31 May 2017

Why We Need The Idaho Stop--And The Paris Accord

When I saw this image in my Google browser, I thought it had something to do with Donald Trump's intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord Obama, along with the leaders of 194 nations, signed two years ago.

The smoke is thick enough.  As I write, DT hasn't officially pulled away from the agreement, and some of his advisers--including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson--are going to make appeals in the hope of changing his mind.  I can almost picture him, or someone else, using that image as part of his "pitch".

Alas, it is the opening frame of a video shown on an Arizona television news program, and posted to the AZ Central website.  The story is terrible:  A commercial truck collided with a bicycle.  Now, that description is strange:  I normally think of a collision as occurring between two people or things that are more or less equal in their ability to withstand the crash.  That hardly brings to mind, at least for me, a truck hitting a bicycle.

According to the news report, two cyclists were involved, "but only one was struck by the vehicle, according to Gilbert police."

With reports like that, El Presidente has absolutely no reason to trouble himself with "fake news".  Too many stories one reads or hears in the "news" media are so incomplete, so lacking in facts or context, or simply so ineptly or deviously expressed, that the "fake news" seems reliable, or at least predictable, for no other reason that you can dismiss it outright.  Stories like the one I've just mentioned have to be filled in, teased out or in some other way worked through in order to make sense of them, let alone make an evaluation.

Oh--the woman hit by the truck was pronounced dead at the hospital and the other cyclist, also a woman, "required no medical attention."

OK, I  don't want to seem like I'm nitpicking, but I want to know how two cyclists were involved if one bicycle was struck.  

I will give the reporter(s) credit for this, though:  The report mentions that both cyclists  and the truck were traveling east on Ray Road in Gilbert, Arizona,  when the truck driver made a right turn onto Val Vista Drive.

I wouldn't be surprised if the cyclists stopped for a red light and proceeded when the signal turned green.  As I have mentioned in earlier posts, that is the easiest way to get struck by a motor vehicle, especially a truck or bus.  The "Idaho stop" is much safer:  When a cyclist proceeds against a red light through an intersection where there is no cross-traffic, he or she is much safer than he or she would be by following the signals, as the law requires in most places. 

 Going through an intersection when no cross-traffic is present allows the cyclist to get out ahead of traffic moving in the same direction--which makes it more likely that bus or truck driver behind you will see you.  

However the truck came to collide with the cyclist, the image at the beginning of this post is not good news--whether or not The Orange One quits the Paris climate accord.

30 May 2017

The New Bicycle Face?

If you have recently seen someone who is 

usually flushed, but sometimes pale, often with lips more or less drawn, and the beginnings of shadows under the eyes, and always an expression of weariniess

you might have been looking at me last week, when I was grading mountains of papers and exams.  You also might have been looking at a White House Chief of Staff, or any number of people working in the current administration.

What causes the condition described above?  Some esteemed doctors have claimed it is a result of:

over-exertion, the upright position on the wheel and the unconscious attempt to maintain one's balance tend to produce a weary and exhausted face.

So...What was the name of this condition?, you ask.

Here goes:  Bicycle Face.

Believe it or not, sober, serious medical professionals actually claimed that riding would so distort your face--that is, if you are of the gender in which I now live.   They didn't say anything about what cycling does to men's faces.  Or, perhaps, it was OK for a man to look that way because it meant that he was exerting himself: something a woman was not supposed to do, or at least look as if she were doing.

That was back in 1895.  Of course, the doctors who came up with the description of the symptoms and causes of the disease, uh, over-relied on anecdotal evidence, made it all up.  Why?  They, and other reactionary men, were afraid that if women rode too much (or at all, according to some men), they would lose their physical attractiveness and other feminine virtues in much the same way they believed too much education (or simply reading) would becloud their pretty little heads.

By the time women got the right to vote in the US, I don't think anybody was using the term "bicycle face" any more.  Well, maybe some kid used it as a playground insult:  Perhaps he or she thought some other kid's face looked like it was laced with spokes or had ears that stuck out like handlebars or something.  Actually, I do recall hearing "bike face" in locker rooms:  The "bike" in question, of course, didn't have two wheels.

(Wow!  When I think of stuff like that, I realize how much the world--and I--have changed!)

Bicycle Face?

Anyway, we all know that some people take the sting out of epithets and derogatory terms by "owning" them.  I am thinking, of course, of the ways in which some African Americans (mostly the young) use the "n-word" or the way some in the LGBT community employ "queer" or gay men say "faggot".  I myself would never use those terms, but I understand why some would feel empowered by uttering them.  

Apparently, the owners of a new bicycle shop in Lexington, Kentucky are thinking like those young African-American and LGBT people.  They have appropriated the name of a fabricated "condition" or "syndrome" for their enterprise.  According to manager Jack Baugh, he and the owners want to make money.  But they also want to "create a sense of community" and make their shop "a place where people will want to come and get to know other cyclists."  That, he says, is one of the reasons why the repair shop has been placed in the center of the store, rather than in the bike, out the side or in a basement.  "That helps open things up for people to hang out, because the shop is where conversations always take place," he explains.

Bicycle Face will soon have a bar for coffee and other beverages--something offered by just one other bike shop in Lexington. It will also have free wi-fi and a big garage door to let in sunlight--and will be the site of maintenance classes as well as the starting point of group rides.

Baugh and the shop's owners realize that it's easy for cyclists to buy equipment online.  So, he says, Bicycle Face, has to be "more than a store."  It must be "an experience" that "gives customers a reason to come in."

And, one assumes, they want to make "bicycle face" an expression of joy.

29 May 2017

Riding Into Crowds And The Wild Blue Yonder

One thing about air shows:  You don't have to be at the venue in which they're held in order to see them.  You can see them for miles around.

I should have remembered that when I decided to head for Point Lookout yesterday.  When I got there, I wondered why it was so crowded (well, at least in comparison to the way it usually is).  Jones Beach, where the the Bethpage Air Show was held, is only the length of a football (soccer, I mean) field from the rocks at Point Lookout where I usually lunch and/or meditate in the middle of my ride.  So, of course, the spectators at Point Lookout had as good a vantage point as the folks at Jones Beach or Bethpage.

In a way, that turned out just as well.  I took Tosca--my Mercian fixed gear--along a sandy path to a more remote area of the beach.  The tide was out, so there was a lot of beach.  (In places like Jones Inlet, what's good for bathers or beach loungers is not good for boaters:  The fact that the tide was out also meant that sandbars were exposed.) She didn't mind that I pushed her along the sand:  I pedaled into the wind most of the way out there, so I was pushing pretty hard on the pedals.  

Of course, that meant I had the wind at my back for most of my way back. Interestingly, even though there was a crowd at Point Lookout, I didn't see much traffic anywhere along my ride--not even along the strips of bars and restaurants in Long Beach and Rockaway Beach.

They were still watching the air show, I think, when I got home.

28 May 2017

Bicycle Killer

In a room, there are 53 bicycles.  (Hmm, it must not be in a NYC apartment!) There is also a table in the middle of the room.  A dead man with a bullet hole in his head is slouched in a chair, face down on the table.

What happened?

If you would like a hint, click here

(Another hint:  What is a bicycle?  Or, more precisely, what is called a bicycle?)

If you can't solve this crime, click here.

(This "crime" comes to us courtesy of Jay Bennett in Popular Mechanics.

27 May 2017

Striders: The Future Peloton?

When I first became a dedicated cyclist, during my teen years, I started to follow bicycle racing.  In those days, before the Internet and 24-hour news cycles, it was much more difficult to do.  There was little or no coverage in any of the mainstream media.  Bicycling! ran stories about the Tour, the Giro and some of the classics, but that came out only once a month.  You pretty much had to go to a large city to find a place like Hotaling's, where I used to find French, British and other European publications.

During my rides, I would sometimes imagine myself in the peloton with Eddy Mercx or Bernard Hinault.  I wondered, then, if I would have been like them--or one of their competitors--had I grown up in Brittany or Flanders or Tuscany and pedaled in the midget and youth races in the days when I was playing Babe Ruth League baseball (and high-school soccer) in New Jersey.

What I would have done to ride in a Strider race!

This one was just held in Fort Worth, Texas.  It's part of a series of Strider races that will culminate in a Strider World Championship on 21-22 July, in Salt Lake City.

I mean, really, how can you not love it?

Strider, the sponsor of these races, is the leading brand of so-called "balance bikes", which have no pedals--or training wheels.  Proponents of this type of bike claim that the most important skill in cycling is balance, and a kid learns it more quickly than on a bike with training wheels.  Moreover, their advocates argue, because balance bikes don't have pedals, chains or sprockets, they are free of the sharp surfaces that can hurt a kid or simply snag his or her pants.

If I had a kid, I don't know whether I'd choose a balance bike or training wheels.  Well, maybe after watching Strider races, I might be swayed!

26 May 2017

Are Bike Share Programs Cutting Giant Down?

For most Americans, a "traffic jam" consists of throngs of cars and other motorized vehicles crawling or standing still on major streets or highways.  In many places, they are a regular feature of what is called--without irony--"rush hour": the times of day when most people are going to, or coming from, work or school.

Until two decades ago, Chinese cities also had traffic jams.  Instead of cars, though, their streets were lined with bicycles.  About the only way an American cyclist could experience anything like it without going to China was to participate in a large organized ride like the Five Borough Bike Tours, where there are sometimes "bottlenecks".

Then, as China became more prosperous, people who used to ride their bikes to work started to drive--to work, and just about everywhere else they could.  Now China was experiencing American-style traffic jams its their cities.

So, a few years ago, some Chinese went back to commuting and getting around by bicycle, as it is faster, especially in the central areas of many cities, than driving.  Once again, there are bikes all over Chinese streets.

It sounds like things should be really good for bicycle manufacturers, doesn't it?  I mean, can't you see Giant, which now makes most of its bicycles in China, just raking in the dough?  

Believe it or not, Giant's stock has more or less flatlined this year.  Its price is now just about the same as it was in December.  Two other major manufacturers, Zhonglou and Shanghai Phoenix, both experienced surges in late 2016 but are now worth less than they were at the beginning of this year.

Giant's listlessness, and the tumble the other two companies have taken, can be blamed to some extent on the China's economic slowdown, which is part of the reason why the Chinese are buying fewer bikes than they did in 2015 or 2014.  More to the point, though, is something that is causing bike sales to shrink in other parts of the world.

In China, as in much of the West, more and more people are riding bikes.  Yet fewer and fewer are buying them.  That doesn't make sense (I am really, really trying not to use the word "counterintutitve"!) until you realize that many new bike commuters and even recreational riders in Shanghai and Hangzhou, like their peers in Paris and London and New York, are riding bikes from share programs.  

Is this cutting Giant down to size?

According to industry analysts, one of the reasons manufacturers like Giant aren't benefiting from the growth of bike share programs is that their production and marketing have been oriented toward bike shop sales, which have been falling--in part because of share programs, and because the ones who have traditionally spent the most money in shops, namely bike enthusiasts, are doing much of their shopping on-line.  

What that means is that companies like Giant didn't, until recently, produce bikes with the apps and other accessories demanded by bike share programs.  Other, smaller manufacturers--including a few start-up companies--have stepped in to fill the gap.  For example, the bikes in New York's, Toronto's and Montreal's share programs are made by Quebec-based Devinci.  While the brand has a following, mainly for its mountain bikes, it is not nearly as well-known as Giant, whose website lists 25 dealers in the five boroughs of New York City, and as many in the surrounding metropolitan area.  Devinci's website, on the other hand, shows only one dealer in New York City (Brooklyn) and one other across the Hudson, in Bergen County, New Jersey.

One of the reasons why smaller companies can fill those voids is that they don't have as much invested in manufacturing facilities as the big companies.  As a result, they don't have to spend as much time or money re-tooling in order to meet changing demands.  As I have mentioned in earlier posts, one of the reasons Schwinn is now a shadow of its former self is that it was slow to adapt to the changing demands of cyclists.  One of the reasons for that was that Schwinn had so much invested in an aging factory and equipment that couldn't produce the lighter bikes adult cyclists wanted.  Paramounts were nice, but most people who took up cycling during the '70's Bike Boom were looking for something that was agile and functional, but wouldn't break the bank:  In other words, something like the Fuji S-10S or Nishiki International.

Could it be that bike-share programs will turn Giant, Specialized and other "giants" (pun intended) of the bike industry into dinosaurs--or Schwinns of the future?

25 May 2017

I Will Tell You More...

Today I am going to explain something.

No, not the conspiracy Great Girl Conspiracy in yesterday's post.  Or quantum mechanics.  Or, for that matter, why the other line moves faster.

Instead, I'm going to talk about something far more mundane--at least, to almost everybody in the world but me.  I am going to tell you, now, about Helene.


Last week, I stripped her.  And shipped her.  Soon she will be in her new home, with a rider who will, I hope, appreciate her more than I did.

There was nothing wrong with her as a bike.  In fact, I liked her quite a lot.  I just didn't ride her much, at least after the first year or two I had her.  

You see, when I ordered her from Mercian, they had stopped making mixte frames with the twin-lateral "top" tubes because Reynolds--which makes the tubing used to build most Mercian frames--stopped producing those skinny frame members.  So, wanting a ladies' Mercian to go with my other Mercians, I ordered the "traditional" style frame, with a single top tube that slanted downward.

Then, about a year later, I came across Vera--an older Miss Mercian with the twin tubes.  Women's and mixte frames tend not to have very high resale values; even so, Vera's price was less than I expected.  

Vera--a Miss Mercian from 1994

The rest is history, as they say.  Vera became my commuter when I had a longer commute because she has a stable and comfortable, but still responsive, ride.  Also:  Who doesn't like the look of a twin-tube mixte?  If I do say so myself, it is a stylish ride--and, of course, style is one of the reasons I wanted to have a nice mixte (or ladies') bike.

Not that Helene doesn't have style.  But Vera has more of the style, as well as the ride, I want from my mixte.  Helene, in contrast, rides a bit more like a road bike.

Anyway, aside from disuse, there is another reason I stripped and sold Helene:  I've ordered another Mercian.

Why?, you ask.  Well, if you've been reading this blog, you know I'm something of a Mercian aficionado.  I don't believe I can have too many Mercians; I know I can only have enough time to ride but so many of them (or any other bike) and space to keep them.

Still, you may be forgiven for asking why I've ordered another.  Well, the exchange rates have been favorable to the dollar for a while, and I don't know how much longer that will hold.  When I ordered Arielle, my Mercian Audax, during the time I waited for it, the exchange rate had become about 25 percent more favorable to the pound than it was when I placed the order.  So, this time, I've already paid for the cost of the frame.  When the frame is ready, I will only have to pay for shipping and, perhaps, some small additional charges for things I've requested that may or may not be included in the base price.

Now, the money I got for Helene doesn't come close to paying for this new frame.  But I wanted to sell her while she's still very clean:  There's barely a scratch on her.  Also, I am going to use some of her parts on the new frame, along with a few parts from my other bikes, and a few more new parts I've collected.

Mercian's website says there's a 10-month wait for new frames.  I don't even mind that; in fact, I'm rather happy about it.  Why?  Well, next year will be a round-number birthday for me, and that frame will be a gift to myself.

Peter's Vincitore Special

And, given that I've ordered it for such an occasion, I've ordered what seems the most appropriate frame of all:  a Vincitore Special made from Reynolds 853 tubing.  Its design will be very similar to that of Arielle, so it will be a bike that is capable of both comfort and speed on long rides, and can accomodate 700 x 28C tires--as well as fenders and a rear rack, should I decide to add them later.  It will also have a nice, traditional quill stem and downtube shifters.

Arielle, my Mercian Audax

In addition to being a birthday gift to myself, I see the Super Vincitore as the sort of frame that hardly anyone makes anymore.  I am guessing that Mercian will make it as long as they can get the materials and they have framebuilders with the necessary skills and passion.  Still, I figure it's better to order such a frame sooner rather than later.

Now, all I have to do is find ways not to think about it all the time--for the next ten months.  That's, what, March?

Oh, in case you were wondering:  I have chosen Lilac Polychromatic (#17) as the main color.  The seat tube panel and head tube panel will be Deep Plum Pearl (#56).  All of that will be trimmed with white lug pinstriping and Gothic-letter transfers.  And a 1950's-style metal headbadge, if it will fit into the lugwork.  I've even found the handlebar tape--Newbaum's Eggplant--I'm going to wrap around the handlebars.  Finally, the new frame will get a well-aged honey Brooks Professional with copper rails and rivets, as well as one or two of the bags Ely made for me.

24 May 2017

Into, And Out Of, The Chaos

Now I'm going to tell you a secret:  You see, there's this place where we all meet and it's gonna change the world.

Someone told me I should write about a conspiracy or two--or at least hint at them.  According to that person who is an expert on what, I don't know, conspiracies and conspiracy theories draw viewers to websites the way free food draws, well, just about anybody to any place.

So...about that place and the meeting that will shake the earth--or modern society, anyway--to its foundations:  I'll tell you about it.  In fact, I'll even tell you who "we" are.

No, we're not the Illuminati or the Carbonari.  We're way more secret than that.  In fact, we're so secret that we don't even know who we are, let alone where we're meeting or why--let alone what the outcome will be.

But we exist, and we're holding such a meeting because, well, people who know better (or should) say that we are.  To wit:

The "they" in this snippet are female cyclists.  Specifically, it referred to the women on wheels who had emerged from whalebone corsets and hoopskirts some time around 1897, the peak of the first Bicycle Boom.  Now we were wearing shorter skirts or--shudder--bloomers with--gasp--socks!  Worse yet, we were setting new standards in fashion.

Now, all of you women who are reading this know that when we dress, we are doing it for each other.  I mean, when the Duchess of Cambridge wears one of those beautiful dresses for a gala or whatever, no man (well, OK, almost no man) pays as much attention to it as any of us.  I recall now a holiday spent with my brother and sister-in-law a year or two after they had their first child.   It was around the time Wheel of Fortune became one of the most popular game shows.  Watching Vanna White slink across the stage, my sister-in-law exclaimed, "I would love to wear that dress!"

The funny thing is that the bicycle, in a way, abetted this attitude.  When women started riding bikes, they weren't seeking approval from men.  If anything, they got scorn or derision from their husbands, fathers, pastors and other males in their lives--as well as some of their female elders.   We were riding and dressing for comfort and (relative) ease of movement--and to impress each other.  Since the men weren't going to approve (well, most of them, anyway), we sought encouragement from each other. 

Equally funny is that as we were mocked and scorned, we were also commodified.  At least a few businessmen saw that as we got on our bikes, we had more mobility--which meant more freedom to do all sorts of things. Like go to work and earn our own money.  And we could buy all of those outfits we would wear as we rode to our "grand rendezvous" where we got the "wobbly old world to wake up" and "adjust itself"--if, perhaps, not in the way the writer of that editorial intended. 

(At least they're not meetings of this organization.)

If you want to see a wonderful graphic story about how the bicycle changed women's history, check out Ariel Aberg-Riger's piece, posted yesterday on Citylab.

Speaking of late 19th-Century urban America, Aberg-Riger says, "Into this chaos came the bicycle."  And out came the modern woman.

Does that sound like a conspiracy, or what?

23 May 2017

Who And What We Need

When I was writing for a newspaper, a law enforcement official told me, off-record, that there are instances in which bodies are found but investigations aren't conducted. Or, said investigations are begun but lead nowhere quickly.   Then the bodies end up in a potter's field, donated for medical research, cremated--or simply, in the words of that official, "disappeared".  

The reason, he said, is the same as what probably caused those bodies to end up where they were found:   "Nobody knows them," he explained.  "And nobody will miss them."

I am thinking about that encounter, many years past, in light of writing about Alan Snel a few days ago.  Two months ago, as he was cycling down Old Dixie Highway in Florida when a motorist drove straight into his back.  Now he is moving back to Nevada, where he had lived and worked before arriving in the Sunshine State.   In his open letter to Governor Rick Scott, he wrote, "you and the political leaders just don't care enough to do anything to keep cyclists alive in your state."  

"Care" is, I now realize, the key word.  As articulate and energetic as Alan is, and as numerous as we (cyclists) may be, there is only so much we can accomplish if we don't have other people--whether or not they are cyclists--who care.  

My experiences as a transgender woman have taught me as much.  Lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgenders and others who don't fit into traditional notions about sexual and gender identity, by ourselves, are much more vulnerable to bigotry and violence when we are seen as the exceptions and the freaks--in other words, when other people cannot, or do not, see us as one of them.  And, people start to understand that we are as worthy of the same rights as they have when we are their sisters, brothers, parents, friends and colleagues.  

The same is true of cyclists, I believe.  Too often, we are seen as renegades or as members of some "over-privileged" group.  Or, people who don't ride think our lives are less valuable because we, for whatever reasons, aren't driving instead of pedaling.  On more than one occasion, I've heard people say, in essence, that the cyclist "had it coming" to him or her when he or she was struck or run down by a car or truck.

At such moments, we--cyclists--are an abstraction or bogeymen, and the word "cyclist" becomes an epithet.  That is because we are not seen as writers, teachers, engineers, carpenters or other professionals or tradespeople--or business people--who happen to ride bikes.  And we are also not thought of as someone's sibling or mother or father.

It's a lot easier to blame a victim you don't know anything about.  But when the person who's hit or run down is a loved one, finger-pointing and excuse-making just won't do.  Instead, you want answers.

Who?  How?  Why?  Those are the questions Jessica Martinez is asking, I imagine.  Police in San Antonio, Texas found her gravely injured father, Santiago Castillo, on the side of a street on the city's East Side.  Skid marks on the scene indicate that Castillo and his bicycle were dragged as much as 50 yards and a surveillance video from a nearby home show that two vehicles, including a dark SUV, struck him.

What makes this incident particularly egregious is that, according to the neighbor, one of the drivers stopped--to remove Castillo's bicycle from his car.  "So they had enough time to get [the bicycle] out of the bumper," said Linda Garcia, another relative of Castillo.  "But they didn't have enough time to wait there with him."  He lay on the street, at the intersection of Denver and Piedmont, until police arrived and he was rushed to the hospital.

Santiago Castillo, a 61-year-old father, died half an hour later.

I don't know whether Linda Garcia or Jessica Martinez ride, or have ever ridden, bicycles.  But someone they love has been killed by a hit-and-run driver.  He was a cyclist.  And they want answers.

22 May 2017

Like A Football

Yesterday, while riding, I started to feel like a football.  I am not complaining; I am merely relating a sensation.

It seems that everywhere I turned, I was riding between "goalposts".  A stretch of the Rockaway Boardwalk has been closed for the past few months:  It was one of the last sections in which the boards hadn't been replaced by the concrete mixture from which the rest of the new "boardwalk" has been rebuilt.  

The section in question, which begins at Beach 39th Street and goes eastward, looked as if it were finished.  But, perhaps, the folks in charge couldn't decide whether or not it was, and whether or not to re-open that section.  So the fence that had closed it off was open part of the way:  It seemed as if someone had cut the chicken-wire mesh in the middle, rolled it up on each side for about half of its width, and propped it with poles of some kind. 

Then, just after I exited the boardwalk near the bridge to Atlantic Beach, I rode between a series of poles that looked like they'd been set up for a tent or awning of some sort.  Perhaps I'd missed a street fair or bazaar.  Or, maybe some kind of construction had just finished or would soon start.

Mind you, those poles didn't impede my ride along a quiet side-street in the town.  Nor did the flagpoles I rode between to steer my way off a congested street in Long Beach.  Actually, those poles bookended the entrance to a private road where I probably wasn't allowed to ride!

I didn't take any photos of my "goals", as I didn't think anything of them until I got to Long Beach and saw this:

Hmm...Was that guy in the middle boat playing "football"?

At least the ride was pleasant:  Sunny and a bit chilly for this time of year.  I rode into a pretty stiff wind from my place down to Rockaway Beach, and for a stretch from Long Beach to Point Lookout.  I was riding Tosca, my fixed-gear Mercian, and wishing that I'd put my 18 tooth cog on the rear instead of the 17 I was riding (with a 47 tooth chainring).   Of course, on my way back, I had no such wish. Well, for a moment or two, I wished I was riding my 16 tooth!  At least Tosca felt nimble, as she always does, in all of those conditions.

And I didn't feel like a football.

21 May 2017

Is Your Bike Whatever You Lock It To?

If you commute or use your bike for errands, you have to park your bike.  In most cities, that means you have to lock it to something--a sign post, a parking meter, a telephone pole.  Or a tree.

To tell you the truth, I've only hitched my wheels to a trunk once or twice in my life.  No U-lock is wide enough, and you'd need a very long chain or cable.  Also, in many places, it's forbidden to lock your bike to a tree.  

Even where it's allowed, I prefer not to do that to a tree  It's definitely not good for the tree--or, apparently, the bike:

(Images from Guy Sports.)

20 May 2017

Escape From The Sunshine State

People move from one state to another for all sorts of reasons.  Chief among them, I suppose, are jobs, family and schooling.  Then there are those who have a warrant out for them in the state they left (One of the great things about getting older is that the statute of limitations runs out!  You didn't hear that from me!) or are simply running away from any number of things.  I fit into that category when I left New Jersey:  Although my childhood wasn't Dickensian (It was more like Everybody Loves Raymond), a day came when I didn't want to be around my family or anybody or anything I knew.

Back then,  I said I'd "escaped" from New Jersey.  Other people, I'm sure, see their exits from one locale or another that way.  And that is how Alan Snel regards quitting Florida and going back to Nevada.

"Ghost Bike" dedicated to Johnny Jones in Jacksonville, Florida

As he reminds Governor Rick Scott in his open letter, posted on his blog Bicycle Stories, the Sunshine State leads the nation in cycling fatalities.  Given that it is the fourth most-populous state, it's not surprising that it also has the highest number of fatalities per million people.  What's most shocking, though is that no other state comes close, with almost twice as many deaths per million as second-place Louisiana and in absolute numbers, it edges out California, which has nearly double the population.

Two months ago, Alan Snel nearly became one of those statistics. He pointed that out in his letter to the Governor, in which he makes this judgment:  "You have showed no political leadership to try and reduce [the number of cycling fatalities] and you and the political leaders just don't care enough to do anything about keeping cyclists alive in your state."

Now I'll admit that my experiences of cycling in Florida are limited to a week or so I spend there every year.  And while there are great beaches and scenery, and it's nice to ride in shorts and T-shirts in December or January, I have even less of a sense that whoever makes decisions there knows or cares even less about cycling than in other places.  That is particularly troubling when you realize how many people ride.  

I always had the sense that, more than in anyplace else I've ridden, planners seem to think that throwing a bone to cyclists by painting a lane here or there is "policy".  And on Florida roads, you're more likely to encounter motorists driving way over the speed limit while under the influence of some substance or another--or are simply ignorant of, or hostile to, cyclists--than you are in, say, Portland--or even New York.

So...Although I usually enjoy the time I spend in Florida, I have no plans to move there.  And I understand why Alan Snel is moving out of it.

19 May 2017

Why I've Stripped Helene

The weather has been hot, particularly for this time of year.  But that's not the reason Helene is stripped.

I confess:  I stripped her.  

Why would I do such a thing to a pretty Miss Mercian?  It's not for maintenance:  I haven't been riding her lately.  

Actually, I took off all of her parts for that very reason:  I haven't been riding her.  But don't worry:  I'm not leaving her exposed.

She's getting ready for a journey.  

First I have to put her in a box.  Then she'll be on her way.

A year after I acquired Helene (in the photos below), I found Vera, my other (green, twin-tube) Miss Mercian.  I've been riding that one quite a bit, as you know if you've been reading this blog a while.

So...Helene, it's nothing personal.  You're a great bike.  But you shouldn't have to compete with Vera or any of my other bikes--or anyone or anything else (all right, except for Max and Marlee).  So, I'm sending you off to someone who will give you the attention and good times you deserve.

Yes, I've sold her.  I'd been thinking about doing that for a while. Finally, I found someone who will appreciate her and understands why I'm selling her.

Actually, the fact that I hadn't been riding her isn't the only reason I've sold her.  I'll soon tell you another reason why.

18 May 2017

This Bike Sucks. And That's A Good Thing.

How many times have we heard, or said, that the more people we get to ride bicycles, the cleaner our air will be.

But, you know, that's just one step.  Some of us--especially those of us who live in the major cities--are sucking up the very smog we're trying to combat.  We're not trees:  We can't just inhale the stuff tailpipes and smokestacks belch and exhale air that's as pure as the driven snow.

So what can we do?  Well, since people have used pedal power to sharpen knives, grind grain and generate power for everything from hair dryers to computers, Dan Roosegaarde figured that he could use a bicycle to clean the air.  

Yes, you read that right.  This bike has a mechanism that sucks in dirty air, filters it and lets out fresh air as the cyclist pedals down traffic-clogged streets.  Roosegaarde, a Dutch (what else?) artist and inventor, has designed a series of innovation to help curb air pollution, including a series of 23-foot high towers that essentially act as a massive air purifier.  

The Chinese government is supporting the development of the Smog Free Bicycle.  That makes sense when you realize China has both the largest and fastest-growing urban areas and bike-share programs in the world.  Two decades ago, the bicycle was practically a symbol of China; two-wheelers clogged the streets as impenetrably as cars and trucks clot those same thoroughfares, and those of large metropoli in other countries, today.

Roosegaarde says he wants to "bring back the bicycle, not only as a cultural icon of China, but also as the next step towards smog-free cities".

17 May 2017

A Libertarian Argument To Subsidize Cycling?

Like many bookish young people of my generation, I had my "Ayn Rand phase."  I actually believed (or, at least, thought I believed) that if you want something, you should pay for it and you should only get what you pay for.  If you can't afford more, I believed, it was your own damned fault.

Of course, to libertarians--a very loose term that is normally used to describe Randians--taxes are anathema. But most see them as, if not a necessary evil, then at least as a reality:  after all, we're not likely to privatize roads, bridges and such any time soon.  To the extent that they're willing to tolerate having their money "confiscated" by the government, they believe that people should get only what they pay for.

Every once in a while, I encounter that line of thinking when some driver swears at me or anyone else, upon learning I'm a cyclist, lapses into an anti-bike rant.  Every single time some motorist vented his or her rage at me for taking up space in "his" or "her" roadway--or at having part of it "taken away" by a bike lane--or questioned my patriotism or simply expressed disdain of me because I choose two wheels instead of four--he or she said something along the lines of, "Well, you don't pay taxes!"

As I have pointed out to more than one such driver--and in this blog--the only taxes that they pay and we don't are the ones added to the price of gasoline.  If anything, we might be paying higher proportions of our incomes in taxes, because drivers--especially if they are salespeople, contractors or work in other auto-dependent endeavors--can write off much of the expense of driving and maintaining their cars.  Moreover, they make heavier use of the infrastructure we and they pay for.

Even if they are misinformed about who pays and how much, most people with whom I've gotten into arguments or discussions about bike vs car taxes are pretty consistent in their beliefs about taxation.  Also, they seem to agree with me on this:  Taxation is an effective way to regulate behavior.  That is why people (some, anyway) donate to charities:  It lowers their tax bills.  In my city and other jurisdictions, it's also helped to reduce smoking, among other things.

If we follow this line of reasoning, one might expect that tax policy could not only entice more people ride bikes to work, it could also encourage employers to encourage their employees to pedal to the office or factory or studio or wherever they work.

Well, there is evidence that such policies actually work.  In 2003, Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs (Think of a British IRS.) enacted a regulation (EIM 21664), commonly known as "The Cycle to Work Scheme".  It allows employers to provide bicycles to their employees tax-free.  That is, tax-free for both the employers and employees, who do not have to declare them as part for their employment tax or as part of their taxable income, respectively.

Of course, certain conditions have to be met.  You don't get to deduct your custom Mercian or Bob Jackson--unless, of course, you are using it mainly for job-related travel and your employer provides it for that purpose.  HMRC doesn't expect employees to provide detailed records of how they use their bikes "unless there is clear evidence to suggest that less than half of the use of the cycle or equipment is on qualifying journeys."  Now, I'm no expert on US, let alone British, tax law, but I imagine (from my reading of the policy) that taking the bike on a charity ride or some other such event every now and again wouldn't disqualify the bike or the rider.

Notice the word "equipment" is included. It includes helmets that conform to European standard EN-1078, child seats, lights (including dynamos), bells and bulb horns, reflective clothing and front, rear and spoke reflectors. So it won't pay for your lycra "Sky Team" kit, cycle computers or training.

According to a study the Institute for Employment Studies released last year, there have been more than a million successful applications for Cycle to Work since 2007.  According to a survey of 13,000 users, nine percent were non-cyclists before they became part of the "scheme", and respondents, on average, said they are now cycling more than twice as many miles as they pedaled before the scheme.  Even among already-committed cyclists, about two-thirds said they'd increased the amount of riding they did before they entered the program.

The IES said that even if five percent of participants--9200 people--cycled 30 minutes a day as a result of their involvement in the program, their reduced absenteeism and increased fitness saved 72 million GBP a year.  That's 7826 GBP (10173 USD at current exchange rates).  How many programs, in any country, save that much money per person?

Ironically, that is the most palatable argument you can make about taxes to a libertarian (or my younger Ayn Randian self):  Something saves tax money, and reduces the tax burden on people.

Now, about a single-payer national health care system....