31 January 2019

Yes, This Really Was A Hot Idea!

In much of the northern United States, last night was the coldest "in more than a generation," according to more than one report I heard.  

I can believe it:  When I rode to work this morning, the temperature was -1F (-18C).  The last time I can recall such a cold commute was in January of 1985, when we had a seemingly endless string of record-cold days.  One morning, according to a journal from that time, I pedaled from my uptown apartment to downtown job--a distance of about 10 miles, or 16 kilometers--when the temperature stood at -4F (-20C).  

Interestingly, just a month later, New York would record its warmest February temperature--75F (24C) ever.  I was visiting my parents, who were living in New Jersey, and rode along the shore--in my shorts!

I have been known to ride in shorts when few other people would.  Today wasn't one of those times.  I didn't wear, or even carry, a skirt and tights:  Instead, I wore a pair of gray dress pants over ski underwear, which I removed when I got to work.

Almost everyone agrees that cycling to work is "healthy", and some insurers will even lower premiums or give bonuses for doing so.  Would my insurer see my riding to work on a day when no one else did the same as "healthy", at least in a physical sense?  Or would they think I needed more mental health coverage?  

All I know is that I felt invigorated--and just really, really good--when I arrived. 

30 January 2019

When Is Giving A Bike Not A Gift?

A 10-year-old boy is saving for a vacation with his mother.  Instead, he uses the money to buy a bicycle for a man who works in the local gas station.

How do you read this gesture?

Most parents, I believe, would be proud of such a child--especially if that attendant were, as one might expect, poor.  At least, I would feel that I'd done something right--or had been extremely lucky--if I were a parent to a kid like him.

When word got out about the boy's action, most of the reaction was positive.  Notice that I said "most":  There was, believe it or not, at least one person who saw the boy as some sort of embodiment of his country's recent history--specifically, an aspect that made the nation a pariah in the world community.  

I am talking about apartheid and that country is South Africa.  In all fairness, it should be said that, in many ways, South Africa has more thoroughly and honestly confronted the ugliest part of its history than, say, the United States has done with slavery or some European countries have dealt with the Holocaust.

Still, because there are still so many people who remember living under apartheid, the wounds are fresh and deep.  So I can understand why someone might read paternalism or even colonialism into a white boy giving a black man a bicycle.  If nothing else, it represents the economic injustice that still persists--though the boy probably wasn't aware of it. 

I do believe, however, that a Twitter user who identifies herself as @_BlackProtector was going a bit far in saying "Keep the bicycle, give us our land."  I agree that the people should get back what was taken from them, and further compensated for their intergenerational trauma.  On the other hand, the boy does not have the power to give back that land.  He can only do what he can to make someone's life a little easier.  

I'd say that even if he doesn't know words like "colonialism," he already possesses some sense of fairness, and is certainly generous.  The only thing, really, that can be done is to teach him, honestly, about his country's history.  He would be a good student, I bet.

Oh, and somehow I don't think that gas station attendant was upset about getting a bicycle--especially if he'd been walking to work.

29 January 2019

I'll See You In (Or With) Ashtabula!

I'll look for you in old Honolu-la
San Francisco, Ashtabula
You're gonna have to leave me now, I know
But I'll see you in the sky above
In the tall grass, in the ones I love
You're gonna make me lonesome when you go.

That last line is the title of the song, from Bob Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks" album.  Like most of his work, you listen to this for the lyrics:  I am only the 1,798,345,467th person to praise his songwriting skills.  And I actually like listening to him because he has a, shall we say, unique singing style--though I also admit to liking, quite a lot, Madeleine Peyroux's cover of this song.

Anyway, I can't help but to think that Bob was enough of a rhymester to write the song just to show someone--himself, perhaps--that he could use "Ashtabula" in a verse.  I'm sure it wasn't easy:  Witness the alteration to the name of Hawaii's capital to make the rhyme.

I can't help but to wonder whether some NPR producer wanted to do a story about the town just to be able to say the name a few times.  I mean, it's almost impossible not to sing it--even if you're reporting about the town's woes.

The hard times were indeed part of Jim Zarroli's report.  So is its rebirth, though not as the factory town and port it once was.  Instead, on those Lake Erie waterfront sites where ships unloaded iron ore and loaded steel pipes and other industrial products onto ships, waiters and baristas now fill glasses and cups with artisanal beer and coffee.  Rather than sending manufactured goods into the rest of the United States, and world, Ashtabula now attracts weekend tourists from Cleveland, Pittsburgh and other nearby cities.

But, if you have been reading this blog--or just about anything else related to cycling--you might associate Ashtabula with something neither Jim Zarroli nor Bob Dylan mentioned.  For that matter, I don't think many of the day- or weekend-trippers think about it, either.

1964 Schwinn Varsity with Ashtabula cranks and forks

I am talking about bicycle fittings--mainly cranks, but also fork blades and other items.  If you have an old Schwinn with a one-piece crank, the arms were probably forged in Ashtabula.  So were the forged flat-bladed forks and solid stems found on some Schwinns.

It was once common to refer to all one-piece cranks (used mainly on American bikes) as "Ashtabula", just as "Scotch tape" is used to denote all kinds of clear plastic adhesives and disposable facial tissues are often called "Kleenex."  But, "Scotch tape" and "Kleenex" are brand names used by particular companies.  So, not all clear adhesive tapes are "Scotch", and not all facial tissues are "Kleenex".  Likewise, not all one-piece cranks are "Ashtabula".

The Ohio company that made those fittings for Schwinn started out, perhaps not surprisingly, as a maker of iron hulls for battleships.  Later, they made anchors for aircraft carriers.  This heritage may have gone into making those cranks and forks, which weighed a ton (or tonne?) but were practically indestructible.  

Other one-piece cranks were heavy, too, as they were almost always made of steel, or even iron.  But, as someone who worked on more than a few bikes back in the day, I can tell you that the real Ashtabula stuff--which was usually stamped with "ABS" was, if not lighter, of significantly better quality than similar parts found on other bikes, which were usually found in department stores.  The threads on those Ashtabula Schwinn parts were almost uniformly even and clean.  The cheaper one-piece cranks and forks, usually found on department-store bikes, sometimes had bad threads and would need replacement.

So, my advice to Bob, Madeleine or anyone who wants to look for his or her lover on a bike with a one-piece crank is this:  Make sure that crank is an Ashtabula!  Otherwise, you might not make it to Ashtabula--and find the love of your life!

28 January 2019

Saturday Ride: Empires And Connecticut

It's one thing to be reminded of Paris when you're in New York--especially, say, if you're walking down the Grand Concourse in the Bronx and looking at the Art Deco buildings--or pedaling along Ocean or Eastern Parkways in Brooklyn.  As I have mentioned in other posts, these places were inspired by the Grand Boulevards of Paris as well as the wide residential boulevards of London and other large European cities.

Also, I was in Paris a week and a half ago, so I have an excuse for thinking about it.

Now, it would be fair to ask what would cause me to think about Cambodia during a bike ride to and from Connecticut.  After all, there isn't much physical resemblance between the two places.  You might think that because I was riding on a cold day--the temperature didn't reach the freezing mark the other day, when I pedaled to the Nutmeg State--I was taking a trip, in my mind, to the warm weather I experienced in Southeast Asia.

Actually, I wasn't thinking about that.  Something I saw in the Greenwich Common reminded me, in an odd way, of something I saw in the land of the ancient Khmer kingdom.

Bare branches furled themselves around a monument to young men who marched, perhaps bravely, perhaps blindly, into their own slaughters.  In another year they are mourned, their young bones turned into mud:  They remain only as names on these stones after dying to capture hills and other terrestrial features that are recorded only as coordinates on a map or, perhaps, dates and times.  

All right.  I'll get off my soapbox.  When I see a war "memorial", I can't help but to think of what a colossal waste of lives--especially those of the young--result from the rise and fall of nations, of empires--whether said entities consist of real estate or simply numbers traded and sold from one electronic screen to another.

At least all those Greenwich residents who died too soon have names, at least for as long as those stones stand.  What, though, if the trees--not unlike the ones on the Connecticut state coin--were to wind themselves around those monuments?  What if they continued to grow, as they would if no one touched them, while the stones bearing the names of the lost were to crumble?

Somehow I don't think similar questions ever darkened the mind of Henri Mouhot.   He is often said--mistakenly--to have "discovered" Angkor Wat.  Of course, he no more "discovered" it than Columbus "discovered" America:  There were thousands of people already living in its vicinity, and they all descended from people who'd lived in the area.  Moreover, other French explorers and missionaries had seen and documented the temples decades before Mouhot.  He did, however, popularize Angkor Wat in Western imagination, in part by comparing them to the pyramids.

I have to wonder, though, what went through his and his colleagues' minds when they first saw Ta Prohm.

We know the name of the King--Jayavarman--who commissioned it.  Those who cleared the jungle, cut the stones, carved the statues and made the meals for those who did all the other work are anonymous to us now.  So are those who fought to build and maintain the Khmer Empire (or almost every other empire).  What we have now are what Mouhot encountered 160 years ago:  Trees reclaiming their home from monuments humans built.

Now, of course, I am not complaining about having gone to see Ta Prohm, or the rest of the Angkor Wat complex.  It really has been one of the great privileges I've enjoyed:  The temple sites are awe-inspiring in all sorts of ways, and the people are inspirational.  It should be remembered, though, that its glories, much like those of the Vatican and the grand cathedrals of Europe, as well as the pyramids, were the result of now-nameless people whose lives began and ended as fodder for the empire.  

And, I must say, it is ironic to be reminded of an ancient marvel in a tropical climate on a cold day in a modern suburban downtown--while riding my bicycle.

27 January 2019

Cubism, Cycles And iPhone Cases

A cubist bicycle?

While in Paris last week, I visited the Musee Picasso and a Cubist exhibit at the Centre Pompidou.

I couldn't help thinking about them again when I saw this iPhone case.

26 January 2019

What If She'd Gotten A Gravel Bike?

A few years ago, it seemed that the "buzz" in the bike world was about "gravel bikes".  

I can't say I've ever owned anything specifically designed as a "gravel bike".  I have, however, ridden all sorts of bikes--some my own, others not--on gravel.  Perhaps the bikes I pedaled most over pebbly surfaces were my mountain bikes and the one cyclo-cross bike (a VooDoo Wazoo) I ever owned.  I've also ridden road and touring bikes on such surfaces, usually as part of some other ride I was doing:  When you go on a loaded tour outside urban and suburban areas, you're bound to ride on gravel or dirt some time or another.  I even rode my racing bikes, with sew-up tires, on gravel--if not for long distances.

I suspect that most, if not all, of you have ridden on gravel with a bike that wasn't designed for the purpose.  And most of you were no worse for the experience than Gaynor Yancey was after running her brand-new "English Racer" into the rough stuff.

(I suspect Ms. Yancey isn't much older than I am:  I referred to the three-speed bike my grandfather gave me as an "English Racer", as most people did in those days!)

Just remember that you don't have a gravel bike!

She, like me, did not plan her plunge into the pebbles:  She encountered the crunchy stuff in the course of her ride.  But her foray didn't end so well because she wasn't as prepared as I was.  As she relates, she'd never before ridden a bike with "hand brakes".  So, when the paved street on which she'd ridden ended, she wasn't able to follow her mother's instructions to stop and walk her bike over the gravel path to her friend's house.  She was so distracted by her vision of showing off her new bike to her friend, she says, that she "forgot about the handbrakes."

She ended up with a knee full of gravel.  "And, on top of that, my beautiful new bike was hurt," she recalls.

Would things have been different if she'd gotten a "gravel bike" instead of an "English Racer" for her birthday?

25 January 2019

More Bike Lanes, Fewer Commuters

In yesterday's post, I mentioned a Seattle train station where bike parking "sucks".

It may be one of the reasons why the number of Emerald City commuters who get to work by bike fell by 20 percent from 2016 to 2017.

Still, Seattle remains one of the top US cities for bicycle commuting, at least in terms of the percentage of people who say they go by bike.  Its decline was, however, more precipitous than that of the US as a whole, where bicycle commuting fell by 3.2 percent during the same period.

The USA Today article in which I came across these statistics said the declines came in spite of the increasing number of bike lanes and other efforts made by cities to become more "bike friendly".  To be fair, the article also points out that the price of gasoline has dropped during the past several years, which enticed more people to drive.  It also points out, as I pointed out in yesterday's post, that some passengers of Uber, Lyft and other "ride shares" are using those services in lieu of cycling.

One thing the article hinted at is something I've long suspected:  that, in the years before "ride sharing" services became popular, bicycle commuting might have been increasing in dense urban areas, but not in suburban and rural areas.  In the suburbs, as I pointed out in yesterday's post, there isn't bicycle parking at rail and bus stations commuters use to get to their jobs in the city.  And, in rural areas (and outer-ring suburbs), some commutes are simply too long to do by bicycle.  

Here is something else I've noticed:  People who move to the city to be near their jobs are mostly young and making relatively good salaries.  Some of them commute by bicycle, though most take mass transit or "ride shares."  But once they get married and have children, they want to buy houses.  Unless they are making very high salaries, that means moving some distance from the city.

So, my analysis, for what it's worth, goes like this:  Whether bicycle commuting increases or decreases from year to year, it will mainly be a practice of young, affluent and single people in central areas of cities--unless society, the economy and policies change.  Until housing in cities becomes more affordable, and tax policies don't encourage fossil fuel consumption, the typical bike commuter will be putting his or her laptop in the front basket of a bike-share bike he or she will ride to the office.

24 January 2019

Bike Parking Sucks Because...

Writing headlines is a skill unto itself.  Some would even argue that it's an artform.  It does, after all, take a certain kind of creativity to come up with something like "Headless Body In Topless Bar."

It might actually be more difficult to come up with a title for an individual article, which is why those who write articles almost never write the titles for them.  (When I wrote for local newspapers, I don't think any of my articles bore titles I created.)  The goal is to create something that encapsulates the article without giving too much away--and fits into whatever space on the page is allotted to it.

So, when I saw the following title, I knew I didn't have to read the article: "Bicycle Parking Sucks at UW Station But Sound Transit Says They're Making It Better."  But I read the article, which appeared on The Stranger, anyway.  One reason, I guess, is that I was looking to confirm a bit of my cynicism: when everyone knows a situation isn't good, some official says they're doing what they can to improve it.  We hear a variation of that theme just about every day here in New York, whether it's in reference to bike lanes, subway service or any number of other aspects of daily life in the Big Bagel.

Still, I'm glad I read the article.  For one thing, it showed me that in Seattle--which was probably the most "bike-friendly" major US city before Portland took that title--people don't ride their bikes for all or even part of their commutes for at least one of the same reasons people in other parts of the US leave their bikes home when they go to work:  There's no secure place to park at the workplace or transit station.  

Now, I know that Seattle is more spread-out than New York or Boston or San Francisco.  But even in those cities, there are areas remote from public transportation.  And, of course, there are people who commute from nearby suburbs.  Many of those commuters drive into the city, but others drive to the station where they take a bus or train into the city.  Some, I am sure, might be enticed to ride their bikes (or to get bikes in the first place) if, on their way home, they knew they could find their bikes intact.

UW Station
I can see why bicycle parking "sucks" at this station!

In that article, though, there was a twist.  Really, it shouldn't have surprised me, because one of the goals of American urban planning still is (or seems to be) to keep as many motor vehicles as possible moving through a city's streets.  A "creative" solution for "reducing congestion", according to the city's Department of Transportation, is to offer a discount to people who use Uber, Lyft or other "ride share" companies to reach their trains or buses.

Data compiled from New York, Boston, San Francisco, Washington and other large US cities shows that these "ride share" companies have actually increased the number of motor vehicles on the streets.  In New York, as an example, vehicular traffic had actually declined for several years until 2015.  It was around that year that "ride share" services became popular in Gotham.  Since then, traffic has increased.

One reason is that, for the most part, "ride shares" don't replace private automobile trips.  To the contrary, they are used by more affluent customers who don't want the inconvenience of taking the bus or train, or of hailing a taxi.  Also, research indicates that people aren't using Uber or Lyft only to get to work or go to the airport:  They are using these services to go to a movie, the theatre, a restaurant or shop.  Moreover, they might not have made such outings if they'd had to take the subway or bus.

Moreover, surveys indicate that some people are using these services instead of cycling to work, school or shop.  Ironically, some of them decide against cycling because of the traffic to which their Uber or Lyft rides contribute!

Another reason why "ride share" companies don't reduce congestion is the reason why I have been enclosing "ride share" in quotation marks.  Research has confirmed something I've noticed anecdotally:  Most rides are taken by individual customers or couples, most of whom wouldn't dream of sharing a ride with a total stranger.  Moreover, "ride share" drivers spend as much as 60 percent of their time in their cars driving nobody but themselves.  In other words, they drive more to and between "lifts" than to actually transport their passengers.

As long as planners and officials can trot out "ride share" services as a solution to traffic congestion, bike parking--and much else for cyclists--will "suck" in many places.

23 January 2019

Rolling By The Racists

In previous posts, I've mentioned that for years Florida has had, by far, the highest death rate for cyclists of any US state.

I have mentioned some of the possible reasons for it, based on professional research as well as my own experiences of riding in the Sunshine State.  Those reasons include the "car culture" of the state as well as the frequent indifference or even hostility law enforcement officials envisage when cyclists are injured or killed by drivers.

Now, it seems, there may be other factors: guns, for one, and old-fashioned racism for another.

The incident I'm about to mention didn't end with the death, or even serious injury, of a cyclist.  But it could have become the Emmett Till case of cycling because something that might or might not have happened brought racial hostility to the surface, and a gun from its holster.

All right, I was using "holster" metaphorically. What I mean, of course, is that a man pulled out his gun.

That the ugly incident happened the other day, when Martin Luther King Jr's life and work were commemorated, should not surprise anyone.  A "Wheels Up, Guns Down" ride, which included ATVs as well as bicycles, spun through the Brickell area of Miami.

A white woman accused a black teenager of riding his bicycle over her foot.  (I wonder whether that woman will recant on her deathbed.) A white man--who may have believed he was defending the woman's honor or some such thing--pulled out his gun and yelled a racial slur at the cyclist.

A young black person on a bicycle:  What could be more of a challenge to that man's or woman's reality?  And, of course, he gets backlash for it.  That alone gives him more in common with MLK than someone whom Mike Pence likened to the slain civil rights icon.

22 January 2019

Blame The (Phantom) Bike Lanes!

Every one of us, I suspect, has had a moment when we realized that someone we looked up to was just plain wrong about something.  

Most of us, I guess, have such a moment in childhood.  That person who suddenly became, as it were, mortal might be a parent, older sibling, teacher, coach or other adult who nurtured us in some way.  Such a moment might have seemed like "the end of the world," at least for a moment, and left us feeling angry, hurt, abandoned or empty.  Fortunately, though, most of us move on from such an experience and learn the lesson that "nobody's perfect."

Good thing, too, because as we go through life, people we respect or admire have moments of stupidity, arrogance, greed, meanness or thoughtlessness.  We learn that our heroes--if we still create such figures in our lives--are, after all, human.

For many years, I've been a major fan of Whoopi Goldberg.  In fact, when I was still watching TV and had a schedule that allowed it, I watched The View mainly because she was one of the panelists.  She is a funny, irreverent woman who always seemed to resist pressures from society and the entertainment industry (where, perhaps, such pressures are the most intense) to conform to prevailing notions about attractiveness or femininity--which, of course, are Caucaso-centric. (Is that a word?)  Also, she has been an outspoken advocate for causes, like LGBT equality, that matter to me.

Of course, one can be outspoken about things one doesn't know much about. I've probably done it any number of times on this blog! If I have, I hope I haven't caused harm, or at least not much of it.  I'd like to think that I expounded on things I know little or nothing about only because I didn't know as much about them as I thought I knew--or because I was acting on information I didn't realize was inaccurate.

I hope that such is the case for Whoopi Goldberg.  I am willing to believe that it is because, well, I've always liked her.  Also, I think she probably doesn't ride a bike much in Manhattan, if she rides at all.

You see, anyone who regularly cycles in Manhattan knows where the bike lanes are.  Mainly, they're in midtown, and parallel major uptown-downtown and crosstown thoroughfares.

While Tenth Avenue runs the length of midtown, on its west side, it's not one of the streets with a bike lane.  She could be forgiven for not knowing that.  On the other hand, she blamed the non-existent bike lane for "ruining" the avenue and traffic flow in the city.  


  Oh, but it didn't end there.  She went as far as to say that the bike lanes are part of a conspiracy to bring Manhattan traffic to a standstill so that the Mayor can implement "congestion pricing"--which, of course, would take a bite out of her bank account as well as her "right" to drive--or, more precisely, be driven--in Manhattan.

What's really crazy about her rant is that it was a non sequitir. She was interviewing Mayor Bill de Blasio about something else entirely.  I guess she figured that since she had him in her crosshairs, she could unleash her pet peeve--however unfounded it is--on him.

Here's something I find really ironic:  She, among celebrities, has been one of the most outspoken critics of El Cheeto Grande.  Yet she behaved no differently than he has in any number of public appearances:  She told a lie or repeated misinformation (depending on what you believe) and doubled down on it.  Her tirade, like most of what we hear from T-rump, is devoid of facts and fueled by a sentiment of "If I feel it, it must be true."

Then again, she does have a few things in common with him:  They are, or have been, television stars.  They live in mansions and are driven in limousines or armored SUVs everywhere they go.  And they haven't ridden bicycles since they were kids. 

21 January 2019

A Real Freedom Ride(r)

I am not the first person to say this:  Donald Trump's promise to "Make America Great Again" doesn't hold up because, well, America was never great.  No nation ever has been.  A few have been powerful and influential.  But great, no.

A nation should not be confused with a culture or people.  Whether or not a culture is great is open to interpretation.  Every nation, however, has at least one interesting or even inspiring culture:  That is the reason why I have taken trips to France, Cambodia and other places.  

Even though nations aren't great, and even if cultures might or might not be great, within each of them there have been great human beings.  Of course, most of us might be seen as great by some people, but not others.  There are a few, though, who are undeniably great.

Today is a holiday to commemorate one of them. Although his actual birthday came last Tuesday, his "birthday" is celebrated on the third Monday of every January.  I am talking, of course, about Martin Luther King Jr.  Whether or not you agree with the ways in which he tried to achieve his goals, it cannot be denied that this country, and this world, are better for his having been part of them.

Here he is, on Fire Island, just off Long Island,  seven months before he was assassinated:

20 January 2019

Even Arnold Wasn't This Strong

If you were young, had cash to burn and wanted to believe you were tougher than you actually were, you drove a Hummer.

Styled after a military vehicle, the first Hummer rolled off the assembly line in 1992.  Fittingly, Arnold Schwarznegger bought it:  He was the one who lobbied American Motors Corporation, who'd been making Hummers (then known as Humvees) for the US Armed Forces, to offer them to civilians.  

The pseudo-tank was a cash cow for AMC and, later, for General Motors, who bought the brand in 1998.  It also helped to enrich the coffers of petroleum companies (and a few despots) because one gallon of gasoline would propel it for only ten miles.

Of course, those are the reasons why the brand tanked (pardon the pun) when the world's economy crashed and oil prices spiked.  A couple of years ago, while on a ride, I saw the first Hummer I'd seen in years.  Even in its bright yellow finish, it looked like a dinosaur to me.

Where are the Hummers now?  Are they in junkyards and other landfills with other motor vehicles?

Wherever they are, bicycles from that same period are still rolling along. 

This rider is even stronger than I ever was.  I mean, I've carried all sorts of things on my bike, but not a car(cass).

19 January 2019

For The Woman Who Had (Almost) Everything In 1951

What I am about to say is not a boast; it's a fact.

I don't know anyone who owns or rides a mixte frame as nice as Vera, my Mercian.  And the only person I know who rides a full-on women's frame (in which the top tube is dropped even further than the twin parallel tubes on the mixte) is Coline, who sometimes comments on this blog.  And I know her women's bike is as good as Vera because a.) it's a Mercian and b.) I used to own it.  I sold it to Coline only because I prefer the style of the mixte. 

Truly high-quality mixte or women's bikes have long been relatively rare.  In France and other countries, stylish and utilitarian bikes that don't have the "diamond" ("men's") configuration are relatively common.  Some are very good, but rarely does one see such a bike with a frame constructed of Reynolds, Columbus or Vitus tubing, or with components that rise above mid-level (though they are, for the most part, at least serviceable).  Certainly, one almost never see mixte or women's bikes that rise to the level of the best diamond-frame racing or touring bikes.

Such bikes have always been even rarer in the US--and they were probably rarer yet in 1951, during what Sheldon Brown has called "the dark ages" of cycling in America.  Who would have made such a machine?

One answer:  Emil Wastyn--or his son, Oscar.  If that name rings a bell, you are: a.) my age or older; b.) know more about the history of cycling in the US than 99.99 percent of the population;  c.) are a Schwinn geek or, d.) are from Chicago.

The bike in the photos isn't a Schwinn, but it could have been.  Oscar Wastyn built it.  His father is the one who convinced Frank Schwinn that his company should build top-of-the-line racing and touring bikes at a time when enthusiasm for six-day races  (which basically kept racing alive in the US during the Great Depression) was waning and the world was on the brink of war.  Those high-end Schwinns, known as the Paramount line, were built by the Wastyns from the marque's inception in 1938 until 1955.

Until the 1960s or thereabouts, the Paramount was the only true high-performance racing or touring bike built in the US, save for the few that were made by a handful of regional builders (mainly for the small-but-active cycling scenes in places like New York, Chicago, Boston and, ironically, Detroit).  Certainly, the Paramount was the only high-quality US-built bike one could buy or order from a local dealer anywhere in the US.  

From what I can see in the photos, the workmanship on the frame is meticulous and in keeping with the style of the times.  I don't know which tubing was used to make it, but I suspect that it was either Accles and Pollock (used on the original Paramounts) or Reynolds, which Wastyn would use when Accles and Pollock stopped making bicycle tubing. 

Also in keeping with the period is the Sturmey Archer three-speed hub.  American cycling at the time was, not surprisingly, influenced by the British, who had yet to embrace the derailleur for their high-speed and long-distance machines.  And, of course, the fenders and chainguard would have been found on any bike, no matter how high its quality, that wasn't a dedicated racer.

As for other parts on the bike, they are typical of the period--save, perhaps, for the front hub and cranks, both of which are "Paramount", the same ones used on Wastyn's bikes bearing that name.  To my knowledge, Paramounts from that period are the only American bikes besides those made by the aforementioned small builders (such as Dick Power and George Omelenchuk) to use three-piece cottered cranks.  Cotterless cranks were still relatively new and expensive, and were still not seen as durable or reliable as their cottered counterparts.  The front hub looks much like Campagnolo and other racing hubs of its time.

I don't know who bought that bike for whom:  Few American adults, and even fewer American adult women, were riding bikes--let alone top-quality ones--in 1951.  Whoever bought it, though, had taste and whoever rode it did so in style.  

18 January 2019

Home Again

By the time you read this, I'll be on my way home or already there.  Back to my "normal" life!

If you don't hear from me for a day or two, it's probably because Marlee wouldn't let go of me.  I guess I can't blame her if she's upset:  After all, I spent a week away, a couple of days home, and more than a week away again.  So far, I've been home for only three days in 2019!

Will the rest of the year be a journey?  For the world, it might be an arduous one, to say the least. It might be for me, too, but I hope that it will be as interesting and fun as it's been so far!

17 January 2019

A French Lunch With Old Friends

On this visit, I've ridden more than 20 kilometers on only two of the seven days I've been here.  But cycling lots of kilometers (or miles) wasn't the point of coming to Paris, though I didn't want to go without pedaling the pave (cobblestones) as well as the paths and paved streets.

Yesterday I didn't ride at all.  I did, however, visit two more old friends who had me to their house for one of those wonderful and inimitable French lunches.  In many ways, it was the best of all worlds:  the lunch was both civilized and leisurely, and they live in a house full of sunlight in a town that feels like the country even though it's only 15 kilometers from the center of Paris.

I met Michele about 15 years ago through my late friend Janine, who lived nearby.  Since then, she re-connected with Alec, whom she met when they met in Spain.  At the time, they've explained, they were living as hippies and hitchiking around Europe--much to the dismay of both of their parents.

Neither of their parents approved and each of them eventually married people their parents approved.  From the way I'm telling you this story, you've probably guessed that their unions didn't work out.  Well, Michele's didn't, anyway, and Alec's wife died.  So, nearly four decades after first meeting, they reunited and married four years ago.

Our lunch started around noon, when I arrived and lasted well into the afternoon.  I, of course, am on holiday, and they are retired, so we don't really know--or care--when the lunch ended. (Does it end when you stop eating or after you take a walk and come back for more cidre rose and coffee?) 

The food was uncomplicated but exquisitely prepared:  a starter of sliced sausage, followed by three different kinds of salad:  one of shredded red cabbage, another of carrots and onions, and still another of creamy cucumbers.

What followed was a rare steak and some wonderful roasted sliced potatoes.  Of course, it was accompanied by bread.  Alec had bought some before we met, but in following an old French custom, I brought a baguette which we ate.  (I also brought a box of fancy chocolates.) And, after all of that, chocolate and cafe creme eclairs, with espresso coffee.

Don't believe for a minute that the French--even Parisians--are not friendly. When I toured the countryside by bicycle, I experienced all sorts of kindness.  And here in the Paris region, people have treated me well. They simply don't make friends with people immediately, as Americans and other people often do.  They have to get to know you, or meet you through someone they know well. 

Somehow, though, I suspect that I might've befriended Michele even if I hadn't met her from Janine, just as I would've been friends with Isabelle if she hadn't been married to Jay.  

He did more bike riding than I did today!

It was also fun to spend some time with Michele's grandson, who was spending the day with him.  Now, you probably think a prototypical (or stereotypical) name for a French boy is Jean or Jacques or Yves.  But this three-year-old boy has a name only a French person--or someone who loves impressionist paintings--could have given him.  Are you ready for this?  Matisse.  At first, I thought it was a French pronunciation of Matthis or Matthew.  But I learned that he is indeed named for the Picasso's friend and rival.

Don't you just love this water pump in the local park?  It actually works!

I would love to see what he becomes when he "grows up."  Will he rebel against it and become an accountant or lawyer, or even a physicist?  Or will he live up to the connotations of his name?

Of course, that is not the only reason why I want to visit Michele and Alec again, or have them visit me, some time soon!

16 January 2019

Cycling, Cubism, Computers And Commerce In Paris

I am certainly not the first cyclist to notice that pedaling enhances the senses.  We can see and hear more vividly, and whatever we taste or touch (or touches us) is more intense.  And we all know that our favorite foods and drinks taste even better during and after a ride.

Perhaps it's no coincidence that I found myself thinking about these phenomena as I pedaled around the Place des Vosges and through narrow streets lined with sandstone-colored buildings:  My morning's meanderings ended at la Musee Picasso.

So how are my ramblings and ruminations connected to the creator of Demoiselles d'Avignon and Guernica?

Well, actually, I started to think about the way we receive sensory details--on or off our bikes--on Saturday, while looking at an exhibit of Cubist painters in the Centre Pompidou.  The way Picasso, Braque and others dissected (visually, anyway), faces, objects and vistas, then re-assembling them in new ways, does not reflect the way our eyes see--or, at any rate, the way we are accustomed to thinking that our eyes see.  Rather, those artists were showing us how something besides our sensory organs--call it the mind, the intuition or the spirit (I mean that in a secular sense.) senses the world around us--which, of course, cannot be a re-creation of the object, the face or whatever we see.  

It makes sense when you realize that the words on this page, or any other words, cannot transmit the things they are supposed to communicate or represent.  All they can do is convey something--a code, if you will-- that the mind turns into an image or idea of whatever the words are supposed to convey.  The mind doesn't do that simply by taking in the sequence of letters that form the word; it turns them into something that the mind or consciousness, or whatever you want to call it, can use to portray an idea or essence of whatever that word is supposed to represent.  If you see the word "house", your mind provides you with an image of a house because it turns the letters of the word into something your mind can re-assemble into a visualization of some house or another.

I am not a neuroscientist, so I have been able to describe our conscious processes only in the language I could find in my own intuition, such as it is.  And I know even less about the way computers process data, so please forgive me if what I say next makes less sense than anything I've said before.

Here goes: It occured to me, while riding afterward, that Cubism may well have been a prototype of how computers process data--and, in particular, how information is conveyed through computer systems and, in particular, across the Internet. As I (mis)understand it, what I am typing right now won't be posted directly to my blog:  It must be changed into a format that can be sent and re-assembled into the intended message or content.  And that format, as I understand it, bears no resemblance (at least in terms of logic or syntax) to the language we use and has to be rearranged in ways we never would (or could) do in order to convey our message.

So..Could the Cubists have been proto-computer scientists?  

Anyway, riding is always a great primer for looking at art, or almost anything.  And within steps, literally, of the Picasso there are two other museums.  I was going to go to the Carnavalet, but it was closed for renovations.  So I went to one I visited on my previous trip to Paris:  the Cognacq-Jay.

Like the Jacqmart-Andre, it was the residence of a wealthy couple who collected art and objects.  The collection was on display, but there was also an interesting exhibit about "l'art du commerce."  It shows how artists like Jean-Antonine Watteau were instrumental in bringing about what we might recognize as marketing in the 18th Century.

The convergence of a few factors made it possible. One was, ahem, colonialism, which gave France and the rest of Europe access to a wider variety of materials--and designs they'd never before seen.  Another was the means to reproduce the exotic objects that came from afar, mainly the Middle and Far East.  Then there was the development of merchant and middle classes --whose tastes and demands drove these new markets--and, last but not least, a group of artists and other creative people.  

This is the era in which, essentially, department stores and catalogues began. That is why artists like Watteau others of his generation were so suited for this development: They had sketch-like techniques developed for creating portraits of  merchants, bankers and other professionals:  the sorts of people (and their families) to whom marketing was directed.  So, in some weird way, you can thank (or blame) Watteau for Amazon--or, if you're of my generation, Bike Nashbar, Performance, Supergo and all of those mail-order shops that sold all of those exotic and unaffordable bikes and parts we couldn't find at our neighborhood Schwinn dealers.

Could it be that the bicycle developed from the draisienne to what we ride today because of the l'art du commerce?