Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

30 November 2018

A New Kind Of Scholarship

I must confess that I have never been to Indiana.  For me, hearing its name brings to mind a song that was extremely popular when I was about twelve years old:  "Indiana Wants Me."

(Of course, it's fair to ask why a Canadian wrote and sung a song about running from the law in the Hoosier State.  Then again, it's hard imagine the name of any Canadian province fitting into the meter of the lyrics, or the rhythm of the song, as well as "Indiana" does.)

Anyway, the fugitive in R. Dean Taylor's tune probably couldn't move as quickly as some students from one of the state's institutions of higher learning.

Marian University,  located in Indianapolis, is a non-profit school affiliated with the Catholic Church (via the Sisters of Saint Francis, who founded it) that is known for one of its athletic programs in a state whose citizens are as passionate as any about collegiate sports.  Although it competes in many of the sports one might expect, it's not known for its basketball team, as nearby Indiana University is, or football (the American version), which has been one of Notre Dame University's calling cards.

Rather, Marian is known far and wide for its cycling team, which has won 37 national titles:  19 on the track and the rest divided between road, mountain bike and cyclo-cross.  That they've won so often on the velodrome is, perhaps, not surprising when one considers that the riders train on the Major Taylor Velodrome, a part of the Indy Cycloplex--which the University has owned since 2011.

Charis Lott (center) with head coach Dean Peterson (right) and Michael Kubancsek (left), Marian University's director of cycling operations.


One particular need of every cycling team has led to the establishment, at Marian, of what might be a unique scholarship--one for a team mechanic.  The University has just announced that Charis Lott, a senior at Mount Vernon High School in nearby Fortville.  According to coach Dean Peterson, the team would be "hard pressed" to find someone more qualified than Charis:  She already has five years of mechanical experience with Freewheelin' Community Bikes and LoKe Bicycles.  That, Peterson says, has prepared her to "serve the diverse needs" in the "variety of settings" in which the team trains and competes.

But being the team mechanic, for Ms. Lott, will mean more than just wrenching racers' bikes. The scholarship is part of a program, first announced two years ago,  that aims to teach students that being a team mechanic also involves coordinating logistics, providing athlete care, service course management, sponsor relations, marketing and other things.  

Her work with the team should  tie in very nicely with her plans:  She wants to major in psychology, with a concentration in sports.  After all, as someone titled his book with unintended irony, it's not about the bike--or the body.


29 November 2018

If We Were Them...

If the United States were the Netherlands....

There are all sorts of ways you could finish that sentence.  Here's one:  It would have four billion people.

Yes, you read that right.  The 'States would would have more than twelve times its actual population of 325.7 million folks.

That's because, on average, about 4000 Dutch people live on a square mile of their country's land.   In contrast, only about 85 Americans live on an average square mile of their nation.

What's really interesting, though, is that if you were to randomly pick 4000 Dutch citizens, it's likely that 840 of them would be living below sea level--and about 2000 would inhabit land one meter (just over three feet) or more above sea level.

When you know these facts, it's easy to understand why the Dutch are among the leading countries in the move away from fossil fuels:  Decades ago, their policy makers heeded the warning that El Cheeto Grande refuses to believe. They understood that rising sea levels--a result of climate change exacerbated, if not caused, by fossil fuel usage--would essentially wipe out much of their country.


That, in turn, also makes it easy to understand why the Dutch have invested, per capita, more than any other country on bicycle infrastructure.  Dutch policy makers realized that it not only made sense, it was a matter of survival, to get as many people out of cars, and as many cars off the road, as possible.  One way to do that is to make it relatively easy and safe to go to work, school or just about anywhere by bicycle.




It also helps that because Dutch people are packed in so tightly, so are their cities.  In the Randstad, the largest Dutch cities--Amsterdam, Rotterdam, the Hague and Utrecht--are all but joined at the hip in a way that makes the Northeastern US Megapolis seem like a stretch of the Mojave Desert.  Thus, cycling is feasible even for people who are not athletic.

So it should come as no surprise that there are about 23 million bicycles in a nation of 17 million people--1.3 bikes for every person.  

But even in a country where, it seems, everyone cycles everywhere, more than half of automobile trips are of less than 7.5 kilometers (about 5 miles).  To be fair, many of those trips are because, well, people just don't have to go as far to get wherever they're going.  On the other hand, transportation planners agree that the best way to reduce automotive traffic is to eliminate as many of those short car trips as possible.

That is why the Dutch government has just announced plans to spend an extra 245 million Euros on bicycle infrastructure Steintje van Veldhoven, the State Infrastructure Secretary, had already pledged last year.  The money is earmarked for such things as improved bicycle parking in public areas, and more city-to-city cycleways.

Ms. van Veldhoven says she hopes to get an additional 200,000 Dutch people on bikes--and, one assumes, out of their cars, at least for those short trips.

Now, if the US were the Netherlands, she would be trying to get about 4 million Americans on bikes--and spend about 10 billion dollars, in the effort.  That's cost is less than that of a couple dozen F35 fighter jets--or Trump buildings.

28 November 2018

Yes, Airports Should Be More Bike-Friendly. But For Whom?

Can you ride to your flight?

I've done it, on a couple of occasions--most recently on a trip to Montreal three years ago. The flight left LaGuardia Airport, which is about 7 kilometers (4.25 miles) from my apartment.  Since I went only for a long weekend, I didn't need to bring much with me.  Also, the fact that I was gone for such a short trip meant that vandals and thieves would have a relatively short window of opportunity.  Still, I rode my "beater" bike.

It's not only the short distance from my apartment that makes LaGuardia an easy bike trip for me.  The route is flat and most of the route takes me along residential streets.  I have to navigate through traffic on the entrance ramps to the terminals, but even that is really not difficult in comparison to entering some other airports.

John F. Kennedy is further away: about 22 kilometers (14 miles). If I'm not carrying a lot, it's certainly not a difficult trip.  Like the route to LaGuardia, the way to JFK is flat and includes mostly typical Queens streets.  There is more traffic entering and leaving JFK, but I know a few ways to navigate it by bicycle.

I've taken a number of flights from JFK, but only once did I cycle there.  For one thing, when I go from JFK, I am usually gone for longer periods of time than I am on my LaGuardia flights. So, even if I use my "beater", my bike has a greater chance of being stolen or damaged.  Also, when I go to JFK, I am probably taking a flight very early in the morning or late at night.  If I have to be at the airport at 5 am, I really don't want to ride--or, more precisely, wake up early enough to ride--that early.  Also, if I'm returning from overseas, I'm probably jet-lagged and cycling on busy roads might not be such a good idea.

The other major New York airport is Newark-Liberty International, which is accessible only from major highways that prohibit or severely restrict bicycles and pedestrians.

I got to thinking about all of this because of an article in the New York Times.  It profiles Conor Semler, a Boston-area transportation planner whose job involves taking flights about twice a month.  He said something that resonated with me:  "I prefer not to be in a car."  Plus, he said, the bike can be better depended upon to get you to your flight on time:  If you drive or take a taxi or bus, you could get caught in traffic.  And most US airports don't have a direct rail link to, or even near, them.


Conor Semler converting his rolling luggage to a backpack. (Taken by Kayana Syzmczak for the New York Times.)


Logan Airport, Boston's terminal, is closer to the center of the city it serves than any other major US airport, which certainly makes things easier for Semler.  Also, he usually flies to Ronald Reagan International Airport, just outside Washington DC.  When he arrives, he walks ten minutes to a Capital Bikeshare station in Arlington, Virginia and rides 30 minutes to his company's office.  

In other words, he is aided by the relative proximity of the airports to his home and office, and his familiarity with the area around them.  It's not so simple when you don't know your way around--or when there isn't a bike share available when you arrive.

I don't know what bike parking is like at Logan, but in most US airports, there are few or no places where one can park a bike safely, especially for long periods of time. Big airports have long-term parking for cars. Why can't they have it for bikes?   

But having any sort of safe parking facilities for bikes would help a group of people mentioned in only one sentence of the 1200-word article:  airport employees.

I don't have empirical data, but I am sure that in many airports, a significant number of folks who work in the corridors and terminals ride their bikes to work. That is certainly the case at LaGuardia and JFK, in part because they are closer to the center of the city--and the neighborhoods where employees live--than most other airports are to theirs. 

That airport employees would ride to work makes sense when you understand cycling's "equity gap," which has been summed up thusly:  "The poor bike, the rich bike-share."  In other words, people in lower income brackets are more likely to ride (or walk) to work than people in higher income brackets.  But poor cyclists are as invisible to non-cyclists--and to bicycling advocates--as the poor generally are to the rest of society.  Most non-cyclists, particularly in urban areas, see cycling as a kind of privileged fashion statement by young people who wash down their $20 avocado toast with a $15 craft beer.  That, I believe, is the reason why they resent any effort--whether through building infrastructure or starting bike-share programs--to encourage more people out of cars and onto bikes.

One thing I know about most airport employees: They don't make a lot of money.  (I'm not talking about the people who work for the airlines and TSA:  I mean the ones who are directly by the airport or its operating agency.)  In fact, many don't make much, or anything, more than minimum wage.  They can't afford to lose their bikes!

So, while I am glad that the Times showed that making airports more bike-accessible and bike-friendly is a good idea, I wish that they didn't re-enforce the notion too many people have about cyclists:  that we all do it for leisure or by choice.  The real benefit in having bike lockers, let alone other facilities, will accrue to the person who's loading luggage onto the flight that someone like Conor Semler reached by bike.

27 November 2018

The Original Sports Technology?

Last week, many of us gave thanks for one thing or another on the American holiday dedicated to expressing gratitude by engorging one's self with food.

Some of us were grateful for family and friends; others, simply to be alive. Then there are those who were grateful to stores for opening an hour earlier than they did last year.  You know what they say:  Early bird gets the bargains.

Well, all right, I don't know who said that.  But a fellow named Tom Taylor and I both gave thanks for...you guessed it...the bicycle.  Of course, we are both happy that a thing that gives us so much pleasure was ever invented.  He, however, gives another really good reason to be happy that the Draisienne, or whatever you consider the first bicycle, was invented.



You see, Taylor is, a mountain biker and involved in other outdoor sports.  At least, that's what I gather from what he says.  And he lives in Moab, after all.

In his article, he said the bicycle was "the original sports tech."  What he means is that, as far as we know, cycling was the first sport or leisuretime activity based on a product that required a certain amount of industrial capacity to produce.

As he explains, you don't need shoes to run and, "a branch falls from a tree, you find a pebble on the ground, and now you can play some form of cricket, or hockey, or baseball or golf.  Yes, you can make a better golf club and ball, but you can play regardless."  

He has a point:  Some of the most accomplished players in the "ball sports" learned how to play with nothing that resembles proper equipment.  They might've just rolled up whatever they could find to make a "ball" and, if sticks or clubs were necessary, twigs, branches or 2x4s from the junkyard stood in.  Naturally, some such athletes played barefoot until they signed their first professional contracts.

It also goes almost without saying that they played in the absence of any formal leagues, or any other kinds of structure or rules. For that matter, they sometimes didn't play on anything resembling a playing field or court.

I am talking about no less than Pele and Sammy Sosa.  Also, any number of hockey players used rocks or other things for "pucks" and anything that could be used to swat served as their hockey sticks.  I even read about one world-class player--I can't recall which, at the moment--who didn't even have skates until he joined a semi-professional league:  He and his friends would simply glide around on the ice on their most slippery shoes.

Now, we have often heard of champion cyclists who came from humble backgrounds, whether the family farm or a gritty indstrial town.  One could say that, for such reasons, a cyclist can't come from the same dire poverty as a football player from the favela because it takes more money to buy even the cheapest bicycle than it does to fashion a ball or stick.  Even if a budding young racer has to borrow a bike from a relative, friend or neighbor, simply having that kind of access signals less deprivation than not having a playing ball.

All of this might explain why no Grand Tour (or other major race) winner has come from an undeveloped country, while marathons and other running races are routinely won by competitors from places like Ethiopia and Jamaica.  This explanation makes sense, at least to me, when you realize that many European and American cyclists are also runners (and I'm not talking only about triathloners).  As Tom Taylor says, you can learn how to be a runner without shoes.  But it's pretty hard to learn how to ride a bike if, well, you don't have a bike.

26 November 2018

The Real Bronx Zoo

Even though I've lived in New York for decades, I've been to the Bronx Zoo maybe a couple of times.  In fact, it's been  a while since I've been to any zoo at all:  The older I get, the less I like seeing animals in cages--especially if said animals are orange or striped!

Besides, why do I need to go to the Bronx Zoo when I can see this in the Bronx:




I was pedaling along the path to Pelham Bay Park when our friend in the photo stopped for a snack. 


As I inched closer, the hungry ungulate hardly even stirred.  I'm not sure of exactly how close I could have come, so I stood, bike in hand, and let the creature eat, turn and get a look at me before taking off.




Then I took off--for Connecticut.  I didn't see any deer the rest of the way.  Only in the Bronx!

25 November 2018

For Transportation Deserts

Cycling advocates and urban planners sometimes talk about combining modes of transportation. Usually, they mean using a personal and a mass mode of transportation.  One example might be riding your bike to the train or bus station.

I'm sure that bicycles have been combined with other modes of transportation in ways I never imagined--or, perhaps,that I wouldn't have wanted to imagine:



I don't know whether to feel more sorry for the "camel" or the bike.

24 November 2018

Cross With The App

What would you think of an app that signals your approach at an intersection?

Well, the city of Santa Clarita, California--in partnership with Sensys Networks Inc--is piloting such a system along the Chuck Pontius Commuter Rail Bike Trail (Say that three times fast!), which parallels Soledad Canyon Road.  

The system consists of a GiveMeGreen! smartphone app, which allows cyclists to be detected 300 feet in advance of an intersection.  Once detected, the app's signal applies the normal timing function for pedestrian crossing.  This lets pedestrians and cyclists use the same signal phase and "will not cause any delay for motorists," according to a Santa Clarita Gazette report.

While that stated purpose both intrigues and troubles me, I think there might actually be a benefit for cyclists:  Motorists are often confused when they see pedestrians and cyclists at intersections, especially if pedestrians are crossing by one signal and cyclists another--or are following the same signals and timing as motorists.  




It seems that half of the new system already exists on Soledad Canyon Road:  There are bicycle- and pedestrian- only signs to alert turning motorists that cyclists and pedestrians could be crossing the intersection.  This system has a bicycle-only light to tell the cyclist he or she has been detected.  From what I understand, however, these lights are not connected to an app:  Apparently, they rely on cameras or some other detection device at the intersection itself.

I would be interested to see whether this app and its system actually makes cyclists safer when crossing intersections--which, I believe, is the most perilous thing we do, especially if we are crossing a roadway intersection from a bike lane.  Then again, I am not sure of how detectable I want to be--or, more specifically, of who I want to detect me, and from where--while I'm riding!



23 November 2018

Black Friday Bicycle Haiku?

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that one of my passions is for poetry.  I love it as much as I love cycling.  Well, maybe I love them equally.

(Does that sound like what we say about our "significant others"?  I love you even more than my bike...he said with crossed fingers.)


Anyway, I've been reading and writing poetry for a long time.  One thing I haven't done in a long time, though, is to write a  haiku.  In fact, I'm certain that I've never written one:  I mimicked the structure, but did not capture the essence of, the iconic Japanese mode.


That doesn't mean, though, that I'll try to stop others from doing the 17syllable/3 lines thing, even if it's in the service of capitalism--or the bike business, anyway: 




On the YouTube page for this video, Clever Cycles, the company that posted it, invited viewers to ponder this eternal question: "Who says poetry doesn't pay?"

Hmm...Maybe I should start writing Black Friday haiku, even if it seems almost oxymoronic.

Happy Black Friday...hmm, that seems pretty oxymoronic, too!

21 November 2018

I Ride My Bike To Release Stress. Really!

Tomorrow I will be thankful for at least one thing:  I didn't have to travel, at least not long-distance, today.  I still commuted, but at least I didn't have to navigate crowded airports or rail terminals.

For the most part, my commute is pretty stress-free, as much of it takes me through Randalls Island.  There are a couple of traffic "hot zones" near the entrance to the RFK-Triborough Bridge and where I cross Bruckner Boulevard, underneath the elevated "express"way.  (I use the quotation marks because I will not call a roadway "express" if the traffic is as likely as not to be at a standstill!)  Those places were more chaotic than usual and, aside from Randalls Island, I saw more traffic--and more Stupid Driver and Stupid Pedestrian Tricks just about everywhere.


So, I could say that my commute today was more stressful than it usually is.  Still, I suppose it's less stressful than being stuck in traffic, and I know it's less stressful than being on a packed subway train.  Even so, I'd say that this morning's commute was one of the more stressful ones I've experienced.  I probably will say the same about my commute home.


Jon Orcutt, a longtime advocate for cycling and urban mobility in general, tweeted about a stressful ride he took.  It didn't take him by the Port Authority Bus Terminal or Penn Station. (When I was a wee thing, I thought the Lord's Prayer pleaded, "And lead us not into Penn Station..") Instead, it led him across Manhattan:






Yes, he was on a brand-new "protected" bike lane on the side of 13th Street.  I have experienced things in "protected" bike lanes:  In fact, I had to dodge two trucks pulling in and out of factories, parents dropping off their kids in a pre-school and some impatient driver who thought the Willow Avenue bike path was a passing lane--never mind that it's lined with stanchions:

and that's just in five blocks, from 133rd to 138th Street.  Then, at 138th, I had to turn and make that crossing of Bruckner.


Oh well.  I guess I still got to work less stressed-out than most other commuters--and certainly less stressed-out than anyone who's flying, taking long-distance trains or buses, or driving so they can sit tomorrow with their families and stuff themselves with stuffed turkey and a whole bunch of other stuff.  Then they'll stress themselves over the weight they've gained--and, possibly, about whether they'll get any great bargains on "Black Friday".

20 November 2018

ASE Is Not an Ace After All

By now, you've probably heard that Advanced Sports Enterprises--the company that owns Performance Bicycle, Bike Nashbar and several well-known bicycle brands--has filed for bankruptcy.

According to ASE, it means that some of Performance's brick-and-mortar stores will close, employees will be laid off and Performance's and Nashbar's operations will be scaled bike.  The company did not, however, give any indication that any of the bike brands it owns--which include Fuji, Kestrel, Breezer and Tuesday Bicycles--will be discontinued.  According to Patrick Cunnane, ASE's CEO, sales of those bikes have been "steady" but overall sales and profits didn't grow enough to sustain their retail operations.

Translation:  The company over-expanded.

Company insiders, not surprisingly, laid at least part of the blame for the company's woes at the doorstep of Amazon.  It's difficult to discount such an analysis:  Most bikes that aren't custom or specialty machines, and most bike-related stuff, can be found on the online omnivendor, usually at a lower price than Performance or Nashbar offered, and almost always with free shipping.



There is, of course, a certain irony in all of this.  When Performance, Nashbar and other retailers--which sold through mail-order catalogues and took orders by telephone as well as via the post office--were growing in popularity, mom-and-pop bike shop owners lamented, "They're killing us!"  And there can be little doubt that Performance, Nashbar and the like were responsible for the demise of many smaller shops, which simply couldn't compete price-wise because they never could order the same quantities of merchandise as the mail-order megaliths.

I wonder whether any of ASE's or Performance executives heard the cries of  brick-and-mortar bike shop owners.  If they had, it's hard to imagine why Performance opened any physical shops.  Perhaps those execs thought that people had enough "brand loyalty" to Performance that they'd go to one of those shops.

The folks in charge at ASE probably had no idea of how expensive it is to operate a bike shop, which needs more space than most other kinds of retail establishments.  From what I read and heard, Performance used to buy whole boatloads of Shimano equipment and store it in huge warehouses which they owned.  So, until they opened brick-and-mortar shops, they didn't need a showroom or an area for bike repairs.  Also, since they had a worldwide customer base, their merchandise didn't sit for as long as it often does in a smaller bike shop.

They also probably had no idea that, essentially, Amazon could beat them at their own game, which could be spelled in five letters--  p-r-i-c-e--in part because its overhead was even lower than that of Performance or Nashbar.

I'm not a business person. But I know this much:  Whatever game you play can be played by someone else.  And if that competitor finds a new method, tactic or technology, watch out!

19 November 2018

Not In Hamilton's Backyard!

Nobody likes seeing broken-down cars or trucks rusting away in someone's front yard.  Part of the reason, of course, is that it's unsightly and can be a health hazard.  But I think it also has to do with the perception that anyone who keeps the rotting hulks of motor vehicles next to his or her house is low-class.  Some people, I'm sure, associate decaying station wagons and vans with trailers rather than solid middle-class homes.

I think most people would be even more surprised to see such waste next to a brownstone in a fashionable part of the city.  Certainly, almost nobody expects to see something like this:



in front of a landmarked brownstone in a designated historic district.  But I saw that pile of bikes and parts in front of such a house in Hamilton Heights, just two blocks away from the house once owned by the man for whom the district--and a popular Broadway musical--are named.



I would love to know the story of how all of those bikes and parts ended up there.  

18 November 2018

Priorities

I'll admit that on one or two--okay, maybe a couple more--all right, a few more--occasions, I went for a bike ride instead of something I "should" have done.

Mind you, I never skipped out on anything vital.  I only played hooky from meetings and other events that written or unwritten protocols recommended or advised.  

Oh, and I'll admit that I missed a life event or two, but not of anybody who was particularly close or important to me.  And, all right, here's my big confession:  I actually skipped out on somebody's "big day"

Image result for funny bicycle images

The ceremony I missed was for a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend of an acquaintance, or something like that.  And, as I recall, I didn't receive a formal invitation, only a verbal one.  I'm not sure that anyone noticed I wasn't there.

On the other hand, I still recall that ride (with Jonathan) many years later.

17 November 2018

Where Your Next Bike Might Come From

In a couple of earlier posts (See here and here, I examined some of the ways in which the new tariffs on Chinese goods could affect cyclists and the bike business here in the US.

Some American bike firms, like Brooklyn Bicycle Company, are deciding whether to absorb the price increases or pass them on to customers.  Others, like Detroit Bikes and BCA, are calling for even higher tariffs and extending them to all imported bikes.  

Trek and Kent--two bike companies rarely mentioned in the same breath, let alone the same blog post!--are contemplating yet another strategy which, really, shouldn't come as much of a surprise.

Trek is, arguably, the most prestigious mass-market American bike brand.  (Specialized and Cannondale are probably Trek's chief competitors for this title.)  Their highest-priced bikes are still made here, albeit with imported components.  The rest of their bikes are made by sub-contractors that include Giant, which also sells its bikes under its own name.

Kent's offerings, in contrast, are at the bottom of the market and found, not in bike shops, but in big-box stores like Walmart and internet retailers.  Some are sold, under license, bearing the Jeep, Cadillac and GMC brands.  Although some of its bikes are assembled in South Carolina, their frames are made in China and Taiwan and assembled with components made in those countries.

So...Is Trek returning to its roots by returning its manufacturing to the US?  Well...no.  You're not going to see a revival of those nice lugged steel frames they made in Wisconsin during the '70's and '80's.

Likewise, Kent isn't going to build a factory in Parsippany, New Jersey (the location of its headquarters), or anywhere else in the good ol' You-Ess-Of-Ay!

No, they are not going to do what El Cheeto Grande told all of those laid-off blue-collar workers in Ohio and Michigan and Pennsylvania companies would do in the face of tariffs.  Instead of making their wares in the country Trump thinks he can Make Great Again, they are talking about shifting their production to a country that isn't getting a tariff wall built around it.

If you are European, what I am about to say next will come as no surprise:  That country is Cambodia.  



The Southeast Asian kingdom is already the biggest supplier of bicycles to European Union countries.  Most of the country's bike factories are in the north, near Vietnam--which some have called "the EU's China." If you buy, say, a backpack or jacket in Europe, it's more likely than not to have been made in Vietnam, just as the new bike is likely to be from Cambodia.

It will be interesting to see whether other American bike companies make similar moves.  If anything, wages in Cambodia, Vietnam and other countries in the region are lower than they are in China. And some Cambodian bikes are already coming into the US--though, in far smaller numbers than bikes from China or Taiwan.

16 November 2018

Be Careful What You Get Arrested For...

Getting arrested is generally not a good thing.  At least, that's what I'm assuming:  I haven't suffered the indignity myself, though I've come close!

I must confess that I can feel a bit self-righteous, even smug, when I recall that the times I almost found myself in the back of a police wagon, I wasn't committing "bad" crimes:  I was engaged in protests and, being young and stupid, I gave the constables a hard time when they told us to move.  

Deep down, I do have more respect for someone who's arrested for protesting an unjust war or unfair treatment of workers than for, say, beating a spouse or stealing someone's Social Security check.  I suppose most people feel the same way.  

So I guess my advice to future generations would be something like "Be careful of what you get arrested for."  Oh, and don't let the cops find worse things on your record when they run your name through their computers.

Of course, anyone who would listen to such advice probably doesn't need to hear it.  On the other hand, Roberto Carlos DeLeon most likely would not heed my pearl of wisdom, or much of anything I'd say.

Image result for cyclist passing police

During a traffic stop in San Angelo, Texas, he was found to be in possession of less than two ounces of marijuana.  When the officer checked his records, a warrant was found--for assault causing bodily injury of a family member and continuous violence against the family.

Sounds like a real charmer, doesn't he?

And what led to the traffic stop that opened up this Pandora's box?  He was riding a bicycle with "defective" brakes, headlights and reflector.

Hmm...I wonder how the cops determined that his brakes were "defective".  Was he unable to stop when he was ordered to do so?


15 November 2018

Who's On Track?

When I started to write on the Web, one of the best pieces of advice I got was not to read the comments on what I write.

Of course, I don't follow that nugget of wisdom for this blog, as you, my dear readers, tend to be supportive and well-informed.  The worst things I get are spam, which are the only comments I delete.


I have received a few mean-spirited or simply ignorant comments on my other blog.  Even there, however, such nastiness or stupidity has been rare, even though the topic of that blog is something that incites more hatred and sanctimoniousness than just about anything I could write on this blog.

Some articles and essays of mine have been published about other topics, on other sites, under my actual name (which you see on this blog's masthead) as well as various noms de plume.  Sometimes, I must admit, I sneak a peek at the comments on those.  A few are nasty but, unfortunately, entirely predictable.  But, for the most part, I have not been unpleasantly surprised.

Now, when it comes to comments on stuff not written by me, I rarely, if ever, read the comments.  For one thing, I just don't have the time to read them all.  But, perhaps even more to the point, I have seen even more ignorance, bile and arrogance than I find in response to most of my own work.

Today I read the comments after an article I came across.  Mainly, I was curious about people's reactions town (Portage, Michigan) planning to build a bicycle skills course in a local park.  One commenter, not surprisingly, railed against what he/she perceived to be a waste of taxpayer's money.  A couple thought it was an OK idea; if nothing else, they thought that it would be safer for kids to ride there and that it might encourage them to get the exercise they need.

Rendition of proposed bike ramp in Portage, Michigan


Probably the most ignorant comment, though, came from "Eddiebaseball",  who said kids should be taught, among other things,  to wear white at night and walk their bikes across intersections.  Of course, walking a bike across every intersection would make it almost pointless for kids to ride their bikes to school:  They may as well walk or take the bus.  But I couldn't get too angry at "Eddiebaseball"   because, well, I probably will never meet him (I'm assuming he's a dude.), but more important, I realized that the person was just reciting all the nonsense kids saw in bicycle "safety" films during the 1950s and '60's and, most likely, hasn't ridden a bike since then.

Another commenter, "Fullbowl", responded to "Eddiebaseball".  Now, "Fullbowl"'s comment didn't restore my faith in humanity (Actually, I didn't lose what I have of it when reading EB's comment.).  It did, at least, reassure me that there is at least one well-informed voice of reason among the site's readership.

Here is "Fullbowl"'s comment:

Reply to @eddiebaseball: and while you're at it teach drivers how to leave their smart phones alone while driving, travel at the posted speed or a speed safe for the road conditions, stop at stop signs and lights, yield to pedestrians, give bicyclists room, make turns at the correct speed ending up in the correct lane, don't turn where prohibited, look at the big picture (far enough down the road) to anticipate needed maneuvers, don't tailgate etc. etc. etc.


     I've never been to Portage, but I imagine they are better--as any place would be--for "Fullbowl"'s wisdom.  And I'm sure the kids will benefit from having that bike course.

    14 November 2018

    How Will Brooklyn Pay For A Tax Against China?

    About three weeks ago, I wrote about ways in which the recently-imposed tariffs on Chinese goods could affect the bicycle industry.

    I presented as clear a picture as I could, not being a bicycle industry insider or an economist who specializes in trade policy (or any kind of economist at all).  So, today, I am going to share part an Inc. article Norman Brodsky wrote based on his conversation with such an industry insider.

    Brodsky's friend Ryan Zagata is the founder and owner of Brooklyn Bicycle Company.  I've never ridden any of their machines, but they are praised for being very good at what new urban cyclists--particularly commuters and utility cyclists--want.  From all accounts, their bikes are comfortable and practical.  What I know is that they are stylish enough that one of their models is sold at the Museum of Modern Art's gift shop.

    Plus, I must say, Brooklyn's prices are actually quite reasonable.  That could change, although Zagata doesn't want that.

    He told Brodsky that a typical model from his company costs about $200 to make.  Right now, he pays $11 on import duties for such a bike, but the new tariffs could hike that to $61.

    That leaves him with a dilemma:  Does he absorb the increase or pass it on to customers?  Of course, he could also "split the difference" and increase consumer prices, but by a smaller amount.

    None of those options is particularly appealing because, as anyone who has worked in the industry knows, it's a low profit-margin business.  The retail markup on bicycles, percentage-wise, is not nearly as high as it is for such items as clothing and luggage.  Every shop in which I worked made a much greater proportion of its income from repairs or the sales of accessories and parts than it did from selling new bikes.  As I understand, that is the case in just about all bike shops. That's why you don't see year-end half-price or 75 percent off sales on bikes. 


    Brooklyn Bicycle Company's Driggs 3

    Brodsky asked whether Zagata could have his bikes and parts manufactured in another country like Vietnam.  It wouldn't be worthwhile, Zagata says, unless the move would shave $50 or more off the cost of producing the bike. More to the point, though, are the difficulties that come with such a move: among them,  the research and development--and travel-- costs of sourcing a new factory and having samples made and tested.  Also, he points out, every new model from a new supplier has to be sent to the Consumer Product Safety Commission for testing.  

    In addition, moving production would mean losing the relationships they have with suppliers, who understand what Brooklyn Bicycle wants and needs.  "Will a new manufacturer understand what we're looking for and give us the same level of quality?" Zagata wonders.

    He might have been thinking of Fuji's experience around the turn of the millennium.  They were one of the last major Japanese bicycle manufacturers to shift their production to Taiwan.  As a result, they didn't have the sorts of relationships enjoyed by other companies who shifted their production earlier.  Fuji's once-stellar reputation fell; it has recovered only during the last few years.

    Finally, Brodsky inquired as to whether Zagata could manufacture his bikes in the US. Even if he made the frames, and assembled the bikes, in the US, he'd still have the same problem with tariffs.  "There's nobody in the United States making rims, hubs, spokes, saddles, chains, drivetrains--all the things we'd need, in the quantities we'd need them."  He still would have to import those components, he said, and they would be subject to the same tariffis as bicycles.

    (He is right about the lack of American component-making  capacity.  Hubs are made here, but they are all high-end items like Phil Wood and Chris King:  a set would cost nearly as much as most of the bikes Brooklyn offers.  The other components, to my knowledge, are no longer made here:  even Sun Rims, designed in the USA, are made in Taiwan or China.)

    At the moment, Zagata says he can't do much more than "watch my competitors."  Without a doubt, many other small- to medium- size business owners (BBCo., at $2 million a year, is considered in the latter category) could say the same.