31 August 2017

Don't Believe Everything You Read On An App

Some students are never, ever convinced that I--or any other instructor--is grading them fairly.  There are the ones who think we have it in for them because of their race , ethnicity, religion, socio-economic background (of course, they don't use that term) or opinions that differ from yours--no matter that their sources are minimal or non-existent, their logic flawed or their syntax more tangled than fishing line in an inept angler's hands.  Or they simply think we're too old, un-hip or simply stupid to understand the profound things they're saying.

Then there are the ones who simply can't understand how, after how hard they worked and how they "did everything" they were "supposed to do", they got the grade they got.  Some, of course, don't put such time and effort in what they hand in to me or their other instructors.  But others do, and I genuinely feel for them:  I know that it's frustrating to put forth your best effort and not get the result you want.

There was a time, a dozen or so years ago, when I'd return students' essays and the sighs and shuffle of papers would be broken by some someone whining, "But I used Spell Check--and Grammar Check."   I would explain, as patiently as I could, that not everything they see on a computer screen is to be trusted. (I guess that's the modern version of "Don't believe everything you read!") "All machines have the flaws of the people who make them," I'd pronounce.

It's been a while since a student (well, any student of mine, anyway) has used "The Spell Check Defense," if you will.  But some people are still more willing to trust an electronic device over good, old-fashioned common sense.

Image result for bicycle entering tunnel

One such person was a 26-year-old Jersey City resident who was delivering food on his bicycle in Manhattan.  Following a route suggested by a phone app, he entered the Lincoln Tunnel and pedaled to the New Jersey side.

When he arrived, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey police intercepted him.  He explained how he ended up in the tunnel and showed them his phone, "which supported his claim," according to Port Authority spokesman Joseph Pentangelo.

Bicycles and other "velocipedes" (Yes, that term is used) are prohibited in the Lincoln, according to the regulations listed in the Port Authority's "Green Book".  As there was no significant disruption of traffic, the man received only a summons for trespass.

And, I'm sure, he won't believe everything he sees on a phone app.

30 August 2017

Another Kind Of Violence In Charlottesville

As if there hasn't been enough violence in Charlottesville (or the world) lately....

As if there hasn't been enough violence committed by motorists lately...

As if there hasn't been enough violence committed by motorists in Charlottesville lately, there's this:

Gail Esterman--my (or, if you like, Nick's) former neighbor in Park Slope, whom I re-encountered last year in Paris--responded to a Facebook post from her friend, Joy Pugh, about a cab driver who tried to assault a cyclist with his car, then with his fists.  Thankfully, he missed on both counts, but I'm sure the cyclist was shaken.  

Now, I've had a couple of similar incidents during my years of riding.  What makes Charlottesville cyclist's experience all the more galling, though, is that when Ms. Pugh called the taxi company--City Taxi--the number wasn't working and their website doesn't exist.  

Interestingly, according to Joy, there are negative online reviews regarding this cab service--about a driver (the same one?) and someone who answered the "company's" phone.

29 August 2017

It Didn't Stop Him

In my time, I've been praised as a "tough" rider.  I won't deny it:  I've ridden long and hard in all manner of conditions and across all sorts of terrain.  I've cycled when I was ready to fall asleep and even in altered states of consciousness. (You can ask.  I might not answer!) . And, yes, I've pedaled in, and through pain.

When it comes to riding my bike with infirmity and discomfort, though, I have nothing on a fellow in South Nashville, Tennessee.  

Just after midnight this morning, police officers responded to a "shots fired" call on Lafayette Street.  There, they found a man struggling to ride a bicycle before he collapsed in the street.

Turns out, he had a gunshot wound in his leg.  Officers believe he got it somewhere near a barber shop in the neighborhood.  

Officers took him to Vanderbilt University Hospital, where it was determined that his injuries were not life-threatening.

That's what I used to tell my old training partners and riding buddies on those rare occasions when I got hurt: "It's non-life-threatening." And I would keep on going.

Now, whether I was tough or just stupid is a fair question.  Either way, I had nothing on that guy in South Nashville.

28 August 2017

What Is The Tide Bringing In Now?

The new semester begins today.

So what did I do yesterday?  I went for a ride, of course!

An agreeably cool morning turned into an agreeably warm afternoon, both full of sunshine.  And I had the wind at my back on my way home.

The tide was out at Point Lookout.  I was tempted to ride onto the sandbar.  I think Tosca, my Mercian fixie, would have been game.  But I didn't want to chance the tide coming back in.

I had a good time.  I'm sure everybody did!

Today I'm teaching some basic freshman English classes.  Tomorrow, though, I get to teach something that even a few weeks ago--let alone when I was living as a guy named Nick--I never imagined I would teach.

Women's studies.  Can you believe it?  I didn't ask for it:  I was asked.  

Is there some other kind of tide coming in?

27 August 2017

Extra Protection. I Guess We Need It.

Maximum protection for your moving parts whenever you want to move your gear.

Of course, with a slogan like that, could the product have any other name but "The Chain Condom"?

You never can have enough protection, right?

26 August 2017

The Best Response From Some First Responders

A sixteen-year-old boy is riding his bike.  A car turns onto the street.  

"I was assuming he would stop for me," said Alex Zhao.  "I guess he didn't see me."

Alex doesn't remember much about the impact because "it happened so fast."  All he knows is that it threw him clear of his bike, which ended up underneath the car.  

Paramedics who responded to the crash offered to take it to the fire station so he could pick it up later.  But the bike, which held "a lot of memories" for him and was his only mode of transportation, was a wreck.

Image result for first responders buy bike for teen struck by car
Steven Nuckolls

Seeing his sadness, the firefighters went to a nearby bike shop to see whether the bike could be fixed.  Shop employees said it was impossible.  So, the firefighters decided to buy him a new one.  "We kinda looked at it, looked at each other and said we think it's the right thing to do," explained Steven Nuckolls of the Arcadia, California Fire Department.

That shop, Helen's in Arcadia, donated the bike--in fire engine red--and a helmet, which Alex wasn't wearing when the car hit him.

Then the firefighters called Alex to the Arcadia Fire Department.  He believed he was going to pick up the remains of his bike.  What he found instead moved him to tears.  

Oh, and the firefighters helped him deliver a painting he'd created for an art contest, and was carrying with him when the car struck him.  He made the deadline to enter.

I hope he wins again.

25 August 2017

This Price Is Right

$88 billion isn't chump change, even for Warren Buffett.

It's greater than the GDPs of about 50 countries, including Moldova, Kosovo and Rwanda.  Moreover, it's the value of a not-insignificant industry.

Now, when I say that something is "not insignificant" on this blog, you know it has something to do with cycling.  In this case, that $88 billion is the "economic impact" bicycles have on the United States.  

The fellow who pointed that out ought to know:  His state is one that benefits more than most from all of those bikes, parts, helmets and related items cyclists buy--and from related services.

He is David Price, who represents North Carolina's Fourth District in the US Congress.  That district includes much of "The Triangle," home to several leading universities and research laboratories--where one finds, not surprisingly, lots of cyclists.  

Also, right in the heart of that district is the headquarters of Performance Bicycle, one of the world's largest cycling retailers.  Their "command center" employs 200 people, while another 2000 work in its online store or retail shops.

It also just happens that some 35 bicycle equipment manufacturers are located in the Tar Heel State, as well as 229 brick-and-mortar retailers and 44,103 PeopleForBikes members.

I don't know how many people are employed by those manufacturers or retailers, but I'm sure that it's more than a few.  And that's just in North Carolina:  There are surely thousands, if not millions, more in the rest of the country.

So why is Congressman Price pointing out the economic impact of the bicycle in the US? 

David Price

He is part of the PeopleForBikes Summer Campaign, which includes a tour of bicycle industry companies and retailers.  The campaign, says Price, "highlights the impact that Federal infrastructure investment programs have in providing alternative modes of transportation that can enhance the quality of life in a community."  

He knows what he's talking about:  he is the highest-ranking Democrat on the Congressional subcommittee responsible for federal infrastructure investment.   Moreover, he is a member of the Congressional Bike Caucus who vows to "continue fighting for programs that enhance the cycling experience."

Of course:  If you "enhance the cycling experience", you just might entice people to leave their cars home for errands, shopping trips or even their daily commutes--and for day and weekend trips, or even vacations.  That will keep more than a few people working, I'm sure!

24 August 2017

Robert Davis Is Still A Winner

Yesterday I alluded to my brief, undistinguished "career" as a racer.  Among other things, I mentioned that the best I ever did was a third-place finish (out of about 25 or so riders) that resulted from the crash of a rider who probably would have taken my place on the podium had he not taken his tumble.

The time I spent competing--and, more important, training for it--left me with respect for those who continue to train and race, and admiration for those who win.  If anything, these days, I feel even more respect and admiration for those who are not considered "elite" or "world-class" cyclists, especially with all of the scandals and shenanigans at the so-called higher levels of the sport. 

For most cyclists, the reward of cycling is cycling itself and the memories it inspires.  For a relative few, there are tangible rewards: in the rarest of cases, money, but for a few more, trophies and other momentoes.

Robert Davis, with his trophy from the bicycle race he won in 1949, when he was 16.

Robert Davis has one on his bedroom dresser.  Every morning, it reminds him of a 100 kilometer race he won.  His victory even earned him, and the race itself, an article and photos in one of the world's most popular magazines.

That magazine was Life.  The race, however, is one you probably don't know about--I admit, I didn't, either, until today--unless you were involved in it or lived in the US state of Georgia.  

Robert Davis, then.

The Valdosta Times-Boys' Club Bicycle Marathon ran for the first time in 1946 and continued every year through the 1950s.  Davis competed in the Marathon's third edition, in 1948, and again two years later.   In between, in 1949, he won.

Robert Davis crossing the finish line.

He was 16 years old and finished ahead of 100 other boys around his own age.  They all prepared for the race by riding after school and during holidays; some, like Davis, delivered the Times on their bicycles.  When he crossed the finish line, with hundreds of people cheering him on, he felt "elated," he said, that he "could have the endurance" to ride such a distance.

Davis has every reason to be proud, nearly seven decades later.  If nothing else, he's inspired some young people.  Among them are his two grandsons:  Both are avid cyclists. 

23 August 2017

Defining A Human Right

Many, many years ago, I raced, albeit briefly.  My "career", such as it was, barely registered a pawl-click in the history of bicycle racing:  I once placed third and now I'm going to admit, for the first time, I probably finished that far up because someone better than I had a mishap.

I was young, full of myself (Who isn't at that age?) and full of...testosterone.  (You were expecting something else?)  Yes, in those days, I raced as a male because, well, I lived as one, by my given name and the gender marked on my birth certificate when I came into this world.  (It has since been amended.)  I could probably say the same for my erstwhile competitors.

The difference between them and me is that, as far as I know, they're all still living as males.  One or two might still be racing; I would guess that at least some of the others continue to ride, whether for fun, fitness or other motives.  I can't tell you whether any of them ever entertained any notions of living as anything other than the males they always knew themselves to be: My guess is that none of them have, though it wouldn't surprise me too much if one or two did.

If any of them were to undergo the same transition I have undertaken and wanted to continue racing, how would that rider be classified?

I'm not talking about "veterans" or "Category 3" or the classifications normally associated with racing.  Rather, I'm speculating on whether they would compete as males or females. 

You see, a couple of months ago, USA Cycling released its policy on transgender athlete participation to "bring clarity" to its "efforts at diversity and inclusion."  In all fairness, USA Cycling's new policy is clearly more progressive than that of other governing bodies in cycling or other sports--when, indeed, those governing bodies have written policies at all.

USA Cycling has divided its athletes into two groups:  Non-elite, which includes Category 3-5 racers, and elite, which includes Categories 1 and 2 as well as professionals.  

Non-elite cyclists may self-select their gender category, and if any questions arise about an athlete's eligibility, they may be resolved with medical documentation, how that athlete identifies in "everyday life" as well as other criteria.  None of that, really, sounds terribly different from what I used, before I had my surgery, to establish myself as female under the law as well as for employment, insurance and other purposes.

"Elite" cyclists, on the other hand, are subject to the more stringent rules of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which focus on hormone levels and medical monitoring.  

The reason USA Cycling has these two sets of standards is that "Elite" riders can qualify for international competitions, while non-elite riders generally race only within the US.  

Rachel McKinnon, a philosophy professor who teaches a class on sports ethics and inclusion, says she has mixed feelings about this new ruling.  Her thoughts are especially interesting since she is a Cat. 1 racer who transitioned from male to female before she started cycling.  

She believes the fact that the rules even exist at all is good because they say that transgenders can indeed compete in races.  Some of us don't race--and many other would-be athletes don't participate in other sports--simply because we don't know that we're allowed to do so.  Others don't compete because we fear, or have experienced, harassment from other athletes who either believe trans people shouldn't be competing against them or simply don't want us around.   

Moreover, even if we are aware, some of us don't participate because we don't feel safe "outing" ourselves to organizations, especially if we are not "out" at work or in our communities.  Trans people, McKinnon says, " were voluntarily excluding themselves because they didn't want to take the risk."  Having a set of guidelines tells athletes that it's OK to compete, she says, and tells them "Here's how you do it."

Her praise for USA Cycling's new guidelines, however, is tempered by her criticism that they don't go far enough in another area:  Not all Cat 1 and Cat 2 riders race internationally.  (I would guess that the majority don't.)  She believes that those who don't should not be subject to a testosterone limit or any of the other medical criteria imposed by international governing bodies.  "I think that aspect of the policy fails to meet ethical standards of justification," says the philosophy professor.

In response, Chuck Hodge, USA Cycling's Technical director, says the new policy was crafted "not to create a witch-hunt" but to build "firewalls" primarily so that non-transgenders won't try to race as another gender "to prove a point".  I guess such a thing, were it to happen, would be more likely in non-elite domestic competitions rather than international matches.  Still, I'm not sure how many guys it will keep from competing as women, or vice-versa.  For that matter, I'm not sure that very many have ever tried to compete as their "opposite" gender.  

Still, I think USA Cycling should be commended for its new policy.  While it adheres to more stringent IOC (and UCI) rules about gender identity, it does affirm Point #4 of the Fundamental Principles of Olympism, spelled out  in the Olympic Charter (p.13):  Participation in sport is a human right.

22 August 2017

The Right Kind Of Protection?

As I promised, I went for a ride yesterday.  And, yes, I was out during the eclipse.

I didn't have a pair of eclipse glasses.  I vaguely remember projecting a 95 or 97 percent eclipse through a pinhole onto a piece of construction paper or something when I was 11 or 12.  Since I couldn't recall the method exactly, and couldn't look it up, I wasn't able to view an image, let alone the eclipse itself.  Then again, even if I had remembered,  I might not have been able to see it:  Clouds moved across the sky and, I believe, the sun.  No one seemed entirely sure of whether the momentary dimming of the sun was caused by the moon or clouds.

All right...Maybe I'm just trying to rationalize not witnessing the big cosmic event of the year.  I wasn't prepared, pure and simple.  But, perhaps, someone else was:

At any rate, someone was more prepared than I was

and found an interesting way to use an old bike rack!

21 August 2017

I'm Not Following This Eclipse. I Can't Ride That Far In A Day.

You can follow it here on WNYC.

Now, if you don't live in the NYC area, you can be forgiven for not knowing that WNYC is a radio station.  It's part of the Public Broadcasting System, like TV Channel 13.

So what can we follow on WNYC?

Well, according to Brian Lehrer, one of the station's many erudite and often witty hosts, you can "follow" today's solar eclipse on his station.

Of course, he was joking.  But whoever "follows" the eclipse on radio just might be paying more attention to it than I am.

Call me ignorant or snobbish or anything else, but I'm not making any special effort to look at it, mainly because it will only be partial in my part of the world.  I suppose that if I'd planned further ahead, I could have traveled to someplace within that swath of the US that will see a total solar eclipse. But I didn't, and I figure that it would be just my luck to schedule such a trip only to find rain or worse when I arrived.

I've seen partial eclipses before.  In fact, when I was about 11 or 12, I saw one that was 95 or 97 percent--or somewhere in that range:  almost, but not total.  And in my neck of the woods, today's show won't be nearly as complete.

So I'm going for a bike ride today.  I haven't decided where yet:  All I know is that even when I was in the shape I was during my racing days, or when I took those tours of the Alps and Pyrenees, I couldn't have made it from where I am to South Carolina, the nearest part of the Path of Totality, in a day!

Oh, and I probably won't ride to Connecticut:  I did that yesterday, on Arielle, my Mercian Audax.  The funny thing is that I got home faster than I got to Connecticut, even though I had the wind at my back most of the way up to the Nutmeg State!

I've heard that eclipses affect the wind.  Is that true only of total eclipses, or partial ones as well?

20 August 2017

Teach Your Children

In yesterday's post, I mentioned that some people are riding to work, school or wherever because it's cheaper than driving.  Some are too poor to own, maintain or park a car; others, who can easily afford four wheels and an engine, opt for two wheels and pedals because it saves them money they can use to...buy a more expensive bike.  Or accessories.

While buying even the most expensive bikes, parts and gadgets isn't nearly as bank-breaking as acquiring even some of the least expensive motorized vehicles, you can still find yourself spending more money than you'd planned.  Some would say it's like an addiction:

If it is "as addictive as cocaine and twice as expensive," wouldn't you rather see your kids hooked on bikes?

19 August 2017

The Future In A Milk Crate?

Perhaps it has to do with having gone from living as a guy named Nick to a woman named Justine. Or maybe it's just a result of aging.

Although I still like long rides--and, sometimes, to pedal as long, fast and hard as I can--my attitudes about cycling have been changing.  Now I can see how arrogant and, frankly, elitist--at least when it came to cycling--I was not so long ago.  Sometimes I still find remnants of those old notions within me: I still get annoyed with riders (these days, many of them on Citibikes) who twiddle along and take up just enough of the lane or road to keep me from passing.  Those dilettantes!  But now I understand how such snobbishness--whether against riders who aren't kitted out in the latest lycra uniforms or bikes that aren't what riders in the Tour would ride--has kept bicycles from becoming the vehicles for change (pardon the pun) they can be.

To be more precise:  Such attitudes have kept people (like yours truly) from allowing the bicycle to transform our cities and our lives in, well, ways that would make our cycling more pleasant as well as practical.  Too many planners see planning only in terms of painting lines on a streets and calling them "bike lanes"; in turn, too many people see those lanes--as well as bike share programs as entitlements for privileged young people.  

As much as I love my nice bikes and rides, I know that if cycling has a future, it lies with the unemployed and minimum-wage workers who ride so they don't have to spend large portions of their incomes (or savings) to buy, maintain, fuel, park and repair cars.   It lies with people pedaling to their schools, offices and shops, and those who go for a spin with their kids or parents or neighbors at the end of the day--as well as those who want to have schools, offices and shops to ride to, and people to ride with.

Last year, I wrote about how city planners and non-profit groups came to recognize these facts, and re-thought what makes a city "bike friendly". They came to see that in Reading, Pennsylvania, where they were working, it meant creating a network of bike lanes that actually allowed people to pedal quickly and safely all over to the city.  They also realized that, in a poor post-indstrial city that has little mass transportation, they had to make bicycling more affordable and convenient for residents.  So, bike racks were installed on city buses, and when Reading's first bike shop opened, it concentrated on selling used bikes and affordable parts, conducting safety and repair workshops--and loaning tools.

Now, I don't know whether planners in Stockton, California have been paying attention to what the folks in Reading have done.  It seems as if they have been:  The city's latest plan calls for a series of bike lanes that will allow cyclists to pedal out of their neighborhoods and ride all over town.  But these lanes won't be just lines on the street:  They will be separated from motor vehicle traffic by barriers or raised medians.  In some areas, traffic lanes will be removed in order to make room for cyclists.

Whether or not the planners in Stockton followed the work of their peers in Reading, they at least seemed to be listening to the concerns of everyday cyclists like Alfonso Macias.  He is a 56-year-old farm worker who doesn't own a car.  Bungee cords hold a grocery crate to the rear rack of a bike he pedals to the store, where he buys the food he carts to his house.  Along the way, he has to share streets that don't have bike lanes, or even shoulders, with drivers who weave around him, or around whom he has to weave.  "Thank god I've never been hit," he says.

Now, he is cycling out of necessity.  Others, who could choose to leave their cars home and ride for errands and such, are deterred from doing so because of the hazards Macias faces.  Here in New York, people have expressed similar concerns, and even wondered how I could ride in this city's traffic. "Aren't you scared?," they wonder.

Even if people perceive cycling as more dangerous than it actually is, their fears need to be heard.  So must the concerns of folks who tie grocery crates to their bikes so they can go shopping.  They, not the wannabe racers encased in lycra, are the future of cycling.

18 August 2017

This Ride Was Good

All rides are good.

At least, I can't think of any bike ride I wish I hadn't taken.   And I've been riding for a lot of years!

Some would say that some rides are "better" than others.  Of course, "better", when it comes to rides is subjective:  Some want to climb as many steep hills as possible; others prefer land flatter than their dinner tables.  Some of us love riding by an ocean or a lake; another cyclist's idea of a "dream ride" takes him or her through deserts or prairies.

You might to ride in the hottest weather with the brightest sunshine; I like it cooler with a mix of sun and clouds.  Your friend might not go anywhere near a bike if there's a single cloud, let alone if a single drop falls from the sky; his or her club-mate believes that if you don't get wet, it's not a "real" ride.

I'll admit there are a few conditions I'll avoid if possible. For example, I don't mind the cold or even rain, but I prefer not to have both together when I'm riding.  (Snow, on the other hand, can be fun.)  And, while traffic doesn't scare me, I prefer not to cross entrances to, and exits from, highways:  When I ride to the Rockaways or Point Lookout, I take a detour through the side-streets of Howard Beach so I can avoid having to traverse the on- and off- ramps of the Long Island Expressway and Belt Parkway that feed into, or lead away from, Woodhaven and Cross-Bay Boulevards.

I took a similar diversion yesterday after I crossed the Victory Bridge over the Raritan River in New Jersey.  On the Sayreville side, I zigged and zagged through an industrial area and residential streets simply to avoid a stretch where State Route 35 (of which the Bridge is a part), US 1 and US 9 merge and are one for about five miles.  There, it's a four-lane road which, at times, sees surprisingly little traffic but, at times, really seems to be carrying the load of three major highways.  

That wouldn't be so bad if there was a shoulder for the whole length.  Unfortunately, the shoulder appears and disappears, much like those bike lanes to nowhere that I see too often.  Worse, a large part of the traffic consists of trucks, which aren't allowed on the stretch of the Garden State Parkway that parallels the section of Route 35/US 1 and 9 in question.  

My detour, naturally, added some distance to my ride, which I'd started in the afternoon.  I didn't mind:  I avoided that potentially-bad section of road and wandered through a couple of historic districts and other areas with cute little gingerbread houses by lakes, streams, Raritan Bay (with great views of New York City) and the ocean.

Starting my ride in mid-afternoon and taking a circuitous route had its advantages, including this:

Now, if you've been reading this blog regularly, that I love descending bridges that lead to the ocean.  I coasted down this one, after pedaling up the hills on Route 36 (They don't call it the Atlantic Highlands for nothing!) for the first time when I was about 13 or 14 years old--either the year my family moved to New Jersey, or not long afterward.  

Call me sentimental, but I still get goose-bumps, especially when it's late in the day and the sun, through a scrim of clouds and haze, begins to tint the blue sea and sky with shades of violet and orange.  Once I reached the base of that bridge--in Sea Bright, on a strip of land not much wider than a football field with the ocean lapping up one side and the river on the other--I was floating.  My bike was a cloud; I had wings.  I felt that within an instant, I'd sailed--on two wheels--into Long Branch, some 8 kilometers down the road--without effort, and that every drop of surf mist, every ripple of wind, and every step of people walking with their partners, their children and their dogs along, had become a part of me.  

In Long Branch, I saw the soft twilight colors darken into the night that would engulf the streets as well as the sky and sea.  All rides are good; this, like so many others, made me happy in its own way.

17 August 2017

Making An Entrance

There was a time, about ten or fifteen years ago, when it seemed that every other urban and suburban bicycle shop was trying to be a "bicycle boutique".  There are still shops like that, though, it seems, not as many as there were in those days: I guess folks who can afford such places don't have the time to go to them, so they shop online.

The "boutiques" did everything they could not to seem like bike shops.  If anything, some of them tried to look and feel like the sorts of gyms young people with lots of disposable income frequent in order to meet other young people with lots of disposable income.  Or they tried to look like the sorts of coffee bars that try to be like Starbucks without being Starbucks.

There's a certain kind of atmosphere, though, that simply can't be achieved merely with track lighting and espresso machines.  Those things simply can't match a great entrance:

Some things, you can only find in Italy--Florence, to be specific.

16 August 2017

Across Siberia, To The Extreme

Some say the Tour de France is the world's most difficult bicycle race.  Some have even called it the world's most challenging sporting event.  It's not difficult to understand why:  Nearly every day for three weeks, cyclists pedal through all sorts of conditions, climbing mountains, sprinting across flatlands and fighting heat, wind and fatigue.

Others might say the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana are as unforgiving as the Tour.  After all, each of those races is, like the Tour, a multi-day, multi-stage event that presents similar challenges.  

I can't help but to wonder, though, how each of them compares to the Red Bull Trans-Siberian Extreme Race. This year's version began on 18 July in Moscow's Red Square and ended on 10 August in Vladivostok, a port city near the Chinese border.

At the starting line

Over the course of 24 days, the riders pedaled 14 stages covering 9211 kilometers (about 5700 miles).  That's nearly three times as long as any of the Big Three races in Western Europe.  And, because it goes across Russia--in contrast to the other races, whose courses are loops or rings--the riders cross seven time zones before reaching the finish line.

That feat was accomplished by only three of the ten riders who started.  Russia's Alexey Shchebelin won the general classification for covering the stages in the shortest time, followed by Pierre Bischoff of Germany and Florentino Marcelo Soares of Brazil.  They did what none of the riders could accomplish in last year's edition of the race, and what only one rider did in 2015, the first year of the Trans-Siberian Extreme.  

Interestingly, the race is open to women as well as men.   Shangrila Rendon, a Filipina and Thursday Gervais Dubina of the USA were the only two female contestants.  Paul Bruck, a race organizer, says he wants to make the race "more attractive" for women but is not sure of how to do it.  

One option he might explore is one used in the Race Across America, in which women are given 21 hours more than men (who get 12 days) to complete the 3000-mile course from California to Maryland.  Riders who do not complete the race in the required time frame are listed as "Did not finish" although they are allowed to complete the ride if they wish.

Another option might be to allow the women to compete in two-person teams rather than solo, which would give them the opportunity to hand off and get more rest.  Rendon and Gervais Dubina found that as they fell behind, they lost time for meals and recovery between stages.  

Whatever the race organizers decide for next year, the riders--whatever their gender--will have to prepare for the same sorts of weather and topographical extremes riders encounter in other big races, in addition to the roads themselves.  From what I've been reading, I gather that the road conditions are even worse than in any of the three major Tours.  If anything, they seem like the pave of the Paris-Roubaix after an earthquake.  

No, Alexey, we're not in "Breaking Away"!

Worst of all, those roads aren't closed to traffic for the race.   That, rather than the speed of the race, the weather or the mountain climbs, is what caused Gervais Dubina to withdraw from the race.  "I had three instances in which traffic was coming straight at me on the shoulder," she explained.  "It just got too much for me."

I'm not so sure changing the qualifying times or other rules would have kept her, or very many other riders, whatever their gender idenities, in a race with such conditions.

15 August 2017

Heather Heyer Didn't Deserve It. Nobody Does.

By now, you've no doubt heard about the awful events in Charlottesville, VA this past weekend.

If anyone didn't deserve to die the way she did, it was Heather Heyer, the young woman run over by  "white nationalist" James Allen Fields Jr.,  who drove his car into a group of protesters at high speed, then backed up to flee the scene.

Heather Heyer

His action is despicable and cowardly.  So is the reaction of Justin Moore.  In an e-mail, he said, "I'm sorta glad them people got hit and I'm glad the girl died."  He went on to denounce Ms. Heyer and the other protesters as "a bunch of Communists out there protesting someone's freedom of speech, so it doesn't bother me that they got hurt at all."

Such a tirade, shocking as it is, shouldn't come as a surprise from Mr. Moore, who is the Grand Dragon for the Loyal White Knights of Ku Klux Klan, based in the neighboring state of North Carolina.  Nor, I suppose, should it surprise us that he praised Fields as the sort of man who "made the great white race strong" and who will help to make it "strong again."

When I first heard the news about Heather Heyer, I immediately thought of the former Park Slope neighbor of mine whom I encountered in Paris last year, some two decades after we last saw each other.  Now she, her husband and daughter live in Charlottesville.  I knew her reaction would be strong, not only because the clash took place in her backyard (more or less), but also because of her convictions:  She has spent all of her professional life in the service of women and children who are vulnerable in physical, economic and other ways.

After corresponding with her, I checked some of my other e-mail.  I found a message from a professor who heads the Italian American Institute of the university system in which I teach.  He pointed out that because Italian immigrants (like my grandparents) experienced hate and bigotry--back then, they weren't considered "white"--we should stand with others who are hated for their race, ethnicity or any other intrinsic trait.  I responded to him with this:

The murder of a peaceful protester by a hater is tragic in and of itself.

The President's response is salt in the wound of our grief  At first, he denounced "all sides" which, of course, implies that the young woman was run down was somehow complicit in her own death  Until he was pressed to do so, he did not specifically name the sorts of people who foment the hate expressed by the driver of that car.  Then, he used only labels, some of which overlapped each other (white nationalists, etc.).

Even more important than denouncing the act of hate and the person who committed it--as well as whatever group(s) supported the hate he espoused--is to understand, and fight, the ignorance that makes it possible.  They do not understand the profound effect racism and slavery have had upon this country, and they seem to think that whenever someone different from themselves is finally gaining the same rights they've always taken for granted, they are somehow "losing out."  To them, blacks and LGBT people and whoever else you might name are "taking over" "their" country.  

Sadly, I have relatives who share this mindset.  Never mind that their parents or grandparents were among the people who earlier generations of haters and resenters tried to keep from "taking over" their country.  (My Italian grandparents were not considered "white".)  They say that blacks, LGBT people, Hispanics and others are getting "special privileges" at their expense.  (As a transgender woman, I can only dream of having such "privilege.!) Not surprisingly, they thought Hillary is the she-devil (I'm no fan of hers, but I also know she's not that powerful!) and voted for Trump even though much of what he promises can and will hurt them.

Some would say that such ignorance is a result of the way history is or isn't taught.  That is one part of the problem.  Another part is ignorance of what the definition of "American" is.  Nowhere in the Constitution is this country defined by a race of people or a culture.  To this day, we don't even have an official language.  I always had the impression the framers of the Constitution wanted it that way:  To them, the definition of "American" would change over time but still be bound by principles to which all who call themselves "Americans" would subscribe.  In short, this is a country founded on ideas, not on racial identity, national origins or religion.

In other words, white nationalism or white supremacy is nothing more or less than the expression of a notion that white people, however they are defined, are the only "real" Americans:  Never mind that blacks and Native Americans were here long before any of their ancestors--and that some of them were gay, lesbian, transgender or otherwise gender non-conforming long before anyone came up with names for them!

The War Between Blue And Orange

Everyone knows that New York is a big city.  How big is it?

Well, in terms of population, it is about three times as large as Los Angeles or Chicago, its nearest competitors in the US.  Its population is also that much greater than any European capital except London. (I know:  Some will say England isn't really part of Europe!)  

As for its geographical size, the Big Apple doesn't come anywhere near that of those sprawling municipalities found in the American South, West and Southwest like Jacksonville or Phoenix.  Still, it is a good deal larger than the aforementioned European capitals or even some American cities like Boston or San Francisco.

When most people talk about "New York City", they are referring to the island of Manhattan--which, until 1898, was indeed the whole.  But in that year, as the US was taking Guam, the Phillipines, Puerto Rico and Cuba from Spain in retaliation for something the Spanish didn't do*, New York City annexed the counties of Kings (Brooklyn), Queens, Bronx and Richmond (Staten Island).  As a result, the city was ten times as large as it was in 1897--and larger, in area, than almost any other city in the world:  at that time, those sprawling Sun Belt cities either didn't exist or were hardly more than villages.

To put the city's size in perspective:  You can cycle from the Porte de Clignancourt, at the northeastern end of Paris, to the Porte de Saint Cloud, in its extreme southwest, in 50 minutes or less, depending on your pace and route.  However you go, you won't have to pedal more than about 12 km, or a little less than 8 miles. On the other hand, a ride from Columbus Circle, in the center of Manhattan, to Rockaway Beach stretches for about 25 miles, or 40 kilometers.  If you ride about 25 kilometers (16 miles) in the opposite direction from Columbus Circle, you can go to City Island, near the northeastern extremity of the Bronx.

I am thinking about this because a San Francisco-based bike share company Spin announced a plan to bring its services to the Rockaways and other outlying areas of the Five Boroughs.  The city, however, put the kibosh on that plan, citing the "revenue contract" is has with Citibike.  That agreement gives Citibike gives exclusive rights for its first two phases, which include Manhattan, Brooklyn and parts of Queens--though not the Rockaway area.  

Long Island City, the Queens neighborhood closest to Manhattan, is part of the area included in the agreement.  But it didn't receive its first Citibikes until last spring, some three years after the blue bikes first appeared on Manhattan streets. Astoria, where I live, borders on LIC and is slated to get its first Citibike stations in the coming months.

That begs the question of just how long it will take for Citibike to reach neighborhoods like Rockaway Beach which, in the summer, has some of the most crowded bike lanes.  The district's City Councilman, Eric Ulrich, has said that allowing Spin--or, for that matter, any bike sharing program--in the Rockaways should be a "no brainer" because, among other things, "it doesn't cost the taxpayers a dime."

So why won't the city allow Spin to operate in the Rockaways?  I suppose the places that rent bikes might object, but I don't think they are a terribly large constituency.  And they're all seasonal.  I'm not a lawyer, but I should think that there would be a way to provide a temporary or provisional permit for Spin to operate, at least until Citibikes come to the Rockaways.

The reason why the city won't do that, I believe, is this:  Spin charges only $1 for 30 minutes:  less than Citibike's rate.  Also, Spin's technology is more advanced, so it is easier for someone with the right app to access one of Spin's orange machines than it is to use a Citibike.

In the meantime, in Ulrich's words, the Rockaway Beach--a location for bike shares if there ever was one--is "deprived" of such services, all over a war between Blue and Orange.  In this city, it makes no sense.

*--This event is commonly called "The Spanish-American War."  I think of it as the American lynching of Spain.