28 November 2019

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!

This lovely image was created by Dai Trinh Huu

I am thankful for all of the places, people, feelings and things cycling has brought me.  I am thankful I am riding at this time in my life.

This is my first holiday without my mother in my life.  I miss her, but I am grateful to have had in my life for as long as I did.  And for the people with whom I will spend today.

27 November 2019

They Need It Like A Hole In The....

A few years ago, it seemed that "drillium" might make a comeback.  A few companies, including Velo Orange, were offering drilled-out versions of  chainrings and other components. Some still are. VO's drilled-out chainrings are actually pretty:  They seemed  seemed to be covered with pindots.  I'd actually put them on one or two of my bikes.

Back in the heyday of drillium, it seemed that anything and everything that could take a drill--and a few things that couldn't--got the treatment.  In addition to chainrings, shift levers and brake lever handles commonly got drilled.  When I first began to work in a bike shop, one of the jokes about Lambert/Viscount bikes was that they came with drilled-out tires and water bottles.

Seriously, though, some cyclists were manic with drills.  I saw toe clips and other kinds of clips--for brake cables and water bottle cages--perforated, ostensibly in the name of saving weight.  Sometimes, components that really didn't need to be any lighter were riddled with pockmarks, like the Huret Jubilee, still the lightest (and to my eye, prettiest) rear derailleur ever made.  Or this derailleur I saw on eBay:

The first-generation SunTour Cyclone might be the second-lightest rear derailleur ever made.  It's certainly lighter than any made today.  Oh, and I think the silver version with the black inset is the second-prettiest derailleur ever made:  all the more reason it shouldn't be defaced with a drill!

21 November 2019

Any Bike You Want, As Long As It's...

About thirty years ago, I was a writer-in-residence at a number of New York City schools, and St. Mary's Hospital for Children, through the Teachers and Writers program.  Most of the time, I cycled to the schools or hospital.  Most of the time, I had to lock my bike on city streets.  That meant, for me, riding my "beater," whatever it happened to be at the time.

The bikes I used for the purpose weren't bad:  Bike-Boom era 10-speeds that I turned into 5- or single-speeds. (A couple were stolen; one crashed.)  But they weren't as nimble and fun to ride as my racing, or even touring, bike.  Sometimes, after my workshops with the kids and teachers, I'd go out for a spin on my "beater" because there wasn't enough remaining daylight for, or it was simply easier than, riding  to my apartment and switching bikes.

If I found myself in a really good rhythm, or pedaling into a headwind, I'd wish that my "beater" could transform into my racing, or even my touring, bike.  

Have you ever wished, in the middle of a ride, that the bike you're riding could become another bike?  Perhaps you were yearning for a bike you didn't have. Or, you own multiple bikes, took one out and, because the day's ride was not what you'd anticipated, wished that you'd mounted one of your other steeds.  

(I think now of a time I pedaled my mountain bike into a stiff headwind I didn't anticipate on a course that was flatter and clearer of debris, mud and slush than I expected it to be after a snowstorm.)

Well, you now you can have a "chameleon" bike

as long as you are happy on a lowrider or extra-tall bike!

The strange-change machine, an entry in the Make It Move contest on Instructables, started as a full-suspension mountain bike.  The rear spring was removed to make room for the gas cylinder that pivots the rear triangle.  Also, the front fork was replaced with a (much) longer one.  

Gotta love that paint job! 

13 November 2019

Retail Therapy

In the days after 11 September 2001, the US stock market incurred some of its biggest losses up to that point in its history.  Other markets around the world took similar "hits"; some feared that a recession that had begun earlier in the year would turn into a depression.

While there would be further losses, and the economy would show other signs of weakness, by end of 2001, the markets and other sectors of the economy had regained most of their losses.  And, even though tourism (particularly the airlines) experienced a major slump, the economy as a whole didn't fare as badly as some expected.  This, according to economists, was due at least in part to consumer spending.

In other words, people (at least those who could afford to do so) used "retail therapy" to deal with the stress and anxiety caused by events of that time.  They were encouraged by the President himself and enabled by low interest rates on loans and credit cards.

Now, I don't mean to equate the death of my mother with the shock of 9/11, though it's the saddest event of my life.  But I suppose that buying something you like can ease, if momentarily, some emotional pain.  And, aside from what it does to one's budget, I guess it's better than, say, taking drugs or drinking, though not quite as good for a person as bike riding--which, by the way, I've been doing.

Speaking of bike riding--with the emphasis on "bike"--I engaged in a bit of retail therapy.  Yes, I bought another bike.  I couldn't resist.  Well, all right, I could have.  But when the guy who sold it dropped the price, he lowered my resistance.

Truthfully, that bike would have been hard to resist anyway.  For one thing, it's a Mercian.  For another, it's the right size.  And the Campagnolo triple crankset and Rally derailleur definitely are rarities.

Oh, and that paint job!

One of the reasons why I got such a good deal, I believe, is that the bike has sew-up tires.  I haven't ridden such tires in about twenty years, and have no intention of riding them again.  The other things I'll change are the stem (because it's too long) and the saddle.  But, really, I simply couldn't pass up an almost-full Campagnolo bike on a Reynolds 531 frame with that paint job.  That paint job!

And it's a Mercian--a 1984 King of Mercia, to be exact.  The wheelbase and clearances--not to mention the rack braze-ons and the bottle cage mount on the underside of the down tube--give this bike a more-than-passing resemblance to touring bikes from Trek as well as a number of Japanese manufacturers during the early-to-mid '80's.  Tubular tires don't make much sense on it; I think that the original wheels were lost.  

Even after I replace the tires, rims, saddle and stem, this bike will still be a great buy.  Especially with that paint job!

12 November 2019

Home, Into The Sunset--For Now

Daylight Savings Time ended last Sunday.  That meant setting clocks back an hour.  A result is that, for at least a couple of weeks, I'll pedal through the sunrise during my commute to work, and cycle through the sunset on my way home.

07 November 2019

He Survived Combat. Then His Bike Blew Up.

Once upon a time, before X-boxes and I-phones roamed the Earth, kids actually wanted--and sometimes got--bikes for Christmas.  So, after my first bike shop laid me off early in the Fall, the owner asked whether I could come back for a few weeks in December and early January.  

I was surprised that he would want me, even for a few days, in the New Year.  I would learn that some of the bikes we sold for Christmas would be brought in for adjustments, as promised by the shop.  But other kids brought in bikes their parents hadn't bought from us.  Some of those machines were really twisted.  Even more serpentine were the stories they told us.  My favorite came from the parent of a kid whose wheels had folded into the shape of a certain Bachman's snack.  

According to that kid's supposed role model, the wheel assumed its form when the kid "turned the corner" and "the rim bent."

Now, I admit that my knowledge of physics was, at best, rudimentary.  So perhaps you, dear reader, can forgive me for not understanding how something made from two layers of steel could just fold over when a 65-pound kid turned it at a 45 degree angle.

Oh, and that kid's parent wanted us to replace the wheel--for free--on that bike, which wasn't purchased in our shop or, as best as I could tell, any bike shop.

Perhaps you can thus understand my skepticism when anyone claims that a bike fell apart as he or she rode it.  I know, well, that some bikes aren't very well-made, but very few are so shoddy that they will disintegrate under you as you ride.  I mean, I've heard of Lambert's "death forks" snapping when their riders hit bumps, and of various parts failing in one way or another under normal use.  But I don't recall any bike snapping at its frame joints during the course of a routine ride.

That is, until I came across the story of Ronnie Woodall.  

The Austin, Texas resident was riding along 4th street when the welds broke on his $1600 All City bicycle and sent him flying face-first into a construction fence.

The head and down tubes separated from the steer tube.  The result that Mr. Woodall's nose all but separated from his face.  It was "barely hanging on by this left side of my nostril, across the top," he recalls. The impact, which pushed his head back and twisted his neck,  "blew out out all of the vertebrae in my neck," he explains.

His doctor estimates that it will take $2 million to care of him medically in the future.  All City is a brand from Quality Bicycle Products.  According to a company statement,  QBP has  inspected the bicycle and claims to "have not found evidence" that "the bicycle spontaneously came apart," which is "something that, in our experience, bicycles simply do not do."

Whether or not the bike fell apart at faulty welds, or whether there was some other mitigating circumstance, there is another part of this story that is ironic, almost to the point of being incredible: Ronnie Woodall, a retired 30-year Army veteran, suffered his worst injuries, not on a nameless hill in some distant, forlorn country, but on a bike that cost more than most people in some of those distant, forlorn countries make in a year.  And it happened in the middle of the 11th-largest city in the United States.

05 November 2019

The Last Race?

Sometimes, it seems, people in other countries know the US political system and races even better than Americans known them. So it was not a surprise when, during a recent phone conversation, a friend in France asked for my opinions about the candidates for the Democratic party presidential nomination.

For now, I said, I am leaning toward Elizabeth Warren, though I also like Pete Buttigieg.  We are a year away from the election, so more than a few things could change my mind.  

Here's one:  If some candidate pledged to fund bicycling in any shape or form in the US, that might be enough to get my vote.

Of course, if it's so difficult for candidates to commit to establishing a healthcare system that doesn't leave people in poverty, or worse, when they have major medical problems, I don't think those same candidates are going to prioritize two-wheeled transportation, let alone a bike race.

That is, in essence, one reason why the Amgen Tour of California has been put "on hiatus," and why The Philly Cycling Classic, U.S. Pro Challenge, Tour de 'Toona and other major American races disappeared in recent years.  No less than Jonathan Vaughters, the current EF Education First team manager--and one-time US sprint champion--says as much.  "Municipalities or government entities are not going to sponsor cycling.  Our political system doesn't allow for that."  A result, he says, that we are not going to have " big-money, massive state-backed races like this new race in Saudi Arabia or the UAE Tour."  The money, he says, has to come from private sources.

The Amgen Tour of California was the last remaining UCI World Tour race in the US. During its 14-year history, it brought some of the world's most talented riders to these shores.  In last year's Tour, Travis McCabe nearly out-sprinted Peter Sagan, regarded as one of the world's best in that discipline.  The loss of such a race in America could be a particular blow to the cycling scene in the US because it is "aspirational," according to Adam Myerson, president of Cycle-Smart coaching services.  "We need people to watch" races like the AMTOC, he explained, "and want to be racers because of it."  Of course, they can watch footage (although it is sometimes grainy) of events taking place in Europe and elsewhere, but nothing motivates young people like seeing a hometown hero on home turf.

Kristin Klein, president of ATOC and vice president of AEG Sports (the events company behind ATOC), says that AEG is "trying to determine if there is a business model that will allow us to successfully re-launch the race in 2021." Some observers believe that while the loss of the Tour is a blow to European-style racing in the US, it might force ride organizers to reassess the organizational structure of cycling events to determine what works, and what doesn't.

While European-style racing has struggled in the US, other events, like Gran Fondos and gravel racing, have grown in popularity.  Myerson and others envision a structure similar to that of the New York Marathon:  An elite contingent of 100 or so riders would challenge for prizes and championships, followed by thousands of other participants who have helped to finance it with their entrance fees.

In other words, the US cycling scene could be remade into something different, but no less interesting, than its counterparts overseas.  Or one of the candidates could pledge some money for cycling events...