31 August 2018

It Ain't "Breaking Away"

If you've seen Breaking Away, you probably remember this scene:

Of course, some things that are funny in a movie aren't so in real life.  Certainly, Bryan Blair isn't laughing.

On the evening 22 February, he was riding his bicycle in Scottsdale, Arizona.  A man entered the roadway and stuck a long metal object into Blair's front spokes, bringing him and his bike to a dead stop.

Unlike our the protagonist of BA, Blair suffered wounds to more than his pride.  He didn't get up and ride the next day.  In fact, he never rode again:  After three weeks in a hospital, he died from his injuries.

The man who ended his ride, and his journey, fled the scene in a car.  The police, who had no idea of whether the attack was random or targeted, enlisted  the public's help.

Daniel James Hinoto

Through surveillance videos, eyewitness accounts and other tips, Scottsdale police investigators tracked down the man they believe to be responsible:  49-year-old Daniel James Hinton.  The other day, they arrested him.

He's been charged with second-degree murder. As we all know, life doesn't always imitate the movies.

30 August 2018

French President Gets Danish Treatment

When it comes to cycling, one of the first cities that comes to mind is Copenhagen.  And one of the first countries is France.

So, when French President Emanuel Macron paid a state visit to Denmark, it made perfect sense that the country's Prime Minister, Lars Lokke Rasmussen, would take him on a bike tour through the streets of the Danish capital.

Rasmussen is known to be a fan of cycling.  Part of Macron's delegation included Christian Prudhomme, the Director of the Tour de France.

Oh, and Macron offered his host a yellow Tour de France leader's jersey, autographed by Geraint Thomas, who won this year's edition of the race.

You can guess what comes next:  Macron revealed that the Tour would open in the city bientot.  Turns out, Copenhagen is a candidate to host le grand depart in either 2020 or 2021.

29 August 2018

If You Want To Escape, Pack Light

The first rule of thumb for cycle touring is:  Feel guilty about carrying anything more than your maps and water bottle.

It's the sort of advice I might have given when I was younger.  But I cannot claim credit for it: The honor belongs to Doug Shidell and Phillip van Valkenberg. Their pearl of wisdom came in a book they co-authored:

Now tell me:  Does that book look like it came out of the early '70's, or what?  Well, it did, a couple of years after Shidell and van Valkenberg met.  The former was a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the latter was a recent alumnus.  They were a couple of long-haired guys with "hippie tendencies" and a recently-found passion for cycling.

Doug Shidell and Phillip van Valkenberg.  This photo was published on the inside of the back cover of Bicycle Escape Routes.

They also loved their home state of Wisconsin, and their book is as much a billet doux to the Badger State as it is a guide to cycling in it.  In addition to maps and descriptions of rides, it gave sage advice about how to deal with snarling dogs and whatever else a bicycle tourist might encounter, as well as counsel on how to live in the moment:  "Marsh hawks spend much of their time sitting on fence posts in the fields," they wrote.  "If you see a bird sitting or flying low over the fields, stop near a tree or bush to remain inconspicuous and watch him for a little while."

The book also had a sense of humor about everything, including the squeaky bearings on Shidell's bike:  "We were serenaded by this bicycle's version of 'Song of the Volga Boatman' on every upgrade.  Respite of sorts came later when a spot weld let go on one of Doug's racks, creating a squeak that completely drowned out the original noise."

Since that book was published, van Valkenberg, now 73, has written seven more about cycling in Wisconsin.  He has also been a nearly non-stop advocate for cycling in the state, having worked to bring about the Elroy-Sparta State Trail and organized tours, races other rides.  These days, he and his partner, Georgia Kaftan, ride a tandem recumbent bike.

Shidell is 67 and lives in Minneapolis.  He was the first employee of Quality Bicycle Products, from which he's retired.  He also has written about bicycling and bike advocacy for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and started a website and map-publishing effort called Bikeeverywhere.

Interestingly, he says that his cycling and  bike advocacy were motivated by environmental concerns.  He first heard about global warming in the 1970s, he said, and because the "dangers made sense to me", he thought, "I'll just start riding a bike instead of driving around."

I wonder whether either of them carries anything more than his maps and water bottle--and, if he does, whether he feels guilty about it.

28 August 2018

To The Beach--By Bike Or Train? Why Not Combine Them?

After work, I did what a lot of other people are doing this week:  I took a trip to the beach.  It's the last "unofficial" week of summer; after Monday--Labor Day--most people will be back at work.

Of course, you know I rode my bicycle to the beach--Orchard Beach, to be exact, as it's the one nearest my job. Other people did, too, but others drove or took the bus.  Still others took the train to beaches on Long Island--or the subway to the Rockaways and Coney Island.

It's probably no surprise that during cycling's first heyday--roughly the last decade of the 19th Century and the first decade of the 21st--people cycled to the beach, especially to Coney Island.  The Ocean Parkway Bike and Bridle path--the oldest extant bike lane in the US-- was constructed during that time.  Also, during that time, construction of the subway system began.  There were, however, smaller, independent railroads that ran from Manhattan and the nearby areas of Brooklyn to the beaches. Some of those railroads later became part of the city's and region's mass transit system.

At that time, it was even possible to combine bikes and trains on a ride to the beach.  Well, sort of.

The Boynton Bicycle Railroad linked the southwestern Brooklyn neighborhood of Gravesend with Coney Island.  It ran for only two years, and inspired a few other short-lived imitations, it is commemorated with Boynton Place, at the intersection of West 7th Street and Avenue X, in Gravesend.

So, what made it a "bicycle railroad"?  Well, it ran on two wheels on a monorail.  So, you may ask, how did it keep it balance?  Well, there were rubber-faced trolley wheels on top of the trains that guided the train along a rail that ran fifteen feet above the rail on which the "bicycle" train ran.

When it debuted, the trains could achieve speeds of 80 mph.  The following years, technical improvements upped the maximum velocity to 100 mph.

The Boynton Bicycle Railroad, as shown in an 1894 issue of Scientific American

Inventor E. Moody Boynton said his intention was indeed to marry a new technology of the time to a newish one:  the bicycle and the railroad.  He was convinced that his system was more efficient than conventional railroads because there was less friction on a single than a double track.  The speeds of his trains seemed to make his case.  Still, he couldn't find investors--possibly because the automobile was on the horizon-and neither the Boynton nor the other "bicycle" railroads survived past the middle of the first decade of the 20th Century.

It could be said, however, that his idea lives on in modern monorail and light-rail systems.  Perhaps one day tourist hubs will have "pedi-trains", much as some places now have "pedi-cabs".

27 August 2018

Enlightened Self-Interest?: Uber And Bike Sharing

During rush hour, it is very inefficient for a one-tonne hunk of metal to take one person ten blocks.

Who said that?  An urban planner?  An environmentalist?  Someone involved with a bike-share program?

That last answer would be the right one, sort of.  Dara Khosrowshahi is the CEO of the company that acquired bike-share startup Jump Bikes.

And that company is...Uber.  Yes, the ride-share company:   one of the companies responsible for clogging the streets of cities like New York with drivers who pull over, seemingly without warning or regard for pedestrians or cyclists.  (I've had a couple of near-misses with Uber drivers who were looking at their screens instead of what (or who) was outside of their windows.)  Believe it or not, they're not only getting into bike share, they will soon offer electric scooters in San Francisco and other cities.

So, what brought about Mr. Khosrowshahi's seeming apostasy?  As he told The Financial Times, "There's a $6 trillion mobility market, and no one product is going to be serving that whole market."  So, while shifting some of the company's resources from drivers to cycling or scooters may hurt profits for a little while, it will pay off in the long run by giving people more options.

Uber electric bikes 0827 RESTRICTED
Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi presenting Jump Bicycles in Berlin, Germany.

Interestingly, he says some Uber drivers are even embracing the idea.  The reason, he says, is that bicycles would reduce the demand for short rides and leave drivers to complete longer, more lucrative runs, such as rides to airports.

And, unlike yellow cabs, Uber drivers don't make money if they're stuck in traffic:  Usually, they are paid a fixed or agreed-upon amount of money for a trip, regardless of whether it takes 10 minutes or an hour.  Yellow cabs, on the other hand, have meters that continue to run whether the car is zipping down a side street or idling on the Long Island Expressway. (How can it be an "expressway" if the traffic isn't moving?  Its acronym, the LIE, is more apt.)

So, as Khosrowshahi says, driving a tonne of metal ten blocks isn't a very efficient way to transport one passenger--from a transportation, environmental or economic standpoint. Ultimately, it doesn't even help the drivers' bottom lines.  More bikes, fewer cars, less congestion and pollution...because of Uber?  Who knew?

26 August 2018

Which Do You Lock First?

During my recent trip to Cambodia and Laos, I saw some heartbreaking poverty.  Still, there seemed to be little or no theft:  People left all sorts of items, including bicycles, out in the open, unsecured.  

And, as in other parts of the world, people leave their shoes at the door before entering their homes or, sometimes, even places of work or business.  That makes sense when so many streets, even in the middle of a city like Siem Reap, are wholly or partially dirt--which, of course, becomes mud when it rains--and dogs, cats and sometimes other animals roam freely on them.

Still, I had to wonder whether anyone had ever lost his or her shoes after leaving them by the door. (That didn't stop me, though, from following the local custom.)  Or a bicycle, for that matter.

This photo wasn't taken in any place I visited, as far as I know.  Having seen it, though, I have to wonder:  Is there a place where you're more likely to have your shoes than your bike stolen?

25 August 2018

Officer, I Was Just Helping A Friend Clean Up!

I once moved my possessions from one apartment to another--on my bicycle.

Granted, I didn't have much at the time.  Still, I take pride in having changed residences without the aid of trucks, vans or moving companies.  For me, the experience affirms what someone--an old riding buddy, if I recall correctly--once told me:  You can carry anything on a bicycle.  It's just a matter of loading and packing it.

A fellow in Oxford, Ohio apparently followed that advice.  He transported a mini-refrigerator and full-length mirror aboard a pink Mongoose bicycle.  

Of course, Stephen Moster didn't have those items on his back or shoulders, or strapped to a Blackburn rear carrier, as he pedaled along. For that matter, he wasn't hauling a modern bike trailer or even a vintage Cannondale bugger.  Instead, he was pushing a shopping cart loaded with the refrigerator and mirror.

I would have respect and even admiration for him:  After all, it takes a certain amount of ingenuity to conceive of such a system, and a certain level of skill to ride while pushing a cart.  And, yes, he showed that something could be done without a motor vehicle when most people would have assumed that one was necessary.

I would have respect for him...if the refrigerator and mirror were his, or he were transporting them for a friend--or even if someone was paying him to move them.   Or if his story--that two men invited him to "take whatever I want" from a house they were cleaning up--were true.

You know where this is going:  He burgled that house.  In fact, the two men were cleaning up from a previous burglary and talking with an insurance representative when they were startled by sounds.  They went to a neighbor's porch, where they watched Moster take the refrigerator and mirror.  Realizing he couldn't carry them on his bike, he left and then returned with a Kroger's grocery cart.

(This is how he should have done it!)

Hmm...The refrigerator and mirror were burgled and the cart was "appropriated".  It makes me wonder how he acquired the bicycle.

I still must say that I sort of admire his ingenuity.  But I would offer him this bit of advice: If you're going to abscond with other people's property, don't do it on a pink bike!

24 August 2018

Oh, Deer--In The Bronx!

Yesterday, I took another ride to Connecticut.  The day could hardly have been better:  neither the warmth nor sunlight were oppressive, and only a few high, wispy clouds floated across the sky.  I pedaled into a fairly brisk wind most of the way up--which meant, of course, it blew me back to Astoria.

And nearly into the path of a deer.  I was gliding through a turn on the Pelham Bay Park path, just before it crosses an entrance to the New England Thruway.  Trees cover one side of the path and line the other; just beyond that line is a marsh, with the hulking structures of Co-op City in sight.

I missed that deer by about five meters or so.  But I think I was more surprised than startled:  After all, I was in The Bronx.  Yes, you read that right.  It's one thing to see Bambi's wild cousin dart in front of you when you're barreling down a road in rural Pennsylvania, or a mountain goat bolt across the road you're thumping along with a flat tire at 90 KPH in the Alps.  You can talk about such things and, whatever judgments people are making, they believe you.

But a deer in the Bronx?  I'm still having trouble believing it--even though I saw it.  If only I could have taken a photo!

23 August 2018

What If?: SunTour "Click Shift" And Freehubs?

Captain Ahab had Moby Dick.  Others have spent years, decades, even lifetimes hunting down one obsession or another.

Now, the "target" I'm about to discuss didn't do anything to harm me.  In fact, other products made by the company that manufactured my Loch Ness monster, or whatever you want to call it, have actually brought me pleasure, at least while cycling.

The company in question is SunTour.  For a time, I didn't want to use derailleurs or freewheels made by any other company.  And I once dreamed of building a track bike from Superbe Pro components, which I thought were even better (or at least more beautiful) than even Campagnolo's fixed-gear offerings.

The object of my obsession are really objects, plural.  They are parts of a system SunTour introduced in 1969 and, apparently, manufactured only during that year.  I have seen references to them in a number of sources, but have never seen the parts in person.  In fact, I had never seen images of them--until yesterday.

Well, I came across one component, anyway, on--where else!--eBay:

These "click shift" levers were part of an indexed shifting system SunTour made that year.  From the accounts I've read, it worked well, though it didn't sell well and no manufacturer outfitted a new bike with it as original equipment.  Although SunTour had patented its slant-pantogram derailleur five years earlier, it did not begin to export its wares until the year before the "click shift" system came out.

Interestingly, SunTour also introduced an hub with an integrated freewheel mechanism--much like today's cassette freehubs--in that same year.  It, too, worked well and,like other SunTour products, was well-made.  Like the click-shift system, it seems not to have been produced after 1969.

The simple explanation for the "freehub"s or "click shift"s lack of commercial success is that the market wasn't ready to depart from traditional screw-on freewheels or friction shifters.  But another reason why those items didn't make much headway is that they predated the '70's North American Bike Boom by a couple of years.  As Frank Berto has pointed out in "Sunset for SunTour," Shimano entered the American market in the late 1960s when low-priced American bikes like  AMF, Huffy and Murray (which were sold mainly in department stores) were outfitted with Lark and Eagle derailleurs.   On the other hand, Sun Tour derailleurs had to wait a few more years,  until Japanese bicycle manufacturers like Fuji, Bridgestone and Miyata--adorned with SunTour components--developed an export market in the US and, later, in other countries.  By the time those bikes, and lightweight bicycles in general, caught on with American adults, "Click shift" and the intergrated hub were several years out of production.

Ironically, Shimano's appropriation of those innovations--and SunTour's slant parallelogram design (for which the patent expired in 1984)-- would lead to SunTour's demise a decade later.  SunTour, in desperation, tried to develop competing systems.  But the indexed systems SunTour introduced in 1986 did not work as well as Shimano's and, worse, companies like Schwinn used their old stocks of freewheels, chains and cables, which didn't work very well with SunTour's indexed systems.

One can only wonder how things might be different had all of those Fujis, Miyatas, Nishikis, Panasonics, Centurions and other Japanese bikes  had been equipped with SunTour's "Click Shift" and integrated hubs.  Or, for that matter,what about those Schwinns, Raleighs, Motobecanes and other bikes that, a few years later, would be sold in the US with SunTour derailleurs and freewheels as original equipment.  What if they had "click shift" and integrated hubs?  Would those parts have become the de facto standards?   Would SunTour have come to dominate the components market the way Shimano has for the past three decades?  

(At the time Shimano introduced its SIS and freehub systems, the company was an afterthought in all but the lower price ranges, and their stuff was rarely, if ever, bought as replacement equipment, let alone after-market upgrades.)

Finally, I have to wonder what "retro" and "L'eroica" would mean today. After all, they are both defined, at least in part, by non-indexed shifting systems and screw-on freewheels.  Would the concepts of "retro" and "L'eroica" even exist?

Well, I know one thing:  I wouldn't have this obsession over parts SunTour made for only one year, in 1969.

22 August 2018

Not The Way Across!

I have pedaled through lanes of traffic with motorized vehicles practically against my shoulders.  I have also ridden through hairpin turns with nothing where a gust at my side, a rock against my tire could have sent me tumbling a few hundred meters down.

Still, there are some places I would never, ever ride.  Among them are the vehicle lanes of most bridges, especially if they are long, high bridges--like the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge:

I recall reading, some time ago, that more people have committed suicide on the nearby Golden Gate Bridge than anyplace else in the world.  (It seems that Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge in China has "overtaken" the Golden Gate in that category.)  One can only wonder if the woman in the video was trying to end her life on the Bay's "other" bridge.

21 August 2018

What's In Your Support Van?

In a post I wrote last week, a rabbi and native American guide gave Abigail Pogrebin the same advice a Zen master probably would give to cyclists:  Look ahead.  Of course, they are as likely to be giving that advice about living as about riding.

In response, Leo--a frequent and favorite commenter--pointed out that the surest way to hit a piece of glass on the road is to be nervous about it and stare at it.

They are all correct:  Whatever journey you take--on a bicycle or by some other means--you should keep your sight focused in front of you.  The only way to reach your destination is to look ahead to it, not under you at the road (or path) you're traveling.

One group of cyclists has had their sights set on San Diego, which they hope to reach during the first week of September, since setting out from Seattle three weeks ago. They have not been deterred by the usual obstacles--weather, terrain and, in a few cases, lack of previous experience with long rides.  But they can be forgiven for looking over their shoulders every now and again--especially as they near San Diego.

You see, they came to the US as children--with parents who entered this country illegally.  At least one member of the group has Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status and is a graduate student.  Most of the others, however, do not and could be subject to being stopped--especially on the roads approaching San Diego, which are full of immigration checkpoints.

The purpose of their ride, known as the Journey to Justice, is, not surprisingly, to call attention to people with plights like theirs and to persuade Congress to pass--and the President to sign--the so-called DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act, which has been introduced and reintroduced in Congress since 2001.  Some of the riders had previously participated in a weeks-long vigil in front of the White House.  If nothing else, the riders said, pedaling 1300 miles is better exercise than hunkering down on the sidewalk.

The Journey to Justice is notable for one other reason. Other rides like it have support vans, which are stocked with energy bars, fruit, water and first aid items.  On the other hand, JtJ's vehicle has bears something else its riders may need:  a lawyer. 

20 August 2018

Will She Ride Home?

Today I read a news story that made me think of someone about whom I wrote two years ago.

Then I opened my page for this blog and found that someone had left a new comment on that post.

The subject of that post was Mary Jane "Miji" Reoch, arguably the first of a generation of American female cyclists that would dominate their field during the 1970s and 1980s--and put the US on the world's racing map for the first time since the era of the six-day races.

So what brought her to mind?  Well, it was something a political figure in New Zealand did four decades after "Miji."

Well, they've both won races. Except that the ones Julie Anne Genter weren't in the peloton, or on the track or singletrack.  Rather, the races she won were decided in voting booths and ballot boxes.

Now, when I say "won", I don't mean it in the way one wins a head-to-head election in the US.  Instead, as I understand, in New Zealand's system, members of parliament are elected from lists of candidates and the ones with the most votes gain parliamentary seats.  Some of them, anyway:  Some seats are awarded proportionally by parties (New Zealanders get two votes, one for a candidate and one for a party.) and a few seats are reserved for Maori residents.

So, you can say that she won the right to become a member of Parliament, a post she holds along with those of Minister for Women as well as Associate Minister for Health and Associate Minister for Transport. All of that, one imagines, wouldn't leave her much time to train. But, still, she cycles---which brings me to what she has in common with Miji.

Well, they both continued to ride during their pregnancies.  In Miji's time, doctors were still counseling pregnant women to forego all physical activity, so continuing her training regimen was still fairly radical in the 1970s.  Today, of course, doctors are more likely to encourage pregnant women to exercise as much as they can, even if they have to modify whatever regiments they followed before.

Which brings me to something that was considered really "far-out" (to use a '70's expression) in Miji's time, and is still seen as fairly unusual today: Both women rode their bikes to the hospital where they would deliver their newborns. Yesterday, Julie Anne, who is 42 weeks pregnant, arrived at the Auckland hospital where she will be induced.  Once her child arrives, she will become the second New Zealand government official to give birth this year, following Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in June.

Oh, I can offer one other cycling-related connection between Miji and Julie Anne:  They were both modest about cycling to their deliveries.  The New Zealander demurred that her route was "mostly downhill."  Donald Huschle, who left the comment on my post about Miji, recalled that, whenever anyone mentioned her ride to the delivery room, she would point out, "Well, I didn't ride home."

Now, if Julie Anne Genter--who was born and raised in the USA--can ride home, she'll've done something neither Miji nor Jacinda did.  As if she hasn't already done enough things that most people don't do!

18 August 2018

Biking While Black

I read Huey Newton's Revolutionary Suicide many years ago.  As I recall, it recounts, among other things, his and his peers' often-tense interactions with the police of his native Oakland.  Many of the incidents would today be called Driving (or Walking, Barbecuing, Reading or Fill-in-the-Activity of Your Choice) While Black.

Frustration over such incidents inspired him and his friends to start the Black Panther Party.   Whether or not you agree with his way of dealing with the poverty, racism and violence that defined life on the mean streets where he grew up, it's hard to argue against his observations and analysis.  After all, so much of what he described could have happened yesterday.

As a matter of fact, it did--or, two weeks ago, anyway.  On 3 August, Najari "Naj" Smith was leading a group of 40 young cyclists through the streets of Oakland on a regularly-scheduled First Friday ride.  You guessed it:  He and most of those cyclists are black.  

They all belong to organizations that consist mainly of African-American members.  One of those organizations, Rich City Rides, was founded and is led by "Naj" himself in the nearby city of Richmond.  RCR teaches young people bicycle mechanics and gives them opportunities to work for their own bicycles.  It also offers guidance on healthy lifestyles and positive social interactions through group rides, public path maintenance and civic advocacy on transportation issues.  

It should be noted here that Richmond today, in many ways, parallels the Oakland of Huey Newton:  It is darker (in skin tone) and poorer than surrounding Bay Area communities.  It also, until recently, had one of the highest violent crime rates in the nation, and many residents feel they are always "under suspicion" by the police.  Oakland, on the other hand, is quickly gentrifying as even well-paid professionals find themselves priced out of San Francisco and other communities on the west side of the Bay.  This has exacerbated tensions between the remaining African-Americans and the Oakland Police Department (which disproportionately stops and arrests African-Americans) not to mention the white gentrifiers who too often call the police when black people simply live their lives in public.

Najari “Naj” Smith was leading a group of about 40 young riders when he was arrested by Oakland police.
Najari "Naj" Smith

Such was the case two weeks ago, when someone apparently complained about Naj and the other riders when they formed a "bonding and healing circle".  A police officer broke into it without warning and grabbed Naj's handlebars.  

The officer explained that Naj was being detained for "excessive noise" coming from a stereo on a trailer behind his bike.  Smith says he immediately complied with the officer's request and turned off the stereo.  The officer told him to "stay put" and momentarily walked away.  Smith thought the officer was going to write him a citation.  Instead, the cop handcuffed him, confiscated his bicycle and stereo equipment and whisked him off to the Santa Rita Jail, where he spent the weekend.   Smith made his $5000 bail and has  a court date for the 31st of this month.

"I cooperated with the officer as much as possible," Smith said. Members of the group were upset and he was "trying to put the best example forward" so the incident "wouldn't turn into a mess."

It seems, though, that no amount of compliance is any match for police officers who make up the rules as they go along.  According to Oakland PD spokesperson Felicia Aisthorpe, Smith was detained for "interfering with traffic and playing music too loudly."  Moreover, she said, he did not have proper identification. (Italics mine.)

The officer who stopped me in Harrison two years ago was looking to make the same charge against me.  As it happened, I had my New York State non-drivers' ID with me.  He tried to claim that he could arrest me for not having "official" ID; I countered that the document was issued by the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles and is therefore official.  He wasn't too pleased with that; so he wrote a citation with the largest fine he could get away with.  

Since then, I've checked with a number of reputable sources, all of whom confirmed what I'd already known:  that there is no law in New York State (Harrison is in Westchester County) or anywhere in the US that requires people to carry ID or to show it to police officers. But I carry mine with me anyway for situations like the one I've described.

Whether or not "Naj" Smith had his ID on him or needed it probably isn't the real issue, as far as Ms. Aisthorpe and the arresting officer are concerned.  He is from Richmond and he was in Oakland, cycling while black.  

17 August 2018

Why We Need Her: Aretha Franklin

Spoiler Alert:  Today's post is on a non-cycling topic.

The other day, the Andrew Cuomo said something that will probably haunt him for the rest of his days:  "America was never that great."

Now, I just happen to think that Cuomo wasn't expressing a lack of patriotism.  Rather, I think the utterance shows, more than anything, that he doesn't quite share his father's intelligence or eloquence.

I'm guessing that he was trying to refute Trump's oft-echoed mantra:  Make America Great Again.  If anything, I would say that America was never great (rather than "not that great") because no nation in the history of this world has ever been great.  Some nations have been powerful, have been mighty.  Others have been prosperous; still others, influential.  A few nations have combined more than one of those qualities.

But no nation* has ever been great, including my own.

To me, the proof is this:  Aretha Franklin.  No one ever would have sounded the way she did had her nation, or any other, had been great.  In fact, nobody ever could have sounded like that, like her.

If any nation in history had ever been great, there never would have been any need for someone to sound like her.  And that's why, to me, almost all of her work is art of the highest order.

Yes, I said art.  I see no contradiction between it and popular music or other entertainments.  Shakespeare was popular in his own time; so were any number of painters and sculptors who received commissions from wealthy patrons and whose works we gaze at, with awe, in museums and galleries today.

Of course, we've all heard Natural Woman and RespectIn those songs, she combines vulnerability and strength, anger and empathy, joy and grief, need and the yearning for freedom, the need to sing and the urge to fly, better than just about anyone who's ever sung.  In other words, she captures the complexity--and the fearsome complications--of our existence.

For my money, though, her best expression of the gifts only she could bring us was on I Never Loved A ManOn the surface, it seems like just a song that expresses--if you'll pardon my appropriating the title of an '80s self-help book--the dilemma of a woman who loves too much, or at least seems to love the wrong man.  But, to me, it's really about being beaten down and beaten up by, not only another person, but by life itself--and realizing that the only choice is to move forward. The world is excruciating, people are mean, and her man is cruel--but she cannot do anything but love:  love him, love the world.  I think it's what W.H. Auden meant when he wrote, "We must love one another or die."

That song alone would place her in my pantheon of great American artists.  To me, it's worthy of Leaves of Grass, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Kind of Blue,Christina's WorldThe Great Gatsby Citizen Kane, Blue and Green Music, the first Godfather film and Rhapsody in Blue.

Now Aretha Franklin is gone.  Well, she--her body--has left us.  But not the body of her work.  As long as there are no great nations, we'll need it.  And if there ever is a great nation, we'll have the luxury of simply savoring it.

*--By "nation", I mean geo-political entities, which are not to be confused with the cultures or peoples contained within them, which often are great.

16 August 2018

What Did It Cost?

Whenever anyone asks what my bikes cost, I find a way not to answer.  Muttering "none of your business" is a sure signal that it's expensive; so is replying with "Why do you ask?"

Then again, I am a New Yorker who lived in the Big Apple during the '80's and early '90's, when crime of all kinds was rampant.  I remember pre-hipster Williamsburg and when the Lower East Side really was "lower" in more ways than one.  Each of those neighborhoods bookends the Williamsburg Bridge which, even before the bike lane was reconstructed, was the best way to cross the East River by bicycle.

Apparently, some criminals knew as much.  Or, at least, they knew that in-the-know cyclists preferred (and still prefer) "Billyburg" to the Brooklyn, Manhattan or Queesnboro (59th Street) Bridges.  And, they knew that in-the-know cyclists were riding the most valuable bikes.  

You can guess what happened:  A few cyclists I knew, and quite a few more I didn't know, were attacked for their bikes on either side of the bridge.  In fact, an employee of one shop I frequented had his machine stolen just days after he bought it--and that after working more than a year to save up for it. 

Somehow I don't think those riders told anyone--certainly, not random strangers-- what their bikes cost. But then again, they didn't have to:  Such information is easy enough to find.

This leads me to wonder whether the advice given by police in Roodespoort, South Africa will be helpful to the bike shop owners who received it--or, more important, customers of said establishments.

The gendarmes told the pedal purveyors--you guessed it--not to disclose the prices of their most expensive bikes with the media.   They shared their sage wisdom after a cyclist was robbed and shot for his bike in the Kromdraai area of the city.  

Medics carrying the injured cyclist.

That cyclist is alive only because of the efforts of a Good Samaritan who heard his cries for help and stopped.  "They had shot him twice in the leg and in the back," said Jon-Jon Pietersen who had only a rubber glove, a towel and box tape.  

Fortunately for the cyclist, more people stopped by and helped until the ambulance arrived, 20 minutes later.

15 August 2018

Is A Picture Worth A Thousand Words When It Gives Us Two?

As The World's Only Transgender Bike Blogger (at least, the only one I know about!), you can understand why this got my attention:

From bikechaser

Well, all right, the colors are hard to miss.   But the design is not exactly to my taste (at least, not anything I'd wear).  What piqued my interest were the words:  "Femme" (woman) on the jersey, "Homme" (man) on the shorts.


14 August 2018

At Least He Survived--We Hope

Some stories bring me no joy.  But sometimes I feel the need to tell them, if only because they hit close to home.

At least this one hasn't ended in tragedy...so far.

A few days ago, I wrote about Madison Jane Lyden, the Australian tourist run down by an inebriated garbage truck driver as she cycled up Central Park West.  Well, I've gotten word of another cyclist struck by a motorist on a route I ride frequently.

Just before  8 pm yesterday, an 11-year-old boy (whose name hasn't been released) was riding his bike in Far Rockaway, in an area I pass through when I ride to Point Lookout or other points on Long Island's South Shore.  Occasionally, "Far Rock" is even my destination, especially when I'm trying to get a ride in during an abbreviated winter day.  

Anyway, a black sedan slammed into him--and kept going.  The impact sent him airborne for several car lengths. He landed in the hospital with internal injuries, but he is expected to survive.

At least, according to the NYPD, the driver of that car--41-year-old Aghostinho Sinclair--has been arrested.  Needless to say he's in a heap of trouble: The charges against him include reckless endangerment, leaving the scene of an accident--and driving without a license. (The latter charge is called "aggravated unlicensed operation".)  I wonder whether "endangering the welfare of a child" or some similar charge can be added to the list. 

13 August 2018

Judaism And The Art Of Bicycle Riding

If you're of a certain age, as we say, there's a good chance you've read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  Some English classes--including a few at the college I attended--actually assigned it.  I escaped that fate:  I didn't have to take the English classes that assigned it because, when I entered my college, the person (or folks) in charge of placement decided that I was a better writer than I actually was, based on an essay I wrote as part of my entrance exam.  

I did, however, read Zen on my own.  I didn't expect to learn how to fix motorcycles or about Zen.  If I recall correctly, the book's author, Robert Pirsig, included a disclaimer advising readers not to have such expectations.  Even if he'd intended to instruct his readers on how to wrench their rice rockets (That was a term for Japanese motorcycles, which were much lighter than Harleys.) or meditate, I'm not sure of what I might've learned because, really, I had little idea about motorcycles except that my uncle rode one or about Buddhism save for guys in orange robes.

I'm not sure of what, if anything, I learned from the book.  That's not to say it wasn't worth reading:  At that point in my life, I was a sucker for stories about folks who left jobs, families and other bourgeois expectations behind, even if only for a time, to traverse the country or world, mainly because--you guessed it--I wanted to do something like that.  

Pirsig's prose had little, if any, stylistic grace.  He probably wouldn't have wanted to have any--which, I believe, was part of the appeal of his book.  You don't quote him the way you would, say, Thoreau, let alone Virginia Woolf or Shakespeare. (About my friend Bill:  I remember reading that some researcher found that the average English speaker quotes him at least 20 times a day, mostly without realizing  he or she has done so!)  But I remember this:  "The real motorcycle you're working on is yourself."  Or something like that.

So, what aphorisms can one glean from an experience of Judiasm and the Art of Bicycle Riding?  It's hard not to think that Abigail Pogrebin, the author of an article by that name, didn't read, or at least hear of, Pirsig's volume.  And she indeed reveals a thing or two she learned about herself from riding a mountain bike through Arizona brush--with a Native American guide named George. And, oh, her rabbi.

The irony is, as she says, that George imparted so much Jewish wisdom.  In particular, he offered this nugget that could have come straight from Moses (who, in my mind, always looks and sounds like Charlton Heston):

Always look way ahead of you.  Never look down.  As soon as you look down, you will hesitate, overthink, negotiate, get stuck.  Always be moving into the future. Bike into the future.

The last two sentences, she admits, can sound pretty corny, but, as Ms. Pogebrin points out, "How many times does our tradition ask us to 'go forth'? How many times in our history have we had to keep going despite what's thrown in our way?"  There is no other choice, really:  By definition, we can only move toward the future.  Living in what I call the Eternal Present--and I've known lots of people who've done, and who do, exactly that--is a pretty good definition of a living death.

But, of course, George wasn't trying to be rabbinical.  As Pogrebin learned, his admonitions were entirely literal:  "Once we were out on the trails, as soon as we looked down, we were screwed--the bike suddenly spun out of control, stalled in a mud crevice or jammed its tires between rocks."  When her rabbi and two other cyclists who accompanied them--a couple of guys from San Francisco--navigated a stretch on which she stumbled, George bellowed "GO BACK AND DO IT AGAIN, ABBY!"  But then he imparted what was probably the most important lesson of all, at least for her:

You're too clenched, too focused on getting it right.  You're not trusting the bike or the path.  Keep your eyes ahead and trust that you'll get where you need to go.  Breathe all the way there.

"Breathe all the way there."  Funny, how Zen that sounds to me. But it probably could have come from her rabbi--or anyone who understands that it's all a journey, and the bike is the vehicle.  That, as I recall, is also one of the messages of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

(If Abigail Pogrebin's name looks familiar to you, it means one of two things:  You watched Ed Bradlees 60 Minutes segments, for which she was a writer and producer. Or, you read Ms. magazine, of which her mother, Letty was a founder and editor.  I'm guilty on both counts.)

12 August 2018

Keeping It Light

Today I am going to pose a question that never, ever would have occurred to me had I not seen the photo in this post.

And you probably never would have asked had I not mentioned it.

Here goes:  Do emperors take vacations?

From Freaking News

I haven't been to Elba, but I hear the beaches are really nice there.  So are the ones on Corisca!