Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

31 December 2018

Taking Flight In The Snow

So...How am I ending 2018 or beginning 2019?

The more accurate questions are "where?" and "with whom?"

As to the first question, here is a clue:



I arrived in Florida yesterday.  Palm Coast, to be exact.  That's my parents' yard, complete with canal.   

So I answered the other question.  The last few years, I've come down to the Sunshine State around the 6th or the 7th of January, to avoid the holiday rush.  But I decided to come earlier this season for a couple of reasons I'll mention later.

It started to snow in New York about five minutes after my flight took off.  When I got off the plane in Daytona Beach, it was warm enough to jump in the ocean. I didn't do that, of course. But I might today, during the course of the ride I'll take.

Then I'll join my parents in sending out the old year and bringing in the new one.  It's funny that in my advanced middle age, I am doing something I did as a child.  The difference, of course, is that this is a choice.  And, of course, it will be preceded by a bike ride.


30 December 2018

What If We'd Worn Them?

If you're of my generation, you didn't wear a bike helmet when you were a kid.  But, if you have kids, you probably are making them wear helmets when they ride--at least if you're in the US.

That got me to wondering:  What would our childhoods have been like if we wore bike helmets?


From Pixabay

29 December 2018

You Don't Need Math To Do This

A few years after graduating from college, I bumped into a classmate in the Columbus Circle subway station.  Working for a then-new technology company, she said she liked the work and it paid decently but "nothing is what I expected it to be."

She explained that she got into the work she was doing after being a lawyer for a couple of years and "hating it even more than I thought I would."

"So you went to law school even though you didn't think you'd like practicing law?"

She nodded.  "Why?," I wondered.

"Because I didn't know what else to do.  And I can't do math."


That, for a time, was a running joke:  You got your undergraduate degree in whatever and you can't figure out what to do with it.  You may not know what you can or want to do, but at least if you can't do math, there's always law school.

I considered law school for about 15 minutes, but of course never went.  I must say, though, that some of my other choices have been influenced by my numerical ineptitude:  majoring in English literature and history as an undergraduate, working in publishing and public relations, writing and, of course, teaching.   None of the work I've done has required more computational skill than balancing a checkbook.

Now I'm going to make a confession:  One of the reasons I'm such a dedicated cyclist is that it, too, does not require any math.

All right, that's not really true.  But whether you are an astrophysicist or someone who uses a calculator to figure out how much your lunch cost, you can enjoy cycling. Just ask Nick Charalambous.

Nick Charalambous.  Photo by Ken Ruinard for the Anderson Independent Mail


The Anderson, South Carolina native undertook around his home state.  Yes, literally around it:  His route zigged and zagged along its Atlantic coastline, Savannah River banks and the border with North Carolina.  He'd been battling a rare form of lymphoma, and his ride was a way to celebrate his recovery and raise money for the Lukemia and Lymphoma Society.

He completed the ride.  But two mathematical calculations made it even more of a success than he'd anticipated.

First of all, he calculated that his 14-day ride would span 820 miles.  But, at the end of his ride, he realized his tabulations were erroneous:  When he looked at his maps and other information, he found out he'd actually pedaled 930 miles.


His second numerical mistake had to do with the money he raised.  His original goal was around $1000, and his pledges, he thought, would bring him to that amount.  But he underestimated his sponsors' generosity:  In the end, he raised $5250.

Nick Charlambous may not be very good at math.  But he makes up for that with his determination, which is how he completed his trip, even though he had never before taken a bike ride approaching its length or scope.  He also credits his faith which, he said, showed him that he was given "a body new" after his illness.

What he didn't gain, of course, was mathematical ability.  But he doesn't need it:  After all, who said you have to be any good at it to ride your bike?


28 December 2018

The Sidewalk Was The Path To His Death

One thing I've learned during my trips to Florida is that many sidewalks are de facto bike lanes.  

More precisely, there are ribbons of concrete that wind and wend alongside multilane roads where the speed limit is 45 MPH (70 KPH)--which, in Florida, means 65 MPH.  One rarely sees a pedestrian on those "sidewalks", so there are no prohibitions against cycling on them.  

The good thing about them is that they are usually separated by at least a meter of something--usually grass or other vegetation--from the roadway.  Interestingly, I almost never see motorists pulling into them. I don't know whether there's a law against doing so.  My theory is that the drivers know some of those little "lawns" might actually be mini-swamps, and their vehicles could get stuck in them.

Riding on the "sidewalks" isn't bad:  Most are well-maintained and rather spacious.  But there are two major hazards I've found, both of which might be reasons why Florida has, by far, the highest death rate for cyclists in the US.

One is crossing traffic intersections.  Nearly all of those sidewalks lead cyclists and pedestrians into the path of right-turning vehicles, who are often going fast.  To make things worse, sightlines are often poor, so even the most conscientious of drivers could hit a cyclist who's clad head-to-toe in safety yellow.

Another is that, sometimes, parts of those sidewalks are blocked, without warning.  So, if you are moseying along and suddenly you find a crew from the power or water company drilling into your path, you have nowhere to go--except the roadway which, as often as not, doesn't have a shoulder.

Dr. Robert Dalton Jr.


Dr. Robert Dalton Jr. encountered such a scenario while pedaling from his home to the Maitland Sun Rail station where, on a normal day, he'd catch the train that would take him to Orlando Health, where he practiced his profession as a cardiologist.

His work no doubt saved more than a few lives.  But nobody could save his on 17 December, when he was struck by a driver.



The sidewalk was blocked for construction of an apartment complex.  This has led to some finger-pointing between the local officials--who say that the construction company should have erected scaffolding that would have allowed cyclists and pedestrians to pass underneath--and the construction company, who say that the city or county or whomever should have put out blinking lights or other warnings for drivers to slow down.

Of course, the scaffolding would have been the better alternative.  But even that would not have addressed other problems, like the ones I've mentioned, that are found on Florida sidewalks-cum-bike lanes.  And, of course, nothing will bring back a well-regarded doctor and beloved member of his family and community.

27 December 2018

Needy Kids Have Homeless Man To Thank For Their Bicycles

One of the best-known non-profit organizations in the New York area started because a homeless woman died.

On Christmas Eve 1985, Metro North Police ejected the woman from Grand Central Terminal.  The temperature outside had fallen below the freezing mark and the woman, suffering with pneumonia, returned to the terminal--specifically, to an area that, at the time, wasn't enclosed--in the early hours of Christmas morning.  

She fell asleep on a bench and never woke up.

If you've been in the Terminal recently, you've seen a well-lit terminal that, even when it's jammed with rush-hour commuters, really earns the moniker "Grand" with its ceiling mural and sweeping staircases. But when the nameless homeless woman died there, the mural was covered with soot (mainly from tobacco smoke) and everything else was covered with filth or worse.  

When the "Jane Doe" lived and died there, a man named George McDonald--a garment-industry executive--was feeding homeless people and even got to know a few of them.  They all knew about the "Jane Doe"--whom they called "Mama" and alerted him to her death.

She spoke little English; later, it was determined that she was an Eastern European immigrant.  She seemed to know almost nobody besides the other homeless people who frequented the Terminal--and Mr. McDonald.


Her death led McDonald to a career change:  He would start the Doe Fund, which he still co-directs.  The organization's work includes career training (as well as transitional work), education and helping to provide housing so that people like "Jane Doe" can break cycles of poverty and homelessness--as well as addiction and other problems.

Although the woman's death was a tragedy, it at least led to something that might help others in her situation.  The Doe Fund doesn't perpetuate her name (at least not the one she had before it was forgotten), but at least it helps to provide some people what they need--and what she didn't have.

In Asheboro, North Carolina, the death of another homeless person has led to a charitable program.  It's not as big as the Doe Fund--at least, not yet.  Maybe it never will be as big because its scope is different.  But it's at least an attempt to help some people who have very little.  And it bears the name of the man whose death motivated it.

Gary Long


Gary Long was known to area residents who saw him riding his bicycle loaded with aluminum cans he was hauled to the recycler.  As poor as he was, area residents--including congregants of the West Asheboro Church of God, which he attended--saw him as a generous man.  Matt Gunter said of Long, "His heart was, 'If I had a million dollars, I would love to give kids bicycles.'"

His metaphor might have been a bit jumbled, but Gunter's intentions were good--and he acted on them.  He's the pastor of the church, and he appealed to congregants for monetary donations. 

They gave him enough to buy 12 bicycles, which were delivered to the Salvation Army for distribution to needy children.

Gunter says this donation won't be a one-time event:  He plans to repeat it next year and in years to come.

Pastor Matt Gunter (left) and Luis Viera (of the Salvation Army) with bicycles donated in name of Gary Long.


He is doing it in the name of Gary Long, a homeless man who died on 21 October.  At least Gunter knew his name--which is more than anyone knew about a woman who died in the bowels of Grand Central Terminal in the wee hours  of a Christmas morning 33 years ago.

26 December 2018

What Boxing Day Delivers

There are some English customs and holidays that have endured in every current or former crown colony--except for the US.

One of those holidays Boxing Day.  Today's the day.


For those of you who aren't familiar with the Anglophone world outside the US, this isn't a day when people watch, or get into, fights. (Lots of people do that on Christmas Day itself, especially after copious quantities of, ahem, eggnog were consumed.) 

Actually, this holiday had its origins with servants and others who had to work on Christmas Day. Their masters or employers gave them the following day off and sent them off with Christmas boxes for themselves and their families.  So, the families of many maids, butlers, cooks and the like had their "Christmas dinner" on this date.

These days, it seems to have taken on an identity like that of Black Friday--the day after Thanksgiving--in the US.  People take advantage of the sales in big-city department stores as well as smaller, family-run operations.

But, at least in the UK, it also seems to be a popular day for bike rides of all types.  A quick Google search revealed everything from lunch rides for families to spirited club rides--and even a cyclo-cross race or two.

Hearing the term "Boxing Day ride" might conjure up an image like this:




I can imagine that rider being one of those servants or other helpers who just got the day off.  And the recipient of one of those boxes just might be this young man:



out on a family ride, of course!

25 December 2018

Happy Christmas!

Yesterday I posted a video of Kanye West being pulled through the streets of San Francisco.

Today, I offer an image of what could be an even more arduous ride for three cyclists:



Imagine pulling Santa all over the world, bearing gifts that must be placed under Christmas trees at exactly midnight! I'm not sure any three cyclists could do it, even if their names were Eddy Mercx, Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault.

Happy Christmas, and thank you for visiting my blog!

24 December 2018

Perhaps This Ride Will Bring Him Back

In A Movable Feast, published several years after his death, Ernest Hemingway says this about F. Scott Fitzgerald:

His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly's wings.  At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred.  Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and of their construction and he learned how to think and could not fly any more because the love of flight was gone and he could only remember when it had been effortless.


Now, I know Fitzgerald and Hemingway only through what they wrote and, to a lesser degree, what has been written (and said) about them.  I suspect, though, that Hemingway pegged the author of The Great Gatsby.  Well, almost.  I get the feeling that, if anything, Fitzgerald became conscious of his celebrity and what it entailed, and tried to live up (or down, depending on your point of view) to it.  Plus--now, I know someone is going to accuse me of sexism for saying this--he was trying to please a woman who couldn't be pleased.


(Remember, I am transgender, having lived more than four decades in one gender other than the one I live now.  So, while I may not be unbiased, I think I am justified in, or at least can rationalize, a somewhat jaundiced view of both men and women.)


That amended version, I think, can also apply to Kanye West.  There was a time when I thought he was going to become a sort of male version of Lauryn Hill--a "voice of a generation" that would rise out of the scars of his life.  She released a watershed album two decades ago and has barely been heard from since.  He, on the other hand, released an album that seemed to augur, in a similar way, a new vision--and went in the exact opposite direction from Ms. Hill, to the point that his celebrity seems to be a parody.


I really, really was a fan of his when he released College Dropout and subsequent albums Late Registration and Graduation. Like Hill, he seemed to exhibit a self-awareness that seemed almost of a piece with his awareness of the world around him.  And like her, he had talents that served as near-perfect vehicles for that awareness.


Then he became a celebrity.  And he married a Kardashian.  Well, you know the rest.


Still, I must say, there are moments when I remember the Kanye I liked so much.  One such moment came when someone sent me this video from Twitter of Kanye riding a bicycle:





OK, the emphasis is on riding.  Someone else is doing the pedaling.  He says he was in San Francisco.  Wherever he was, he seemed to be having an un-selfconscious good time.

It gives me hope that perhaps he will become a musician and performer--and not merely a celebrity--again.

23 December 2018

This Dutch Couple Is A Treat!

When I say "The Netherlands", what's the first thing you think of?

Well, since you're reading this blog, I wouldn't be surprised (or displeased) if you said "cycling."

OK, so what's the next thing you think of?

Some of you would say "windmills."  Fair enough. I'd also bet that some of you think of art.  After all, it's a country that gave us Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Gogh and Mondrian.

So it makes sense that the Dutch would produce some nice bike-related art.



OK, so this isn't worthy of the Masters, classical or modern.  But, as we say here in Queens--in a Cyndi Lauper accent, of course:  Ya gotta love it!


(She once said, "I speak the Queens English.  It's just the wrong Queens, that's all!")

22 December 2018

How Can They Go Wrong With A Pashley?

Before I started this blog, I thought about buying a Pashley bicycle.

Why?, you ask.  Well, I'd never had a bike quite like the "Princess" or "Guv'nor" before.  I know, they are two very different kinds of machine:  One is stately and lady-like, meant for ambling along boulevards, while the other is a "path racer", a genre of bicycle all but unknown to Americans about a decade ago.

Also, since I had two (only two!) Mercians at that time, I thought I had to "round out" my stable with another Traditional British Bike (or at least one from a traditional British maker).  Don't ask me to explain the logic of that--if indeed there is any.

The real reason, though, I wanted  a Pashley is that they're made in Stratford on Avon--the birthplace of none other than The Bard.


Well, greater minds than my own convinced me that it wasn't the best reason to buy a bike.  Pashleys might indeed be wonderful machines, but their quality has no relation to the fact that they're produced in the same place that gave us one of the greatest writers in the English language, if not the entire world.

I don't regret that I didn't buy one.  But I enjoy seeing them, mainly because we really don't see many of them here in the Big Bagel.

Now I'll have a chance to see a bunch of Pashleys--though not all at once, and not in person.  Instead, they'll be on the "Big Screen"--in the soon-to-be-released remake of Mary Poppins.


Lin-Manuel Miranda on a modified Pashley

I don't usually go to see re-makes if I've seen the original because I expect the re-make to be a disappointment. But Mary Poppins is like the perfect confection:  It's not high art, but there's nothing not to like (sort of like Grease), which means that it can't really be ruined in a re-make.  Also, the movie is set 20 years later than the original, so it has to be at least somewhat different.

Besides, this new version will feature Lin-Manuel Miranda--and those Pashleys!


21 December 2018

What To Do On The Shortest Day

The Winter Solistice comes at 5:22 pm (1722 h) today.

That means we in the Northern Hemisphere have less daylight than on any other day of the year.  It's also supposed to rain all day, so we won't get much light.  Forecasters expect that rain to continue into the night, so we won't see the Ursid meteor shower, which is nearing its peak.  We also won't see the full moon, which won't coincide with the solistice again until 2094.



But unseasonably warm temperatures are forecast for the day.  Maybe I'll take a ride if the rain isn't torrential--or if it isn't accompanied by strong winds.

So, for a Winter Solistice ride, do you try to cram as many miles (or kilometers) into what little daylight you have--or take a night ride.

(I'm thinking now of one dear reader, Leo, who lives near the 64th parallel and will have about half as much daylight as we'll have here in NYC!)




20 December 2018

Why They Should Be Recognized As Professionals

Americans often complain that French--or even Asian--waiters are "rude," or simply not friendly.

On the other hand, some gourmands will argue that the quality of a restaurant's food is inversely proportional to the friendliness of its service.  


I would agree with that second assertion, to a point.  I recall that the old Second Avenue Deli had, arguably, the best matzoh ball soup and pastrami sandwiches--and the rudest waiters--in Manhattan.  And I have been in many a restaurant--yes, even Italian and Indian-Pakistani ones--where I loved the food but the waitstaff weren't vying to be Mr. or Ms. Congeniality.


Now, French and even high-end Asian restaurants represent cultures very different (at least in some ways) from those that gave us the various ethnic restaurants found in New York and other American cities.  But I have always sensed that there is a certain kinship in the attitude of waitstaff.  


In France, and perhaps to a lesser degree in other European and Asian countries, being a waiter or waitress isn't something you do to pay for college or because you don't have the documentation or credentials for other kinds of work.  In fact, it isn't just a job:  It's a profession.


One almost never hears the words "professional" and "waiter" or "waitress" used together in the English-speaking world.  That, perhaps, is a reason why they are not given respect--or a living wage.  (As you may know, you don't tip a waiter in France: there's a service charge built into your bill.)  On the other hand, a waiter, like a chef, sous chef or anyone else involved in creating, preparing and delivering a meal, is expected to help create a dining experience.  So a waiter not only hauls trays and plates; he or she also choreographs the dining experience, ensuring that everything from the table arrangement to the wines are appropriate for the meal that is being consumed.


I think now of something a lawyer once told me:  "It's not my job to be my client's friend; I am here to be my client's advocate."  I think it's a fair summation of any profession. Yes, you want your lawyer or doctor or teacher or whoever to be courteous and respectful.  But it's not his or her job to be your buddy.  And that professional does not quit at a certain time of day.  Most important of all, a professional is always learning something new.


I know of bike mechanics like that. In fact, I go to a couple of them when I don't have the right tool(s) or simply don't have (or don't want to spend) the time to do something properly.  The mechanics I am talking about have been doing their work for years, or even decades, and because of their expertise, they work year-round in shops, even during seasons when other mechanics are laid off.


They aren't professionals just because they're getting paid to work on bikes:  They attain such status, at least in my eyes, because of the way they approach their work--and their relations with customers.   Their goal is to make your bike work, and to work for you.  Moreover, they understand how bikes and cyclists are changing--and remaining the same.


But almost nobody--at least in the US--thinks of being a bike mechanic as a profession.  Part of the reason, I suspect, as that most mechanics, save for the ones I've described, don't see themselves as practicing a profession.  It's a job--as, I admit, fixing and assembling bikes was for me at different times in my life--that will sustain you until you complete your degree or move on to something else in your life.


Also, a professional isn't bound by one employer or workplace.  As an example, a doctor doesn't stop being a doctor upon leaving a hospital where he or she worked--or if that hospital shuts down.  That doctor can work elsewhere, or set up his or her own practices.




Mechanics are going to need that sort of mobility.  With the rise of internet sales and bike-share programs--and rising rents--the existence of a bike shop is increasingly precarious.  But even if people buy their bikes from online wholesalers or use bike-share programs (instead of renting bikes from shops), someone will have to assemble that new bike, or fix it after it's been ridden through streets and over hill and dale.  Many cyclists don't have the time or inclination to make those repairs (or they're not allowed to fix share bikes).  So, there will always be a need, I believe, for mechanics.  And because bike designs, and the ways in which bikes are ridden, are changing, mechanics and other bike industry professionals need to keep on learning.


As I understand, those are the motivations behind the Professional Bicycle Mechanics Association, founded two and a half years ago.  As its president, James Stanfill, says, "Service is to me what we do for others, and for us mechanics, it is absolutely inclusive of all we, as an industry, do for others."  


 


  Many mechanics, and others in the bike industry, are already living and working by that credo.  So it makes sense to start a "professional association" (which is not the same thing as a union) for bike mechanics.  I mean, auto mechanics are recognized as professionals, as they should be.  So why not bike mechanics?  If nothing else, I think such recognition would help not only to bring more respect to the bicycle industry, but to cycling itself.

19 December 2018

For Once, The Women Won't Be Thrown Under The Bus

Say what you will about Serena Williams' outburst, her style or anything else:  Women's tennis needs her more than she needs it.  I mean, when she retires--which I predict will happen some time after she breaks the record for Grand Slam singles titles--who will command the same sort of respect and attention she has?

(Now, I don't want her to retire any time soon. But I really want to see her break the record, especially because Margaret Court holds it.)

While the fact that she could break the record within a year speaks volumes of what a great player she's been, it also can't be denied that the state of the tour isn't what it was, say, thirty years ago.

Back then, Martina Navratilova dominated the sport in a way that, possibly, no other athlete dominated his or her sport.  Even though people expected her to win whenever she played, she faced some formidable competition from the likes of Steffi Graf and Chris Evert.  This is not to say that Serena's opponents are pushovers; I just don't think they quite match up to what Martina faced.


If you were to argue that the women's game was better than the men's, few would have disagreed.  That is the reason why most tennis sports and sports historians agree that Martina was the greatest female player of all time, and more than a few she was the greatest tennis player, male or female, who ever graced a court.

Once Williams retires, women's tennis will revert to the state of affairs that existed before Billie Jean King came along.  And broadcasters, sponsors and the general public won't be nearly as interested as they have been, let alone as interested as they were when Navratilova ruled.

Women's cycling, unfortunately, has had a parallel history.  I can recall a "golden age" for American women, which started roughly with Mary Jane ("Miji") Reoch's prime in the early 1970s and lasted for about two decades, at least until Rebecca Twigg's 1995 victory in the World Championships.

During that time, American male cyclists were on the rise, too:  Greg Lemond, after all, won the Tour de France three times in the late 1980s.  But, although he competed against some strong American male racers, the American women were, on the whole, more dominant and garnered at least as much attention.

Also, toward the end of that period, European women were ascendant.  In fact, a women's version of the Tour de France commenced in 1984 as a curtain-raising event for the men's race.  It ran in various forms, and under various names (the men's Tour organizers sued to keep the women from using "Tour" in the name of their race) for a quarter-century.  

It's telling that when American Marianne Martin won the first edition of that race, she and runners-up Heleen Hage and Deborah Shumway stood on the podium with male winners Laurent Fignon, Bernard Hinault and Greg Lemond.  While Fignon won the equivalent of $225,000, Martin was given $1000 and a trophy.

The women's race always had to scramble for sponsorship, even in the best of times.  So, when economic times got tough and sponsors had to cut back on spending, guess what they cut?  As best as I can tell, the men's Tour, as well as the Giro and Vuelta, are still going, even though interest in bike racing overall has declined.

The loss of the women's Tour-equivalent mirrors a situation found all over bike racing, and in sports generally:  When money supplies tighten, women's events are usually sacrificed.  While I don't think the women's tennis tour will disappear, I think we'll see a lot less of it once Serena retires--unless, of course, someone else comes along who's as dominating and compelling as she is.

Fortunately, though, one event is bucking the trend, if in a relatively small way.  The Colorado Classic has featured men's and women's races since it debuted two years ago.  Next year, however, one of them will be eliminated.

It won't be the women's race.





Why?  According to Ken Gart of the RPM Events Group, which organizes the event, the change will allow organizers to set up "one great race instead of two average ones."  Or, as Colorado Governor-Elect Jared Polis said, it could allow the event to turn into "the premier women's race in the Western Hemisphere."

The theory is that by putting all of the resources into one race, longer and more challenging courses could be set up.  Also, as Gart explained, "We love men's cycling...but our ability to impact men's cycling was very minimal."  

One could say he means that the best way to promote women's cycling is to not force it to compete with men's racing.  That might be true, but I think what's more important is that the women's race won't be an adjunct to, or "opening act" for, the men's race, as it was in the women's tour.  

That may well be what women's sports in general needs:  a way to make it interesting and worthwhile in its own right--as women's tennis was in the era of Martina, and women's cycling was in the days of Twigg--and not merely something designed to sink or swim in the trail of men's competition.

18 December 2018

He's Back--And He Has A Story!

Kids always want stuff for Christmas.  When I was growing up, bikes were usually high on the list of things kids wanted "Santa" to leave under the tree.

That has changed.  The days when bike shops could round out their yearly profits with Christmas bike sales (mainly for kids) are long gone.  It seems that even department and toy stores don't sell a lot of bikes at Christmastime, as video games and other electronic toys top "wish lists" today.


Whatever we wanted as kids, our wishes change as we get older.  For one thing, those of us who cycle as adults usually buy our own bikes: We become more particular about what we ride, and it's hard to get someone else, even if he or she is inclined to give a bike as a gift, to buy the right one for our style of riding--and, sometimes, even our sense of style.


Then again, for most of us, Christmas becomes less about getting stuff.  If anything, we start to care more about other "gifts", which can include experiences or simply knowing that someone is alive and well.


I feel that way about Alan Snel.  I have never met him, but I enjoyed reading his blog Bicycle Stories.  


Nearly two years ago, he was struck and nearly killed by a driver in--where else?--Florida.  That driver didn't get so much as a ticket for leaving Alan with a concussion, spinal fractures and a knee that had to be drained of blood.  


He posted several times after that, talking about his move back to Las Vegas (where he'd previously lived and worked) and projects in which he'd gotten himself involved.  Then, after a post about the Interbike show in September 2017, there was nothing on his blog.  I'd hoped that his absence was a result of plunging himself further into the advocacy work in which he's long been involved.


Turns out, that was the case.  He's been writing a book about his road to recovery--which was fueled by his involvement in the budding Las Vegas sports scene-- and is now promoting it.  He even got time on a local TV station:




I'm so glad he's back.  He's been through so much. But, really, what can stop a man who taught his mother to ride a bicycle when she was 64 years old?

And what more should we want for Christmas than to hear a story like his?

(Ironically, when I saw this segment, it was preceded by an ad for a personal-injury attorney!)

17 December 2018

On Diet Floats And Hauling Trees

I used to know...all right, I dated...well, umm I...

Well, whatever my relationship to this person (I'll leave it up to your imagination), I remember her mainly for the way she kept her shape.  Or, more precisely,  she claimed that a dietary practice (along with consensual aerobic activity) maintained her fine form. 

So, what was her culinary custom?  Well, she drank Coke floats.  With supper.  With lunch.  Sometimes with breakfast.  And almost every time in between.


Now, you might be wondering how she kept her fine form with a regimen like that--especially when you consider that she made them with Haagen-Dazs, the richest, fattiest and most calorie-laden ice cream available at that time.   Her secret, she claimed, was that she used Tab--the "diet" version of Coke before there was Diet Coke.

She said that she was "making up" for all of the calories in the ice cream plopping scoops of it into a drink that had no nutritional value--not even empty calories--whatsoever.

To be fair, I should also point out that she really didn't eat a lot of sweets.  Perhaps she could have maintained her sinuous silhouette even if she'd made her floats from regular Coke.  At least she didn't follow another practice of "dieters" at that time:  ingesting "salads" made from pieces of canned fruit encased in Jell-O, sometimes topped with Kool-Whip or Reddi-Whip.  I am not a religious person, but I think a good working definition of "sin" is taking a natural food, stripping it of its nutritional value and fresh taste, and encasing it in something that looks and tastes like half-cooled plastic in much the same way animals were stripped of whatever made them alive when they were encased in amber.

I must say that I at least had respect for that old, er, acquaintance of mine for not letting one of those abominations pass through her lips.  In comparison, her "diet" floats were at least more palatable.  And the logic behind them made more sense, even if they didn't make sense in an absolute sense. (What did I just say?)

So why am I talking about a beverage (or dessert, depending on your point of view) preference of someone I haven't seen or talked to in decades?

Well, some of you, I am sure, are more diet-conscious than I am. (Actually, most of you probably are.) But, more to the point, something I saw today reminded me of the "logic" behind her "diet" float.


Here it is:




The photo accompanied an article on Canadian Cycling's website.  Said article opens with this:

Transporting a Christmas tree isn't the most straightforward endeavour.  With a car, it often involves ropes, bungee cords and a lot of pine needles to clean up.  Then, when you start moving, the fear that it may fall off the roof.  While there's still some creativity and preparation required to transport a conifer by bike, there's no doubt it's more fun and fulfilling.

Now, I don't doubt that "creativity" and "preparation" are needed to haul a Christmas tree on your bike. I've carried pieces of furniture while riding, so I understand.  I also wouldn't disagree that it's more "fun" and "fulfilling".  Even if I win a Nobel Prize for my writing (or anything), I don't think it would give me the same satisfaction as knowing that I once moved myself and everything I owned from one apartment to another, in another part of town, by bicycle.  

People have all sorts of reasons for doing things by bike, without a car.  For some, poverty is one. But others do it by choice--whether for exercise, or to save money or do something that's socially and environmentally responsible.  Actually, I think that most people who cycle by choice to work or school, or on errands, count environmental and social consciousness as one of their most important reasons for doing so.  

That said, I can think of few things less conscious, and simply more wasteful, than chopping down a tree that will be tossed away in a few weeks.  That is, of course, the fate of most Christmas trees.  Even if, at the end of the holiday season, the tree is cut or shredded for other uses, I have to wonder whether there wasn't a way the tree could have been more beneficial to the planet.  

Hmm...I wonder whether those folks who bring home their Christmas trees on their bikes are also drinking Coke floats made with diet soda--or fat-free ice cream.




16 December 2018

Why I Ride Brooks Saddles

If you know how much a person rides and has ridden, and what sort of conditions he or she likes, it's fairly easy to make equipment recommendations.  Now, some cyclists might prefer one brand over another--say, Continental or Michelin or Panaracer tires--but it's not hard to tell someone what type of tires or gearing, or even bike, would be best for his or her riding.

Saddles, though, are another story.   Lots of internet bandwidth is wasted in arguments about which saddle is "best" or even "right."  For every cyclist who loves a particular saddle, there is at least one other who despises it.  Now, I can tell you that accounts of how long it takes to break in a Brooks saddle are, for the most part, exaggerated.  But even if you and your riding partners agree that tensioned-leather saddles are the best, you won't all agree on which model is the best. (The B17?  The Pro?  An Ideale?)

I believe, though, that I may have just found a way to test saddles.




More precisely, when a task is difficult...outsource it!  What else are pets for?

(My apologies to Marlee.)


15 December 2018

She Couldn't Run Far Enough

Too often, drivers get away with murder on cyclists.

I mean that literally.  I have heard and read of too many cases in which a driver who was intoxicated, distracted, malicious or just plain careless rand down someone on a bicycle and never faced any sort of consequence.


Too often, cyclists are seen as folks who "just won't grow up and drive".  Or we're poor, which is just as much of a crime as anything else in a capitalist society.


Either way, authorities think we're inconsequential--or that we "had it coming" to us.


Now, there have been exceptions, and I've reported on a few.  In particular, I am thinking of the arrest, prosecution and sentencing of Charles Pickett Jr., who mowed down five cyclists near Kalamazoo, Michigan two and a half years ago.  He was given a 40-to-75-year prison sentence, with no possiblity of early release.  Given that he had already served two years when he was sentenced, he has another 37-1/2 years to go--which means he won't be eligible for parole until he's 90.


Today I learned of another example of diligence by law enforcement officials in pursuit of a motorist who killed a cyclist.  I must say, the officials involved in this case went well beyond those involved in any other incident of which I'm aware.



Augustin Rodriguez Jr.


In January 2017, Augustin Rodriguez was pedaling to work in Whittier, California.  He wouldn't make it:  a white Lexus plowed into him from behind.


After hitting Rodriguez, that driver "slowed down briefly and then sped up," dragging him several hundred feet under the car, according to FBI documents.  Then the driver fled.


Fifteen minutes later, medics declared Rodriguez dead at the scene.


 A week after that, an anonymous caller pointed Whittier police in the direction of that Lexus' driver:  one Andrea Dorothy Chan Reyes.  She, too, was on her way to work--and running late.   Then she kept on running.



Andrea Dorothy Chan Reyes


She was identified as the driver after employees at a local body shop confirmed that they did front-end work and replaced a broken windshield for Chan Reyes, who claimed that she struck a deer.


Police then searched for the Lexus, which was nowhere to be found--until a string of clues led investigators a month later to Idaho, where the vehicle was found in a garage of a business associate of Chan Reyes.  DNA testing confirmed that the car was indeed the one she drove when she mowed down Rodriguez.


But now Chan Reyes was nowhere to be found.  Five days after the crash, she high-tailed it to Hong Kong, where she has family. Over the next year, she hopscotched between Asia and Australia, using as many as 11 different aliases.


Finally, in April of this year, she was tracked down to Adelaide, Australia, where local police honored a provisional request from the US government and arrested Chan Reyes at the home of her new boyfriend.  She has been in an Australian prison ever since.  


Later this month, a court will rule on her bail request. The expectation is that she will be denied and extradited back to the US, where she would face multiple felony charges.


Whittier police spokesperson John Scoggins would not comment on the case except to say that his department was determined to bring an alleged hit-and-run driver to justice, no matter how far or how long she ran.


I commend his dedication.  I must, however, criticize his choice of one particular word.  To be fair, most people in his circumstances would have used it:  justice.  In a case like this, justice is simply not possible, for justice--whatever it is--cannot bring back a life.  Nor can it "balance the scales" for someone's disregard for said life.   There simply is no justice when one person takes the life of another, in whatever fashion.


The only good outcome in this case--or any like it--is that the authorities take it seriously.  That is to say, they treated it as what it is--one person killing another through negligence or disdain.

14 December 2018

This Isn't Why They Bought Their Volvos

Why don't I want to spend five figures (even if I could afford to) on a carbon fiber bike?

I'll give you the same answer that many other longtime bicycle enthusiasts would give:  It's plastic!

All right, I know it's not as simple as that.  Carbon fiber tubing consists of carbon strands molded together with resin, i.e., plastic.  As such, it's stronger than plastic alone, though I still have to wonder just how much use--or abuse--a CF frame can take.

Also, I came into cycling when it was touted as environmentally conscious and friendly.  Making carbon fiber is certainly neither:  Like all plastics, it's made from fossil fuels.  And, if crashed or otherwise broken, it will sit in landfills longer than a trashed steel or even aluminum frame will.

To be fair, though, CF is an advancement over regular plastic.  That (at least to my knowledge) no one has tried to make a plastic bike in at least three decades is testament to that fact.

My becoming a dedicated cyclist more or less coincided with the '70's North American Bike Boom.  That is when large numbers of Americans discovered bikes with derailleurs.  Even the cheapest and heaviest of them were lighter than the balloon-tired bombers or even the three-speed "English racers" most people had grown up with.  

Those ten-speeds not only showed Americans that there were lighter bikes than the ones they rode when they were kids; they also gave people (some, anyway) that bikes could be lighter.  Also, I think that racers of that time started to obsess about weight in ways their predecessors didn't because they felt that they couldn't refine (at least for the purposes of cycling) their bodies much further than they already had.  

This was also at a time before "scientific" training became the norm:  At that time, most racers were still following regimens that their grandfathers followed.  As an example, on the morning he set the new hour record in 1972, Eddy Mercx's consisted of ham, cheese and toast.  No racer would consume such a pre-ride meal today.  Nor would he or she smoke: a practice that was common among earlier generations of riders because it was said to expand the lungs.

So, in the early-to-mid-1970s, the general cycling public and elite racers shared a passion that at times bordered on fanaticism about light weight.  That is when "drillium" became popular, and Huret produced its "Jubilee" derailleur, which is likely still the lightest production derailleur ever made.

That fanaticism is one factor that led to attempts to make all-plastic bicycles.  Another factor was, I'm sure, cost.  But lightness and durability would be the selling points of a plastic bicycle.  At least, that's how people who designed them sold their idea to investors.

I recall one such attempt.  I never actually saw one of the bicycles, but I saw the ads in Bicycling! and Popular Science magazines.  Everything--with the exception of the chain, hubs and spokes--on bikes made by "The Original Plastic Bike Inc." was said to be made of injection-molded Lexan.  Not many of them were produced, and no one knows whether anyone bought any of them.

A few people bought a later attempt at a plastic bicycle--but not nearly as many as such bikes were produced.  Those bikes were sold, unassembled, in boxes, with tools and instructions for assembly.  Still, some of the people who bought those bikes never got them running, either because they got frustrated or because some of the necessary parts weren't included.

If those bikes sound like home furnishings from a well-known chain, there's a good reason:  Those bikes were sold by Ikea in the early 1980s, when the chain was still all but unknown outside of Northern Europe.  In one of its most egregious failures, the company was stuck with thousands of bikes that didn't sell.  Worse yet, a high percentage of the ones that did sell were returned because parts (or even frames) broke and replacement parts weren't available:  almost nothing on metal bikes was compatible with the Itera, as the plastic bike was called.


Itera bicycle, circa 1981


In another irony, another iconic Swedish firm was involved with the Itera.  Volvo wasn't looking to become a bike manufacturer.  But it was interested in making mini-cars, and was looking for ways to make parts smaller and lighter.  Designers and engineers at the company came to the conclusion that their best hope was with plastic.  So, somebody at Volvo decided that it would be best to make other products out of plastics to test their durability.  One of those products was the bicycle that became the Itera.


Itera racing model.  An Ofmega "Maglia Rosa" rear derailleur would be just perfect on this bike, don't you think?


In yet another twist to this story, most of the unsold Iteras that piled up in Ikea warehouses went to the Caribbean, where rust is a problem.   That makes for a further irony, in that Volvo is known in the region less for its cars than its boats and marine engines.

But perhaps the most ironic part of this whole story is that Volvo was, to a large degree, responsible for one of the most brittle and fragile bikes ever made.  Nearly everyone I've met who has owned or even just driven a Volvo car or truck touts its durability and reliability.  Probably none of them ever bought or rode an Itera.  I wonder, though, whether they ever managed to assemble anything they bought in Ikea.

But, if they're curious, they can check out eBay:  Believe it or not, I just saw an Itera listed!