25 December 2019

Merry Christmas Bike

I hope you are enjoying a holiday.

Since today is Christmas, I thought I'd share some images of the most Christmas-like object I own:

Yes, I've been doing some work on the Mercian King of Mercia I bought a few weeks ago.  For one thing, the sew-up wheels are gone:  I actually sold them on Craigslist.  In their place are a set of wheels with classic Campagnolo Record hubs with modern Mavic rims and DT spokes:

One reason I decided to use those hubs is that the rear one allowed me to employ an old trick:

The rear dropouts are spaced for 126 mm, as were most road bikes of the KoM's era (1984).  I rearranged the spacing on it so that both sides are even.  The good news is that I have a wheel with no dish.  The bad (depending on your point of view) news is that the right side spacing will allow me to use only 5-speed or Ultra (narrow)-6 freewheels---which is what I'd planned to use anyway.

And it allowed me to use the lightweight Open Pro rim.  It's actually a very strong rim for its weight, as Mavic rims tend to be.  Also, for a rim as narrow as it is, it can accommodate fairly wide tires--like the 700X32 C Paselas that adorn them now.

Probably the next most-significant change I made was in the derailleurs.  Getting a Rally derailleur was nice, but I actually like this one better:

I saw more than a few otherwise-all-Campy bikes equipped with Cyclone derailleurs from the mid-'70's to the mid-80's, so I don't feel as if I'm committing some sort of sacrilege.  With that change, I also swapped out the Campy shifters for ratcheted SunTour levers.

One more Campy part went from this bike to my parts box:  the pedals.  They don't seem to have been ridden much at all, so I wrapped them carefully and am saving them for "future reference."  The MKS platform pedals--my current favorites--bear enough resemblance to classic platform pedals like the Lyotard Berthet (#23) or the ones SR made that they don't look out of place on this bike. 

The fellow who bought the sew-up wheels also took the deep-drop Cinelli bars that came with the bike. (What such deep drops--or sew-ups--were doing on a touring bike, I'll never know.)  And I sold the stem--which had too long of an extension--on eBay.  In their place, I installed another favorite--Nitto Noodle bars with an NP (formerly Pearl) stem.  The Noodles bear enough resemblance to randonneur -style bars that I can justify (to myself, anyway) them on a bike like this.

If you saw my original post about this bike, you probably noticed three other changes:

The brake cable housings were cracked.  I like to replace cables on secondhand bikes anyway.  As luck would have it, I found these gold braided housings on eBay.

And I had to remove the leather sleeves that were stitched on to the handlebars in order to remove the brake levers.  Perhaps I will re-stitch them onto the new bars some day, but for now, I wrapped them with Tressostar brown and green cloth tape.  I also replaced the original Campagnolo gum rubber hoods, which were dried and cracks, with new items from Rustines.

Finally, I replaced the Avocet saddle with--what else?--a Brooks Professional.

This will give you a taste of things to come:

This bell bracket came from Velo Orange and will sport one of those lovely brass Japanese ringers.  And, of course, I will add bottle cages, a pump and a front rack for a bag.

Funny, isn't it, that a bike--which can be ridden all year round--can look as much like a Christmas ornament as anything that's hung on a Fraser fir.

24 December 2019

For A Professor, Comic Relief From Bicycle Face

One of my graduate school professors said, "If you can't say it in English, say it in French.  If French doesn't work, go to German.  If you still can't say what you're trying to say, try Latin. If that fails, there's always ancient Greek."

Well, I could follow his advice only partway:  Although my French was, and is, good, I had reading, but not conversational or writing, ability in Latin.  And I only knew all the German I learned in one semester and while biking through the country, just as I know a few words of Greek acquired just before, and during, my most recent trip.  (I wonder, though, how much Socrates' Greek was like the language I butchered in the marketplaces of Milos and cafes of Thissio.

I got to thinking about my old professor's advice when I heard about another professor--Louis Vivanco, a cultural anthropologist at the University of Vermont.  His specialty is the anthropology of environmental movements, and he had a particular interest in cycling.  So, not surprisingly, he spent a lot of time looking at old newspaper articles about the "maladies" that afflicted early cyclists in Vermont, and other places.  There were warnings about "bicycle face," a mask into which a cyclist's face contorted itself,  as well as explanations about "cyclist's neuralgia," a condition that manifested itself with, among other symptoms, shriveling penises in men and "spinsterhood" (oh, my!) in women. 

He wanted to present his findings to a wider audience.  That brought him to a crisis:  He realized that an academic paper could not do them justice.  For a researcher like him, that's akin to a writer learning that words don't do justice to anything  (You mean they don't!) or a mathematician realizing that numbers can't express the relationships he or she is trying to elucidate.

His "crisis", if you will, came to a head while he attended a symposium on comics in academia.  At the end of a lecture, he went up to the presenting professor and asked "How can I do this myself?"

That professor's advice:  "Go get yourself an illustrator."

Such advice is sound, except for one problem which I, as an educator, can relate to:  Vivanco couldn't afford to hire such a professional.  So, he decided to "give it a shot" and draw the illustrations himself.  "I try to be kind an idiot savant:  I look at art and books and comics and then I do my best to reproduce what I see."

That work has led to comics about cycling throughout history, and in the present. They illustrate, if you will, much about the way larger society related to cycling and cyclists.  Today we lobby for better cycling infrastructure, or to get any such infrastructure at all.  So did cyclists 120 to 130 years ago, in Vermont and other places.  The difference, as Vivanco points out, is that because bicycles were far more expensive in relation to people's incomes than they are now, cyclists tended to be well-off and well-connected, and therefore had connections to leaders or power-brokers, if they weren't those leaders or power-brokers themselves.  Thus,  cycling clubs in places like Brattleboro and even larger cities were part of the political establishment and were quite effective in getting safer roads and other amenities.  Today, in contrast, cyclists are, in most places, organizing and lobbying as outsiders looking in at the lawmakers and institutions they're trying to influence.

From what Professor Vivanco says, media like comics are a way to help open the doors by making information more available to non-specialists.  He points out something I know very well:  Academic discourse has a language and culture all of its own and, because they are learned by relatively few people, reach very few people.  The same could be said for any number of professions related to urban planning and policy-making, such as law, engineering and environmental psychology.  Comics and other graphic media can also help people who are not specialists--and busy professionals who don't have the time or inclination to read lengthy tomes or ponderous articles on topics outside of their fields--to better understand how the struggle to get better conditions for cyclists is related to other efforts to make cities and other environments more livable and sustainable. 

Most important, perhaps, comics like Professor Vivanco's can show how demands for better air quality and bike lanes are not new, and are not battles that can be won today and forgotten tomorrow.

I'll close by saying that I like Vivanco's drawings:  They remind me of the work of Rick Morrall, who did the illustrations for Tom Cuthbertson's bike-related writings.  At least, I think that's what Morrall's work would look like if Bike Tripping  had been published in 1892 instead of 1972.

18 December 2019

Serious Mojo In The Shadow Of Power

Last week, I spotted a pair of Sun Tour shifters on eBay.  The item's location was listed as "New York, NY."  So I asked whether I could pick them up.

Turns out, the seller was even closer to where I live than I expected:  only about 4 kilometers away.  Woodside, Queens, to be exact.  And he said his "shop" was located behind a restaurant on one of the neighborhood's commercial strips.

The reason I'm not revealing the name of that restaurant, or the name of the shop, is that Damon asked me not to.  In fact, on his website, he says his "shop"--which is really more of a workshop--is in a "secret location" and that he meets customers only by appointment.

Damon is actually an engaging and friendly fellow.  The reason for his arrangement, he says, is that his shop--a garage, really--is a "passion" and he doesn't want to deal with the more mundane parts of the bike business.  (He once had a regular shop, he explained, and running it was nothing like he expected it to be.)  Also, I sensed that he wanted to deal only with customers who shared his passion for vintage bikes.

One of our common loves, as it turns out, is frames from British builders.  He showed me a Claud Butler from the '50's that he's fixing up, along with a few other frames from Claud's countrymen.  When I revealed my own love of Mercians, he knew he'd found a soulmate, at least in bicycle terms.

(Oh, and he did some of his studies for his profession--his "day job"--in Paris and, quelle coincidence, was living in the City of Light at the same time I was there. How do Francophiles become aficionados of British Frames?  Hmm...)

All of the frames in his "shop" were steel, except for one older Vitus bike.  Among his Butlers and early '80's Treks stood one of what might be the most sought-after (by collectors and enthusiasts) bike from a mass manufacturer:  Raleigh Lenton.  It was in really good shape, except for the cellulose fenders--which are almost always broken.  

I could have spent all day at that shop, and with Damon. Because he's trying not to publicize his operation too much, I didn't take photos--except for one particularly intriguing machine.

Damon equipped this Olmo city bike, which probably dates from the '50's or '60's, with Campagnolo Gran Sport equipment, except for the Weinmann centerpull brakes. (The Gran Sport brakes wouldn't have been long enough or played nice with the fenders.)  He was impressed that I've actually written posts about GS equipment and Weinmann brakes, but I was even more taken with some other features of that bike:

Those bars put those narrow "city bars" I see on hipsters' fixies to shame--both for function and style.  But perhaps the best (or at least my favorite) part is something Damon customized.

He bent it to accommodate the front derailleur.  That alone would have made me want to make a return trip to his "shop"--which is just a few blocks away from where Dick Power had his framebuilding shop and retail store.

Before I left, I noticed that he had some vintage Silca pumps that, he explained, had been stored away from sunlight which, apparently, is what makes the plastic on them brittle.  I bought one, in black, for Negrosa, the 1973 full-Campy Mercian I picked up last year.  I know that the Zefal HPX (or even the earlier HP and Competition) pumps are easier to use and sturdier, but most full-Campy bikes of the time had Silca Imperos--and Regina freewheels, which I also have, even though I know the SunTour New Winner and Winner Pro are better in almost every way.  

That trip was short but sweet, to say the least!

12 December 2019


I have pedaled into the sunrise, and into the sunset, to work.

Likewise, I have ridden into the sunrise, and into the sunset, to go home.

Less often, I have cycled into a moonrise, to or from my job.

This morning, for the first time (that I can recall, anyway), I spun my wheels into the path of a moonset.

A full moon setting, no less--on my to the college.

(Photos taken today, along East 139th Street, Bronx, NY)

10 December 2019

It Doesn't Take Much

If you're of a certain age, you remember what happened on 28 January 1986:  The Space Shuttle Challenger blew apart just 73 seconds after lifting off.

The real tragedy, of course, is that Challenger commander Dick Scobee, Michael Smith, Judy Resnik, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis and Christa McAuliffe lost their lives.  But perhaps the most vexing part of the story is that one of the most sophisticated pieces of technology created up to that point in time was undone by a couple of rubber O-rings that didn't seal properly.

Now, the story I am going to tell next is not nearly as terrible as the fate of the Challenger crew members.  But it has this parallel:  A big, expensive piece of machinery undone by a (relatively) tiny part.

The machine in question is a Trek Super Commuter+8S electric bike--specifically, the 2017, 2018 and 2019 models.  The little part in question is a bolt that attaches the front fender to the fork crown--unless, of course, said bolt comes unthreaded, as it has on two reported occasions.  Trek says that in both cases, the wrong bolt was used.  The result was a chain reaction:  The fender fell off and jammed the front wheel, causing it to fall off.  One of those accidents resulted in a broken back for the rider. 

A $5200 machine halted--and a back broken--because of a small bolt.  It doesn't take much, does it?

As a result, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued a recall for those bikes, which sold for $5200 each.  

05 December 2019

Delivered In A Cube, On A Bike?

Fresh greens delivered on a cargo bicycle.

It's not one of those "Only in Portland" or "Only in Williamsburg" fever-dreams.  Yesterday, it became a reality--well, sort of, and for a few people and businesses--in Midtown and Downtown Manhattan.

 UPS, Amazon and DHL entered a Commercial Cargo Bike Pilot Program, in which deliveries are made on bikes with large containers attached to their rears.  DHL is already using such "Cubicycles" in Europe. New York City's Department of Transportation is collecting data on the ones launched yesterday and the DOT's commissioner, Polly Trachtenberg said the project is intended to make deliveries "safer and greener" by using those bikes instead of trucks.

H/O: Cargo bikes 1
A UPS cargo bike in Seattle.

The "greener" part seems obvious.  As for safety, Trachtenberg noted that a disproportionate number of the city's  cycling fatalities--11 of 27 to date this year--involved trucks.

Traffic congestion and its effects have long been problems in New York City.  In recent years, however, they have grown worse.  The level of fine particle pollution in the Big Apple's air actually declined, slowly but steadily, for a decade until 2015.  Since then, the levels of those pollutants, and others, have increased.  Most of that deterioration in the city's air quality has been blamed on two factors:  for-hire car services like Uber and Lyft, and the increasing popularity of package deliveries from Amazon and other retailers. 

H/O: DHL Cargo bikes
DHL "Cube bike" in Berlin

It would be great if hundreds, or even thousands, of trucks could be replaced by cargo bikes.  Could some of those containers could be fitted to accommodate passengers?