30 June 2019

What He Learned From The Army And Huck Finn

In the military, and in other large, bureaucratic organizations, it's often said that it's "easier to get forgiveness than permission."

What that means is that if you know something is useful, constructive or just good, it's best just to go ahead and do it rather than to wait for approval, which might be denied because of some technicality or mere whim.  

One thing is for certain:  Whatever you want to do, or get, won't come as a result of prayer.  Such great minds as Huckleberry Finn have reminded us of that:  

Miss Watson she took me in the closet and prayed, but nothing come of it. She told me to pray every day, and whatever I asked for I would get it. But it warn't so. I tried it. Once I got a fish-line, but no hooks. It warn't any good to me without hooks. I tried for the hooks three or four times, but somehow I couldn't make it work. By and by, one day, I asked Miss Watson to try for me, but she said I was a fool. She never told me why, and I couldn't make it out no way.

Well, it seems that someone has, at a very young age, internalized the lessons of Huck and the Army:

Let's hope that he retains his healthy cynicism about prayer and forgiveness--but learns that stealing is, well, not good for one's karma.

29 June 2019

When I Say "Never"...

Last Friday, I did something I said I'd never do again.  Actually, you might say I did two things I vowed not to do.

Yes, I bought a mountain bike: my first in nearly two decades.  I admit, it doesn't have the latest technology and wasn't even a high-end bike in its day.  But I don't plan to do some of the crazy stunts I did when I was younger.  

When I say the bike wasn't high-end, I mean that it was the lowest-level mountain bike its manufacturer was offering.  Which leads me to the second thing I said I'd never do:  I bought a Cannondale mountain bike.  An M-300 from 1996, to be exact.

Now, I don't have anything against Cannondale bikes per se.  I realize that, like certain saddles, some people just like the ride of them.  The Cannondales I had felt particularly harsh.  Then again, they were some of the company's early road bikes.  I've heard that C-dale refined their offerings, but I decided that since I generally prefer steel bikes, I'd stick to them.

The way I figure it, though, is that a Cannondale mountain bike won't be as harsh as one of its road bikes because of the mountain bike's  fatter tires and the slacker geometry.  Also, I don't reckon I'll take this bike on the sorts of long rides I take with my Mercians.

Oh, and the bike has a Rock Shox Indy fork and a suspension seatpost.  I plan to get rid of the latter: I can replace it with a long  27.2mm rigid seatpost I have lying around.  I'll leave the Rock Shox on the bike for now and if I don't like it, or just don't want to maintain it, I might switch to a rigid fork.

The rest of the bike, though, I'm going to leave as-is, at least until the parts wear out.  The only thing I absolutely must change is the right shift lever:

When I pointed it out to the man from whom I bought the bike, he knocked the price down.  I told him I was willing to pay his original asking price, as he let me ride it and I found that the bike tracked straight and everything else was working as it should. (I tried shifting the rear derailleur by hand, and I could see that it will shift fine with a functioning shifter.)  In a way, that broken shifter is just as well because I don't like twist-grip shifters*.  I plan to replace it with a cheap Sun Race thumb shifter and, if and when the rest of the drivetrain wears out, I will decide whether I want to "upgrade" to 8 or 9 speeds--or turn the bike into a single-speed, something I might do if I decide this is a "snow" bike.

So, here I am, with my first mountain bike--and my first aluminum frame--in ages.  Don't worry:  I'm not going rogue!

Oh, and the man from whom I bought the bike had every intention of selling it--unlike the fellow I wrote about yesterday.

*When I say I don't like something, I don't necessarily mean that anything is inherently wrong with it.  It's just a  matter of my personal preferences. For example I know some of you like bar-end shifters and if you do, you should use them.  They're just not for me. I'd say the same for certain saddles.

28 June 2019

Sold--By Mistake

A onetime cycling buddy, Lewis, had his bike sold out from under him.  He didn't realize what had happened until several years later.

It's not that he was stupid or gave up riding.  He'd joined the Navy and was sent to far-flung locales.  He was in one of those places when his term of enlistment was about to end, and he signed up for another.  Four years later, he re-upped again.

All told, Lewis stayed in the Navy long enough to retire from it.  He said that, in a way, he couldn't really blame his family for selling his Frejus track bike--all-chrome, with blue decals that looked like stained-glass windows--because they really didn't know when he'd be back.  Even though he found other rides, and would eventually have a custom frame built for him, he missed that Frejus.  "It was the first really nice bike I had," he recalled.

The only thing that really upset him, he said, was that his parents sold the bike for $25.  Even in those days, that was a bargain price for a high-end bike that was in good shape.  "They didn't know any better," he explained.  "To them, a bike was a bike, and they were happy to get that much money for a used bike."

I hadn't thought about Lewis in a long time, until I heard about Allan Steinmetz of Newton, Massachusetts. Like Lewis' parents,  he sold a bike that had great meaning to another member of his family.  The bike, a Motobecane Grand Touring from the 1969-early 1973 era.  I say that from my knowledge of Motobecanes and looking at catalogue scans of that era.  Also, Steinmetz says it was new his father-in-law gave it to his wife "more than 45 years ago," when she was 16.  

He didn't say how much he got for the bike. But whatever it was, I'm sure it won't make his wife happy.  Her father was a Holocaust survivor and "made it a priority to give his family the very best."  Now, most of us wouldn't say the bike was "the very best," but it certainly was a very good touring bike for its time.  The frame was made from 1020, a carbon steel used in French bikes that weren't built from name-brand tubing like Vitus, Reynolds or Columbus.  That long-cage Huret Allvit rear derailleur is certainly a time capsule, as are the Huret levers that could be used to paddle canoes in a pinch. 

If I saw the bike in a garage sale, three things about it would tempt me:  the frame's long touring geometry, the Ideale 80 saddle and, best of all, the Stronglight 49D cranks.

Anyway, Steinmetz is pleading with the bike's buyer to return it.  "I can't win," he lamented.  "The only thing I can win is by getting this bike back."  His wife wanted to "give the bike to our granddaughter one day, which I didn't know," he said.

In a way, I could understand how and why Lewis' parents sold his bike.  But I wonder how Steinmetz could have "accidentally" sold a bike which, he surely knew, had so much meaning for his wife, whether or not she actually rode it.

27 June 2019

From Mexico City To Colorado, And A New Purpose

There are times when I believe that cycling is the only reason why I have anything that can be described as mental or emotional health.  I become sad, even depressed, when I can't ride for significant periods of time.  Also, I took two bike tours that were, at least in part, attempts to restore myself to some degree of sanity, and another led me to the single most important transformation I had to make.  

The latter ride took me up the Col du Galibier as well as other famed Tour de France and Giro d'Italia climbs in the Alps.  I started that tour in Lyon, France as a guy named Nick.  Two years later, I began my current life as a middle-aged lady named Justine.

The other two tours followed crises in my life, one of which culminated in a sort of minor breakdown.  In both of those rides, I spent weeks--actually, months on the first tour--on my bike in foreign lands, living on a student's wages or less.  Don't get me wrong:  I experienced all sorts of pleasures on both of those rides, as well as the one in the Alps.  But they also were power-washes, if you will, against the detritus of some past experiences that had been causing me even more internal distress than I'd realized--or, perhaps, was willing to admit.

So when I came across Rafael's story, I felt as if I'd met someone after my own heart.  Of course, I don't imagine that his ride from Mexico City to Colorado will lead him to the sorts of changes I made.  But he does talk about the restorative powers of his ride, and how it led him to a mission, if you will:  fixing bicycles for underprivileged people in his newly-adopted community.

The next time someone asks you why you ride, ask yourself (and that person):  What would your life be like if you didn't ride?

26 June 2019

Is This What It Takes To Charge A Driver Who Strikes A Cyclist?

If you read the post I wrote yesterday, you could tell I was angry.  I still am.  Another story that came my way intensified my rage.

In Omaha, a 26-year-old woman was arrested after hitting a cyclist with her car.

You can be forgiven for thinking that I should view this arrest as "progress" after a driver in my hometown got off with a sympathetic pat on the shoulder from a police officer after he killed a cyclist.

But the driver wasn't charged with any injury she caused the cyclist. Instead, she was cited for DUI, reckless driving, child neglect (her infant was improperly restrained in the rear of her car) and having an open alcohol container.  

I guess I should be grateful that she was cited for anything at all.  I can't help but to think, however, that the only reason why she was charged with anything at all is that the cyclist in question was an Omaha police officer.

25 June 2019

Death For Bike Messenger, Tea And Sympathy For Driver

Warning:  The video near the end of this post may be too much for some of you to take.

A couple of years ago, a woman was attacked and raped not far from where I live.  She'd been walking home at 3:45 on a Sunday morning when she was set upon by a group of young men who dragged her into a darkened parking lot.

Most people were, rightly, outraged.  But a few, even at such a late date and liberal neighborhood, asked, "What was she doing out at that time?"

The explanation, it turned out, almost exactly matched what I'd surmised:  She'd been working a Saturday night shift at a bar.   To the question of why she didn't take a cab or Uber or something, the answer was simple:  She lived only a block and a half away from the bar and had never before encountered any trouble.

It was a chilling reminder of the days, which I remember, when the first questions people--even other women--asked upon hearing of a sexual attack were, "What was she wearing?"  "What was she doing there at that hour?"  The implication was, of course, that she'd "asked for it"--even if the woman had been wearing "scrubs" and was in front of a church in the middle of the afternoon. (Yes, I heard of such a case once!)

I found myself thinking about such victims after a story  that made news in our area:  A 20-year-old female bike messenger was struck and killed yesterday morning, just as the workweek was beginning, in the bustling Flatiron district of Manhattan.

One reason I found myself thinking about the rape victims I mentioned is that news coverage seemed to emphasize two major points, one being that the messenger was a young woman.  Some of the coverage expressed more grief, if in a patronizing way, than she might've received had she checked the "M" box.   But some of those same reports--and, of course, other coverage--seemed to convey a tone of suspicion and scorn reserved for the rape victims I mentioned.  You could almost hear some news editor wondering, "What was she doing, working a job like that?"

The other salient point of the coverage, which also turned into another way to blame the victim, was that she was riding "in the middle of the street" and "not in a bike lane" when she was struck.

Robyn Hightman

I am very familiar with the block--Sixth Avenue between West 23th and 24th Streets--where the Robyn Hightman, recently relocated from Virginia, lost her life.  There is indeed a bike lane, which is frequently congested.  Anyone who makes deliveries, whether on foot, bike or in a motorized vehicle, knows that it's all about speed.  A messenger simply can't move quickly enough in a lane crowded with tourists on Citibikes.  

More to the point, though, is that the way the bike lane, like most others in this city, is designed.  Because it's at the curb's edge, and the "stop" line at each intersection is the same for bikes as it is for motor vehicles, turns--which you make a lot of if you're a messenger--can be dangerous if a motor vehicle is turning in the same direction.  This arrangement also makes crossing major intersection--23rd Street at Sixth Avenue is one--difficult, if not dangerous.

Moreover, when there are flexible or no barriers--as is the case on the Sixth Avenue lane--delivery vehicles and Ubers frequently pull in and out, especially in as busy an area as the one I'm mentioning. 

What makes the shaming of Robyn Hightman all the more galling is that the driver of the vehicle, who claimed he didn't know he hit her, got off with a sympathetic pat on the shoulder from a police officer who arrived at the scene.  The driver claims this incident is his first "accident" (the word he used) in 14 years of driving for his employer.  An investigation, however, revealed that the truck he was driving has been cited with 83 summonses since 2015.  Most were for parking violations, but at least two were for speeding.

In 2018, ten cyclists were killed by motorists on New York City streets.  Robyn Hightman was the 12th in 2019, and the year isn't half-over.  And the driver got tea and sympathy--along with an assurance he wasn't in trouble--from an NYPD officer.

24 June 2019

Bicycle Expressway Opens In Beijing

Just over a year ago, I wrote that construction of a 6.5 kilometer bicycle expressway was to begin in September.  It was designed to link the residential neighborhoods of Huilongguan in Beijing's Changping district with a rapidly-developing high-tech zone in the Haidan district, where about one in six Huilongguan residents work.

Well, that expressway has just opened. So why is it called an "expressway" instead of a "highway" or "lane"?  Well, it actually does speed up the commute, which could take an hour and a half because several busy highways had to be crossed.  The new Beijing bicycle expressway is elevated, so it crosses over those highways as well as other busy intersections.  As a result, the trip can be done in 25 minutes when a cyclist rides at the 20kph (12.5mph) speed  limit.

One really interesting feature of this new three-lane highway is traffic lights that allow managers to switch the direction of the center lane to accommodate traffic flow during the morning and evening rush hours.


Another stage of this bicycle highway is planned.  When completed, it will reach Zhuongguancun, often referred to as China's Silicon Valley.  Nearly one in five Huilongguan residents work there.

Could Beijing once again become the "Bicycle City" western tourists saw during the 1980s and 1990s?

23 June 2019

Bike Berry

If I were teaching English to native French speakers, I might tell them that the best equivalent we have to "c'est la vie" is "that's life in the big city."  In other words, it's a way of acknowledging that one sometimes has to live with minor annoyances, disturbances or inconveniences. 

On 7 June, a boy showed that his life really is not that of the big city.  And some gendarmes showed they are not working in a major, or even mid-sized, urban area.

Ironically, the name of the municipality where the boy resides, and those police officers work, is called Vienna.  Of course, it's not the city such luminaries as Mozart, Freud and Einstein--and Arnold Schwarznegger--called home. (Contrary to popular belief, none of those folks was born there.)  Rather, I am referring to a town in Virginia.

I'd heard of it before, but I didn't realize that it's a suburb of Washington, DC.  (I've been to the US capital a few times, but never ventured outside of the city itself.)  Given the crime the boy in question reported to his town's law enforcement officers, it's hard to believe that such a place is less than an hour from DC--by bicycle, no less.

So what was the young man's complaint?  Here goes:  Another boy smeared berries on his bicycle.

Can you imagine someone reporting that to the police in New York or Boston or San Francisco?  Hey, if I were answering that kid's call, I'd probably tell him to lace it with whipped cream, drizzle it with chocolate sauce and top it with the reddest cherry he could find.  Then I'd photograph it and call it an art installation.  The kid could thank me later, years later, when it pays for his college tuition.

Berry on bicycle (Halle, of course!)

Now that would really be "life in the big city"!

22 June 2019

Where Did You Leave Your Bike?

When I go to work, I park my bike on the rack in the college's parking lot.  There, a Peugeot mixte from around 1985 has been parked for at least a couple of years.  I can so date the bike because it's the same model I gave my mother:  a basic carbon-steel frame painted burgundy with yellow and orange graphics, equipped with European components except for the Shimano derailleurs and shifters.

At least one security guard has asked me whether I know who owns that bike.  I don't:  It was just there one day, and has been there ever since.  In the meantime, the chain has turned nearly as orange as the graphics, and other parts are tarnishing or rusting.  The paint still looks pretty good, though, which means that the bike probably wasn't ridden much before it was parked on that rack.

Campus security personnel want to clip the lock and give the bike to a charity or someone in need.  But, as one officer said, "The day after we get rid of it, its owner will show up."

So the owner of that bike remains a mystery. Perhaps she (or he) rode in one day, had some sort of emergency and never returned.  Or perhaps s/he decided that one ride was enough and simply abandoned the bike.

We've all seen bikes like that chained to trees, signposts or other objects for what seem like geological ages.  Once, I went with my parents to the Post Exchange (PX) at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, when my father was a reservist.  I saw a nice Fuji--an S10S, I think--chained to a pole seemingly since that base opened.  A soldier noticed that I was eyeing the bike. He said "the guy", meaning the bike's owner, probably "shipped out."  In the military, they can tell you to go to the other end of the world literally on a moment's notice, he said.

How many "orphan" bikes are there?  What are the stories of the people who left them behind?

Those questions have been asked for years about a bicycle on Vashon Island, Washington, about 15 minutes from Seattle.  This bicycle, though, isn't locked to a tree:  It's in the tree.

Not surprisingly, a few legends have grown about, and claims have been made for, it.  In the latter category is the claim made by Don Puz, who grew up on the island.  When he was a child, his family's house burned down.  Donations to the family included a bicycle, which was too small for Don and had hard rubber tires.  He says that one day in 1954, he rode his bike into the woods where he met some friends.  They weren't riding bikes, so he walked home with them, leaving the bike in the woods.  He simply "forgot" about it, he says, until it showed up on Facebook.

Which brings us to the legends--one of them, anyway.  According to the Facebook posting, "A boy went to war in 1914 and left his bike chained to a tree.  He never came home."

That myth isn't hard to refute:  It's very unlikely that a  boy small enough to ride that bike would have gone to war. Also, if he was American, he probably wouldn't have gone to war in 1914, as the US didn't enter World War I until 1917. 

As for Don Puz's claim, it's plausible if one question can be answered:  How did the bike end up as part of that tree?  Hmm..Dear readers, are any of you dendrologists?   

21 June 2019

The World's Fastest Man: A Century Before Usain Bolt

I haven't owned a television in about six years.  I do, however, listen to a fair amount of radio, mainly the local public and independent stations.

One program to which I listen pretty regularly is "Fresh Air," which is something like a radio version of 60 Minutes dedicated to the arts or contemporary issues.  A couple of nights ago, "Fresh Air" featured Dave Davies (no, not the Kinks' guitarist) interviewing journalist Michael Kranish, whose latest book just came out.

The World's Fastest Man:  The Extraordinary Life of Major Taylor, America's First Black Sports Hero documents, not only Major Taylor's athletic exploits, but his contributions to the cause of civil rights.  He was, arguably, as dominant in cycling of his era as Eddy Mercx or Bernard Hinault were in theirs, and towered over his sport the way Michael Jordan, Martina Navratilova and Wayne Gretzky did in their primes.  But, perhaps even more important, he was as unflinching in the face of discrimination as Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali were more than half a century later.

I haven't yet read the book, but I plan to. One reason is that, from what I gather in the interview, Kranish's book shows how bicycle racing was the most popular sport in America and much of Europe and Australia during Taylor's time.  Also, he seems to cover in greater detail the discrimination he faced, not only from restaurants and hotels that refused him service, but also from other racers who sometimes even tried to injure him before or during races.  Finally, during the interview, Kranish mentions business ventured that failed--including one from which a white competitor stole his idea after no bank would finance him.

You can listen to the interview here:

20 June 2019

Can You Hold It?

Do you really need to blow your nose right now?

Chris Froome probably wishes he'd asked himself that question--and, more important, answered it with a firm "No!"

For unexplained reasons, he blew his nose during the time trial of the Criterium du Daphine last week.  He may have breathed (That's the first time I've ever used that verb in the conditional present perfect tense) easier, but only for a brief moment.  A very brief moment.

He crashed.  That left him with a fractured femur, elbow, neck and ribs and with two liters less blood than he had before he blew his nose.

The result:  Not only was he out of commission after the fourth stage of the race; he has also forefitted much of the remaining season.  At any rate, he won't get to ride in the Tour de France, which he's won four times.

That, of course, has led to more than a few conspiracy theories.  After all, the record for TdF victories is five.  And the four cyclists who share the record are Continentals: Eddy Mercx is Belgian, Miguel Indurain is Basque/Spanish and Bernard Hinault and Jacques Anquetil are French.

I mean, how would that look if a Brit entered that lofty company--just as his country was pulling out of the European Union.

Hmm...Could some anti-Brexiteer have dusted the air in front of him?

(I confess! ;-)

19 June 2019

Bike Biennale

Say "Biennale" to intellectual snobs like me (We're the kinds of people who tap our index fingers to our chins and say, "Interesting" when we're looking at something we don't quite understand.) and we think of an art exhibition that takes place every two years in Venice--or other exhibitions that have stolen appropriated the name.

Now there's another kind of Biennale--one for bicycle architecture.  Even for someone who's as jaded as I am has as realistic expectations as mine for bicycle infrastructure, it looks like an enlightening (no, I won't say "interesting") exhibit.  And it would be even more enlightening for most of the folks charged with planning and executing bicycle infrastructure in most places.

This Biennale, which opened in Amsterdam (where else?) the other day, features bicycle infrastructure that's recently been built as well as design proposals.  In the former category are two lanes in Limburg, Belgium I'd want to ride because they seem so other-worldly. One slices directly through a pond, so that cyclists are riding at eye level with the water. (I think now of tour buses "parting" the "Red Sea" during the Universal Studios tour.) The other rises as high as 32 feet into the canopy of a forest.  Both of those lanes are intended to entice more people to ride.  

Among the proposals is one that, if built, I would be able to experience regularly.  It would be built on an abandoned rail line in my home borough of Queens.  In its path, an "upside down bridge" would feature a community center at the base, a "floating forest" at each end of the top and bike paths along the side.

I hope that this Biennale will show not only can bike infrastructure be both practical and beautiful, but can be built in places not called Amsterdam or Copenhagen.

18 June 2019

Trade War Sends Giant Back To Its Roots

When Trumplethinskin announced tariffs on goods from China, one thing was clear to anyone with an IQ of room temperature or higher:  Jobs would not suddenly re-appear in Ohio and Michigan and Pennsylvania.  Of course, El Cheeto Grande, not being a member of that exclusive club, went ahead with his move.  

Maybe I am not giving him enough credit for his intelligence:  After all, sold the promise of jobs returning, as if they'd simply migrated for a season, to large numbers of people.  Then again, at least some of those people are as desperate as he is avaricious or delusional, depending on what you believe.

So what are the results of those tariffs, so far?  Well, for one thing farmers--many of whose livelihoods are tied to exporting what they grow--are losing sales.  And it doesn't look like jobs are coming back to the US, at least not in the bicycle industry.

Prices are already increasing for many bikes and related goods.  But the world's largest bicycle producer found another way to deal with those new import taxes:  going back to its roots.

I am talking about Giant.  Chairwoman Bonnie Tu said, "we took it seriously," when Trump announced a 25 percent surcharge on almost everything coming from China.  "We started moving before he shut his mouth."

Giant's factory in Taichung City, Taiwan

That meant, of course, she had a very short window of time in which to act.  But act she did:  She shifted production of the company's US-bound bikes from its Chinese factories to the company's headquarters in Taichung City, Taiwan.

The first Giant bikes sold in North America during the 1980s were made in Taiwan.  So were all of the products the company exported to the America, and most to the rest of the world, during the 1990s and early 2000s.  

Bonnie Tu

Ms. Tu says, though, that the company's long-term plan involves moving as much production as possible as close to the markets as is feasible.  Right now, in addition to its Taiwanese facility and the five factories it operates in China, Giant also has a plant in the Netherlands and has announced they are building another in Hungary.

Will Giant start making bikes in the US?  Ms. Tu hasn't said as much, but it wouldn't surprise me if they set up shop in some low-wage "right to work" state in the South.  If they do, I just hope the bikes are better than some of the stuff that came out of Schwinn's since-shuttered Greenville, Mississippi plant.

17 June 2019

Keeping Out The Hordes Of Bikes From Canada

The US Department of Homeland Security's mission statement begins with this:

  The vision of homeland security is to ensure a homeland that is safe, secure and resilient against terrorism and other hazards.  

  Three key concepts form the vision of our national homeland security strategy designed to achieve this vision:

  • Security,
  • Resilience, and 
  • Customs and Exchange.

In their efforts to achieve that vision, the DHS has helped to keep out all kinds of threats, including would-be terrorists and weapons.

And, now, bicycles.

One mile separates Prescott, in the Canadian province of Ontario, from Ogdensburg, in the US state of New York.  That mile is the width of the St. Lawrence River. 

Until 1960, ferry service linked the two cities.  That ended when the Ogdensburg-Prescott International Bridge. The US side of the bridge is indeed in Ogdensburg, but the Canadian side funnels vehicles into Johnstown, a few kilometers east of Prescott.

There has been talk of reviving, not only a ferry service for vehicles, but of boat crossings for cyclists that would take 12 passengers and bikes on each trip.  

In fact, Brett Todd, the mayor of Prescott, has met with the Ogdensburg City Council to seek support--which he already has in his hometown--for a pilot project that would shuttle bicycles two weekends this summer.  He suggested the 19-21 July, which is Founders' Weekend in Ogdensburg, and 2-4 August, which is a civic holiday in Ontario.

Apparently, the folks on the New York side of the river are in favor of the project.  But their city council hasn't been able to do something that Todd has managed to do in his town.  He met with Canada Border Security, and they offered to support the pilot project, free of charge for two years. On the other hand, he explains, "Requests made by Ogdensburg city officials have not been met with quite as keen a response."

Those requests to the US Customs and Border Protection and Department of Homeland Security, he recalls, came back asking for new facilities and manpower the committee saw as excessive, especially considering how few passengers and bikes would be involved.  "An average family with a pontoon boat could bring that many people into the country," he said.

And they could start a chain migration of more people--and bicycles. Oh, my!

16 June 2019

Happy Father's Day

Happy Father's Day!

This is a tribute, my father, or to fathers in general, but to all of the men who are partners or friends in one way or another.

And, of course, to the dads who ride bikes.

Now, I know that sometimes parents will "sneak" out for a ride on their kid's bike--at least, if the kid is of a certain age.  But it's not often we see a dad on a bike designed for a seven-year-old girl.

What made Peter Williams all the more incongruous on his daughter's little pink bike is that he's six feet tall.  But he didn't just toodle around the block on his kid's toy:  he pedaled it 211 miles from Bristol to Land's End, the farthest point on England's west coast.

His ride raised over 52,000 GBP--more than five times his goal--for research into brain tumors, the cause of his daughter Ellie's death at age 7.

He and his wife, Kaz, had given Ellie the bike for what would be her last Christmas, though neither of them realized it at the time.  He and Kaz would soon notice, however, that her eye started to cross and that "it wasn't just a facial gesture."  Soon after, the once-athletic girl started to lose her balance, and her confidence.  They brought her to a doctor, who ordered an MRI.  The results revealed the frightening news:  Ellie had a brain tumor and only months to live.

She was diagnosed in Bristol, where Peter started his ride.  Although he and Kaz have their own bikes and regularly participate in group rides, he rode his Ellie's bike because seeing it made him sad and he realized that the best way to deal with his feelings was to "put it to good use."

That, he did.  

15 June 2019

They Got It Back--Wrecked

In another era--or was it another life?--I wrote for small-town and community newspapers.  In that role, I looked at police reports and blotters. It's a vice in which I still indulge, occasionally.

Sometimes those reports make me laugh.  How else could I react upon reading something like "a caller reported a man yelling and swearing on Street X"?  

On the other hand, I mutter "What fools!" when I read some items, like the one about the woman who left her wallet in a shopping cart.  (It didn't stay there for long.) Or the one about the woman who reported that checks and deposit slips were stolen from her car.  

Then again, I'm from New York, where one of the first things you learn is not to leave anything in your car, or cart!

Perhaps my Big Apple-induced jadedness extends even further than I thought.  In the Wisconsin Rapids Tribune, the police blotter reported that a caller complained about "kids on bicycles who kept on going into dumpsters." (Someone called the cops for that?)  But my favorite item is this:  "A Wisconsin Rapids man reported someone stole his child's bicycle...and then brought it back destroyed."

Hmm...Taking something from someone and giving it back destroyed.  For a moment, I thought, "That's what my country did to Iraq." 

(Also check this out.)


14 June 2019

Bike Infrastructure: A Path Out Of Poverty And Pollution

I share at least one attitude with poor black and brown residents of New York, my hometown:  a dislike of the bike lanes.

Our reasons, though, are very different.  My criticisms of those ribbons of asphalt and concrete are that too many of them are poorly conceived, designed or constructed.  The result is that such paths start or end without warning, aren't really useful as transportation or recreational cycling conduits or put us in more danger than if we were to ride our bikes on nearby streets.

On the other hand, members of so-called minority groups see bike lanes as "invasion" routes, if you will, for young, white, well-educated people who will price them out of their neighborhoods.  I can understand their fears:  When you live in New York, you are never truly economically secure, so you always wonder whether and when you'll have to move. (Those Russian and Chinese and Saudi billionaires with their super-luxe suites don't actually live here; when Mike Bloomberg famously called this town "the world's second home," I think he really meant the world's pied a terre.)  Also, as I have pointed out in other posts, cycling is still a largely Caucasian activity, or is at least perceived as such.  

My experiences and observations have made, for me, a report from the United Nations Environment Programme's "Share the Road" report all the more poignant, and ironic.  In one of its more pithy passages, it pronounces, "No one should die walking or cycling to work or school. The price paid for mobility is too high, especially because proven, low-cost and achievable solutions exist."  Among those solutions are bike lanes and infrastructure that, in encouraging people to pedal to their workplaces and classrooms, will not only provide cheap, sustainable mobility, but also help to bring about greater social and economic opportunities as well as better health outcomes.

Tanzanian girls ride to school on bikes provided by One Girl, One Bike, a non-governmental initiative.

All of this is especially true for women and girls in developing countries.  Far more women are the main or sole providers for their families than most people realize.  I think that in the Western world, we think of such domestic arrangements as a result of marriages breaking up or the father disappearing from the scene for other reasons.  Such things happen in other parts of the world, but in rural areas of Africa, Asia and South America, for example, a father might have been killed in a war or some other kind of clash.  As for girls, very often they don't go to school because a family's limited resources are concentrated on the boys--or because it's not safe for girls to walk by themselves, or even in the company of other girls.

Now, of course, bike lanes in Cambodia or Cameroon are not a panacea that will resolve income and gender inequality, any more than such lanes by themselves will make the air of Allahabad, India as clean as that of Halifax, Nova Scotia.  But bike infrastructure, as the UN report points out, can help in narrowing some of the economic as well as environmental and health disparities between rich and poor countries, and rich and poor areas within countries.  

Of course, it might be difficult to convince folks of such things in non-hipsterized Brooklyn or Bronx neighborhoods.  Really, I can't blame them for fearing that, along with tourists on Citibikes and young white people on Linuses, those green lanes will bring in cafes where those interlopers will refuel themselves on $25 slices of avocado toast topped with kimchi and truffle shavings glazed with coriander honey and wash them down with $8 cups of coffee made from beans fertilized by yaks and infused with grass-fed butter and coconut oil.

(About the avocado toast:  I can't say for sure that anyone actually makes the combination I described, but it wouldn't surprise me if somebody does.  On the other hand, the coffee concoction is indeed mixed in more than a few places.  I tried it once.  It tasted like an oil slick from the Gowanus Canal.  Or maybe I just couldn't get past the oleaginous texture.) 

13 June 2019

The Sacrilege of Cycling In The Park

Once, I rode through a gate of Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn.  I'd visited the necropolis before:  Two of my relatives, as well as some far-more-famous people, are buried there.  Being the naif I was, I figured that if pedestrians and motor vehicles were allowed, so were bikes.

Well, I was a few bicycle lengths into the graveyard when someone on a motor scooter pulled up alongside me.  "No bikes allowed," he bellowed.

"Oh, sorry.  I didn't know..."

"This is sacred ground, you know."

Well, that part I didn't know:  I figured that since Greenwood was non-sectarian, it wasn't "sacred."  Also, since I've slept in graveyards twice in my life and the residents didn't seem to mind, it didn't occur to me that any of Greenwood's denizens would object to my quiet two-wheeled vehicle.

Apparently, that "sacred ground" rationale is used to ban bikes from cemeteries all over the world.  I don't understand how a bicycle is more sacrilegious than, say, a van with "Puppies" and "Free Candy" painted on its side

It's also the so-called reasoning behind the Frankfort (KY) city commission's vote to ban bicycles from Leslie Morris Park, the site of the US Civil War site of  Fort Hill .  The Commissioners, with Mayor Bill May casting the deciding vote, cited Fort Hill's status as "hallowed" ground: A local militia deterred an attempted raid by a Confederate cavalry unit in 1864.  Although Kentucky didn't secede from the Union during the Civil War, an attempt was made to set up a Confederate government in Bowling Green.  Had the raid succeeded, Frankfort--which was staunchly pro-Union--could have fallen to the Confederates, and Bowling Green would then have been the capital of the Confederate State of Kentucky.  While such a turn of events might not have tipped the war to the Confederates, it almost certainly would have prolonged the war and delayed a Union victory.

In any event, cyclists had been riding on the rudimentary trails around Fort Hill.  Some of those trails were little more than traces formed by deer that populate the 120-acre park, and most were laced with thorny bushes.  Some cyclists, like Gerry James, enjoyed the challenge they posed.  More important, he says, was the opportunity to ride so close to his downtown home.

What makes the new ban so galling to him and others is that it came in the wake of another plan, recently scuttled, to develop those paths so they could be used by runners and joggers as well as cyclists and others who want to spend some time outdoors.  In fact, an elaborate plan was developed that would have kept those lanes at least 300 feet from any historical, environmental and archaeological sites.  Moreover, its costs were minimal and some of the work would have been done by volunteers, including Scouts who were trying to attain the Eagle rank.

Civil War Cleanup Day slated at Fort Hill
A Civil War commemoration at Leslie Morris Park, site of the Fort Hill monument.  From the Frankfort State Journal.

The project, which had many proponents, was seen as a way to make an historic site accessible to more people and connect it to the downtown area.  It was also viewed as a way to encourage exercise in a state with some of the worst health outcomes (though, interestingly, one of the lowest rates of chlamydia) in the nation.  Business leaders, too, liked it because they believed that it would bring investment to an area that, while economically stronger than the rest of the state, still does not attract or retain young talent.

One reason why the young leave the city and state is because projects like the Fort Hill trails are cancelled, or aren't even conceived in the first place. Of the vote, James--who founded the Explore Kentucky initiative--said, "It makes Frankfort look like an anti-progress city."