31 August 2019

Wisdom Through Wheelies

As an educator, I've always been in search of ways to keep my students' attention--especially when it's late in the semester or the weather outside is nice.

If I were younger, I might try Chris Poulous' methods:

In 1991, when he was 20 years old, he won the Bicycle Stunt World Championships in Denmark. He also was victorious in a number of other competitions until injuries sidelined his competitive career.

Now he's a motivational speaker, with a particular emphasis in encouraging the young to lead positive lives.  Kids, as you might expect, are a natural audience for him, though I must say I enjoy his presentation, too.

Recently, he visited a summer recreation program in Northborough, Massachusetts.  He said his show was a "special treat" for kids 3 to 5 years of age because they don't get to go on field trips, as the older kids do.  From all accounts, however, everyone present--kids and adults--loved it.

I mean, what's not to like about someone who use backflips and bunny-hops to teach important life lessons?

30 August 2019

"They're Trying To Take Our Guns. Why Not Their Bikes?"

"Bicycle Accidents Kill More Children Than Guns, But You Don't See Calls To Ban Bikes."

That is the title of an editorial Dean Weingarten wrote for AmmolandAccording to statistics he cites from the Center for Disease Control's Database, there were 2467 "unintentional pedal cyclist deaths"--for a rate of 0.18 per 100,000-- of children aged 0 to 17 from 1999 to 2017.  During the same period, according to the CDC statistics Weingarten uses, there were 1994 "unintentional firearm deaths" of children in that same age group, for a rate of 0.14 per 1000,000. 

To be fair, Weingarten reports that both figures are dwarfed by the numbers of children who died unintentionally as occupants of motor vehicles, in "unknown situations, motor vehicles," or from suffocation, drowning or a half-dozen other causes.  Still, he uses the disparity between the unintentional deaths by bicycle and by firearm to try to make the case that guns are unfairly blamed for children's deaths.

He may be right about the burden of blame borne by firearms, in part because the numbers of children accidentally killed by firearms has been trending downward.  But he is using that fact, and the greater number of deaths by bicycle, to rail against proposals to require gun owners to keep their weapons locked and unloaded.  Such a requirement, he claims, keeps gun owners from using their weapons in self-defense.  

Whatever the validity of that argument, using bicycles as the "straw man," if you will, does nothing to support it.  For one thing, a child isn't going to hurt him or herself by finding a bicycle in the attic or garage, as he or she can by finding a loaded gun in daddy's desk.  

Pedestrian helping Bicycles accident victim iStock-931839776
This image was included with Dean Weingarten's editorial.  

More to the point, though, is this:  Even though guns outnumber people in the US, an American kid is more far more likely, at any given moment, to ride a bike than to chance upon a gun.  When that kid is on a bike, he or she will spend more time riding than he or she would in the presence of the firearm.  And, finally, it's harder to control where and in what conditions a kid rides than it is to keep a child away from a gun, or to ensure that the gun can't be fired accidentally.  

So Weingarten's argument that bicycles are more dangerous than guns to children doesn't hold up.  Even so, he tries to use it to bolster an even flimsier--and blatantly sexist--argument that lawmakers (Democrats, mainly) claim that they want tighter gun regulations "for the children" to pander to non-gun owners, "most of whom are women," according to Weingarten.  On the other hand, he says (probably correctly) that most gun owners are men.  

He ends his article with an even clumsier attempt to appeal to emotion:  "But the real elephant in the room is why are we not calling for bans on bikes?" (sic) Of course, that piles yet another fallacy onto an argument full of fallacies:  How in the world can he, or anyone, compare banning bicycles to keeping guns locked and unloaded? 

29 August 2019

First One In!

The new semester has just begun.

It looks like my bike is the first one in:

I have to set an example, if not a trend, you know.

If only more would follow!

28 August 2019

1934: Pedaling The Lake

I occasionally ride to, or through, Flushing Meadow Park.  If you've never been there (or haven't read my posts about it), you might recognize at least one of its landmarks:  the Unisphere, built for the 1964-65 World's Fair and featured in Men In Black as well as other movies and TV shows.  

What you also might not know is that, like Prospect and Central Parks, it surrounds an artificial lake.  During the summer, those lakes are popular for, among other things, boat rides.  

Flushing Meadow, however, offers a type of water craft not available in the other city playgrounds:  pedal boats.  While they bear more resemblance to oversized beach toys than to boats or bicycles, they are propelled in the same way as your bicycle:  Your feet spin the pedals.  

I haven't tried one, but I plan to, if for no other reason than to see whether the experience is more like cycling or boating--or neither.

Perhaps these young women could have offered some insight:

For ten cents, had the opportunity  pedal across the waters of Lake Lucerne, near Seattle, Washington.  Their pedal boat literally combined two bicycles with a boat (or, more precisely, a raft) made of milled timbers.  The women's leg power propels the contraption forward by means of a water wheel attached to the bicycle gears.

It's pretty clever, if you ask me. If only the resort's managers could have had such acumen:  In December 1934, four months after the photo was taken, the property (which included 98 acres of land in addition to 16 acres of lake) was seized and sold at a U.S. Marshal's auction to satisfy a $22,763 court judgment. 

As far as I know, there haven't been any pedal boats on the lake since then.

27 August 2019

Did He Ride Hands-Free?

I've done all sorts of things on a bicycle that, until I did them, I wouldn't have thought possible.

And I've done most of the things most people do but would never admit to doing.  Among them are at least one  most people will admit to having done during puberty or even in their teen years, but not as an adult.

I think you know where this is going.

The things I've done that most people won't admit to having done aren't all things I've done on a bicycle.  In fact, it never even occurred to me to try one of those things while astride two wheels.

Hint:  It's something that shocks people when they catch someone doing it precisely because they know they themselves have done it but would never own up to it.

It was a cause of consternation for me when, as a teenager, I was supposed to watch for shoplifters in the Alexander's department store where I was working.  

When I heard some suspicious rustling in the next aisle over--women's wear--I was ready to spring into action. The man in the aisle indeed had a pair of silky panties in his hand.  But he wasn't stuffing them into a bag or his pocket:  Filling the latter would have been difficult, as his pants were pulled down.  So were his underpants. 

As extensive as Alexander's employee training was, it didn't teach us how to deal with a man masturbating in the lingerie aisle.  Being the teenager I was, I was tempted to say something snarky (or that my young mind would have thought clever).  Instead, I called a security guard who dragged the guy away and called the cops.  

I'm guessing that the guy was charged with public lewdness, or some such thing--even though the "public", as far as I know, consisted only of that security guard and myself.

I hadn't thought about the incident in a long time.  A news story that came my way brought it back to mind, and with it, a question I never thought I'd ask:  What would I do if I saw someone masturbating on a bicycle?  Oh, and what if I were a cop and caught someone in the act?

I'm sure there must be something in police academy training that covers, if not such a specific incidence, then at least what to do if a person is pleasuring him or her self in public.  

That is the situation an off-duty police  officer in Macomb County, Michigan (near Detroit) faced recently. She was jogging on an asphalt trail in a county park when she "observed a very tall man in gray pants riding a mountain bike and fondling his genitals in full view of the public."  According to that same report, about half an hour later, another woman saw the same man "on his bike with his penis exposed."

William Benjamin Brown
Did he ride hands-free?

The man, William Benjamin Brown, was charged with two counts of "aggravated indecent exposure," which could bring him a two-year prison sentence.

Here's what I'd like to know:  Did he ride hands-free?  Or did he use one hand  to keep a straight line and the other to wiggle?

26 August 2019

A Bike Bay In The Steel City

Possibly the most difficult part of cycling in traffic is navigating intersections.

In jurisdictions that don't have some form of the "Idaho stop," cyclists are expected to follow the traffic signals as either vehicles or pedestrians.  One problem with that is that a cyclist proceeding straight through an intersection is in danger of getting hit by turning vehicles--especially right-turning trucks and buses, as their drivers often do not see cyclists who are far to the right of them. Another problem is that in very large intersections, it is all but impossible to turn left without running into danger from oncoming traffic.

Of course, the "Idaho stop" is meant to remedy the first problem:  Treating a red light as a "stop" sign or a "stop" sign as a "yield" sign (which is what the Idaho stop is, in essence) allows the cyclist to get out ahead of drivers who are making right turns.  As for the second problem, a new solution is being tried out in Pittsburgh.

In the city's Oakland neighborhood, boxes--"bays"--are being carved out in intersections.  Cyclists proceed to them and wait for their signal--which is activated by radar designed to detect their presence--before continuing through the intersection. 

Image result for Pittsburgh bike bay
I, for one, will be very interested to see how this idea works out.  In principle, it sounds good, though I must admit that I'm skeptical about a "bay" in the middle of an intersection that is separated from traffic only by lines of paint.

25 August 2019

If Picasso Had Brifters...

You've probably seen the Bull's Head (Tete de TaureauPicasso constructed from a bicycle saddle and handlebars:

He created it in 1942.  What if he were using modern parts?  Would he make a bull's head--or a human face?:

From Redbubble

24 August 2019

Rewarded For Her Advocacy

Every month, the Post and Courier of Charleston, South Carolina gives its Golden Pen award.  The most recent recipient won for a letter on a topic that's too often ignored or reported in an uninformed way.  

Rebecca Vaughn of nearby Mount Pleasant and her husband are committed to depending entirely on their bicycles for transportation at least one day every week.  They are able to get around safely, she says, because of an established network of bike lanes in the town.  Once they venture out of their hometown, however, "the lack of safe spaces, particularly along the Highway 17 and 61 corridors is evident," she wrote.  

In her letter, she also notes that there is no safe way to cross the Ashley River by bicycle.  That is particularly frustrating, she writes, because in West Ashley, on the other side of the river, there are bike lanes that make it possible to navigate much of the town on two wheels.

In her letter, she noted that a bike-and-pedestrian bridge over the Ashley River would allow cyclists like herself and her husband to cycle from their homes, through downtown Charleston and into West Ashley and beyond.  This linkage would provide community benefits and help "unlock a piece of the puzzle that will allow residents and visitors to enjoy a safe transportation choice," she wrote. She concluded by urging her senators--Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott--to lead the effort to secure the necessary federal funds.

As part of the Golden Pen award, Ms. Vaughn will be invited to a luncheon with the Post and Courier editorial staff.  I assume she will ride to it.

23 August 2019

A Thief Poses As A Manager

In my time, I've heard of people who impersonated doctors, lawyers and other learned professionals.  Hey, I even recall stories about someone else who posed as a Saudi prince and a guy who managed to pass himself off as a Rockefeller relative.

But a bike shop manager?

Folks who pretend to be doctors, lawyers, princes and Rockefellers managed to bilk people out of lots of money.  But the old joke about the bike industry is that if you can get into it, you can end up with a small fortune.  How?  Start off with a big one.

Also, I have to admit that as long as medical procedures or cases aren't botched, it can be pretty funny to watch an impostor hoist on his or her own petard.  The ersatz Saudi prince did himself in when, at dinner in a fancy restaurant with a would-be investor in one of his schemes, he ordered an appetizer of prosciutto.  The phony Rockefeller's scheme ended when one of his would-be investors wondered why he, if he was a Rockefeller, he spoke with a French accent.

They lived high while their schemes lasted.  But what bike shop manager ever got to date a Playboy model or live in Mickey Rourke's house? 

So why would someone pose as a bike shop manager?  To sell stolen bikes.  

That, according to Colorado State University police, is what 23-year-old Gordon Stone was doing when they arrested him.  He took photos of  bikes parked on the Fort Collins campus and posted them on the "Let's Go" app--with the name of John Lambert, who manages the Recycled Cycles shop near the campus.  

Someone would spot the photo of, say, a GT Transeo, and because Lambert's name and Recycled Bicycles were attached to it, assume it was legitimate.  When that person expressed interest in the bike, Stone would go to the campus, cut the lock and sell the bike for a fraction of what it would cost in the shop.

Lambert found out about the scheme only when a friend texted him to ask whether he was still selling a certain bike--the Transeo--online.  "I responded with, what?" he recalls.  

He says that Stone's actions have hurt the shop's, and his, reputation.  Now that Stone has been arrested, Lambert says he may pursue defamation charges against him.  After all, the reason what do a shop and its manager have besides their reputation?

22 August 2019

A Bike Reunites Them

If anyone has ever given you a bicycle, you haven't forgotten it.  Even if the bike is long gone, you still have a memory of the person who gave it to you--especially if you were very young when you were so gifted.

That memory can be a very powerful force--enough, it turns out, to reunite you, a quarter-century later, with the person who gave you the "freedom machine." 

The power of that memory is intensified if you are a small child in a foreign country where you and your parent are just learning to speak the language--and your homeland is in ruins.

When Mevan Babakar was five years old, she and her mother left war-torn Iraq on an odyssey that took them through Turkey, Azerbaijan and Russia before they arrived in the Netherlands.   A man befriended them while they lived at a refugee center in the city of Zolle. "My mum said the greatest thing he did was listen when nobody really treated you like a human," she recalls of the kind stranger.

Image: "For me it was a playground," says Mevan Babakar of her time as a five-year old refugee at the reception center in Zwolle, Netherlands.
Mevan Babakar as a child refugee in the Netherlands

After Babakar and her family moved out of the center, the man visited them and presented them with bicycles.  "I will never forget how joyous I felt," she explains.  "It's not about my bike, it's about my self-worth."

Eventually, she and her mother settled in London, where her father joined them.  They lost touch with the man.  (If you are young, remember that we are talking about a time before Facebook or most other social media.)  But, of course, she did not forget him.

Recently, she took a trip to re-trace her family's journey.  One stop took her to Zolle, where she hoped to find the man and thank him for his kindness.  After a series of dead-ends, she posted an old photo of her with the man on Twitter.  Arjen van der Zee, a volunteer journalist in the city, spotted it and recognized the man as a former co-worker in the center.  

He took her to a town about an hour away, just on the other side of the Dutch border with Germany.  The man--who wanted to be identified only by his first name, Egbert, believed his gesture "wasn't all that much to make a fuss about," but was "grateful that it brought us together again."

He's 72 years old now and is happy that his wish for Mevan Babakar came true.  "He was proud that I'd become a strong and brave woman."

I like to think that getting a bicycle had something to do with it.

21 August 2019

When Is A Bicycle "Irrelevant"?

I was intrigued by the headline:  Woman Flees Police On Irrelevant Bicycle.

It got me to wondering:  What, exactly, is an irrelevant bicycle?  Is it one that can't be ridden anymore?  Or is "Irrelevant" a brand?  (Now that would be terrible marketing!)

Turns out, said velocipede matched the description of one that was stolen in Hilo, Hawaii.  That is why cops pursued its rider--29-year-old Maria Duquette.  I probably would have believed, as they did, that she stole the bike, which she used to lead the gendarmes in a wild chase through Hilo Town to the Hilo Bay Front.  There, she ditched the wheels and jumped into the water.  

She swam, and cops lost sight of her.  A helicopter and boat search didn't yield any sign of her.  Later, though, someone saw her on Coconut Island.  She tried, again, to swim away, but officers pursued her into the ocean and took her into custody.  She was charged with traffic violations related to the chase and disobeying an officer's direction.

So they got their perp.  But, as it turned out, the bicycle wasn't the one that was reported stolen.  I guess that's what the headline writer meant by "irrelevant"--to the investigation.

As some of you might know, newspaper headlines are almost never written by the person who wrote the article.  I am sure that such was the case for the story and title I've linked.  I feel sorry for whoever wrote the article:  When I wrote for a newspaper, a few of my articles bore titles (not written by me, of course!) that were silly or even irrelevant.

20 August 2019

A 400-Year Debt

My birthday is 4 July:  US Independence Day.  So, what I am about to say may seem treasonous, or even sacrilegious, to some.

The most important, if not the singular defining, event of US history did not happen on 4 July 1776.  Rather, it occurred 400 years ago on this date.

On 20 August 1619, the White Lion (you can't make this stuff up!) landed in Point Comfort, near present-day Hampton, Virginia.  Of the White Lion's commander, one Captain John Jope, colonist John Rolfe wrote, "He brought not any thing but 20.  And odd Negroes, which the Governor and Cape Merchant bought for victuals."

The details that would have fleshed out Rolfe's clinical description are lost to history.  Did he mean that  twenty-some-odd black people disembarked from the vessel?  What sort of "victuals" were exchanged for the captive human beings?  Peanuts?  Corn?  Barley?

What is not in doubt is that the dark-skinned arrivals from Africa were the first documented black slaves in America.  This does not mean, of course, that they were the first black slaves in the so-called New World:   Columbus reportedly brought slaves on his second voyage, and some historians argue that there were Africans--who may or may not have been slaves--on this side of the Atlantic even before Columbus' arrival.  But the arrival of black slaves on the White Lion is the first documented importation of African slaves to the soil of what would become the United States.  Moreover, it is the first documented sale of slaves.

The White Lion was not the first ship in which those slaves would be imprisoned on their way from the West Coast of Africa to the East Coast of North America. They started their terrible journey on the San Juan Bautista (really), bound for the Spanish colony of Vera Cruz on the coast of what would become Mexico.

But just a couple of days before the San Juan Bautista would have reached port (Transatlantic journeys in those days typically took about two months), it was attacked by pirates looking for Spanish gold.  Some of those pirates were on the White Lion; the others sailed on the Treasurer, which would arrive in Virginia a few days later.

As James Baldwin has pointed out, African-Americans are the only race of people (save for Native Americans) to be conceived in America.  And, at the time he was writing his seminal essays, the United States was the only nation besides South Africa that had a legal definition for black people--and used it to subjugate them.

I believe, as some black historians and writers believe, that the arrival of slaves (even if they weren't the first) on this date 400 years ago marks the real beginning of American (or at least US) history.  For one thing, it marked the beginning of European subjugation of a land and its people, which would not have been possible (at least under the conditions that prevailed) without the forced labor of black people.  The wealth of this country was built, literally, on the backs of Africans, even in those parts of the country where there weren't plantations and slavery ended before the Emancipation Proclamation.

What is commonly forgotten is that during our Civil War, there were large pro-Confederate contagions in some northern cities.  In fact, New York, which then consisted only of the island of Manhattan, was a bastion of Dixie sentiment, as many of the city's bankers and merchants had ties to the cotton- and tobacco-growing industries of the South.  (In contrast, Brooklyn, which was then an independent city and didn't have the same ties to plantation owners--and where freed and runaway slaves settled in Weeksville and other communities--was staunchly pro-Union.) 

So, no matter where one was at the time of the Civil War--or long afterward--its economy was, in some way or another, a product of slavery.  Everyone in this country is a beneficiary, in some way or another.  I include myself:  My grandparents, as poor as they were, still had more rights in this country than any African (or Native American) had the day they arrived in a port built, at least in part, by the labor of those people who had no freedom--and the profits of those who traded them, or traded with plantation owners, merchants and others whose prosperity built by them.

Of course, it wasn't just our economy that "benefited" from slavery.  The terrible experiences endured by slaves--and their children who were "freed"--were the raw material of some of the greatest art this country has produced.  I am talking, of course, about works by writers like Baldwin and Toni Morrison, but also jazz--the only truly American musical genre besides country and western--which has influenced all of the music, everywhere in the world, that's come along since.

And, finally, it's hard not to think that the "generational trauma" and prejudice experienced by the descendants of slaves motivated some of the greatest athletes this country has turned out.  Forget about "some of":  I am willing to say that the four greatest athletes to come from the United States are Muhammad Ali, Serena Williams, Jackie Robinson and, of course, "Major" Taylor, the incomparable cyclist who became the first African-American champion in any sport.  

The country in which I was born and have spent most of my life owes, I believe,  much more to what took place on this date 400 years ago than most people realize--or I was taught in school.

(In my next post, I'll return to matters more directly about cycling--my own and in general!)

19 August 2019

Wheels To Woodstock

We were conversing the other night, my mother and I. We talked about the usual things:  family, the weather, things that are and aren’t the way we remember them. Her doctor visits and stroll on the boardwalk, my bike ride that day, to Connecticut—and my recent trip to Greece.  Oh, and we said a thing or two about the state of the world. That the weekend marked the 50th anniversary of Woodstock came up.  She saw some footage of it on TV, she said, and became wistful.  “You know, I would’ve liked to be part of something like that.  All of those people, and they all girls along and had a good time.”  She wouldn’t have wanted to partake of the drugs—she’s never done such things. I pointed out that there were indeed intoxicating substances consumed, but among half a million attendees, there must have been at least a few people who didn’t “toke” or “drop”.

Of course, she could no more have made the trek than I could’ve: “I had four young kids”—one of them being, of course, yours truly.

As with the Stonewall Rebellion, which happened a few weeks earlier, a lot of mythology and misconception surrounds what one commentator has called “the world’s first viral event.”  (Interestingly, ARPANET, the predecessor of the Internet, was getting started around the same time.). But from what I’ve seen, heard and read, my mother’s perception about the camaraderie of Woodstock is accurate:  According to police and civilian reports, there were no reports of violence.  Also, there were only two overdoses reported.

On the other hand, one of the major misconceptions about the event is it’s location:  It wasn’t in the town of Woodstock.  The name came from the company that organized the event, which was actually held nearly 40 miles away from the fabled Catskills ‘burg.

I’ve been there three times, twice on bicycle tours of the area.  There’s lots of lovely riding up that way and, not surprisingly, the area is well-served by bike shops.

The upstate New York haven is far from the only town called “Woodstock.”  Every US State seems to have one and many seem to have more than their share of cyclists—and bike shops.

Here is a bike that would look out of place in any Woodstock—actual, historical, mythical or otherwise.

18 August 2019

What Did You Hear?

You're pedaling down a litter-strewn street or a pebbly path.  You hear something go "clang".  And you feel a thump.

You wonder:

17 August 2019

Any Color, As Long As It's....Plum?

How might the world be a different place if Henry Ford had said that a customer could have a Model T "in any color so long as it is plum"?

Better yet...What if he'd offered a bicycle in that one shade?  He did, after all, repair, design and manufacture bicycles before he turned his attention to automobiles.

The closest we may come to answering the answer to those questions comes in the form of RE:CYCLE, a bike just developed by the Swedish start-up firm Velosophy.

So how did plum purple (which, as you've probably guessed, I love) come to be the one and only color  you can choose for your RE:CYCLE?

Well, it just happens to be the color of the Nespresso Arpeggio pod.  Turns out that Nespresso, a Nestle-owned company, has been trying to encourage the recycling of its pods, which are made of aluminum.  Turns out, the metal can be melted down and recycled almost indefinitely, so today's Nespresso pod or Coke can can be tomorrow's Swiss Army knife bodies, fancy pen or--you guessed it--bicycle frame.  As Jimmy Ostholm, the brainchild behind RE:CYCLE, says, finding a way to convert the lightweight aluminum into a material rigid enough to meet bicycle maunufacturing safety standards "isn't rocket science."  The problem, it seems, is to get consumers to embrace the idea of re-purposing the containers that brought them their "morning Joe."

The bicycle's color isn't the only clue as to its origins.  The bell is shaped like a Nespresso pod, and the front carrier has straps to hold a take-out coffee cup.  

In case you're wondering:  It takes 300 of those Arpeggio pods to make one RE:CYCLE frame.  Oh, and it takes about 150 years for one of those capsules to decompose in a landfill.  It can be argued that we'd be better off if we didn't have single-use containers in the first place. (In 2016, Hamburg, Germany became the first city to ban all types of single-use coffee pods in its government offices.)  But given the numbers I've just mentioned, the RE:CYCLE, while not the solution to all of our waste problems, is an example of how we can move toward  more circular, sustainable ways of consumption.

And you can have whatever color you want...as long as it's plum!

16 August 2019

Mayor Wants To Hold Motorist Accountable In Latest Cyclist Death

Too often, a motorist kills or maims a cyclist and gets not much more than a traffic summons--or a sympathetic pat on the back from a police officer

The cynic in me, and other cyclists, believed that Umar Baig would be the latest such driver.  Last Sunday, in Brooklyn, he sped through a red light on Coney Island Avenue. Another driver, traveling on Avenue L, T-boned his car.  Both vehicles spun out of control. One of them struck 52-year-old Jose Alzorriz of Park Slope, who became the 19th cyclist killed on New York City streets in 2019.  

Baig was briefly held and released.  The NYPD says it will charge him, but they did not say with what. Presumably, they will come to a determination after working with the Brooklyn District Attorney.

If Mayor Bill de Blasio has his way, Baig will not be the next driver to get tea and sympathy, and maybe a ticket.  "If you kill someone through your negligence, maybe that's not murder one, I'm not a lawyer, but I'd say it should be a serious, serious charge, with many years in prison" he declared. "It's not that that something unavoidable happened," he explained. "He blew through a red light at high speed, and someone is gone now, a family is grieving."

Let's hope that the Brooklyn DA and the NYPD see the situation as the Mayor has seen it.   Already, nearly twice as many cyclists have been killed in 2019--with more than a third of the year to go--as in all of 2018.

15 August 2019

Yes, This Is A Love Letter To Greece!

A week after my Greek adventure, I am still reflecting on it.  And my toe is still healing.

Despite that mishap, my Hellenic holiday is one of the best I've ever spent.  I know I will always return to France because it's become a part of me, but, of all of the countries I've seen, Greece is the one to which I most passionately hope to return. I didn't do as much cycling as I'd hoped, in part because of the injury.  One day, though, I hope to return and do some more cycling--and, of course, to experience more of what the country and its people have to offer.

First, let me say something about the people.  If any of you are Greek, I hope you won't take offense to this:  In all of my travels, I've been to only one other country where the people were as effusively yet genuinely friendly as the Greeks:  Turkey.  A friend of mine once described me as an "extroverted introvert."  Yet I did not find the Greeks, as outgoing as they are, intrusive.  Perhaps it has something to do with being in a country that produced philosophers who wrote about balance and harmony:  Who better to understand the introspective soul within the effervescent, demonstrative personality?

If this view isn't worth pedaling up a road with five hairpin turns, what is?

Then, of course, there is the sheer physical beauty you encounter throughout the country, whether on the islands, or in the interior or Athens.  The Aegean Sea really is as blue, and its beach waters as clear, as what you see in photos all over the Web--and in postcards!  Seeing the temple to Zeus and the sanctuary of Athena in Delphi is even more awe-inspiring than I ever expected.  And, finally, even in its grittiest alleyways, Athens has a beauty very different from any other city I've seen--in part because you're never more than a few steps from a view of the Pantheon, and a subway ride can take you through an archaeological site.

That combination of classical balance and harmony with the large, wild bursts of line and color in the graffiti that adorned abandoned villas (and, in a few cases, defaced others) paint a portrait of a people and culture who have endured difficulty--whether from the economic crisis of 2009, the military dictatorship of the '70's or the Nazi occupation--but have not been broken.  Although I still love New York, so much of what I first loved about it has been co-opted or even destroyed by the pursuit of profit, always by those who already have much.  I don't know what the future holds for Athens, or for Greece, but I sense that Greeks young and old, contrary to what you may have heard, work hard but are still working to live, not living to (or for) work.

Finally--since this a blog about cycling, after all--I will say something about cycling.  I greatly enjoyed the cycling I did, although (or perhaps because) cycling in Greece was a very different experience.  Riding in Athens is different from riding in New York because the streets are narrower and there are almost no bike lanes.  (In fact, the only lane I encountered was the one I rode to the marina.)  Also, motorists are different:  A cyclist needs to be careful because most Athenian motorists aren't accustomed to seeing us.  This is in contrast with the open hostility one too often encounters from drivers in New York and other American cities, and is an even starker contrast to the relative bicycle-friendliness of, say, Paris or Montreal, let alone Amsterdam.

There is, as Manos at Athens by Bike told me, "no bike culture in this city, at least not yet."  Along the route to the marina--which parallels the #1 (green) Metro line, I did notice a shop in the process of opening, and there were a couple of stalls in the Flea Market that were as well-stocked (albeit with local brands) as shops I've seen elsewhere.  But in the city, or on the islands, you're not going to find the lycra-clad cyclists on carbon-fiber bikes.  They may show up one day, but I didn't see them on this trip.  On the other hand, in the countryside between Athens and Delphi, I did see a few cyclists who looked like they were doing some serious training on late-model, high-quality road and mountain bikes.

But as much as I like bike "culture," cycling is all about riding.  And people.  And places.  And history and culture.  Oh, and food.  Greece has all of that, which is why I want to return.  Maybe, by then, there will be more "cycling culture"--or I will help to create it!

14 August 2019

How Did It Get Here?

Now I'm going to subject you to another "look at what I found parked on the street" post.

I've seen this bike a few times before, locked to a post underneath the elevated tracks on 31st Street.  It's a spot I pass often, as it's right by Parisi bakery, a Dollar Tree store and a pub whose name I can't remember because I never go to it.

In my neighborhood, Astoria, you can see a greater variety of bikes than in most other New York City communities.  Even so, this one is unusual:  It's more like bikes I saw in Cambodia and Laos than anything I've found here.

First of all, that top tube has to be one of the thinnest I've ever seen.

And that internally-expanding rear hub brake is something, I believe, that has never been standard equipment on any bike made in, or exported to, the US.  I've seen brakes like it on a few older bikes in Europe, but not in the US.

I'm guessing that someone brought that bike with him or her from Southeast Asia or Europe.  

13 August 2019

What’s This, Mulder?

While pedaling streets that straddle and crisscross the Brooklyn-Queens border, I came across this:

It looks like a decent bike, but the frame is obviously not custom or even the product of a small-volume builder.  That is why it caught my eye:  Rarely, if ever, are mass-produced mixte or women’s frames found in such a large size.

I tried, but couldn’t, determine its provenance.  A couple of details, like the heart-shaped cutout in the seat lug, led me to think it’s Japanese because my old Nishiki had a similar detail.  Also, the largest mass-produced diamond frame on a 700c-wheel bike—71 cm—was made, ironically, in Japan by Panasonic.

On the other hand, the shape of the twin laterals made me think of French bikes.  Also, the only part that seems to be original—the Weinmann centerpull brakes—indicates a European bike of some sort.

I would love to know more about it—and how it ended up on    Halsey Street by the Brooklyn-Queens birder.

12 August 2019

Disguised For A Naked Bike Ride

Naked Bike Rides are held in London and a number of other cities every year.

Some riders paint their bodies, while others get onto their bikes the way they came into this world, except bigger.  The only requirements seem to be that participants are riding a bicycle and not wearing clothes.

I am sure at least a few riders cover themselves as soon as the ride ends.  Somehow, though, I doubt that any have done what a man in Wilton Manors, Florida did.

The unidentified chap was riding, naked, down a local street.  Police were called.

Then the guy entered a local store, put on an article of clothing and told an employee he was trading the bicycle for the garment.  

Oh, but it gets even better:  When he got outside, he took off the article of clothing and exposed himself to passerby.  

The cops showed up.  He wouldn't give his name.  And the constables couldn't ID him because, well, he didn't have any ID on him.  After all, we don't come into this world with a musette bag.

He was arrested and charged with "lewd and lascivious conduct" and "obstruction by disguised person."

That second charge, I don't understand  Then again, since most of us wear clothes most of the time, I guess going au naturel could be a "disguise."  After all, there aren't many people who know what most of us look like without our clothes on.

Now, if the guy had kept the bike, he could have finished his ride naked--and, perhaps, evaded the cops!  And he wouldn't have needed to disguise himelf.