30 April 2018

Is The Future In A Miniloop?

If you are a cycle-commuter, someone is sure to ask, "What do you do when it rains?"

In most places, you have the following choices:

1. Use fenders and raingear (or carry a change of clothes).
2. Get wet.
3. Use other means of transportation.

I'll admit to having used 3.) when it's raining, cold and windy--or during a hard, driving rain when I could hardly see in front of me. I also have used alternative means of transportation--which, for me, here in New York, means the subway--when there was more than a dusting of snow.

Some day the weather excuse won't wash--at least, if architect Richard Moreta has any influence over urban planners.

He has just unveiled his "MINILOOP", an enclosed elevated bikeway designed to snake alongside streets or highways, or cut their own paths through cities.  

Moreta says he has designed MINILOOP to be easily replicated in, and adapted to, different locales:  It can be made open-air for warmer climates and fully enclosed in less hospitable environs.  Most important, though, he believes his design will not only help to reduce the number of motor vehicles used for transportation; they will afford more vertical space for trees and plants to grow and help filter the air.

29 April 2018

The Shimano Dance?

Today's Shimano Ultegra components trace their lineage to the "600" derailleurs introduced in 1975.  The following year, a complete "600" groupset was introduced.  Two years later, an iteration of them appeared with some fancy scrolls and engravings.

Shimano offered this groupset, called the "600 EX Arabesque" until 1984.  It was good stuff, especially for its time, except for one thing:  the headset required a special tool to adjust it.  Apparently, some Shimano marketing person thought the lace and filigree engraved into the other components would be difficult to replicate on a headset.  So, that person figured the best way to distinguish the headset was to shape the locknut like those scrolls. Still, it was a good headset: At least, the one I had served me well.

(Can you imagine Dee-Lilah, my fancy-lugged Mercian Vincitore Special, with an Arabesque groupset?  Maybe that would be a bit much, aesthetically.)

Anyway, even with all those fancy scrolls engraved into the parts, I have always thought "Arabesque" was an odd name for a line of bike components.  I wonder who their intended audience was.  Perhaps it included someone like her:

28 April 2018

The Hardest Part Of The Trip

Some people still can't fathom that I--or anyone else, for that matter--pedal from our homes to the next county or state.  They express wonderment or disbelief when I tell them I've essentially lived on my bike in Europe or that I pedaled up and down mountains in Vermont, upstate New York, California, Nevada, France, Switzerland, Italy and Spain.

I have to chuckle.  After all, my exploits pale in comparison to those of folks like John Rakowski, who spent three years cycling around the world in the 1970s--or Greg and June Sipel who, around the same time, rode their laden bikes from Anchorage, Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, at the tip of South America. 

Now Chris and Sophie Haag plan to take a similar journey.  Come late June, they will take a ferry from Bellingham, Washington to Homer, Alaska.  Then, on 2 July, they plan to pedal north and cross the Canadian border.  From there, they will bike south, through western Canada and the United States to Central America.  From there, they expect to follow the Pan-American Highway into South America.

They anticipate spending two years on the road--about the same amount of time the Sippels took. 

Even if they have studied what the Sippels did, the Haags probably don't know what the most difficult part of their journey will be.  But they know what has been the most difficult part of their planning:  finding someone to take care of their pets. Fortunately for them, some friends in their hometown of St. George, Utah, have agreed to take on the task.

If Marlee were to ask me, "Where have you been for the past two years?", what would I tell her?

27 April 2018

He's Cycling With Recycled Organs

Kyle Bailey was born with Cystic Fibrosis.  At age 25, he underwent a double lung transplant.  Since then, he's endured a liver and kidney transplant. He likes to say that he's been "given four chances at life." So, perhaps not surprisingly, he's started a non-profit organization dedicated to spreading awareness about the importance of organ donation and helping to provide for the medical needs of children with disabilities and limited-income families.

What some people might find surprising, however, is that the native of Port Huron, Michigan starting a 1400 mile (2200 km) bicycle trip today.  He plans to pedal from Ann Arbor, Michigan to Orlando, Florida to raise awareness (and funds) for the work he and his organization are doing.

One goal of his, he says, is to change the organ donor system in his home state of Michigan. Currently, a would-be donor has to "opt in" at the Secretary of State's office.  Bailey would like to see it changed to an "opt out" policy, in which everyone is automatically an organ donor unless he or she says otherwise.  Currently, several European and Latin American countries have such a policy, and several US states have considered them.

Whatever happens with those policies, I think Kyle's ride just might convince a few people to become organ donors.  If nothing else, it might help people realize that there is indeed life after getting a new liver.

26 April 2018

A Microclimate Under The Tracks?

When I was in Rome last summer, I learned that during the centuries when the Colosseum was all but abandoned, so many species of vegetation grew in it that Domenico Panaroli cataloged them. 

According to some writers and chroniclers, all of those herbs and other plants created micro-climates within the Colosseum's walls.  I don't find that so difficult to believe:  Different parts felt hotter or cooler, depending on the sun, shade and wind, during my visit there.

My commute this morning got met to thinking about the possibility of Colosseum "microclimates".  For one thing, the lane I ride to the Randall's Island Connector winds underneath the tracks on which Acela trains shuttle between New York and Boston.  Those tracks run on a viaduct supported by stone arches that would not look out of place in Rome, or the ancient parts of many other cities in the Old World.

But, more important, I think I rode into a microclimate:

The remanants of yesterday's storm dripped, and rays of sunlight flickered, through the tracks above.  And I pedaled through the "rainbow" you see in the photo.  I didn't see another rainbow anywhere else, nor did any rain fall.  And the sky grew brighter as I neared the college.

25 April 2018

Voices Of Crash Victims

He'd planned to go for a bike ride.  Twelve days later, he woke up.  "I didn't fully understand what was going on or why I was there," recalls Paul Gobble.  Still, he doesn't "recall feeling surprised" that he was in a hospital bed.

Paul Runnels was on the bike ride Gobble couldn't recall.  Like Gobble, he spent "nearly two weeks in the hospital" after that ride.  The last thing he remembered is pedaling to the right of the white line on the side of the road and hearing fellow riders shout "Car back!"

Jennifer Johnson's last memory of that day's ride, which she led, was seeing the sign for Markin Glen Park.  The next thing she remembers is waking up, seeing her right arm tangled in a fence and burrs in her clothing.  Scanning her body, "I struggled when I couldn't find my right leg," she recounted.  "I found it very acutely over my right shoulder."

Sheila Jeske met Johnson, Runnels and Gobble in a parking lot for the ride. Her next memory is from hours later, at 9:15 pm, in the hospital.  Doctors asked whether she knew what had happened.  "I said I knew I was on a bike ride and I asked where Deb and Suzanne were," she testified.

Debra Bradley
Suzanne Sippel

She was referring to Debbra Bradley and Suzanne Sippel.  They would not remember the ride:  They did not survive it.  Nor did "Larry" Paulik,"Tony" Nelson and Melissa Fevig-Hughes.  

"Larry" Paulik
"Tony" Nelson

Melissa Fevig-Hughes

Jeske, along with Runnels, Gobble and Johnson, described the ordeals they have lived through since the day Runnels heard "Car back!"  Although they are all riding again, they endure all sorts of pain and continue to undergo therapies and even surgeries.  Gobble, who suffered a brain injury, sometimes struggles with finding the right words.  Still, he and the others, were determined to testify, no doubt in memory of their cycling buddies who met them every week for over a decade.

Their testimony came this morning, on the second day of a murder trial for Charles Pickett Jr of Battle Creek, Michigan.  In addition to five counts of second-degree murder, he also faces five counts of driving under the influence:  The police allege that he had metamphetamine,  muscle relaxers and pain pills in his system at the time he plowed his blue Chevy pickup truck into the group of cyclists who called themselves "The Chain Gang."

Now Jeske, Runnels, Gobble and Johnson are linked in two other ways:  They survived a horrific crash, and they are giving voice to their friends who died that awful day.

24 April 2018

Torment In The Torrent

I recently taught Dante's Inferno.  In it, Hell is divided into nine circles, each reserved for particular kinds of sinners and each with its own punishments.

(As best as I can tell, I'd end up in the third ring of the seventh circle.  But I digress.)

One thing that has always struck me about the punishments meted out in each part of Dante's Hell is that they are not only retributive (at least, according to notions of divine justice prevailing in his time);  they are also meant to torment those who are sentenced.  At least, that is how it seemed to me.

Sometimes it seems that the torment is worse than the punishment itself.  I think it's because the resulting pain, humiliation and embarrassment endure for even longer than any physical torture.  Plus, folks whom you believed to be friends or allies--or, at least, fellow travelers--will pepper you with "witty" comments or taunt you with laughter.

At least, that was the experience related described Dublin-based writer Cal McGhee in his Broken Bicycle Blues.  As if it weren't bad enough to get thrown from his bike into a parked car, all of his attempts to call would-be rescuers failed:  The Vodafone customer you are calling is not accessible at the moment.

Oh, but it gets worse:  He starts to walk his bike in the pouring rain.  He doesn't get very far when the "innards of the back tyre unravel and intertwine with the wheel, rendering it absolutely 'bolloxed'."  So, unable to roll his bicycle alongside him, he has to carry his machine--until he no longer can.  

Then, "not equipped with any weaponry," he saws at the tire with a key in an attempt to cut the tire off.  But that key proved no match for the tire and snapped in half.

That key was--you guessed it--his bike key.

Having endured the ordeal of flat tire, crash, broken key and the jeers of other cyclists who passed him, he finally reaches home, where he is "greeted by the beaming smile of a child."  He reaches out to embrace the tyke when he notices how grungy he is and stops himself.

"That's how I died," he informs us.

He asks that no flowers be brought to the funeral.  Instead, he requests donations that can go to "an experimental business heralding a new regime" in which "cyclists in peril" will be "rescued and fed curry sauce until they are restored to full health."

Will that ease the torment of other cyclist seeing him walking and carrying his bike?

23 April 2018

First Time To The Point

It's hard for me to believe now that on Saturday, I took my first ride to Point Lookout since December, or possibly earlier.

Also, it was my first ride to the Point with Bill--and his first ride, ever, there.  The tide was out, revealing a sandbar where, in warmer months, kids skip and dogs skitter.  We saw a couple of teenagers wade into the water, which reached just above their ankles, to the sandbar.  In my younger days, I might've done the same, or even joined them.  But the ocean water is still only about 8 degrees C (45F), and I know it will warm up fairly quickly during the next few weeks.  I can wait.

Instead, the pleasures of such a ride are the sun, wind and vistas--like the one we saw on the Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge:

The sky, as beautiful as it was, didn't look quite spring-like. But we were looking at it about two hours later than we would have in, say, January.

22 April 2018

Would Fat Have Become A Fad?

Practically from the moment Specialized introduced the "Stumpjumper" in 1981, would-be pundits said that mountain bikes were a "fad."  Some of those wise folk were in Schwinn's management, which may be a reason why the company filed for bankruptcy a decade later.

Anyway, any number of things in the bike world have been called "fads" almost from the moment they saw the light of day.  One of them is the "fat bike", which typically sports tires 3 inches or more in width.  Although I have never ridden, and probably won't ride, such a bike myself, I am not about to sound its death knell, even if most examples of the genre I've seen don't exactly fit in with my sense of aesthetics.

Still, though, I have to wonder whether "fat bikes" would have endured had they been introduced, say, 130 years ago. 

That is about the time "safety" bicycles appeared.  They are like the machines most of us ride today:  two wheels of the same size powered by a chain-driven drivetrain.  Before that, cyclists mounted "penny-farthings" with front wheels of 60 to 80 inches (150 to 200 centimeters).  Could such a bike have been made "fat"?

Looking at that photo, I can't help but to think that perhaps "fat" bikes would have been a fad that disappeared, say around 1890 if the first "fatties" had been high-wheelers!

21 April 2018

Colorado To Allow Cities To Choose The Idaho Stop

As I've mentioned in previous posts, Idaho enacted a law that allows cyclists to treat red lights as "Stop" signs and "Stop" signs like "Yield" signs--all the way back in 1982.  Since then, other jurisdictions have passed similar ordinances.  But nearly all such regulation in the ensuing three and a half decades has been at the local level.

Lawmakers in Colorado, where a few municipalities already have such legislation, seem to have noted this reality.  They also seem to have noticed that other places haven't passed such laws because of hurdles they faced in doing so.

At least, I hope that is the reason why the Colorado House of Representative passed SB18-144 last week and the state's Senate voted for it this week.  Governor John Hickenlooper is expected to sign it into law.

SB18-144 makes it easier for cities, towns and other localities to adopt "safety stop" (a.k.a. "Idaho Stop") rules by creating a standard ordinance.  One hurdle local politicians faced in enacting such rules is that they might not align with the laws in other--sometimes neighboring--municipalities.  In other words, the bill, if signed, would give them a template they can adopt. 

So why doesn't the Centennial State (or any other state) simply mandate the "safety stop" statewide?  Well, in some places--particularly in spread-out rural areas found in states like Colorado--people just don't like to be told what to do by remote bureaucrats, whether in Denver or Washington.  But more important, the ordinance contains language stating that it shall not apply to any part of the state highway system.  That seems to have been a technicality that kept a different version of the bill from passing last year.

Those jurisdictions, such as Aspen and Summit County, that already have similar regulations will be allowed to keep them if the law is passed.

20 April 2018

Bike Share Programs Save Money--And Lives

I suspect most readers of this blog believe that bike-share programs are beneficial, not only to the people who use them, but for the communities in which those programs are based.

Now a study by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (IS Global) confirms what we believe--with empirical data.  IS Global studied the twelve largest bike share programs in Europe.  The programs were spread across six different countries (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain) and each has more than 2000 share units.  Two, in Barcelona and Milan, combine mechanical with electric bikes; Madrid's includes only electrical bike.  The other nine share only mechanical bicycles.

The IS Global researchers analyzed both the health benefits and risks of substituting  trips on  share bikes for car trips.  They used data from transport and health surveys, as well as registers of pollution and traffic accidents to determine the number of deaths due to lack of physical activity, traffic accidents and air pollution exposure.

The researchers could say with certainty that the use of shared bicycles by people who previously used their cars spares five lives and saves 18 million Euros a year.  If all public bike trips were made by people who previously drove, those numbers rise to 73 lives and 226 million Euros.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Paris, with the largest share system in Europe, saw the greatest benefit to public health.  But even Madrid's all-electric system could be credited with better public-health outcomes, though the improvements were not as great as in cities where people pedaled their shared bikes: Madrilenos sucked put out and sucked in less pollution, but didn't get the exercise one gets on mechanical bicycles.

Although these results are encouraging, IS Global researcher and study coordinator David Rojas believes that cities could do more. "The real benefits could be even greater if the local authorities worked to increase the number of bicycle trips per day, ensure traffic safety and improve air quality, " he says.

19 April 2018

Will A Ride Report Lead To A Better Bike Lane?

On this blog, I have lamented the poor planning, design and construction of too many bike lanes and other kinds of bike infrastructure.  Some of you have suggested--and I would agree--that it is in large part due to planners who don't understand cycling because, by and large, they don't ride themselves.

If someone doesn't ride, the only accurate information he or she can receive about riding conditions and the needs of cyclists will come from other cyclists.  Of course, the best information of all comes in "real time":  In other words, from records of cyclists as they cycle rather than "snapshots" of who passes through a given point at a given moment.

At least, that seems to be the thinking of transportation planners in--you guessed it--Portland.  They have just signed an agreement with Ride Report, a local tech startup, to share user data with them.  The company's free smartphone application automatically tracks trips and gives users the ability to immediately rate the route's safety, whether it's great, mixed or not so great.

Of course, this cannot provide complete data:  The city has no plans to mandate it for cyclists.  Still, it would almost certainly provide more useful information than taking counts at 280 intersections, as Portland currently does.  Such counts cannot be done continuously and require trained volunteers--who, no matter how good they are, don't always collect precise information.  Moreover, the apps could collect information from cyclists who don't have the time or inclination to attend planning meetings.  

Ride Report says that the data made available will be anonymous.  According to its terms of service, however, it may share demographic data like age or gender if the user agrees, though such agreement is not a requirement for signing up to use the app.

Make what you will of that promise.  As far as I know, no executives of a certain social media company I won't name are involved in the project!

18 April 2018

A Thriller Or A Juicer?

My uncle, who was as much a card-carrying liberal on social issues as anyone I've known (Having spent much of my life involved in the arts and the academic world, that's saying something!) nonetheless refused to watch any movie in which Jane Fonda, a.k.a. "Hanoi Jane", appeared.  

The question of whether you can appreciate the work of anyone accomplished in his or her field--whether in the arts, sports, science or any other area of endeavor--knowing that the person did something immoral, unjust or simply out of line with your values, is certainly not new.  I know otherwise well-read people who will not touch Ezra Pound's Cantos because he was an anti-Semitic Fascist and refuse to have any truck with movies, TV shows, books or other creations from folks who are--or whom they believe to be--immoral or politically incorrect.

Likewise, there are erstwhile fans who gave up on bike racing because of the doping scandals.  This phenomenon was, I believe, most pronounced in the wake of Lance Armstrong's fall from grace.  With all due respect to Greg LeMond, Armstrong was probably the first modern "American hero" of cycling. At least, he was the reason why many Americans paid attention to the Tour de France, if not to bike racing as a whole.  But even Europeans admired and respected him, however grudgingly, if for no other reason than his "comeback" story.

It would be one thing if current and former fans directed their ire solely at him.  Since he was stripped of his titles, however, it seems that some have given up on the sport.  Many more, though, look at every victory, and every current and rising star, through a lens tinted with suspicion.  It's hard to blame them, though the problem of doping pervaded cycling--and sports generally--long before Lance seemed to spring from his death bed to the podium.

So, when Alberto Contador announced his retirement from racing a few months ago, fewer tears were shed than when Bernard Hinault, Eddy Mercx, Jacques Anquetil, Fausto Coppi or even Miguel Indurain called it quits.  That, even though, among those riders, Hinault is the only one besides Contador to have won all three Grand Tours --Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana-- more than once. (Mercx and Anquetil each won the Vuelta once, while neither Coppi nor Indurain ever won it.) Even though nearly anyone who has followed the sport will say that he was one of the most talented riders of his generation, they are not as sorry to see him go as they were when previous winners of the maillot jaune and maglia rosa left the scene.

Contador in the 2005 Tour Down Under

Contador, though, wasn't just a cyclist who won races.  He pedaled with gusto, and raced with panache.  Probably the last cyclist who won with such style was Marco Pantani, winner of the 1998 Tour and Giro.  His "juicing" spiraled into abuse of other drugs, including cocaine, and led to his death five and a half years later. The way Contador rode was often described as a "dance", and he recently admitted that in his final Vuelta --which he won--he would "attack exactly when I felt like it" instead of "calculating everything".  You might say he had his reasons:  After all, he was riding his final race, and it was in his home country.

He was indeed thrilling to watch.  Should we remember him for that--or for the titles he lost and the ban he incurred from his drug use?   

17 April 2018

World Bicycle Day: 3 June

The past decade or so has seen efforts to promote cycling as a viable form of transportation, not to mention recreation.  Such efforts have included everything from the establishment of bike share and earn-a-bike programs to the construction of bike lanes.

The latter, along with other bike infrastructure, varies widely (to say the least) in the quality of conception and construction.  One hopes (or at least  I hope) that planners will learn from their mistakes or be replaced by folks who understand cycling.

Nearly all of the work I've mentioned, though, has been initiated locally--usually by cities or independent organizations.  There have been few initiatives on the county, state or national level here in the US or in other countries.

That may change.  One of the most influential worldwide organizations is making at least a token effort to promote cycling around the globe.

That organization is none other than the United Nations.  On 12 April, at a Regular Session of the General Assembly, a resolution was discussed.  It was adopted by a consensus of the 193 member states.

The resolution declares 3 June as World Bicycle Day.  The purpose of that declaration is, according to a UN press briefing:

[to] emphasize and advance the use of the bicycle as a means of fostering sustainable development; strengthening education, including physical education, for children and young people;  promoting health; preventing disease; promoting tolerance, mutual understanding and respect; and facilitating social inclusion and a culture of peace.

What the UN is saying is, in essence, that cycling can help to achieve some of the organization's stated goals.  I think they're right. (As a longtime cyclist, I'm a totally unbiased observer, right?)  Things like peace, sustainability and respect for each other's humanity seem all the more important in the days after the missile strike in Syria and a report that the Gulf Stream is the weakest it's been in more than a millenium and a half.  

16 April 2018

A Clash Between My Senses

In most of the Northern Hemisphere, the most unpredictable, or at least the most variable, weather comes in April.

I was reminded of that last week, when the contrast between my afternoon ride on Wednesday and the longer ride I took on Friday--which included Wednesday's route--could not have been more stark.  And Saturday's ride went from the almost summer-like warmth I experienced on Friday to the near-winter conditions of my Wednesday ride--all within the space of an hour.

Within the warmth and sunshine of Friday and early Saturday, though, there was an even more striking disparity--between my senses.

The warmth I was feeling against my skin (Shorts!  Short-sleeved top!) in no way reflected much of what I saw around me.

The trees hadn't yet begun to bud in the Greenwich Common, where I rode on Friday

nor along the Verrazano Narrows promenade or Owl's Head Park, where I rode with Bill and Cindy the following day.

The funniest part, though, is that after Cindy had to leave for another commitment, Bill and I rode through some of the Brooklyn backstreets of my childhood and youth (and, I must add, to the Rimini Bakery on Bay Parkway, where I introduced him to sfogliatelle, my favorite pastry).  The temperature dropped during that part of the ride.  After I put on layers I'd brought with me, we saw this:

the first budding tree--a cherry blossom. It's late this year.  I can forgive it:  Whenever I see it, I'm happy--even if it isn't in harmony with the cold wind against my skin!

15 April 2018

Blame It On The Bike!

During my youth, I did lots of strange, stupid and forbidden things that I tried to smooth over with implausible explanations to parents, teachers, professors, supervisors, lovers and other people.  Probably even a cop or two.

I might have even said something like this:

Now, whether the cop believed me, I won't say--mainly, because you know the answer.  All I know is that when I woke up, I wasn't in jail.  But I sure had a headache--and a bike to fix!

14 April 2018

A Twist In The Mixte

Most Americans never saw a twin-tube mixte frame before the 1970s Bike Boom.  That, of course, is also the first time most Americans saw a bicycle with a derailleur.  So, perhaps, it's no surprise that bike manufacturers like Peugeot, Motobecane, Raleigh and Fuji sold boatloads of ten-speed mixtes--though, to be accurate, many more diamond-frame (men's) bikes were purchased.

Nearly all of the mixtes available then, and now, have more or less the same design:  a pair of narrow parallel tubes that slope from nearly the top of the head tube to the rear dropout, or some point near it.  The twin tubes usually crossed the seat tube about halfway down, or maybe a bit lower.  The result was a frame that wasn't quite as "open" as the traditional women's frame, with a single curved top tube, but easier to mount than the traditional diamond frame.

What's not commonly known is that mixte frames with twin top tubes mixte frames, or at least frames that resemble them, have been made almost since the first "safety" bicycle (ones with two wheels of equal, or more-or-less equal, size) was introduced in the late 19th Century.  And they have taken on a variety of configurations, such as this example from Geoffrey Butler:

The South London builder made it to the specifications of a then-young woman who owned it until recently.  Its  eBay listing doesn't specify the tubing used to build the bike, but my guess is that it's some variation of Reynolds.  All of the parts are what one might expect to find on a touring or club bike from its era (1962):  all British, except for the Michelin tyres. (Yes, I had to spell it the British way!)  And, I must say, it is lovely.

I was struck in particular by two things.  One is, of course, the configuration of those top tubes:  They don't slope down as far as those on the more familiar kind of mixtes.  In fact, they don't seem much less horizontal (Is that a real phrase?) than the top tubes of most diamond-frame bikes.  Moreover, they end at the seat tube in a sort of semi-lug, which I find to be an interesting touch.

(Don't you just love seeing that pump between the parallel tubes?)

The other thing I immediately noticed is its size. I can't recall seeing a mixte that was too big for me:  For that matter, I haven't seen many mixte frames as tall as Vera, my Miss Mercian.  If the measurements listed are accurate (and, from what I see in the photos, I believe they are), it's indeed larger than my Miss Mercian, or almost any other mixte.  In fact, at 58 cm (for the seat tube) it's even larger than all but one diamond-frame bike I've ever owned. 

With all due respect to Vera, it is a rather uniquely (Is that a real phrase?) lovely bike.  If I were about three inches taller--or had the money and space have a collection--I probably would buy it.

13 April 2018

The Mountain We Climbed

Two cyclists climbed the mountain.

Image from Tripsite

Their long, arduous pedal strokes channeled their fear, rage and loneliness into jagged thrusts through virages.  They funneled their darkest secret into energy that helped them push against headwinds on deceptively narrow straightaways.  

They would reach the summit but feel no sense of pride or elation about it.  Years later, each of them would say exactly the same thing:  Yeah, I did that.  To this day, others are more impressed than they are with their feats.

Both grew up in working-class enclaves--one in Scotland, the other in Brooklyn and New Jersey.  They have remarkably similar stories about being bullied and ostracized, and how they both felt the need to escape.  It drove both of them to France.

The American stayed for a time and has returned several times since.  The Scot achieved great professional success there and returns for various gigs.  

They both climbed the mountain.  And, after their descents, they realized that they would have traded that experience, and all of the others, for a life they could not have led until they crossed the valley.

As you might have surmised, I am the American.  What you might not have realized until now---I didn't, until a couple of hours ago--is that the Scot in question was the first Anglophone to wear the polka dot jersey (for the King of the Mountains) in the Tour de France.  In one of cycling's more famous photos, this rider is seen descending a mountain in the 1989 Tour, alongside Laurent Fignon, Pedro Delgado and eventual overall winner Greg LeMond.

In the 1984 Tour de France.

I am talking about someone who went by the name of Robert Millar.  Yes, that Robert Millar.  The one who finished fourth overall (then the highest standing for an Anglophone) in the 1984 edition, when Millar won the polka-dot jersey.   The following year, the Glasgow native would have a Vuelta a Espana victory "stolen" by riders who colluded for a Spanish victory.  Two years later, Millar placed second in the Giro d'Italia:  still the best finish in that race for a cyclist from the British Isles.

Millar, even after retiring from the sport, garnered great admiration and respect from former rivals and teammates, not to mention fans.  While my brief racing career brought me no money or fame, my life as a cyclist gave me, if I do say so myself, people who admired and respected me for riding up the mountain.  And another.  And another.  Some of the folks who shouted "Bon courage!" I would never meet again, but others became riding and training partners for periods of my life.

But even though Millar was a better, or at least more accomplished and recognized, cyclist than I ever was or will be, we do have remarkably similar stories.

We are the same age: only two months separate us.  And in addition to our class roots, we have other similarities in our backgrounds.  In particular, each of us had a parallel experience.  For all I know, we might have had it on the same day:  When we were five years old, the boys and girls lined up on opposite sides of the playground.  Robert in Glasgow felt the same way as Nicholas--"Nicky"--in Brooklyn:  different.  "But there was no way to communicate that without the other boys beating me up or picking on me," Millar recalls.

She took the words out of my mouth!

Philippa York

Robert Millar no longer goes by that name.  Today she is known as Philippa York.  While she has a bike with mudguards and a wicker basket for "going to town", her knowledge of the gradients and lengths of climbs around her home on the South Coast of England is "suspiciously accurate," according to a Telegraph article.  "I still like that rush of speed, but that's only downhill," she explains.  "I can't go fast on the flat or uphill anymore and I accept that I am going to need every gear on my bike."

I can relate.

We climbed the mountain.  And we are here, now--female midlife cyclists, both of us.

N.B.:  I want to thank one of my favorite bloggers, "The Retrogrouch", for alerting me to Philippa York's story!

One of my early posts will tell you more about the mountain (actually, one of the mountains) I climbed.