you could say that about other large cities.  Here in New York, though, you can see things that you never imagined.  Then there are the performers.  The best, to me, are the ones who don't have to rustle a hair on their heads to perform.  I have seen folks made up and costumed as various public statues and other structures, and their ruse wasn't apparent until they passed their donation cups!

Better yet are people who can stand, sit or lie beside street signs and other markers:

I'd put money in that guy's donation cup!

25 February 2017

Spring Fever---Now?

So...Yesterday I experienced a change of seasons--or, perhaps, climates (all right, weather) while riding my bike across a bridge.

Today I didn't experience anything like that.  I did, however, see driving habits change.  Or so it seemed.

My ride took me down Hipster Hook into Brooklyn--DUMBO, to be exact.  After stopping at Recycle a Bicycle, I pedaled up through some central Brooklyn neighborhoods up to the other end of my neighborhood and the north shore of Queens.  

It seemed that everywhere I rode--even through the quietest residential areas--I saw more traffic.  Not only that, it seemed that teenagers of all ages had taken over the roads.  They were sideswiping each other, swooping as close to pedestrians trying to cross streets and honking their horns for no apparent reason.  In short, they were driving like kids who'd just gotten their licenses--or who were going to the beach on the day after they graduated.

At least they keep their eyes on the road!

Or, perhaps, they were driving under the influence of Spring Fever.  Even though the season doesn't officially arrive for almost another month, today felt like the first Saturday of spring.  In the very young--again, of all ages--the first wave of warmth and sunshine seems to stir up their hormones or shake their brains.  

In a way, seeing their behavior was kind of funny.  (I guess I can say that because I didn't, thankfully, have any close encounters with any of them.)  Why?  Well, this evening a storm brought us wind, hard rain and, in some places, hail.  As I write this, the temperature has dropped considerably from its earlier highs, and is expected to fall further.  Tomorrow, the weather is supposed to be more or less seasonal, which will seem almost polar compared to what we've experienced during the past few days.

I have to wonder whether those drivers I saw today will calm down--or return to hibernation.

24 February 2017

No, The Chinese Aren't Responsible For Climate Change. I Am: I Took A Ride Today!

It was spring-- almost summer, really--until I crossed the bridge.

In past years, I have noticed a seasonal change when I rode across the Cross Bay Veterans' Memorial Bridge.  To be specific, when I'd be riding through Broad Channel--a shoestring of land dangling from the "mainland' of Queens--the temperature is about 20 to 22 degrees Celsius (68 to 72F) and I would feel the sun against my face.  That is, until I reached the Bridge, which spans Jamaica Bay.  While riding up the ramp to the bridge, the wind would whip waves on the water and I would feel the cold through whatever I was wearing.  By the time I got to the Rockaways--another shoestring of land, this one splayed between the Bay and the Atlantic Ocean--the temperature would have fallen to about 10 degrees C (50F) but it would feel much colder.

I usually experience such momentary climate change in early or mid-April, when the ocean water might be about 8 degrees C (45F).  But I had such an experience today.  It was 64F (17C) when I left my apartment just before noon; the temperature would climb another few degrees by the time I reached Broad Channel.  But, as I crossed the bridge, I was glad I'd brought an "extra" layer with me. (Is something "extra" when you end up needing it?)  A thermometer in Rockaway Beach read 50F, but the wind--which I didn't notice until then--blew the cold from the very depths of the ocean.  According to at least one source, the water was 41F (just over 5C) today.  During the next few weeks, that temperature will fall by another couple of degrees to its seasonal low, which it reaches at the beginning of Spring.

I imagine that the water at Point Lookout, my destination today, was a little warmer, if only by a degree or two.  Knowing that, I understand why down is such an effective insulator!

Anyway, I had a great ride:  I saw a few other cyclists and joggers along the boardwalk and on the streets of Long Beach.  As best as I could tell, they weren't wearing down.

23 February 2017

His Stance On Discs

Nearly two years ago, a driver in China narrowly missed death when a runaway circular saw blade impaled the front of his car.

I was reminded of that today after reading about what happened to Owain Doull.

The Sky Team rider crashed with one kilometre remaining in the opening stage of the Abu Dabhi Tour.  Normally, that wouldn't elicit much attention--riders crash during races all the time.  What is causing controversy, though, is an injury he suffered and, more important, what he believes to be the cause.

When he was being treated for road rash on his back side, he pointed to his foot and showed a cut that was visible through a tear in his sock.  

It's unusual, to say the least, for  riders to incur that sort of cut on their feet.  Even if they are wearing flip-flops, they are unlikely to incur more than some scrapes, painful as those wounds may be. 

So what could have cut through Doull's shoe and caused such a wound?  He says that it was the rotor of a disc brake.  "If anything, I've come off lucky here," he said.  "If that'd been my leg, it would have cut straight through it, for sure."

In other words, by a dint of fate, he narrowly avoided--at the very least--the kind of injury Francisco Ventoso suffered last year in the Paris-Roubaix race.  The directeur sportif of Movistar, Ventoso's team, said "The cut was so deep you could see the tibia."

That mishap led to a temporary ban on disc brakes in the peloton, which was recently lifted "on a trial basis" according to the sport's governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale.  Disc brakes were allowed on the condition that the rotors' edges were rounded off. Marcel Kittel, the only rider using disc brakes in the Abu Dabhi tour, was using rounded Shimano rotors after insisting he wouldn't use technology otherwise.

Doull was asked whether he has a stance on disc brakes.  "I do now," he said.  "In my opinion, unless there are covers on those things, they're pretty lethal."

Others have expressed the opinion that "everybody or nobody" should use them in a race.  Whatever one thinks of disc brakes (I have never used them myself, and probably won't unless some compelling reason presents itself.), I think it's fair to ask why Kittel or anyone else saw the need to use them in pancake-flat Abu Dabhi.

22 February 2017

Rubber Matches Leather?

Almost two years ago, I wrote about one of the funniest listings I've ever seen on eBay, or anywhere.  It expresses the seller's loathing for the saddle he or she was trying to sell:  a Brooks Cambium C15.

Now, I am not going to offer an opinion on it, or the C17, as I have never tried either.  I probably won't (unless someone offers me one for free), as I am satisfied with the Brooks saddles I have (Professionals and B17s) and don't want to change.

The idea behind Cambium saddles is, however, intriguing--and not new.  For one thing, Cambiums are certainly not the first saddles to come with canvas tops, though, when they were introduced a couple of years ago, they might have been the first such saddles in half a century or so.

More important, however, is what lies underneath that cloth covering:  a vulcanized rubber base.  That, too, is something that most cyclists who aren't collecting Social Security haven't seen before.  Rubber in a bike seat?  

Turns out, it was once fairly common, or at least not unusual. (Fifty shades of equivocation?)  I was reminded of that when I came across this:

Cyclists of a certain age will recall the name Wolber.  Until the '80's or thereabouts, it was the chief rival of Michelin in the world of bicycle tires.  In fact, to many cyclists, Wolber was even more highly regarded, as they made a more extensive line of tubular tires, which included one of the nicest pairs of tubulars I ever owned and rode. (I can't remember the model name.)  They also improved upon Michelin's "Elan", widely considered to be the first high-performance clincher.

So it's fair to assume that Wolber knew a thing or two about making things from rubber.  The saddle in the above photo was made by Ideale, the premiere French saddle-maker, from a "skin" Wolber fabricated.  The undercarriage appears to be the one used on the Ideale B6, which is remarkably similar to the Brooks B72:  the saddle that came with many classic English three-speed bikes.

A B6/B72 with a rubber top actually makes sense, at least in theory, for commuters and others who ride or park their bikes in the rain.  I wonder how long those saddles lasted.

Perhaps it's not surprising that another leading bicycle-tire maker of the time also made bicycle saddles, or at least the tops for them:

I don't know whether Dunlop made the carriages for their saddles, or whether--as  is apparently the case with Wolber saddles--they were made by a company that made leather saddles.  

Interestingly, Raleigh bicycles came with Dunlop tires, which were considered to be the finest quality (Riders did everything they could to extend the life of those tires!), until Dunlop stopped making bicycle tires in the late 1960s. To my knowledge, however, those same Raleigh bicycles were not equipped with Dunlop saddles:  Instead, they came with B72s or other Brooks models.  

Like the Cambiums, the Wolber/Ideale and Dunlop saddles were constructed of a rubber base layer topped with cloth that was treated with a rubber compound for waterproofing. The Cambium looks more cloth-like than the others--a conscious decision, I am sure, on the company's part.  The Wolber/Ideale has a textured appearance that makes me think of a cross between carbon fiber and leather, while the Dunlop looks like leather, at least from a few feet away.

Although Dunlop hasn't made bicycle tires in nearly half a century, they continue to make tires for motorized vehicles as well as other rubber products.  In the late '80s, Wolber absorbed Super Champion, then the best rim-maker in France (or anywhere else) with the exception of Mavic. (For a few years, Super Champion rims were marketed under the Wolber name.)  Then, a few years later, Michelin took over Wolber!

21 February 2017

Did This Idea Ever Fly?

We have all felt, at least once, that we were "flying" while riding our bicycles.

In a sense, it always feels that way because we're not surrounded by walls or sheets of steel.  More often, though, when we say that we were, or felt as if we were, "flying", we mean that the ride was fast and effortless:  We were feeling good and spinning our gears while the wind pushed at our backs.

Most of us don't mean that we were literally aloft.  However, a few cyclists have gotten their wheels off the ground.  And I'm not talking about the kid on E.T.!

Nearly half a century before one of the world's favorite movies came out, a French inventor came up with this:

In the November 1936 issue of Popular Science, it was described thusly:

A whirling, three-bladed propeller provides the motive power for a bicycle of odd design recently exhibited in Paris by a French inventor. Mounted at the front, the propeller is attached to a driving rod in a gear box supported over the front wheel by a metal frame. The gear mechanism is connected by a chain to the conventional bicycle sprocket wheel, which is pedaled in the usual manner. An extremely high gear ratio, it is said, enables the cyclist to drive the propeller at high speed. A hand lever is used to operate a rear-wheel brake, as in ordinary European bicycles.
As a cyclist who came of age during the 1970s--in the twilight of that decade's Bike Boom--I find the last sentence particularly fascinating.  I'm guessing that in 1936, most Americans had never seen or ridden a bike with a hand brake:  Most American bikes at that time were made for kids and had coaster brakes.  

I wonder whether that bike got off the ground, literally and figuratively.

20 February 2017

Presidents, Pedals And Pets

Here in the US, it's Presidents' Day.  

When I was growing up, we used to have two Presidential holidays in February--Lincoln's Birthday on the 12th and Washington's on th 22nd.  Somewhere along the way, the government decided to consolidate the two observances into one, which would be on the third Monday in February.  At the same time, some other traditional holidays, such as Memorial Day, also became Monday fetes.

Now, if you've been reading my recent posts, you know what I think about the current President, whose name I dare not speak!  I must say, though, that it's ironic that the most anti-bike President we've had in a long time (perhaps in all of history) is also the only one ever to have sponsored a bike race.  That is how, for two years, the Tour DuPont--at that time, the most important race in the US--became the Tour de Trump.

In past posts, I wrote about, and included photos of, presidents (including a couple in other countries) riding bikes.  One of my favorites is of Jimmy Carter three decades after leaving the White House, and looking younger than he did then.  I also liked the one of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, his politics notwithstanding, and of former candidate Mitt Romney on his bike while doing Mormon missionary work in France.

Back when I was working for American Youth Hostels, I read somewhere--a biography, perhaps?--that Franklin D Roosevelt cycled "all over Europe" during his youth, freqeuently staying in hostels.  As a child and young man, he frequently took trips there, as someone of his social and economic status was wont to do.  If I recall correctly, his early trips were made, not surprisingly, with his parents and other family members, while as a teenager he went with his tutor, who also enjoyed cycling.

I also seem to recall that one or both of them were arrested in Germany for eating cherries they picked on a roadside, and that they committed a few other misdeeds.  I have read, elsewhere, that he was a fun-loving young man who skated along the surface of life.

Anyway, I tried to find a photo of FDR on a bike.  I couldn't, but I found this, by artist Mike Joos:

By the way, today is also National Love Your Pet Day.  This is the first time I've heard of the holiday.  I wonder whether it's held on a fixed date, as nearly all holidays were when I was a kid, or whether it's a "movable feast" and it just happened to fall on President's Day.

I know one thing:  I'd rather spend time with Max or Marlee than just about any President!

19 February 2017

Into The Hole

Today I rode to a hole.  No, I didn't go to the Grand Canyon.

All right.  I rode to a ghost town.  And, yes, I stayed in the cofines of New York City.

Mind you, it wasn't my destination:  I didn't have one for today.  I just felt like riding and after an overcast morning turned into a sunny and unseasonably warm afternoon.  I rode Vera, my green Mercian mixte, with no particular itinerary in mind.  I just pedaled forward and turned whenever it looked interesting or I simply got tired of the street or lane I was riding.

I briefly covered a part of yesterday's ride:  through Howard Beach and Beach Channel, the latter of which is partly contained in the Gateway National Recreation Area.  Vera gave me a couple of brief encounters with the ocean, but the bodies of water I saw, mainly, were ones that open into the Atlantic--namely Jamaica Bay and Starrett Creek.

And this:

As we've all been told, immigrants of my grandparents' generation were lured to America by rumors that the streets were "paved with gold".  Well, there is a street under that puddle, or whatever you want to call it, made of emerald.  All right, that's a bit of an exaggeration.   But the street is called Emerald Street.  A block away is another venue called Ruby Street; nearby thoroughfares are Amber and Sapphire Streets.  

In a perverse irony, these "jewel" streets comprise a neighborhood--if it might be called that--commonly called "The Hole."  It's easy to see why:  the land drops about five meters from the grade of Linden Boulevard--which itself lies below sea level.  According to some reports, that puddle lies 30 feet (9 meters) below sea level.

In another twist, the nearest building that has any connection to the rest of the world is about 50 meters away but seems to have its back turned to it: a psychotherapy center.  And, across Linden Boulevard--a.k.a. New York State Route 27--from it is the Lindenwood Diner, where travelers to and from JFK Airport and truckers to and from all points imaginable stop for burgers, shakes and such.

To give you an idea of how desolate--or, at least, how far removed from the rest of the city--The Hole is, no one seems to know whether it's in Brooklyn or Queens.  Perhaps it's a separate borough?  It certainly seems to exist in another time, if not jurisdiction.

That puddle in the photo might've been a result of the snow we had last week.  But, from what I hear, there's almost always an unnatural wetland there.  The Hole is, to my knowledge, the only part of New York City that doesn't have sewers--people use septic tanks and drains--because the land is too close to the water table.  

That geographic feature is probably a reason why it most likely shares agrarian past with the neighboring Brooklyn community of East New York.  In the late 19th Century, Brooklyn was--believe it or not--the second-largest (after southern New Jersey) vegetable-producing area in the US.  No doubt some of the folks living there--off the grid--are growing tomatoes or cabbages or other vegetables in patches of sod surrounded by rubble-strewn or weed-grown lots.  Most of the houses are abandoned; the people who call the area home are living in trailers, campers or trucks--with or without wheels.

The Federation of Black Cowboys stabled their horses in The Hole (and a few Cowboys lived there) until about a decade ago, when the city housing authority chased them out in order to erect middle-class housing that, to date, hasn't been built. In 2004, bodies of Mafia figures were found there, confirming longstanding rumors that the area was a mob dumping ground.  

Anyway, I have a rule when I ride:  If I can't see the bottom of any body of water I won't ride through it, unless there's no other way.  Not even if I'm riding a bike with full fenders, as I was today!

18 February 2017

The Best Place In The World For Ducks

I didn't see any other cyclists.  But I wasn't the only one who went to Point Lookout today. 

I mean, who wouldn't have wanted to be outside on a day like today?  Skies were clear and the temperature reached 15C (60F).  

Tosca, my Mercian fixed gear, was also happy to be out for the ride, even if she got spattered with mud and wet sand.  Most of the snow from last week's storm was gone, but the sand and road salt weren't.  At least, with only one gear, she's easy to clean--though I think I might ride one of my bikes with fenders tomorrow.  Still, it was great to spin that gear again!

I was stretching my legs, and they were spreading their wings.  A woman with two small boys watched them.  "I've never seen so many ducks here," she marvelled.

"Nor have I."

Then the older kid--about four or five years old, with eyes as bright as the sky--chimed in.  "They're here because it's the best place in the world for ducks.  Isn't that right, Mommy?"

She said nothing.  He turned to me.

"Lady, don't you think they're here because it's the best place in the world for ducks?"

"Why else would they be here?"

"So this really is the best place in the world for ducks."

I nodded.  "Do you know what makes this the best place in the world for ducks?"

He shook his head.  His mother gazed at me.

"Here there are a lot of things they like to eat."

He gazed at me, fascinated.  She looked puzzled.

"Well...Don't you like to go where there are good things to eat?"

"Yes, ma'am.  What do they like to eat?"

"Clams, oysters, you know, the creatures with shells on them. The ducks love those.  And seaweed, too."

Now, for all I know, I may have given him nothing but misinformation.  But I figure he's no worse-informed than anyone is after one of our current President's press conferences.

What did I just say?  Hmm...It's probably a good thing I've never been a parent!