05 July 2020

I Will Survive: I Ride Again

Gloria Gaynor is most famous for I Will Survive.

I could have sung that to myself yesterday.

For my birthday, I simply had to end my longest spell without cycling in eleven years.  

In 2009, I didn’t ride through most of the summer and fall. I was recovering from my gender-affirmation surgery. Although I missed riding, my doctor, therapist, friends and others helped me to prepare for my “vacation” from it.  Also, I gave up those few months in the saddle for something I’d wanted for a very long time.

On the other hand, my latest spell without riding was induced by something that I did not foresee when I slung my leg over my bike.  Most of us are aware that a crash or some    other mishap can befall us, but I suspect that few, if any, of us ponder that possibility as we put our feet to the pedals.

The seeming randomness of my situation could explain why I felt more anxiety—and, perhaps paradoxically, urgency—about going for a ride.  

Oddly enough, I was more worried about having lost strength and endurance during my latest period of healing than I was after the much longer period without riding that followed my surgery.  Of course, my memory of walking up climbs no steeper than highway ramps in those days colored my perception of what my latest return to cycling would be like.

That fear, thankfully, was unfounded.  Then again, I rode maybe 10 kilometers, so my legs weren’t challenged.  I also didn’t notice any change in my balance or anything else.

I have to admit, though, I had an “oh no, not again moment when a delivery guy on an electric bike whipped around a turn and directly into my path.  

We could have collided head-on. We didn’t.  He could have side-swiped me and caused me to crash.  He didn’t. I could have cursed him out, in English or Spanish. I didn’t.  

Neither of us knew what the other had experienced a moment, a day or a month prior—or would experience.  There were only our roads ahead of us, whether or not they would intersect again.

His next delivery, my next ride.  Fate brought us to that moment.  For now, at least, I know I can ride again because I rode yesterday and many days before.  I have survived;
I hope I will continue to survive, and ride.

04 July 2020

My Age

Je suis le soleil.

I am the law.

Believe it or not, Donald Trump didn't utter the first of the above declarations, mainly because he doesn't speak French. (He barely speaks English.)  But if he could--or if he had any flair for figurative language--he would. "I am the sun" would sum up the way he sees himself.

He probably wishes he could make the second statement.  Sometimes I think he hired Rudy Giulani for the express purpose of finding a loophole in the Constitution that would allow him to appropriate such power unto himself.

Now I am going to say something just as audacious and ridiculous--and something El Cheeto Grande has fever-dreams about saying:  I am this country.

How is that?, you ask.  Well, today is Independence Day here in the US. Or, as some people like to say, it's this nation's birthday.

It's also my birthday.  And I am identifying myself with this American nation because, for the first time, I feel as old.

My wounds are healing and I have to go for another MRI in a week.  Hopefully, it won't tell me I'm not as well as I feel because, well, I'm used to feeling better than I feel now.

Fourth of July Bike Ride, 1934

I might get on my bike today.  If it doesn't leave me in more pain--and if I don't crash--I'm sure I'll feel younger, or at least better.

If only a "cure" for this country, or this world, were so simple!

I'm sorry for whining.

01 July 2020

On The Mend

I'm still on the mend, but I hope to be on my  bike soon.

Meantime, I've been taking some walks.  My energy level is still low:  Simple tasks tire me out.  Perhaps the worst part of this is the pain I'm still feeling in my shoulders and down the sides of my neck.  The doctor says it's muscle strains and pulls; there isn't much I can do but to "let them heal."

Only Marlee is happy about the situation:  She loves to cuddle, and I'm more available than usual!

We want to thank you for your support!   Once again, here is my GoFundMe page.

22 June 2020

This Isn't An Experiment

Some people simply cannot abide any toe-clip overlap.  Me, I can stand a little, depending on the bike and how I'm riding it.  But this is, shall we say, a bit out of my range.

What's worse is the way it was achieved, if you will:

I'm thinking now of Rigi bikes from about 40 years ago. Its creators made the wheelbase shorter by splitting the seat tube in two--rather like the top tube on a mixte frame--and running the wheel between the smaller tubes:

rigi corta rare bike campagnolo | eBay | Bicycle, Bike, Giro d'italia

I've heard of a bike that does the same thing with the down tube:  The front wheel runs through it.  I don't know how one steer such a machine.  The only possible use I can see for it is a motor-paced time trial.

Now I'll dispense with the levity:  As you probably have surmised, I didn't try to alter Arielle's geometry. Rather, it happened--in front of a nondescript tenement on Bonnefoy Avenue in New Rochelle.

I was pedaling, at a pretty good pace, home from Connecticut.  Well, I thought I was going home:  I hit something and, the next thing I knew, I was getting stitched up.   Then someone in the New Rochelle hospital decided I should be observed in a trauma unit, to which I was sent. 

Poor Arielle.  As for me, I still feel pain on the sides of my neck down to my shoulders.  Oh, and I have a headache and have been tired.  A trip to the drugstore felt like a century or a marathon.

When I got home, my face looked as if someone had superimposed a railroad map over a satellite image of the Martian surface.  It's a little better now, but I don't think I'll be modeling for Raphia any time soon.

I hate asking for money, but I think the real pain will begin when I see what my insurance doesn't cover.  So, I've set up a GoFundMe page.

I hope, more than anything, to be back in the saddle soon.  Until then, I'm going to catch up on some reading, writing and a project.  And Marlee is going to catch up with, well, the cuddles she misses when I'm out of the house!

Thank you!

03 June 2020

Cycling In A Time Of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor And Others

I suppose that most of us can say we are privileged in some ways but not in others.

If you are reading this blog, you have the privilege of my unparalleled adventures, timeless insights and deathless prose.  All right, I'm kidding.  The privilege you have, though, is the time for, and choice of spending time with me.  You could be doing other things, after all.

On the other hand, even if you love my blog more than anything else in the world, you probably have other things tugging at your sleeve, so to speak.  In short, you don't have all day to read this.  

Also, I suspect that most of you who are reading this are cyclists by choice.  That is a privilege, certainly.  If you are cycling because you have no other choice but your unaided feet, I feel extremely honored by your presence.

I have long had awareness of who has privilege and choice, and to what degree.  But I may not have ever been so cognizant of my own privilege as I was the day took a bike trip into the Cambodian countryside with You Sert, who lives in that milieu.  During that ride, I spent some time with a farmer who is a traditional healer and played with her children, who didn't speak any language I speak but who understood, perhaps better than I ever will, the ways we communicate through motion, through touch and toward the heart.  Also, I went with You Sert to a market, where we picked up the ingredients for a lunch we shared with a family.  And, before the end of that ride, a woman showed me how she weaves her grass roof and led me through weaving a row of it.  (I hope she stayed dry through the rainy season!)

I mention that day because, as rewarding as it was (I've stayed in touch with You Sert as well as other people I met there), at the end of it, I returned to my room in the inn which, although it wasn't the Ritz, was nonetheless palatial--with its air conditioning and cable channels beamed in from France, England and Australia--compared to the conditions I only glimpsed.

That day, as it turned out, was emblematic of my understanding of  being black, or anyone not white, in America.  While riding my bike, I have been stopped and frisked for no discernible reason--other than, perhaps, my gender identity or the fact that I am cycling in a car-centric culture.  One incident in particular was scary:  One of the officers who stopped me was clearly afflicted with "'roid rage."  Still, even then--on a hot day early in my gender transition, when I was riding home from work in the skirt and blouse I wore on the job--I felt at least somewhat certain that I would soon be home and riding my bike the next day.  

I didn't think, then, that I would meet the same fate as George Floyd.  Or Breonna Taylor.  Or Sandra Bland.  Or Tamir Rice.  Or Eric Garner.  Or Freddie Gray.  Or Amadou Diallo.  I didn't even expect that I would be stopped, again, by some other police officer for "riding while trans" or whatever they call it in legal lexicon or cop argot.  And, so far, I haven't.

Unfortunately, though, I have met a few riders who were stopped for no apparent reason other than "cycling while Black" or Hispanic or fill-in-the-blank.  And even if they managed not to get summonsed, or worse, I could understand if they felt even more anxiety than I did about having to deal with the police.  After all, the only people who have a greater chance of being murdered, by police officers or anyone else, than transgenders are African-Americans, particularly the young.

And, let's face it, as a white woman, I can be seen, at least by some, as an educated creative person and educator who likes to ride her bike.  It seems that my professional pursuits and passions--or even being an honest, law-abiding person trying to make a living and help others--are enough to for folks like Ms. Bland to escape whatever biases accrue to them on account of the color of their skin.

In short, even as a member of one "minority", going for a bike ride or a walk is something I can do, on most days, without thinking.  That is a privilege Ms. Bland, George Floyd and others did not have.  I try not to forget that.  

02 June 2020

A Decade On A Mid-Life Ride

Ten years ago today, I wrote my first post on this blog.

Back then, I was less than a year removed from my gender-affirmation surgery.  I had just returned to cycling a couple of months earlier; if you look at the photos in some of my early posts, you'll see that I gained weight during those months off my bike. After a summer and fall of riding, I'd lost most of the weight, though I don't (and probably will never again have) the surfboard-shaped body of my racing and long-tour days.  

What is the point of that story?  Well, a point might be that, as the Tao Te Ching teaches, life is change.  That is what makes life a journey:  If we always know what's next, we are just passing through the same moment over and over again.  

Like most people, I learned to ride a bike when I was a toddler.  Unlike most Americans of my generation (or the previous couple of generations), I didn't stop when I was old enough to drive.  Cycling has been one of the few constants in my life:  I have continued to pedal beyond jobs (careers, even) I no longer work or even think much about, through places and people I've moved away from whether by choice or circumstance and, literally, from one life to another.

Of course, there are people and other living beings I miss:  my mother (who passed a few months ago), my friends Janine and Michelle and my cuddle-buddies Charlie and Max. (Yay cats!) Now I have Marlee and friends I didn't have in my youth, as well as a few who've been with me through my journey.  Marlee doesn't replace Max or Charlie any more than current friends take the place of Janine or Michelle.  But they hold places in my life that I discovered as I've continued on my journey.

Likewise, the ways I ride today aren't  substitutes or consolations for the way I pedaled when I was younger.  The journey changed me; I changed with the journey.  And it changed, just as the sights around you change as you ride from a city to the country, from a village to farmland, from the seaside to a forest or mountains to flatlands.

And, well, the world is different from the world of a decade ago.  This day began with my hometown, New York, under curfew for the first time since the Occupy Wall Street protests of 2011. The latest curfew began at 11 pm last night; tonight it will re-commence at 8 pm.  Those restrictions come as schools and businesses deemed "non-essential" have been closed for nearly two months and social distancing has been mandated.

Who could have foreseen any of those things--or, for that matter, our political situation? If life is a journey and a journey is, by definition, a procession of change, we can at least hope that the curfews, the pandemic and the current administration won't last.  And, as long as I continue to ride, I am on the journey.  As long as I don't know where it ends, I am in the middle of it.  So, even at my age, I am a mid-life cylist.

01 June 2020

Paint, Polish and Patina

Today included a trip to Dollar Tree so I could stock up for the apocalypse.  No, as bad as some things are, we're not in it. At least, not in this part of the world and not yet.

Anyway, as I left--with toilet paper and hand sanitizer, among other things--I spotted this:

Its owner had left the store just before me.  She didn't speak English well and I don't know what, if any, other languages we might have had in common.  But at least she understood that I was looking at her bike and not trying to scam her--out of it or anything else.

After a bit of fumbling, I managed to ask whether the bike came with that finish.  An artist friend did it, she said.  And that friend is going to "fix" it for her soon.

As I write this, I'm thinking of that debate of whether a work of art should be hermetically sealed, as many museum pieces are, or left to public contact.  I rather liked that paint finish as it is, but I can understand why she'd want her friend to restore it.  I mean, I like bikes with patina and ones with shine. 

30 May 2020

A Color Of My Ride

As much as I love riding along the sea, I have to admit that the sight of the waters around here leave me pining for those almost preternaturally azure waves around the Milos and Santorini.  

I don't know whether the waters were, or ever could be, so blue around New York.  But I rather liked what I saw on my Point Lookout ride the other day:

The water reflected the moss on the rocks. Or was it the other way around?

29 May 2020

A Leg To Ride On

I, like many longtime New Yorkers, recall Dexter Benjamin.  Even if we didn't know him by name, we knew who he was because there wasn't anyone else like him.

He was The One-Legged Bicycle Messenger.  His fixed-gear bike had its drivetrain on the left side rather than the right.  And it was fitted with carrying hooks and straps to hold his crutch on the top tube.

I haven't seen or heard about him in some time.  What got me to thinking about him was a story I came across yesterday.

Leo Rodgers stops for a snack during a ride.

Like Dexter Benjamin, Leo Rodgers lost his leg in a horrific, non-cycling-related accident.  Rodgers, however, lost his left leg, so the only modification to his All City bike was the removal of the left (non-drive-side) crank and pedal.  And he didn't become a messenger in New York.  Rather, he works in a posh Florida bike shop and rides with a club.

One thing Benjamin and Rodgers have in common, though, is their fearlessness.  If you're a messenger in Manhattan, you are, by definition, riding with abandon.  Rodgers, on the other hand, rides with no constraints because, well, he can.  

Oh, one other thing they have in common:  They're inspirations.  More than a few people have said as much.  Not only do both riders cause people to realize that their barriers to whatever they want to do are comparatively small; they also have helped people get over their fears--on Manhattan's streets and along Florida's roads, where more cyclists are killed than anywhere else in the US.

The next time I think I can't do something, I won't have a leg to stand on.  I do, however, still have two legs that can spin pedals!

28 May 2020

Don't Try This At Home--Or Anywhere Else!

'Some of us, when we're young, think we can do absolutely anything, no matter how dangerous or ridiculous, off or on the bike.

Probably the last really crazy thing I would have done was to ride my Bontrager mountain bike (with a Rock Shox yellow Judy fork, no rear suspension) down the stairs from the Sacre-Couer de Montmartre.  

What stopped me? Actually, the question is "who"?  Tammy said she didn't doubt I could do it, but juuust in case, she wouldn't know what to do because she couldn't speak French.  I taught her a few useful pharases:  "Au secours!"  "Mon copain est tombe." (I realize now that the gendarmes would probably think, "Son copain est fou." )  She learned quickly; she was fluent in Spanish.

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened had I taken that ride.  Would she have broken up with me the moment I began my descent?  I didn't want that:  Who goes to Paris to have their heart broken?

These days, I admit, I'm not quite as daring.  And if I were counseling young people, there are some things I would advise them never, never to do on a bike:

27 May 2020

Get Your 1965 Collegiate Now!

Did you get a Schwinn Collegiate in 1965?

If you didn't, you now have a chance to acquire it. Well, sort of.  And not at the 1965 price.

Of course, the new "1965 Collegiate" won't be an exact replica of the original because none of the parts that came with it are made anymore.

The new "1965 Collegiate" will be offered by Detroit Bikes. Like the company's other offerings, its frame will be made in their Detroit workshop.  In a way, it's fitting, as the old Collegiates were made in another once-thriving industrial city:  Chicago, the site of Schwinn's old factory.  

In another odd parallel, both Detroit Bikes and Schwinn were founded by immigrants:  DB founder Zac Pashak came from Canada; Ignaz Schwinn was born in Germany.  And, while many auto-industry pioneers, including Henry Ford, started off as bicycle builders, designers or mechanics, the current Master Builder at Detroit Bikes is Henry Ford II.  No, they're not related, but it's quite the coincidence, isn't it?

Green bike.
The new "Schwinn Collegiate"

Detroit Bikes is offering the new "Collegiate" to commemorate the 125th anniversary of Schwinn, once the most iconic American bike marque.  While the brand still survives, Schwinn is owned by a conglomerate; its bikes are made in China and sold in big-box stores rather than the network of independent bike dealers that supplied Schwinns to the public for decades.

That dealer network gave Schwinn a platform for re-making the American (and, by extension, worldwide) bicycle market during the 1960s and 1970s.  What made the Bike Boom the Bike Boom was the re-discovery of the bicycle by people who were old enough to drive.  Schwinn helped to stoke this boom by being among the first American manufacturers to offer "lightweight" bikes for adults.  "Lightweight" is a relative term:  the new Collegiates, Varsities and Continentals were tanks, but they had the diamond-style frame of racing bikes and something most Americans had never before seen: a derailleur.  That last feature made possible a wider range of gearing than internally-geared hubs and, even in their crude state (at least, compared to today's offerings), were more efficient. That made cycling more pleasurable--and, in many cases, practical--for adults who hadn't been astride two wheels since the day they got their driver's licences.

The Collegiate was a "gateway" bike: Schwinn offered it as a "budget lightweight."  Essentially, it was a Varsity with 5 speeds instead of 10 (one front chainring instead of two) and a mattress saddle.  It was offered with drop or upright bars on the men's model (upright only on the women's bike). In the days just before the Bike Boom--which would include 1965--many young people bought this bike to, not surprisingly, get around on campus and take rides in local parks.

Those bikes, sold in Schwinn's dealer network, were all part of a strategy envisioned by F.W. Schwinn, the founder's son, who believed that an adult bicycle market could be developed in the United States.  His idea succeeded for a time, then backfired:  People who rode those Collegiates, Varsities and Continentals would discover imported derailleur-equipped bikes that were much lighter than any Schwinn (besides the Paramount, which was made in limited quantities).

In another parallel with Schwinn, Detroit Bikes is helping to re-shape the future of cycling in the United States.  Ford II and Pashak seem to recognize that for the bicycle to become an integral part of American transportation and recreation, their industry cannot continue its reliance on a few buyers of high-end racing or mountain bikes, or even imitations of those bikes. Such bikes are simply not practical for the ways most people ride, and the ways most would-be cyclists want to ride. Instead, Detroit is concentrating on building bikes that are practical as urban transportation as well as for other everyday uses.

So, in another sense, it's not such a surprise that Detroit Bikes would re-make an iconic Schwinn:  Both companies, after all, have tried to re-shape the ways people see and use bicycles.  Schwinn succeeded for a time and then became a victim of that success (and some managerial missteps).  Detroit Bikes, on the other hand, has the opportunity for more lasting success. 

(I would love to see the new "Collegiate" in a color Schwinn offered in 1965:  Violet.)

26 May 2020

How Many Riders In An Event?

One of the most cynical comments ever made came from Joseph Stalin:  "If one man dies of hunger, that is a tragedy. If millions die, that's only statistics."

It does raise a valid question, though:  How many people constitute a "gathering?"  During the COVID-19 pandemic, the answer is literally life-and-death.

It seems that in most jurisdictions, that number is ten. (Coincidentally, that is the number it takes to make a minyan for a Jewish service or quorum for organizational meetings.)  A few places have raised that number to 50 or more; but for now that number seems to be ten.

What that means, of course, is that most sporting events and rallies are out of the question, with or without spectators.  Every annual or otherwise periodic bike ride I know of has been canceled or postponed for this year.  That includes the Portland Naked Bike Ride, originally scheduled for 27 June.

The thing is, public nudity is illegal in Portland, as it is in most places in the United States.  But the city allows the event to go on every year because of its official status as a protest.  The ride attracts around 10,000 riders a year and no police force, no matter how numerous or well-equipped, could cite or arrest all of them.  So the Portland police allow them to ride as long as they stay on the route with the rest of the riders.  

Now, one nude bike rider, that's a different story.  Comedian Trevor Noah brought up this point when ride organizers announced they are "encouraging everyone to go out and ride naked on their own."  Noah asked the most pertinent question: "Is that gonna work?"   He explained that if "there's 10,000 naked bike riders, that's an event."  But, he continued, " if there's one naked dude on a ten-speed?  You just nasty."


(part about Portland Naked Bike Ride begins at 3:00)
More to the point, though, an individual or even a small group of riders might not enjoy the same level of safety a mass of thousands would have.

So just how many riders does it take to make an event?  Can Trevor Noah answer that?

25 May 2020

Memorial Day: Heroes And The Lionhearted

Today is Memorial Day in the US and some other countries.

Most of the commemorations that mark this day--the parades, airshows, ballgames and other gatherings--have been cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  I am sure many events are being held online and that, where restrictions have been lifted, people are having picnics and barbecues in their yards, in parks and on beaches. In that sense, at least, this Memorial Day is like earlier ones.

Another way in which this day is similar to earlier Memorial Days is that the word "heroes" will be used a lot.  Most of the time, it refers to those who fought, and sometimes died, in the nation's wars.  Now, while I believe that the only true advance the human race could ever make is to get rid of war and beat swords into ploughshares, as the book  of Isaiah implores us, I believe that those who gave their bodies, and lives, in service of human dignity deserve to be celebrated as heroes.  They include, among others, those who fought against Hitler (who, I believe, came closer than anyone else to embodying pure evil in this world) as well as those who are experiencing the trauma of treating people who are sick and dying from something we can't see.  Also included are those who are helping communities function, whether by making or delivering whatever goods or services people need, or helping others access those things.

The other day, I heard about another real hero.  She (Does anybody use the word "heroine" anymore?) hasn't worked in a hospital ward or nursing home because, to be fair, in most places she's not even old enough to get the education or training she'd need to do such things.  She also hasn't brought food to 90-year-olds languishing alone in their apartments or educated people about hygeine.  In fact, her courageous act had nothing to do with her larger community, although she has been feted as the "Lionhearted" throughout her country.

Jyoti Kumari is a 15-year-old girl from Sirhulli, a village near the Nepalese border.  Its state, Bihar, is one of the poorest in India, which is saying something.  Her father, Mohan Paswan, like many men from the area, is a migrant laborer who found himself out of work and stranded near New Delhi, about 700 miles away.  

He might've tried what many in his situation have tried: walking back to his home village.  Younger and healthier men have perished in their attempt to return to their families and friends:  They have been run down by trucks or trammeled by trains.  Or, they have simply collapsed in the brutal heat of the countryside.

Jyoti's dad was injured and barely able to walk--in addition to being out of work, almost out of money and without a means of transportation.  He could have been another casualty of the pandemic and, being of a low caste, some of the world's worst economic inequalities.  But, as it turned out, his daughter possesed qualities--ingenuity and sheer grit--that were more powerful than anything that he was suffering.

For the equivalent of $20--the last of their savings--she bought a purple bike.  She jumped on it and he perched on the rear.  Along their 1200-kilometer journey, she borrowed cellphones to deliver this message: "Don't worry, mummy.  I will get Papa home good."

Jyoti Kumar, her father and the bike.  From BBC Hindi.

(I think that should be an inscription on a medal:  The Purple Bicycle?)

That she did.  To say it wasn't easy would be an understatement: While Jyoti is strong and confident on a bike, having done a lot of riding in and around her village, she was hauling her father, a big man with a big bag, through unrelenting sun.  Just as daunting, perhaps, as the weather and terrain were the taunts she endured from locals who believed it was ridiculous or just wrong for a girl to pedal while her father sat in the back.

But there were also strangers who helped them.  Also, by the time they got home, the news of their journey had spread all over the media--and Onkar Singh, who called her while she was resting up.

Mr. Singh is the chairman of the Cycling Federation of India.  He's invited her to New Delhi for a tryout with the national team.  "She has great talent," he said.

She said she's "elated" and really wants to go.

Jyoti Kumari has certainly earned the opportunity.  And, I believe, Onkar Singh knows a hero when he sees one.

24 May 2020

I Tried. Really, I Tried!

Including Marlee, I have had six cats during my life.  Each of them has delighted me in his or her own way, and I have loved them all.

You can "adopt" this cat here.

Unfortunately, I never could get any of them to do this:

Really, I tried! ;-)

23 May 2020

Untangling His Brakes

All of my bikes have steel frames.  Some, however, were made recently and have modern componentry.  The others are older and have components that are more or less "period correct."

Even if one weren't well-versed in the nuances of modern vs. retro machines, he or she could tell which bikes are which by one tell-tale detail:  the brake cables.  My modern bikes have aero levers with concealed cables (or, in the case of Vera, my Mercian mixte, inverse brake levers with cables hidden under tape) while my older bikes have traditional cables that loop from the tops of the brake levers.

Hidden "aero" cables were designed, as the name implies, for aerodynamics.  For my purposes, that doesn't matter much.  The reason I use aero levers are that they're designed to work well with modern brakes--and because I like the feel of one lever in particular:  the Cane Creek SCR5/Tektro RL 200.  

(Cane Creek's lever is a Tektro with a nicer finish and little gekkos embossed on the hoods.  Both levers, lamentably, were discontinued several years ago.)  

When I was an active mountain biker, I wished there were an "aero" version of mountain bike brake levers.  I found that, even though my mountain frames were smaller, I needed longer cables and housings because in tight technical stretches, I was more likely to make a sharp turn, even to the point that my bars were almost parallel to the top tube.  

The problem came when riding through areas of bush and bramble:  The cables, on occasion, would become entangled in them.   Siddesh Dubal, a Purdue University student and researcher, had the same problem.  Unlike me, he came up  with a solution.  "I created this device based on my own experiences while mountain biking in India and other places," he explains.  

I'm probably not the first person to look at it and wonder, "Why didn't I think of that?"  Apparently, he used a modified top cap from a headless headset (which practically all new mountain bikes use) to rout the cables through the steerer tube rather than across the stem and along the top tube.  The result, Dubal says, is something that "provides safety and convenience for riders, and is also simple and cheap to manufacture and install on a bike."

Will it make him rich?  Who knows?  Somehow, though, I think Siddesh Dubal has a bright future--as a cyclist and in whatever career he pursues.

22 May 2020

Bikeways To The Future: I Hope Not!

Last week, I wrote about the current bicycle shortage and compared it to a similar scarcity during the 1970s Bike Boom.  Then, I waited three months for my Schwinn Continental, not a custom-built frame.  Today I want to talk about another parallel between then and now.

There probably was never a time, save for the 1890s (or now), when everyday people were more aware of cycling and cyclists as they were from about 1969 to 1974.  Back then, governments at every level from counties to the nation were floating plans to build "bikeways" (as bike lanes were called then) to, perhaps, an even greater degree than we see today.  

Back then, regular cyclists included Dr. Paul Dudley White, President Eisenhower's personal physician and a founder of the American Heart Association; Stewart Udall, the Secretary of the Interior under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and one of the founders of modern environmental movements; and John Volpe, Secretary of Transportation.  Also among their number was Carl Bernstein, who helped to expose the Watergate scandal and, much to his chagrin, one of the Watergate "burglars" he exposed!

As transportation writer Carlton Reid notes, the 1970s Bike Boom offers hope, as well as cautionary tales, for today's "Boom".  One hopeful sign is that while, in some areas, cyclists are stereotyped as overprivileged milennials or hipsters--the bohoisie or bourgemians, if you will:  the very antithesis of a rebellion against consumer capitalism--back in the day, adult riders  were labelled as "bike freaks" who were hippies, commies or worse.  

More to the point, though, too many decisions about bicycle policy were being made by people who weren't cyclists and, worse, didn't have the collective memory, if you will, of cycling that Europeans and people in other parts of the world could  draw upon.  So there was an emphasis on "bikeways" that separated cyclists completely, not only from motorized traffic, but the community in general:  They were good for leisurely weekend rides, but not for transportation.  That is one reason why the massive bike sales of the early 1970s (which dwarfed mountain bike sales during their late 1980s-eary 1990s boom) did not translate into a culture in which bicycles were an integral part.  Once the "boom" ended, many people hung up their bikes for good.

That ignorance of cycling extended to law enforcement officials, as it too often does now.  I have been stopped by cops who insisted I broke the law when I didn't and that I should engage in practices that actually endanger cyclists, such as riding all the way to the right and following traffic signals when crossing busy intersections.

Also, as Reid points out, while bikes from that era are called "vintage" and sell for high prices on eBay, the fact is that most bikes sold during that time were of low quality.  In other words, when most people bought Schwinns or Raleighs (if they didn't buy department-store bikes), they weren't buying Internationals or Paramounts, they were shelling out their money for Records or Varsities--or for any number of low-end models from makers like Atala or any number of smaller companies that haven't been heard from since.  Most people never learned to even fix a flat, let alone take care of more complex problems, so when things went wrong, they never got fixed.  Moreover, most of the bikes sold really weren't designed for the way people were riding them.  That is why, for example, lower-end ten-speeds came with brake extension (a.k.a. "suicide") levers:  Most casual cyclists are better off with upright or flat handlebars than on drop bars.

So, Reid cautions that we must learn that--as Richard Ballantine argued in his 1972 book--"bikeways" alone are not  alone the answer.  For one thing, it's much better to take lanes and streets from vehicular traffic and to raise awareness of cyclists, pedestrians and motorists alike of cyclists' right to ride.  So are bikes that are suited to the riders' needs and inclinations.  Otherwise, a lot of the bikes purchased today will be hanging in rafters--or buried in landfills--by 2030.

21 May 2020

Rue de Rivoli: An Axis For Cyclists

There's nothing like cycling in France (or even my memories of it) to make my heart sing.  And even though one has to contend with traffic and other inconveniences one encounters in other large cities, cyclists in Paris are at least not seen as freaks or intruders, and are treated with respect.

Still, there are some streets in the City of Light that aren't for the faint of heart.  One of them, until recently, was the Rue de Rivoli.  Of course, no trip to Paris is complete without a walk or ride along its most famous streets, which runs from rue de Sevigne (near the Place de la Bastille) to the Place de la Concorde, and includes the Louvre, Tuilieries gardens, Le Marais and numerous hotels, restaurants, stores and bakeries tucked into dazzling belle epoque buildings.  I have cycled this route, one of the first "straight-arrow" streets in Paris, numerous time.  But I must say that I wasn't intimidated because I've cycled Fifth Avenue, Broadway and other major venues in my hometown, as well as some of the major arteries of other major cities.

Now I wish I were there: It's closed to traffic.  That closure is part of Mayor Anne Hidalgo's efforts to encourage cycling and walking, particularly as the Metro and buses are running on COVID pandemic-induced restrictions.  "I would like there to be an axis dedicated exclusively to bikes and another reserved only for buses, taxis, emergency vehicles and craftsmens' vehicles, but not cars," she told reporters.

Mayor Hidalgo has said that the closure will continue through the summer, but could be made permanent.  

20 May 2020

A Perfect Storm For A Ride

Yesterday I took a late ride out to Point Lookout.

It was a CBC day: clear, breezy and cool--with the emphasis on all three.  The sky was as bright as the day was brisk.  When I crossed the Veterans' Memorial Bridge from Broad Channel to the Rockaways, the temperature, already chilly for the time of year, seemed to drop by about ten degrees.

The season's first hurricane tacked east just when it was forecast to brush across the mid-Atlantic coast.  So we were spared a deluge, but gifted the wind, which blew from exactly the right part of southeast so that I pedaled into it all the way from my apartment to the rocks.

And I was pedaling into the wind, which at times gusted to 60 KPH (37-38 MPH), blew from exactly the right part of the southeast so that I was pedaling into it all the way from my apartment to the rocks.

In a way though, it was a "perfect storm":  The ride home was a breeze (pun intended).  But along the way, in both directions, the tides washed over the sand in the Rockaways and the rocks at Point Lookout.

The shower was invigorating, but I might've liked it more had the day just been a bit warmer.

Still, it was a perfect storm for a ride.

19 May 2020

GM Pulls Plug On Electric Bikes

Many moons ago, during my "Ayn Rand phase," I was trying to understand how markets, and the stock market, worked.  During that time, I chanced upon a book by someone (whose name I've forgotten) lost all of his money--and some he borrowed from relatives--in the stock market while it was at record highs.

I forget which stocks, exactly, he bet on and lost.  I have to credit him, however, with this:  He helped me to realize, at a tender age, that the stock market really isn't much different from a casino.  Years later, during the boom of the 1980s, I would come to learn that many of those gamblers in expensive suits were coke (and I'm not talking about The Real Thing) addicts.  

Still, it's interesting to ponder the question of why some prosper during hard times while others who seem to be doing all the right things fail just when conditions seem right for their success.

In the latter category is General Motors.  I'm not going to talk about their 2009 bankruptcy which, along with the insolvency of Chrysler Motors, almost turned the crisis of 2008 into a full-blown depression.  Rather, I am going to mention their latest ill-fated move:  Their entry into the e-bike market.

Late in 2018, GM announced its electric bike program with a flashy contest to name the e-bike.  From it, the name "Ariv" emerged and was introduced in February 2019.  GM offered two models:  The Ariv Meld was an electric bike, while the Ariv Merge was the same bike with a folding mechanism. 

Both bikes were made to comply with Europe's strict e-bike regulations, which meant that they had no hand throttle (like you'd find on a motorcycle) and instead were equipped with four levels of pedal assist.  In further compliance with European mandates, the bikes had a top speed of 25 km/hr (about 15.5 mph).  In the lowest power mode, the Ariv battery had a potential range of 64 kilometers (40 miles).

General Motors has just announced that it will cease manufacturing of Arivs.  While GM blames COVID-19's effects on their bottom line for their decision, I suspect other factors were at play.  One could be the price of those bikes:  2800 Euros (about 3060 USD at today's rates) for the Meld and 3400 Euros (3710 USD) for the Merge in Belgium and the Netherlands.  Even if the quality of those machines were commensurate with their prices, not many people, particularly first-time buyers (who, at this point, are still most of the market) would want to spend that much.  And not many delivery people, I imagine, could afford them.

Also, I imagine not many people would want to spend that much money on a bike with small wheels--unless it's a Brompton.  My own amateur observation leads me to believe that there is not much "crossover" between the market for Bromptons (or, for that matter, less-expensive folding bikes like the Dahon) and the market for electric bikes.

Arivs, as far as I know, were sold only in Europe.  There were plans to sell modified versions that could go 20 mph (33 kph)  for the USA, but  I don't know whether any such  bikes were made or sold.  I think, based on my amateur observation, that the bike would have needed larger-diameter wheels to succeed in America.

Anyway, GM pulling out of the e-bike market has not deterred other automotive companies, such as BMW and Skoda (a Czech automaker popular in Europe if little-known in the US)  from working to develop their own electric bikes and scooters. Spanish carmaker Seat, meanwhile, has recently launched their own micromobility (the name of the category that includes e-bikes and scooters) offerings.