30 April 2017

I Rode From It As Fast As I Could!

Yesterday morning, before I went out to ride, I was listening to the radio while I sipped on green tea and ate some Greek yougurt (from Kesso) with almonds and a banana, which I washed  down with an orange.  

While enjoying my breakfast, I was listening to an interview an NPR host conducted with a fellow in Inverness, Scotland who maintains the official website that records sightings of the Loch Ness Monster.  The interviewer is clearly skeptical, to put it mildly, about the existence of "Nessie" and other mythical creatures like Bigfoot.  

Now, because I'm the sort of person who takes a lot of things--even stuff that's more credible than, say, most of what Trump says in his speeches and tweets--with more than a few grains of salt,you might not expect me to be a believer.  But how can I be anything else?  I know for a fact that the Randall's Island Salamander and Point Lookout Orca exist.  I can't not believe.  After all, I made them up saw them and even photographed them, however crudely.

About the latter:  I didn't see him (I think I decided he's male because he reminds me of a Pac Man!) yesterday even though I rode to Point Lookout.  But could there be something else lurking in the waters by "the Point"?

It looks ready to take over the bay, the ocean and even the land:

A clever creature it is:  It showed up in the same part of all of that photos I took.  I guess it's trying to make me believe that it was dirt or some malfunction in my camera rather than a sea creature.

A tech-savvy monster?  Should we be scared?  Does the Point Lookout Orca stand a chance against it?

Oh, no:  It's following those folks home.  And their little dogs, too!

29 April 2017

Review Of A New Bridge

No one will ever confuse Review Avenue in Long Island City with Route Departmentale 618 or the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito and Tiburon.  

I had only one opportunity to do RD 618 and one other for the iconic California ride because, well, each of them is about 6000 kilometers away (in opposite directions) from my apartment.  Review Avenue, on the other hand, is only about five kilometers away (at least via the routes I take), which is one of the reasons I find myself riding there at least a few times a year.

Although it's gritty, to be polite, it is visually interesting.  There aren't any really tall buildings there, which allows the sky to serve as a kind of diorama backdrop for the street that separates the First Calvary Cemetery Wall from the sooty brick and stone industrial structures.  That same street also looks as if it's going to sneak in under the Kosciuszko Bridge, but it makes a sharp left and leaves that job to the railroad tracks and Newtown Creek instead.

Until a few days ago, the Kosciuszko Bridge was the steel-girdered span that looks like an Erector Set project left out in the rain and soot.  It still is, but it's also that other bridge that looks like it's hanging by red and white shoestrings from a couple of concrete tombstones.  

Talk about "build it and they will come":  The new Kosciuszko is already congested with traffic--and the old bridge hasn't been closed!  A second stringed structure is supposed to be constructed parallel to the current one in two years.  I think cars are already lined up to get across it.

Actually, I rather like the look of the new bridge.  And it's probably easier to drive, especially a truck, across as it doesn't have the old bridge's steep inclines and terrible sight lines.  At the dedication ceremony, Governor Andrew Cuomo said he heard his father--three-term Governor Mario Cuomo--use expletives for the first time when he drove the family across the bridge.

Neither bicycles nor pedestrians were allowed on the old "Kos".  As far as I know, they won't be allowed on the new ones, either.  Then again, the bridges are part of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, where you wouldn't want to ride even if it were allowed!

The old bridge is falling apart.  But some things endure:

I wonder what Joe was thinking when he painted his name on the wall of the cemetery all of those years ago. (Maybe he's inside it now!) I'd love to know what kind of paint he used:  Anything that could withstand all of the fumes from the factories and trucks, along with the weather, must be pretty durable!

28 April 2017

Un Coq Citroen Repair Station

When I was living in France, I did a few things--some of them entirely laughable, in retrospect--to make myself feel as if I had "gone native", if you will.

I didn't wear a beret: I soon discovered that, even then (more than three decades ago) only very old men and clochards wore them--or, at least, the kind they sell to tourists. Some farmers, particularly in the central and southwestern parts of the country, still wore the Basque-style beret, which has a larger diameter "crown" than the berets artists and wannabes perched on their crania when they smoked and sipped away their nights in cafes and bars.

Ironically, I wore berets after I returned to the US.  And I continued a few other habits as a way of asserting my Frenchness, or at least my French influences, in the face of the yahoo-ism of the Reagan and Bush I administrations.

While in France, I purchased and wore a few things that were all but unknown in the US at the time.  One was a wool French (Breton) fisherman's sweater.  It was the genuine article, knit from heavy dark navy wool with cream-colored horizontal stripes and buttons on the left shoulder.  Other Gallic accoutrements I acquired and wore included a sweatsuit, bike jersey and shoes from a company called Le Coq Sportif.

Now you can see the tricolore rooster everywhere.  But in those days, you pretty much had to be in France, or perhaps a neighboring country, (Remember:  There was no Amazon or eBay!)  in order to see, let alone wear, that quintessentially French emblem.

Another thing that could mark you as a French person was driving a Citroen.  Renault was still selling cars in the US; so was Peugeot, but their motorized vehicles weren't nearly as ubiquitous as their bicycles.  For a long time, I resolved that if I were to buy a car or van, it would be a Citroen because, well, you couldn't get anything more French than a vehicle with a chevron badge.

Well, Le Coq Sportif and Chevron have joined forces. The occasion is the 70th anniversary of the Type H van.  If you watch old French films, you've seen those boxy mini-trucks driven by farmers and urban delivery couriers.  You still see them in France.

Since both companies have long associations with bicycle racing in France and other countries, it makes sense that their collaboration would produce this:

It's something else I saw for the first time in France:  a mobile bicycle workshop.  

Vive la France!  I just hope they don't elect their own version of Trump.

27 April 2017

Riding On Air--Or Full Of Hot Air?

When I first built my Bontrager Race Lite frame--my Christmas present to myself in 1995--I installed a Rock Shox Mag 21 fork because that was what I had.  Within a few months, though, I'd replaced it with a Rock Shox Judy SL.  Even if you weren't a mountain biker--or on this planet--back then, you've probably seen the Judy SL, with its distinctive yellow finish, in person or images.

It was a great fork, at least for a few rides.  It suspension consisted of a Monocellular Urethane (MCU) spring with a hydraulic damping cartridge.  MCU, like "carbon fiber", shows the power of words or, more precisely, marketing:  Both terms entice people to fork (pun intended) over large sums of money for plastic.

To be fair, though, the hydraulic damping cartridges weren't much sturdier than those springs.  Neither one stood up to sustained punishment, something I could inflict on a bike even in those days, when I was skinny.  

I would soon find out, though, that my springs and cartridges weren't failing because I was a particularly hard-charging rider, as much as I fancied myself as one.  Other mountain bikers were having similar experiences.  In fact, I even witnessed riders losing their suspension in the middle of rides or, worse, jumps.  

Some of those riders switched to other suspension forks, like those from Manitou and Marzocchi.  On the other hand, other riders--including yours truly--retrofitted their Judy forks with Englund air cartridges that we kept inflated with tiny pumps that had needles like the ones used to fill up basketballs and soccer balls at the ends of them.

Those air cartridges were far more durable and were smoother than elastomers (especially when they got dirty) or other kinds of suspension.  It makes sense when you realize that what is arguably the first successful kind of suspension for bicycles (or wheeled vehicles generally) ever made is the pneumatic tire.

Hey, it's not for nothing that we have the phrase "like floating on air" to describe a smooth ride.

With that in mind, I can't help but to wonder how this bicycle would ride:

What I am about to tell you is not a joke:  The bike is inflatable.  Yes, the bike.  

Its frame consists of a series of rubber tubes connected by valves.  This system is supposed to help keep the bike rigid while it's ridden.  The seat stays (or, as the psfk article calls them, the "tubes connecting the seat and back wheel") can be adjusted to give a softer or harder ride.

In case you were wondering:  The rubber tubes were designed with a Kevlar sheath which, according to the bike's designers, make it difficult to cut and help to support the rider's weight.

The bike is designed so that when it's deflated, it will fit in the storage boot of a car.  So, perhaps, it won't surprise you to learn that the bicycle was designed by Ford engineers.

Henry Ford was a bicycle mechanic and, even in his seventies, took "a three mile spin every evening after supper," according to a Time magazine article.  I wonder what he would make of this inflatable bike.

26 April 2017

I Am An Invasive Species

I am an invasive species.

All right, I won't give myself that much credit.  I am only one of an invasive species.

Is it because I'm female?  Transgender? (Yes, we really are trying to take over the world!;-))  Someone who didn't vote for Trump?

No, it's not because of any of those things.  At least, that's what Scott Sales, a Montana State Senator, would have you believe.

Yes, Senator Sales, I am a cyclist. IIII aaam aaa cyyyy-clisssst.  Booo!  I am coming to take over your state! Bwa-ha-ha-ha!

OK, so he didn't say "Cyclists are an invasive species" as an exclamatory or declarative sentence.  But he did something that, in effect, labelled us as such.

He wants to make any out-of-state cyclist entering the state buy a $25 sticker, which would have to be attached to the bicycle and renewed every year, by tacking an amendment onto SB 363, a bill about invasive species management.  Specifically, he wants the money he shakes down from us (Well, all right, I wasn't planning to go to Montana this year!)  to be used against an invasive mussel species in the state's waterways.

So let me get this straight (Please don't read anything into that last word!):  Senator Sales is equating cyclists with invasive mussels.

Please tell me he's being ironic.  Is he capable of irony?  (From Montana Public Radio)

I don't have to tell you how absurd this idea is.  What in the world can taxing cyclists do to halt the spread of a mussel that multiplies faster than anything else in the Big Sky State's rivers, streams and lakes?  

Folks who use motorized fishing boats don't have to pay any such fee for the privilege.  Now, perhaps I'm ignorant in the ways mussels spread their range, but I should think that one boat can do far more to facilitate that than all of the cyclists in the world ever could.

Hon. Sales' proposal, moreover, demonstrates all sorts of  profound ignorance regarding cyclists.  He said that cyclists need "to put some skin in the game" in regards to road and recreation funding in the state".  He has called cyclists "some of the rudest and most self-centered people I've ever met" who "think they own the highway."

This, from a guy who shot down another bill that would have required motorists to give cyclists a three-foot berth when passing at 35MPH and five feet while driving any faster than that.  

Of course, anyone who would put the kibosh on such an idea doesn't realize that, unlike motorists, we can't operate our machines while texting or distracted in other ways.  Moreover, we are far less likely to ride than drivers are to drive while munching on fast food or imbibing alcohol because, well, it's difficult, if not impossible, for us to do those things.

About his "skin in the game" comment:   It's not the first time I've heard this wholly inaccurate perception of what we do or don't have invested "in the game."  Of course, it wasn't nearly as dangerous when it came from the folks from whom I've previously heard it as it is when it emanates from the mouth or pen of a lawmaker.   

You see, we pay the same taxes as motorists pay, whether or not we drive.  Contrary to what some believe, there is no  separate "road tax", at least not from the Federal government or any state or municipality of which I'm aware.  In fact, the only taxes I don't pay that any motorist pays are the ones added to gasoline.

Aside from that, I have just as much "skin in the game" as any motorist.  I'll admit, though, that as the weather gets nicer and I'm riding more, I won't have as much skin in the game because, well, I won't have as much skin.  That, I should think, would make me less invasive.

25 April 2017

Men On Mixtes--And Women's Bikes--In Mosul

I bought Vera, my green Miss Mercian mixte, from a guy who had it built for himself after a hip injury and surgery.  

Now, I know some guys wouldn't be caught dead on a women's or mixte bike.  I was one of them, but not because of my insecurity about my gender identity, ample as that was.  You see, I wanted to ride only "performance-oriented" bikes and believed that mixte and women's frames weren't as stiff or strong as diamond "men's" frames.  The "stiff" part may well be true, but I haven't had much opportunity to compare diamond-framed bike models with their corresponding women's or mixte counterparts.  One reason is that many--particularly high-end--models come only as one or the other.

One difference I can find between the two types of frames in general is that diamond frames are generally more stable than those without a horizontal top tube.  I've especially noticed this when I've tried riding women's or mixte frames with fixed gears.  

Of course, another difference between the two types of frames is that the women's/mixte varieties are easier to mount.  That was, I think, the original rationale for such designs.  Sexism might have been a motive:  Perhaps bike designers and builders believed that we needed easier-to-mount bikes because we're the "fairer" (translation:  "weaker") sex.  Another reason for the designs was, of course, that at one time women almost always wore skirts or dresses, which make it more difficult (especially if the skirt is not flared or falls below the knee) to sling a leg over a top bar.

There are men, though, who ride women's or mixte frames.  I often see them here in New York.  Some of those guys are probably riding a bike they inherited for someone or got very cheaply.  Others, I suspect, are riding them for the same reason men in Mosul are on them.

That reason has only a little bit to do with the fact that women simply don't ride bicycles there.  Even before the Islamic State (ISIS) captured the city nearly three years ago, it wasn't done, though what I've read suggests that women not riding bicycles was more of a custom rather than the reult of an outright prohibition.  

Rather, men say they ride women's bicycles because they're easier to handle in the city's potholed,rubble-strewn streets, especially when cyclists are transporting food, medical supplies and other items.  The shop Mohammed Sabah Yehia recently opened on the east side of town, in fact, stocks and sells nothing but women's bicycles.

Mohammed Sabah Yehia in his East Mosul shop.

The way he entered the velocipedic trade is emblematic of what has turned Mosul, which is bisected by the Tigris River, into a city of bicycles.  He used to sell motorcycles on the city's west (of the river) side, where there was a flourishing bicycle trade, until his shop was destroyed during the ISIS offensive.  Then motorized vehicles were banned because of gas shortages.  

A campaign to take back the city started in October has resulted in the liberation of the east side of the city.  Since then, traffic has returned.  But police have been stopping and confiscating motorcycles because ISIS members have been using them. As a result, many men are weaving their bicycles through the throngs of cars to find stores, pharmacies and other establishments that are open.

On the west side, on the other hand, cyclists ride on traffic-free streets.  But that is not a result of city authorities trying to make their community more "bike friendly". Iraqi and ISIS forces are still fighting, and the former have barred cars--which the latter use as suicide vehicles--and motorcycles. 

Some cyclists from the east side--like Yehia--don't want to venture onto the west side "until it's secure".  They also avoid riding at night, out of fear of remaining militant "sleeper cells".   Still, for the time being, it seems that for all of the hazards, cycling will be the best way to transport people and supplies in Mosul.  And men will be riding women's bikes. 

24 April 2017

Before EX, It Was CLB

In 1978, Shimano introduced its Dura Ace "EX" gruppo.  It was hailed (at least by Shimano's marketing department) as revolutionary.  Indeed, the gruppo included "innovations" that cyclists who didn't know much about the history of cycling (which would have included me) would have seen as world-changing.

As with most "innovations", they had been done before.  Features that distinguished this new gruppo, aside from its light weight and distinctive appearance, included "dropped" pedals with axles that were shorter but of larger diameter than others.  That was supposed to make the pedal/crank interface stiffer, and putting the pedal platform below the line of the axle was supposed to be both more ergonomic and aerodynamic than traditional setups.  I never tried it myself, for the same reasons most cyclists I know didn't:  Those pedals and cranks were not interchangeable with any others.  

Speaking of the cranks:  They were very nice, and included a one-key release, eliminating the need for a crank remover tool.  That is one "innovation" that has endured.  Another is one that many of us are riding today:  a "freehub" with a cassette carrier integrated into the hub body.  Until that time, almost every derailleur-equipped bike, as well as those with single-speed freewheels, used freewheels that screwed onto the hub body.  

Of course, the "Uniglide" hub, as Shimano would call it, was not a new idea.  SunTour made a hub with an integrated cassette carrier--the "UnitHub--a decade earlier; half a decade before that, Cinelli offered its "Bivalent" hub, which is often seen as the predecessor of modern cassette hubs.  But, in part through aggressive marketing campaigns, Shimano's cassette system is the one that displaced screw-on freewheels as the standard for bikes of any and all kinds.

One more "innovation" that wasn't was the brakes, which I liked.  The extension that held the cable adjuster and quick release was shortened, and a stiffener was added between it and the main part of the brake arm.  And the quick release was one most cyclists hadn't seen before:  It rotated and had fewer moving parts than the ones found on Campagnolo and other brakes.

CLB Professional

Surprise, surprise:  Three years earlier, CLB introduced their "Professional", a brake with a similar profile--and the same kind of quick release.  If I were a collector or simply wanted to build a bike strictly based on the "cool" factor of the parts, I would probably choose the CLB Pro.  It and the titanium-bolted Galli Professional, which came out that same year (as did the SunTour Cyclone derailleurs), were the lightest brakes of their time.

CLB Competition, c. 1950

Now, the few Americans who bought and used CLB (Charles Lozier Bourgoin, the founder of the company) Pros probably thought the quick release was novel.  Actually, CLB had been using it--though in less-refined iterations--as far back as the 1940's, when they first started making brakes.  Interestingly, the company's center-pulls--introduced  in the early '50's and based heavily on the Mafac's product--used cable hangers that included a very similar quick release mechanism.

What got me to thinking about all of this?  Well, I was looking for some parts on eBay when I came across this:

It appears to be a later or lower-priced version of the Professional.  What really struck me, though, was the "funky" (as the listing's copy aptly puts it) green and white finish. As far as I knew, CLB, being the very traditional and very French company that it was, never offered their components in color besides silver.  Actually, with the exception of the Professional, most of their brakes were, well, not finished at all, from all appearances:  They had a dull grey aluminum color.  Mafacs, by comparison, seemed like jewelry.

Although that green and white brakeset is probably 30 or more years old, it would fit right in with the graphics on many new bikes!

Apparently, CLB ceased to exist a few years after they were acquired by Sachs in 1984. Three years earlier, Sachs also bought Huret, Maillard and Sedis--three of the mainstays of the French bicycle industry.  While components were manufactured in France and marketed under the Sachs/Huret, Sachs/Maillard and Sachs/Sedis names for  a few years before becoming simply Sachs, the CLB name seems to have died not long after its acquisition.  

But CLB's designs live on, in other forms:  There are brakes with similar quick releases.  And the aerodynamic shapes of today's brakes owe something to the design of the Professional.

23 April 2017

If The Shoe Fits, Go To Woolloongaba

On my refriegerator, I don't have any kids' drawings because, well, I don't have any kids.  But I do have photos of my cats--along with cards for upcoming appointments with my opthamologist and dentist, as well as various notes to myself.  They're all held by magnets.  Some are souvenirs of places I've visited, like the mini-replica of a Paris street sign for St. Germain des Pres and a Mucha illustration from Prague.

One of those magnets, though, reads, "She who dies with the most shoes, wins."

In the early years of my life as Justine, I lived more or less as if that were true--at least, to the degree my budget allowed it.  These days, though, my shoe collection isn't nearly as expensive or flashy as it was then.  I am long past that stage of wearing high heels to go to the store for cat food, for one thing.  Also, I guess you could say that I simply feel more secure of who I am now.

But I must admit, I like to kick up my heels now and again.  I also like to see interesting unusual and beautiful shoes, whether or not they are practical.  Sometimes I'll go shoe "shopping" without any intention of buying anything--though, rest assured, I don't try them on unless I'm thinking of buying!

So, of course, a "shoe bike" is going to get my attention.

You might remember the closing ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics.  That shoe-bike, and others, accompanied the "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" float in the parade.

That shoe-bike, and one other, are for sale at an antique shop in the Brisbane, Australia suburb of Woolloongabba.  I mean, any place where such things would be sold has to have a memorable name, right?

Maybe I'll buy a lottery ticket and, if I win, take the next flight out.  Actually, I might be able to afford an actual trip to Australia, whether or not I win.  And I could even buy one of the bikes.  The problem would be in getting it home:  It would probably cost as much as the trip itself, maybe more!

Besides, I don't know where I'd keep it.  Max and Marlee won't question my buying another bike (They don't ask, "Why do you need six?"); they might even like curling up on it.  But   I would have to get rid of--my other bikes?  my books?  my bed?  OK, maybe the bed can go! ;-)  Or the sofa.

For the record:  Inside each of the "shoes" is a three-wheeled adult tricycle.  So, technically, they're shoe trikes, but it doesn't sound as catchy as "shoe bikes".

22 April 2017

Earth To Mingus: Kiddical Mass Today!

Today is Earth Day.

The first Earth Day was celebrated on this date in 1970.  It is widely agreed that the "Bike Boom" also began that year.  Of course, nobody can pin down an exact moment when the "Boom" began, but I would reckon that if there is one, it came some time around Earth Day.

I was 11 years old then, so I can remember the beginnings of Earth Day and the Bike Boom.  Thus, they are intertwined for me:  I cannot think of one without the other.  Although the tie between cycling and environmentalism loosened during the '80's and '90's, I think they have been drawn together again in recent years.

So, not surprisingly, many people are going to get on their bikes. Some will go on organized rides.  One of the most appropriate for this day, I believe, is the "Kiddical Mass" ride.

Speaking of a bike ride:  On occasion, I post a song or piece of music related to cycling.  Here's one appropriate for this day, or any:

Yes, it's "Pedal Point Blues" by Charles Mingus.  Were he alive, he would be 95 years old today!

I couldn't find any images of him on a bike, but I have heard and read that he did indeed ride bicycles for transportation, sometimes while carrying his bass!

Hmm..Could it be that the organizers of Earth Day were really celebrating his birthday? After all, he is a musician of the world--of Earth, if you will!

21 April 2017

Why Do Most Bike Thieves Get Away With It?

In today's Los Angeles Times, an editorial writer asked the question on the minds of many cyclists:

"Why are cities allowing bicycle theft to go virtually unpunished?"

The editorial points out something that most of us already know:  Bike theft simply isn't a high priority, if it's a priority at all, for most police departments.  There are a variety of reasons, valid or not, for this.  One is that police tend to concentrate on high-profile, high-value crimes.  So a stolen Maserati gets more attention than a missing Masi, possibly because insurance companies and lawyers are likely to have similar priorities.  

Another reason might be one a police officer expressed to me:  "Well, if you have a good lock and insurance policy, you can replace your bike."  This is true, up to a point:  Most policies--whether from lock makers or insurance companies, have deductibles.  But, even if a bike's owner is reimbursed for its full value, he or she may not be able to replace the stolen bike with another like it, especially if it is a custom or discontinued model. 

Even if a cyclist is reimbursed for the full price he or she paid for the bike, that amount of money probably won't buy as good a bike as the one that was taken, especially if the bike is more than a couple of years old.   And, of course, the deductibles and depreciation mean that the cyclist is likely to get considerably less than he or she paid for the bike.

From Priceconomics

What that means is that the newly-bikeless rider will buy a lower-quality bike than the one that was stolen--that is, if he or she buys another bike at all.  The LA Times editorial points out that according to one study, 7 percent of bike-theft victims in Montreal never replace their bikes.

The article makes a point that for many cyclists (such as yours truly), not having a bike is not merely an inconvenience.  An increasing number of people, mainly in cities, are depending on their bikes for everyday transportation.   Most of us aren't rich:  According to a Federal government survey cited in the editorial, the people most likely to cycle (or, for that matter, walk) to work, school or errands--or simply to get around--are those with household incomes of less than $10,000 a year.  That group of people is likely to include, in addition to low-wage workers, the unemployed, retirees and students.  

Also in that group  are many who make their livings on their bicycles.  For a year, I was one.  In nearly every city--and in some suburban and even rural areas--there is an army of folks who deliver everything from documents to dim sum on their wheels.  For them, losing their bikes is catastrophic.

And they, as often as not, are the least able to afford to buy another bike of any kind.  In much the same way that Kim Kardashian being robbed of 10 million dollars' worth of jewelry is not going to affect her lifestyle as much as the average person is affected by losing the watch he or she wears every day, the guy (or woman) who loses a Porsche can more easily afford to replace it than the delivery person who purchased a Peugeot U-08 from a tag sale.

That, I believe, might be the most important "take away" from that L.A. Times editorial.  It may be that law enforcement authorities still see bicyclists losing their bikes as kids losing their toys but someone whose luxury sports car is stolen as the victim of a "real" crime.  Unless that changes, bike theft will be a mostly-unsolved crime and bike thefts will continue to be under-reported.

20 April 2017

New Museum For Old Bikes In Newburgh?

I have been to Newburgh, New York twice in my life.  Both times I got there on my bicycle:  once on a day trip there and back from New York City, another time during a long weekend mini-tour of the Catskills.  

Although a decade separated the two visits, I had almost exactly the same impression both times:  It's rather like a miniature, and more compressed, version of The Big Apple, my hometown.  What I mean is that it's the sort of place where you can see grandeur and despair side by side, and see them together again on the next block, and the block after that.  

It's as architecturally and historically rich as any place I've seen in the US.  I say that as someone who has spent time in large cities like San Francisco, Boston and Philadelphia (and, of course, New York) as well as smaller but impressive towns like Savannah and Providence.  The Downing Mansion would be impressive anywhere, but its setting on the Hudson River, with the mountains in the background, makes it even more so. 

Nearby is the house that served as George Washington's headquarters during the final year of the American Revolution.  It was there that he issued the Proclamation of Peace, effectively ending the war and beginning the independent American nation.  In that house, he also rejected the idea that he should be king and ended the so-called Newburgh Conspiracy that would have left the government controlled by the military.  And, while there, he also conceived or made other contributions to the founding of this country, including ones that influenced the writing of the Constitution.

That house became the first publicly owned historic site in the United States.  The Downing Mansion and other beautiful old houses have been preserved through doting private owners or the efforts of organizations devoted to preservation.  

But literally steps (or pedal strokes) away from those houses is urban blight that reminds people of places like Camden NJ or the South Bronx during the 1970s and '80's.  I saw lots, and even whole blocks, that looked as if bombs had been dropped on them.  In fact, they are the remnants of "urban-renewal" projects begun and aborted or abandoned, for a variety of reasons, decades ago.  And there were other blocks where people huddled up in homes splintered and full of holes, like coats they wore through one winter after another.

Many of those people, I learned, were parolees, current and former addicts and welfare recipients placed in those houses by social service agencies because there weren't any affordable places nearby.  Yes, it was essentially a taxpayer-funded Skid Row.  

But there have been attempts to "bring back" Newburgh.  Across the river, the town of Beacon is often called "Williamsburg on the Hudson" because of the hipsters and gentrifiers that have created a colony of trendy restaurants, bars, galleries, microbreweries and the like.  A similar wave is, from what I hear, finding its way to Newburgh.  

Actually, one successful attempt to keep an historic structure from falling apart--or falling altogether--has been the creation of a motorcycle museum by a city native.  Gerald Doering bought a 1929 Indian Scout locally in 1947, when he was twenty years old.  He loved it, and motorcycling generally, so much that he rode it to Miami, where he sought work with a Newburgh dealership that relocated there.

When that didn't work out, he started an electrical contracting business--and the seeds of his collection, which is centered on the Indian brand and bikes from the early days of motorcycling.  That collection became the foundation for Motorcyclepedia, the museum they opened in 2011.

Motorcyclepedia board member Jean Lara with one of the bicycles to be housed in Velocipede, a bicycle museum planned in Newburgh, NY.  (Photo by Leonard Sparks of the Times Herald-Record.)

Turns out, he and his son were also collecting bicycles, also mainly from that period, though some are earlier.  In a way, it's not so surprising, when you consider that most of the early motorcycle makers (and some current ones) were originally bicycle manufacturers.   Moreover, bicycles and motorcycles were even more similar in those days than they are now.  

Now Doering pere and fils are seeking approval from the Newburgh planning board for a museum called "Velocipede", which they want to house in a former labor union hall they purchased in December 2015. 

Hmm...I may have to make another trip to Newburgh.  I'd like to do it on my bike, again!

19 April 2017

Today Is Bicycle Day. And It's A Real Trip

Sometimes people give a knowing (or think-they-know) grin when I tell them I took a trip on a bike.  Yes, even at my age, at this late date. 

I'm sure many people reacted in the same way--or less approvingly--when they saw the title of Tom Cuthbertson's Bike Tripping.  It's one of those primers, if you will, that came out during the '70's North American Bike Boom.  Most of the advice in it is still pretty sound, even if some of what he says about equipment is dated.  And, as with Cuthbertson's other books, it can be enjoyed for its witty tone and those fun illustrations from his friend Rick Morrall.

First of all, the book came out in 1972--one year after Cuthbertson's first classic, Anybody's Bike Book.  Although the calendar may have said the world was in the 1970s, in many ways,  it was still the late '60's, complete with the anti-war and environmental movements.  And hippies. (Cuthbertson's books looked like they were created by hippies.  And he looked like one.) And, of course, drugs.

Among the drugs of that time was Lysergic Acid Diathymalide-25, better known to the world as LSD or simply "acid".  Although it still has a stigma from the overdoses and the people who had terrifying visions while taking it, there are still researchers who are trying to find ways to use it for which it was intended:  medical purposes.

At least, that was the way Albert Hofmann intended it.  He was the Swiss scientist who first synthesized it, in 1938, as   a stimulant for the circulatory and respiratory systems.  He learned of its true power five years later, when he accidentally absorbed some into his fingertips.  The "not unpleasant intoxicated-like condition" he experienced intrigued him enough that he did what any intensely curious researcher would do:  He experimented on himself.

On 19 April 1943, he took what he thought was an appropriate threshold dose:  250 milligrams.  That was a bit too  much; today we know that a standard dose is 200 mg. (I am using the imperial "we":  I have no firsthand experience!)  Within an hour, his perception began to ebb and flow rapidly.  Then he became the first person to "freak out":  He was convinced that his neighbor was a witch, and he was going insane.  He wanted to go home.

In 1943, wartime restrictions were in place, which meant that, like many other people, Hofmann had no access to a car.  So he rode his bicycle.  

Image by jibberjabber

That trip home was a stressful one:  His vision wavered and he felt as though he were motionless.  After he reached the climax of his condition, however, he came back from a "weird, unfamiliar world" to reassuring everyday reality.

Albert Hofmann, therefore, took the world's acid trip.  And he did it on his bike.  That is why 19 April is celebrated as Bicycle Day--though I think Bicycle Trip Day might be more appropriate.

18 April 2017

Does Nobike Fit All?

So why do you have six bikes?

If you have more than one bike, you have heard some variant of this question--from a spouse, lover, other family member, co-worker or friend who doesn't share your enthusiasm for cycling.  That person might see that one of your bikes has drop bars and the other has uprights or flats.  Or he or she might notice that one bike has fatter or skinnier tires, or has only one gear or multiple gears.  On the other hand, that person might see only that your bikes are different colors or have different names on them.

The reason nearly all of us give--if we actually ride the bikes we own (I do) is that they have different ride characteristics.  One bike might be better for long distances, another for speed and yet another for "rough stuff".  One of our steeds might carry our groceries, books r even furniture, while another can and should be ridden only in its most stripped-down form.

Now, if you've gotten this far in answering your incredulous friend or lover, he or she might ask whether there's one bike that can "do it all".  Some bikes are billed, by their makers or marketers, as Swiss Army knives on wheels, if you will.  Swiss Army knives are great (I have a couple.) and they can perform a number of different tasks in a pinch.  But, for most of those tasks, if you had to do them every day, you probably wouldn't want to rely on your Swiss Army knife.

Still, it seems that there's always someone trying to create a bike that can give a satisfying ride in all conditions.  Likewise, it seems that there's always someone or another who's trying to design a bike that will fit everyone.  Nearly every folding bike I've ever seen is touted as a machine that will fit everyone from about 150 to 215 cm (a little less than five feet to a little more than seven feet) tall.

When you've been riding for as long as I've been riding, you become skeptical about either endeavor.  So, it might seem doubly dubious when you hear that someone has designed a bike that not only can be adjusted to a wide range of sizes, but can also be altered to suit different riding styles and conditions.

Well, Dynalab has just designed such a machine. The frame is made from four triangular slabs of aluminum slotted together by three joints with cylinder spacers.

According to the folks at Dynalab, the frame has 80 cm (about 31.5 inches) of vertical adjustability, making it "suitable for men, women adolescents and adults alike".  The aluminum slabs can also be moved horizontally and the angles varied to change the frame's geometry.

The bike actually sounds interesting and I wouldn't mind trying one, if only out of curiosity.  If it works, I could see using it as a travel bike, as it looks as if it could be disassembled rather easily and carried in a relatively small piece of luggage.  And it could be made into whatever kind of bike would suit the conditions you might encounter upon arrival.  

Even if the ride and fit qualities are as good as Dynalab claims, I have to wonder how sturdy those slotted joints are. Just how much assembling, disassembling and moving around could the withstand?  And how much shock and abuse.

Still, even if it is what it's claimed to be, I might have a hard time shelling out my money for something called Nobike.