31 January 2018

Atlas Rode

It wasn't just a ride.  It was a mission.

Arielle, my trusty Mercian Audax, took me to the site of some mysterious structures.  How they got there, we weren't told.

How long had they stood?  How long would they have stood

had we not gone there to hold them up?  

Once we knew they'd stay up, we exited, Bill and I, across the bridge of George

into the clouds


over hill and dale

and back to the city, shining city.

All in a day's riding!

And, no we weren't doping:

Jordan Almonds.

All of the photos--except the ones with Bill--were taken by Bill.

30 January 2018

Bicycles And Sundown: History In An Ohio Town

Some cities are, or were, synonymous with certain industries.  The best-known examples in the US are automobile manufacturing in Detroit and steel-making in Pittsburgh. 

Some smaller cities and towns are linked to a particular company or another.  The Hartford insurance company comes to mind:  It's been a part of the Connecticut state capital that shares its name for over 200 years. 

Believe it or not, even during the "Dark Ages" of US cycling, a town in Ohio was best known for the bicycle company that bore its name.

I am talking about Shelby, a community about 150 kilometers southwest of Cleveland.  From 1925 to 1953, the Shelby Bicycle company fabricated its wares in the heart of town.  

Like most American bikes of that period, most Shelbys  were baloon-tired "cruisers".  Although the majority of  Shelby bikes  bore the names of retailers such as Montgomery-Ward, Spiegel, Firestone and Goodyear, and some were sold by AMF, a number of Shelbys were sold under their own name.  And, while Shelby made "theme" bikes--such as a "Lindy" bike honoring Charles Lindbergh and Donald Duck bikes--some were very stylish, even elegant.  Those bikes are prized by collectors.  

Now some folks in the town have formed a society dedicated to Shelby bicycles.  The Shelby Bicycle Historical Society, recently approved as an IRS 501(3)c tax-exempt organization, is looking for members. You don't have to own a Shelby in order to join; you need only to be interested in the bikes or the town's history. It's not there only to celebrate the company's "Whippet" bike Clarence Wagner rode to a cross-country record in 1927; it also exists to commemorate what was once a significant part of the town's economy and history.

There is another part of the town's history that nobody is trying to commemorate.  It was said to be a "sundown" town; according to some former residents, it even had a sign at its border telling black people they had better be out of town when the sun set.  Even after the sign was taken down, some people ran black folks out of town; others wondered aloud whether an African exchange student should be allowed to swim in the local pool.

(Levittown, on Long Island, is only 55 kilometers from my apartment. It, too, was a "sundown" town.  So was nearby Roosevelt--which, ironically, is now almost entirely nonwhite as a result of "blockbusting".)

While I hope that the good folks of Shelby (and America) will face up to their (and our) racist history, I am happy that they are commemorating something that, while it doesn't make up for that history (what can?), is at least an interesting and sometimes even delightful part of the cycling landscape.

29 January 2018

When Carelessness And Distraction Collide

In my high school, one of the science teachers was also the soccer coach.   I heard that he used to give his students a "problem":  If a ball is rolling at 10 mph, a 140-pound player is running at it from one direction and a 180-pound player is running from another direction, what will be the trajectories of the players and the ball?

Then he would tell his students, "We can go down to the field and find out."  For the rest of class, they would watch the team (which included me) at practice.

Now here's another real-life physics problem, albeit without much humor:  A woman is driving a Buick at 62 MPH in a 45 MPH zone.  She picks up her cell phone.  

What will happen to the cyclist who just happens to be riding along the same road, in the same direction?

Jeffrey Gordon Pierce

Well, the answer to that one is grim, to say the least.  Jeffrey Gordon Pierce, a 53-year-old teacher at the Inman (South Carolina) Intermediate School was thrown off his bike after he was hit by said Buick, driven by Heather Renee Hall, an Inman resident.

Heather Renee Hall

Well, she was an Inman resident until yesterday.  Her new residence, for now, is the Spartanburg County Detention Center.  Jeffrey Gordon Pierce, meanwhile, is in the South Carolina earth:  He died at the scene of the crash.

And, yes, he wore a helmet.  Even that wasn't enough to prevent a horrible crash, let alone influence its outcome, when carelessness and distraction collided.  

28 January 2018

Running Rings

There was a time in my life when I used to do Sunday morning "bagel runs" on my bike.  But now that I have a good bagelry (Is that a word?) around the corner from me, I don't have to make a special trip, let alone limit it to Sunday.

I am sure that others still make such trips on their bikes--or, perhaps, "donut runs".

The only fiber is in the bike itself!

Turns out, I can get donuts around the corner from my apartment, too!

27 January 2018

Pedal While You Work

Yesterday I talked about one part of "The American Dream" for my grandparents and others of their generation.

Another part of that "dream", for some, was a sedentary job.  It's easy to see the appeal of it when you've done back-breaking work all of your life. 

The problem with sitting is that it's like a drug:  It's a hard habit to break--especially if your work requires it.  And, in the end, too much of it isn't healthy for anyone.

So what do you do if you can't just leave your desk and go out for a bike ride--or to the gym?

You pedal at your desk:

Flexispot, a company that specializes in ergonomic office furniture, debuted this stationery bicycle desk at the Consumer Electronics Show, held in Las Vegas the week before last. 

Unlike most office chairs, it doesn't have a back.  So, in that sense, it helps to replicate a real cycling experience:  April Glaser, who tried it, says that she leaned forward "without caving into my shoulders".  Further enhancing the experience are small displays showing speed, distance and time, which you can monitor while you answer your e-mails.  It even has a resistance dial--and a wrist pad and cup holder.

At $500, it doesn't cost much more than most chair and desk combinations.  Perhaps some companies will realize that this bike-desk could actually save them money, with reduced insurance costs and absenteeism. Plus, I think it could be good for morale.

Plus, that pedal power could generate electricity for the office.  Talk about productivity!

And you don't need to wear a helmet.

26 January 2018

And What Did You Find In Your Barn?

What have you found in your attic or barn?

Well, I have never had a barn and, at the moment, I don't have an attic.  So I've never come across some masterpiece one of my grandparents bought at a flea market without realizing what they got.  Then again, my grandparents came to this country because they didn't want to shop in flea markets:  To them, not being poor anymore meant buying shiny, new stuff, not "other people's junk."  

Anyway, I've bought stuff in flea markets by choice and, while I've found stuff I like, I have never unwittingly bought something by an old master.  Or any other interesting artifact of history.  If I ever do, perhaps by then I'll have an attic--or a barn--where I can stash it and someone can find it long after I'm gone.

Then again, I don't know that I'd buy such things unwittingly.  If I knew I'd stumbled over a treasure, I'd stay calm, buy it and celebrate after I brought it home.

Especially if it's a rare old bicycle.

The bike was originally made by Denis Johnson
Glynn Stockdale in his Penny Farthing Museum, in Cheshire.

That is what Glynn Stockdale did.  He couldn't believe his luck when he found what he calls "the holy grail" of collectors' items. Or, more precisely, when it found him.

The Knutsford, Cheshire resident received a call about a two-wheeled contraption someone found in a disused barn during a demolition.  It's not known how long the vehicle was there, but Stockdale, a self-described bicycle enthusiast, immediately recognized it as a "hobby horse".

The bike is one of 12 known to be in existance
The Johnson hobby-horse, 1819

Turns out, Denis Johnson made it in 1819. He made 319 others that year, after getting a patent for it the previous year, and only 12 are known to be in existence today.

Aside from the fact that it's nearly two centuries old, why did the Johnson hobby-horse so excite him?  Well, most historians agree that the first bicycle--or, at least the first vehicle to be recognized as such--was made by Karl von Drais in 1816.  Like the Johnson creation, it consisted of two wheels and was propelled, not by pedals, but by the rider pushing his or her feet along the ground.  Its popularity spread to the upper classes-- of Paris (where it was called the Draisienne) and London.  Soon, versions of the Draisienne were being made in England and France.

Thus, Mr. Stockdale may well have acquired one of the very first--if not the very first--bicycle made in England.  And Johnson may have been the first to make a dropped-bar version of the bike for women to accomodate the long skirts they wore at that time.

It's a good thing Mr. Stockdale got a hold of it.  He is no ordinary bike enthusiast:  A former interior designer, he started his penny farthing museum in Cheshire in 1989. That museum, of course, will be the Johnson bike's new home.

25 January 2018

Are Starlings Afraid Of Her?

[T]he cyclists go in flocks like starlings, gathering together, skimming in & out.

Yes, I wrote that...in another life.  If only....

Actually, it was written about a quarter century before I was born, by someone whose talent I wish I could have, if only for a day.  And she was writing about cyclists in a city she was visiting.

I have visited that city, too.  I am sure, though, that there wasn't a cloud hanging over it--unless you count the Cold War, which shrouded every place--as there was during her sojourn there.

Most people in that city were living relatively peaceful lives.  But in a neighboring country, a xenophobic demagogue had seized the reins of power by, essentially, convincing people that foreigners and members of minority groups were responsible for everything that had gone wrong in their nation.  And his sense of hair styling was, shall we say, out of the ordinary.

No, I'm not talking about The Orange One. I am referring, of course, to the author of Mein Kampf.

Now, he wasn't nearly as good a writer as the person who penned the quote at the beginning of this post. (A professor of mine once told me that most translations make MK sound better-written than it actually is.)  But he would, within a few years, invade the country where the cyclists skimmed in and out on its capital's streets.

Telegram deliverers in Amsterdam, 1930

That capital is, of course, Amsterdam.  And the observant visitor was none other than Virginia Woolf, who recorded that verbal image of its cyclists in her diary.

Today is her 136th birthday.  She never looked better--her writing, I mean.

What Would They Say To Each Other?

Well-behaved women seldom make history.

By now, you've probably seen that saying on more than a few bumper stickers.  You might have even heard it.  

Just for fun, I've asked people who said it first.  The answers have included almost every kind of woman imaginable, from Eleanor Roosevelt to Marilyn Monroe and Gloria Steinem to Kim Kardashian.

Kim Kardashian?  I'm not even sure "seldom" is in her vocabulary!

I confess:  Until I knew better, I would have believed that Eleanor Roosevelt uttered it.  For that matter, I could have believed it came from Sinead O'Connor or even Madonna.  But, alas, the pithy quote spilled from the pen of an academic with whom even I wasn't familiar. (Shh..don't tell anybody!)

She is none other than Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, a Pulitzer-Prize winning historian.  That saying, however, was not part of the work that would earn her acclaim:  it was tucked in an article she wrote as a graduate student.  Ironically, some three decades later, she would use that aphorism as the title of a book, precisely because it was everywhere.

Now, I must say, with all due respect to Professor Ulrich, I generally try to behave myself, and even try to resemble a lady, at least in some ways.  I also must say that I am constitutionally incapable of being so well-behaved at every moment.  Yes, there are times when I "lose it" and use words graduate students rarely use in papers they're trying to publish in the hopes of becoming professors.

I won't repeat those words here.  Fortunately--for me, anyway--most of the drivers (and errant pedestrians) who were at the receiving end of my "good old Anglo Saxon words" never saw me again. 

Let's face it:  When a driver who's texting almost kills you, it's hard not to yell and curse.   Those "four letter words" are most accessible when we're under stress and in danger, especially when it's caused by someone else's negligence or stupidity.  

But what if bikes and cars could talk?  What would they say to each other in such situations?

That question isn't as fanciful as you might think.  Trek is partnering with Ford and Tome Software to come up with a bicycle-to-vehicle (B2V) communications system that alerts drivers to bicycles that might be ahead of them in dangerous areas of the road.  

One thing I find interesting is that the partners are trying make their system "brand agnostic", so it's not tied to one platform or product. (And we can't have Net Neutrality?) For the next year, he will be working at the Mcity autonomous vehicle test site at the University of Michigan to develop software that can go into bike and car accessories and apps.

 "This is something that will absolutely save lives if we do this, " says Tome founder and CEO Jake Sigal.  

I don't doubt him.  I just wonder what he will have bikes and cars saying to each other in a B2V communications system.  Will they be well-behaved?

24 January 2018

Which Way Was He Supposed To Go?

Few things vex me more than a designated bike lane that's poorly designed, constructed or maintained--or that ends abruptly or simply doesn't go anywhere.

Such lanes are not merely annoying or inconvenient:  Riding them is, as often as not, more dangerous than sharing the roadway with motorized traffic.

That is especially true if the direction of the bike lane is not clearly indicated--or, as in one case in northern California, a new lane is under construction or has been constructed to replace an existing one, but there is no indication of which one the cyclist should use.

For Matthew James Newman, such confusion proved fatal.  According to his widow a lawyer representing the family, Newman was riding along Highway 29 when he came to a railroad crossing.  

The safest--really, the only safe-- way to cross railroad tracks is at a 90 degree angle. According to reports, there was no way to do that where Newman met his fate:  the road crossed at a "severe" angle.  When he approached, his wheel got caught in a flangeway and he was thrown off his bike, which injured his head.  He died the next day from his injuries.

Now, some might argue that he was at fault for not wearing a helmet. But the suit his family has filed alleges that Caltrans was at fault for not clearly marking the hazard. 

Actually, that intersection had been marked with a sign warning riders to get off their bikes and walk across.  At least it was until some time before Newman made his fateful crossing.  When that sign was taken down is not the main issue, however.  Rather, it is another sign that was or wasn't nearby:  one indicating whether a new route was open to cyclists.

According to the family's attorney, Bill Johnson of Bennett & Johnson LLP in Oakland, the new path still appeared to be under construction--at least to Newman. "It was ambiguous and confusing which route he was supposed to take," according to Johnson. "If you didn't make the right decision, you were in peril."

Had there been a clear indication that Newman should have taken the new path, he would have, according to his family and Johnson.  He had traveled the route he took once, years before, so he probably thought he was making the "safer" choice.  Apparently, though, during that time he'd forgotten about the way it crossed the tracks.  

In addition to Caltrans, the suit includes the Ghilotti Brothers Construction company of San Rafael.  Johnson believes they were doing work on the bike path at the time of the incident, and therefore shared the responsibility for warning of dangerous conditions.

23 January 2018

If He Doesn't Think It Should Require Bravery, Why Should You?

"Riding a bicycle or crossing a street shouldn't require bravery."

I'm told that your insurance premiums increase automatically if you try to do either on Queens Boulevard.  But the words that opened this post weren't uttered by a fellow resident of my NYC borough.

That person also said he wants to see a network of cycle and walking routes "a 12-year-old would want to use".  

He explained "people do the easiest thing", so whatever is created to encourage cycling and walking must be "easy, attractive and safe--all three, in that order".  Otherwise, it will be all but impossible to entice drivers in his city--where 30 percent of all car trips are less than one kilometer in length--to trade four wheels for two wheels or feet.

Our cycling/pedestrian advocate isn't trying to turn his city into Portland.  Rather, he wants to alleviate its traffic problems, and to reduce levels of air pollution and obesity--which, he wisely points out, will save far greater amounts of money than would be initially spent on a practical, safe network of bicycle and pedestrian lanes.

That last argument could gain more traction in his country, which has a single-payer (i.e., taxpayer-funded) system of health care, than in the US or other nations with profit-driven health care systems.  

You might have guessed by now that the fellow is on the other side of the Atlantic.  Right you are:  He is British, and the city he's talking about is his home town of Manchester.

That fellow is Greater Manchester's Cycling and Walking Commissioner and a British Cycling policy advisor.  But you probably know him better for his exploits while pedaling on a world stage.

I am talking about none other than an Olympic Gold Medalist,erstwhile Hour Record holder and winner of six Tour de France stages:  Chris Boardman.  

If he doesn't think riding a bicycle or crossing a street should require bravery, why should you--or anyone else?

22 January 2018

A Quarter Or A Memory? Either Way, A Pleasure

Yesterday was balmy compared to most of the weather we've had in NYC for the past few weeks.  In fact, the afternoon high temperature of 11C (52F) was about the same as that of a couple of days last week in Florida.

The funny thing is that it actually seemed chillier in Florida.  Perhaps my body had acclimated itself to warmer weather--or to the expectations of people who live there. To them, it was cold.

For me, it was a day filled with more of that diffuse but austere winter light Bill and I enjoyed the other day.

So where did I ride?  Here is a clue:

I can't see defoliated trees in the Nutmeg State without thinking about the "Connecticut quarter".  Of course, the ride was better than that coin:  That 25-cent piece, like most money, is worth less and less every year, while the joy of a ride does not depreciate for me.

Not even after seeing the Greenwich Veterans' Memorial against such a stark background.

Part of the joy was, of course, that I was doing a ride I don't normally do at this time of year.  In spite of the mild weather, not many people, cyclists or otherwise, were out.  The good thing about that was that I saw little traffic, even at the highway entrances by the state line or in New Rochelle or the Bronx.

After 140 kilometers of riding and a good dinner, I was happy, to say the least!  So was Arielle, my Mercian Audax.

21 January 2018

Enough Fiber?

The first time I heard of "carbon fiber", I think I heard only the "fiber" part. So, I was envisioning a bike like this:

All right, maybe the bread needs to be darker to get the "fiber" part right.

Maybe those sunflowers--or, at least, their seeds--might help in that department.

20 January 2018

Arielle And Amber

You know a winter day in New York is mild if it doesn't seem cold after you've just spent a week in Florida.

Today was such a day.  Actually, I experienced a day or two in the Sunshine State that were even a bit chillier than today.  For me, it was perfectly fine for riding.

And it was for Bill, too.  What inspired us, aside from the sheer joy of being on our bikes, was the light of this day:

It wasn't only the clarity of the sky that so inspired us.  Rather, it seemed that on every street, in every field, sunlight became the bricks, reeds and even the trees--all of them amber momentos of days, of seasons.

One way you know you're in a park in New York is if you see a rodent and you know it's not a rat or a squirrel.  As we carried and pushed our bikes on a trail I'd ridden before, but was today submerged in mud and dotted with slates laid down as stepping stones, we saw rustles in the reeds.  I never realized muskrats were so quick!

So...How did we know they were muskrats?  Well, in that marshy area by Willow Lake--really a dot to the dash that forms an aquatic exclamation point in Flushing Meadow  Park--what other rodent-like creatures would we have seen?  A sign at the entrance to the trail--where we exited--listed muskrats among the "wildlife" in the area.

All of those creatures seemed to enjoy the light as much as we did.  

So did Arielle, my Mercian Audax.

N.B.:  I took the bike photo with my cell phone.  Bill took all of the other photo in this post.

19 January 2018

Reunited, Two Years Later

In some earlier posts, I bemoaned the fact that stolen bicycles are almost never returned to their rightful owners.  In most cities, if someone takes your bike, you have less than a two percent chance of ever seeing it again.

Since I don't want this blog to turn into a repository of lamentable statistics and depressing stories, I try to draw attention to the outliers and happy endings, whenever I hear about them.

Trevor Pryor

Two years ago, Trevor Pryor was working for Arizona State University in Tempe.  He propped his machine in a hallway for "only a few seconds" while he said good-bye to some co-workers.

Well, "a few seconds" is all a thief needs.  "I turned around and the bike is gone," Pryor recalls.  He checked online marketplaces like Offerup.com and Letgo.com, but found "no real leads."  

His bike

He despaired of ever seeing his bike--"my first  bike I bought with my own money", he explained--again.  That is, until last week, when a friend noticed the bike on the Facebook page of the Bicycle Recovery Action Team (BRAT:  what an acronym!), a group of vigilantes that keeps an eye out for stolen bikes.  

The friend set up a meeting to look at it .  Pryor, accompanied by an ASU police officer, went to a warehouse full of bikes in Tempe.  There, a man wheeled the bike out and the officer intervened.  "Did you know that bike is stolen?," he asked.

The man's boss claimed he bought the bike at a pawnshop and offered to sell it to Pryor for $100 because he "didn't want to take a loss."


Reporters who followed this story went back to that warehouse the other day.  It was full of bikes, but there were no people there.

At least Pryor has his bike back.  Hopefully, other bikes in that warehouse will end up with their rightful owners.

18 January 2018

How Many Australians Does It Take To....?

When we're teenagers, we (some of us, anyway) become obsessed with books we don't look at after the age of 20 or so.  Such books included, for me, the ones written by Ayn Rand and J.R.R. Tolkien.  

Now, some of you might hate me for saying I haven't read Tolkien since my freshman year of college.  I'm not saying there's anything wrong with The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit. They're just not my thing.  

The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, on the other hand, seem even more like fantasies than anything Tolkien wrote.  Actually, that's giving Ayn Rand's novels too much credit:  They seem rather like comic books to me now.  And, though some libertarians claim her as an intellectual godmother, I think she was more of a Mc Carthyist anti-Communist with a pretense of intellectuality.  

But I digress.  Just before that period of my life, there was a time when I was obsessed with another book I haven't looked at in years:  The Guinness Book of World Records.  I guess that at 12 or 13, I liked anything I could gawk at, and the book was full of such things. Some might be interesting to me now, but others would probably seem ridiculous--and the people involved just plain stupid--to me now.  

In the former category--ridiculous--falls something that recently made it into the latest edition of the book.  Actually, it's something I might want to see, if not try.

It's the world's longest bicycle:

The 41.42 meter (135 ft 10.7 in) contraption was built collaboratively by gas and oil company Santos and engineering students at the University of South Australia. 

For such a record, Guinness editors stipulate that the bicycle must be able to travel 100 meters without the riders' feet touching the ground.  Seven riders managed the feat on the bike in the video on 17 January 2015.  An earlier attempt resulted in the bike toppling over.  Luckily, "besides damaged pride and a couple of scratches, there were no serious injuries," according to Victoria Fielding, who wrote the record application.  

Now as to why someone would build such a bike--you've got me.  But I admit that I enjoyed watching the ride!

17 January 2018

Leaving The Sunshine In State

I've left the Sunshine State.

Did I leave in a state of sunshine?  

Maybe I left the sunshine in the state:

Yes, I'm back in New York now. The sidewalks look like 7-11 Slurpees without the bright colors.  And snow is fluttering down.

One thing I didn't bring with me was the wind I experienced while in Florida.  Oh well.  ;-)

16 January 2018

An Ocean And A Desert

The temperature felt more like New York in March, or the coast of Belgium in any month besides July and August.  And while strong wind is not unusual in this part of the world, I have never felt it for days on end during my visit.

At least the colors and light at Matanzas Bay looked more like those one associates with Florida:

So did those of Painters Hill

Some places, though, looked more like deserts.

During my visit last year, there were palm trees and littoral plant life here.  The storms that struck a few weeks ago have laid them to waste.

Believe it or not, this is a roadway:

Old A1A, to be exact.  It's closed.  Even though I was riding the beach cruiser, I didn't ride this road:  I managed to go only a few meters before the wind whipped me around and blew enough sand in my face to make me even less of a navigtor than I normally am!

Still, I had a great ride.

15 January 2018

Pedaling A Parallel Universe

Yesterday I pedaled into a parallel universe.

All right...You might think Florida--or anything south of the Potomac, for that matter--is a different world if you come from anyplace north of it.  You would not be wrong.  But I am not talking about culture, politics or even climate.  Rather, I mean a waterway that, for about 5000 kilometers, runs as close to the Atlantic Ocean as it can without actually being the Atlantic.

I am talking about the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, which runs just inland of the Atlantic Ocean all the way from Boston to the tip of Florida.  The purpose of it was to provide navigable waterways for shipping along the Atlantic Coast without having to deal with the hazards of the ocean.

 One hardly thinks about the AIW in Massachusetts or New York or New Jersey because it's known by other names.  Actually, in those states, it's a series of rivers, bays and other bodies of water linked by canals. 

The stretch I rode yesterday is one of those canals.  It hooks up with the Halifax River to the south. Its shoreline is dotted with gazebos on piers:  the sort of thing one envisions when thinking about life in Florida. 

The weather, however, was another story--overcast, which I didn't mind, but colder than yesterday and colder by the end of the ride than at the beginning.  And windy, again. I was reminded of why I don't have kickstands on my own bikes:  Using the one on the bike I rode today virtually guaranteed that it would be toppled.  Such falls wouldn't damage the bike; still, I laid the bike on the ground when I stopped, figuring that I would have had to pick it up anyway if I stood it up.

One interesting feature of the trails that line the Intracoastal Waterway, and connect it to several parks, are bike maintenance stations operated by the city of Palm Coast and local businesses.  

They include small tools such as screwdrivers, adjustable wrenches and tire levers attached to cords, and a tire pump.  

I actually rode a technical section of a mountain bike trail near Herschel King Park (one of my favorites in this area).  And, no, I didn't need those tools--or anything to repair my body!