17 February 2020

When Today Was Bicycle Day

Today is Presidents’ Day in the US.  Previously, it was celebrated as Washington’s Birthday, which was declared a Federal holiday in 1885.

That was on the eve of America’s first Bicycle Boom.  So, as this holiday is today an occasion for sales on bedding, at that time new bike models were rolled out (pun intended).

Four years ago, I wrote a post about it.  

15 February 2020

Where We've Escaped Death--For The Past Two Years

As I have mentioned in earlier posts, Florida has had, for several years running, the highest--by far--bicycle fatality rate of any US state.  

A number of factors contribute to the high body count:  a car-centric culture, a lack of consciousness of cyclists among motorists, high rates of alcohol consumption and a lack of shoulders or sidewalks, let alone bike or pedestrian lanes, on most thoroughfares.  

One notable exception to the dark side of the Sunshine State is Flagler County.  It's the only county in Central Florida (roughly defined as anything within a two-hour drive of Orlando) in which a cyclist wasn't killed in 2018 or 2019.

I can attest that the county is indeed safer for bike-riding than other parts of the state (at least the parts in which I've ridden).  In fact, I enjoyed riding there and immediately saw the difference when I crossed into neighboring St.John's or Volusia counties, especially when I neared St. Augustine or Daytona Beach.

You see, the largest city in Flagler is Palm Coast, where my parents lived.  I've documented a few of my visits in this blog.  There are a number of paths in the city and county, and most of the major roads have, if not actual bike lanes, then wide sidewalks where cycling is permitted.  And, I must say, pedestrians, in my experience, were very courteous.

Plus, there just seemed to be more cyclists in Palm Coast and Flagler than in neighboring areas, or even in the areas around Jacksonville, Miami or Fort Lauderdale, where I've also ridden.  I don't know whether more people ride because the conditions are favorable, or those conditions exist because of the cyclists.  

My mother is gone and I don't know how much longer my father will stay in Palm Coast.  At least I have pleasant memories of riding there.  Little did I know that I was in an island in a storm of cycling mishaps!

14 February 2020

Rose, Thou Art Sick

Here's something romantic to tell your spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, life partner, significant other or whatever you call him/her/them:

Of course, you would say it only if that person is also a cyclist.  If he/she/they are/is not a cyclist, you might witness aviation history in whatever space you share!

One Valentine's Day many, many years ago, I was riding my bike by the Rutgers campus.  I was flat broke, as I often was (and would often be on many occasions later).  What would I give, or do with, my girlfriend?  I could have made something, I suppose, but I wouldn't have felt right, knowing that I slapped it together in even less time than I wrote at least one of my papers.  And, at that point, my cooking skills consisted mainly of boiling and frying.

While pondering all of the things I couldn't give, or do for, her, I pedaled by the botany lab.  A blur of red, deep red, streamed into the corner of my eye.  Rose, thou art sickI'd read William Blake's poem at least a few times, but why was I thinking of it then--with a riot of deep crimson in my line of vision.

The dumpster outside the botany lab overflowed with those flowers.  Roses, redder than any in the Queen's garden--or any upper Madison Avenue florist. Rose, thou art sick.  They probably are not well if they're in that dumpster, I realized.  But they were so, so red, like the bloom of one who grows more beautiful while drawing closer to death. (I'd recently read a Japanese story like that.)  

Giving no thought to what might be keeping those petals redder than Mississippi in any election during my lifetime, I yanked my handlebar and made a beeline for that corrugated steel cornucopia of floral bounty.  I propped my bike and scooped as many roses--their stems still attached!--as I could handle.  I found a piece of twine lying nearby and used it to tie whatever I couldn't carry to my handlebars, top tube and seat tube.

On my way back to my apartment, I stopped by an art studio and appropriated some ribbon, and large vase from a conference room.  Then I pedaled to the language houses, where my girlfriend stayed.

One of her housemates answered the door.  Slackjawed, she darted up the stairs and summoned, it seemed, all the other girls in that house--and my girlfriend.  They watched as I handed her more roses than any of them had seen in their lives.  Oh, and those roses were redder--even if they were sicker.

About the only thing that's the same in my life is that I still ride my bikes.  I have a few more than I had then, not to mention the memory of that day, when I might have made someone happier (and a few of her friends more envious) than I've made anyone since.

I still wonder what kept those roses so red--for almost two weeks after I found them!  Rose, thou art sick.  A few years ago, I looked her up, worried that those roses may have made her give birth to sick children.  As far as I can tell, she remained childless.  Because of the roses?  

They don't seem to have affected me.  I still ride, after all.  

10 February 2020

A Motor City Gets A Bicycle Mayor

It's no surprise that cities like Amsterdam and Paris have "Bicycle Mayors."  But what if, say, Detroit were to select such a person?

Turns out, the equivalent of that has happened in England.  Adam Tranter, who runs a public relations and marketing agency, has just been appointed as the first Bicycle Mayor of Coventry, often referred to as Britain's "Motor City."

Bicycle Mayor of Coventry.
Adam Tratner

Interestingly, during the 1950s, Great Britain was the second-largest producer of automobiles (after the US) and the largest exporter of cars.  But the decline of Coventry, and the British automotive industry, mirrors that of its American counterpart and Detroit:  more innovative and higher-quality machines, competitively priced, began to enter both countries from France, Germany and Japan from the 1960s through the 1980's, at the same time the perceived (and sometimes actual) quality of domestically-produced vehicles plummeted.   The British decline was exacerbated by the introduction of low-priced cars from Eastern Europe and Asian countries not named Japan.

Ironically, both Coventry and Detroit were centers of their countries' bicycle industry:  In fact, many developments--including the "safety" bicycle, with two wheels of equal size driven by chain and sprocket gearing--come from the Midlands area around Coventry.

 The fact that both countries were incubators, if not cradles, of their nations' bicycle industry is one of the reasons why they became automotive centers:  Just as Henry Ford and other pioneers of the American automobile began as bicycle mechanics or designers, British bicycle designers transitioned into motorcycles and cars. 

A further irony is that as the automobile manufacturing disappeared, both cities actually became more auto-dependent:  According to one survey, 64 percent of all trips to work or school in Coventry were made by car, as opposed to 3 percent by bicycle.  One of Mr. Tratner's jobs, in his voluntary position, will be to get more feet away from gas pedals and onto bicycle pedals.  

Perhaps one day Coventry will return to its "roots," if you will.  Could Detroit go the same way.

09 February 2020

In Case Of Emergency

"So you ride your bike to work?"

"Yes. It's great."

"What do you do when you get a flat?"

08 February 2020

Who Owns The Road In Gaborone?

I own the road:  I pay road tax.

I've heard some version of this argument over the years.  What drivers often forget is that those of us who don't drive are paying all of the same taxes as those who use their cars to get to the corner store.  As I pointed out to someone who accused me of taking "his" parking space, the only tax I don't pay that a driver pays is the one levied on gasoline.  But, in a sense, I pay for it, as other taxes, at least to some degree, subsidize the relatively low cost of petrol here in the US, just as the deductions from my paychecks help to pay for road building and maintenance.

The "I pay, I own" argument is even more emphatic, or vehement, in those places where a newly-emergent middle class is forsaking two wheels and pedals in favor of four wheels and gas pedals.  That, of course, was the story of Chinese cities early in this century.  Now it seems to be the narrative in Gaborone, the capital of Botswana.

Whereas most people rode bikes to school or work just a few years ago, now the bicycle has a double stigma:  It is seen as archaic and something that you use only if you're poor.  

I've never been to Gaborone, but according to BBC correspondent Sharon Tshipa, it's "the worst place in the world to ride a bike."  Not only are the drivers as reckless as the worst kinds of teenagers, they are quite open in expressing their hostility toward cyclists.  Some even threaten or promise to mow down riders.

These dangers to bicycle riders’ physical safety and mental well-being are compounded by hazards to their internal medical condition. Gaborone has some of the world’s worst air quality.  The sheer volume of vehicular traffic would, by itself, be enough to degrade the city’s environment.  But a particular quality of the city’s fleet makes things worse.  While some new cars are imported from neighboring South Africa, many more used vehicles come from other countries, where they failed to meet emission standards.

Whether or not Gaborone is the worst place to cycle, it’s sad to see people forsake their bikes, and disturbing that such hostility has developed against remaining cyclists.  From what I understand, some Chinese cities are re-discovering the bicycle.  Perhaps Gaborone will do likewise one day.

07 February 2020

The Novel Coronavirus And New Bikes

Perhaps the novel coronavirus hasn't gotten you sick--yet.  It might, however, keep you from buying the new bike you want.

Even though some major bicycle manufacturers shifted their production to Vietnam, Cambodia or Taiwan in response to the tariffs imposed on Chinese goods,  there is a chance that the new Bianchi or Rocky Mountain machine you've been eyeing is nonetheless made by Chinese workers.  Some of those factories are, out of caution or fear (depending on your point of view), shutting down temporarily.  While some company executives and factory managers believe they are protecting their native workers from possible contamination, others may be acting out of anti-Chinese sentiment sparked by the virus outbreak.

A welder at a Taiwanese bike factory. BRAIN photo.

Even those factories that haven't shut down could experience (or are experiencing) slowdowns because they're supplied with parts or machinery made in other affected factories.  As an example, one factory in Vietnam is a major supplier of frame tubes to plants in Cambodia and China that turn out bicycles for Trek, Specialized, Norco and other familiar brands.  

Stoppages or slowdowns in production at Asian factories could, moreover, disrupt the manufacture of bikes in other countires, as many depend on Asian suppliers.

So, be well and, if you want to buy a new bike, be patient!

06 February 2020

Will The Velo Continue to Vive After The Greve?

I can recall three transit strikes in New York City.  The first began with the new year in 1966.  I was a child then, and the main thing I recall is my father missing a couple of days of work, then taking cabs with co-workers.  

The second lasted nearly as long, and began on April Fools' Day in 1980.  I was a student at Rutgers but was making frequent trips into New York.  Back then, buses along the Princeton-to-New York/Port Authority Route had large luggage hatches on their undersides.  Since they were almost never used for the intended purpose, and because the bus operating company didn't seem to have any written policy against using those hatches for any other purpose, I and a few other cyclists would stow our bikes in them.  I recall one friendly driver who'd help us angle our bikes into the compartments and make sure the door was shut; other drivers simply looked the other way.  So, once I arrived in the city, I had a convenient way of getting around.

The last strike I recall began just before Christmas in 2005. Subway and bus workers walked off their jobs for three days.  I was teaching at another college and, since the strike coincided with the end of the semester, we were concerned that exams would be postponed until January--and that I'd have to postpone or cancel a trip I'd booked for then.  Thankfully, that strike ended before the holiday and only a few classes and exams, none of which were mine, had to be rescheduled.

During the 1980 and 2005 strikes, many commuters walked or rode bicycles to work.  (In fact, the practice of wearing a business suit with sneakers and carrying dress pumps or wingtips in a bag is said to have begun with the 1980 strike.)  I have had a difficult time finding statistics to confirm my observation that, while some continued to pedal to their offices, stores, factories or schools after each of those labor stoppages, more people continued to ride to work after the 2005 walkout than after the 1980 halt to the trains and buses.  

If my observation can indeed be borne out by empirical data, it would indeed be interesting, especially because the conditions of each strike were very different:  The 1980 strike unfolded with some of the blooms in the city's gardens, while the 2005 strike coincided with both the official beginning of winter and that season's first cold spell. 

Also, because the 1980 strike was much longer, one might expect the habit of cycling or walking to become more ingrained than it would have during the 2005 stoppage.  

Then again, some who weren't so inclined to ride or walk might have seen having to do so during the long 1980 strike in the way people viewed shortages and other privations during World War II or other protracted national emergencies:  They were eager to get back to their old ways.  On the other hand, having to bike or walk for only three days might leave people with more pleasant memories.

Moreover, as I recall, 1980 was a "year without a spring".  A cold, damp April gave way to a heat wave in early May that presaged a hot, dry summer.   Perhaps such weather was a disincentive to continue cycling, at least for some people.  On the other hand, after the cold wave during the strike, the winter of 2005-2006 was mild.  Perhaps it is no coincidence that the surge in the number of commuters and recreational cyclists began to surge right around that time.

I mention all of these things because the strikes in France--which include greves on the Transports Parisiens et Transiliens--have ended.  The trains and buses, with a few exceptions, came to a halt for most of December and January.  So there is a valid basis for comparing the change in transportation habits as opposed to the previous year.

Turns out, on the whole, the number of January cyclists in the City of Light--at least as measured on its major bike lanes--increased by 131 percent--over the first month of 2019.  That is to say, the numbers more than doubled and on two--the Voie Georges Pompidou and le Pont National--more than three times as many cyclists rode by.

It will be interesting to see how many of those "new" cyclists continue their riding habit as Metro and bus services return to normal.  I suspect they will, simply because cycling culture, while not as prevalent in Paris as in other parts of France, existed to a greater degree than it did in the Big Apple when its conductors, drivers and maintenance workers walked off their jobs.  Also, Paris' system of bike lanes and other infrastructure is more extensive and generally more useful than what New York has even now, let alone 15 years ago or 40 years ago, when it was all but nonexistent.

All I can say is to Paris is Vive la Velo!


05 February 2020

Capital Fine

Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

I could say something like that on those rare occasions when I agree with the Automobile Association of America or the Washington Times.  Well, today I hit the "daily double," if you will.

The District of Columbia's Department of Public Works says that, later this month, it will begin to levy $150 fines on drivers who stop or park in bicycle lanes.  Perhaps not surprisingly, both the WT and AAA hate the idea.  

One point on which I agree with them is that the move probably won't help to improve cyclists' safety or the flow of traffic.  I am not familiar with that city's bike routes, but if they're anything like some that I've seen here in New York, they're worse than no lanes at all for cyclists.  And, of course, they frustrate drivers.

Perhaps more to the point, though, is this:  New York's ban against stopping or parking in bike lanes is rarely, if ever, enforced.  Will the Capital City do better in making drivers better at respecting the rights and safety of cyclists as well as pedestrians?

If it doesn't, the result will most likely be more injuries and fatalities--and frustrated drivers, which could lead to more deaths and injuries.  

Even more important, though, is the design of both lanes and streets.  Unless that is improved, no other policy or piece of bicycle "infrastructure" will do anything to help both motorists and cyclists navigate often-chaotic conditions. 

03 February 2020

Am I Worth Half?

Nobody likes it when somebody gets away with murder.

At least, that is my belief. Too often, though, it's put to the test when the dead person is a cyclist.  It seems that too many police officers are unwilling to arrest intoxicated or negligent drivers who run down people on bicycles.  And, if the cops do their jobs, too many jurors and judges are willing to let such drivers go with a "slap on the wrist."

In fact, hostility is directed toward the cyclist in much the same way it was, not so long ago, directed at rape victims:  Somehow, in the minds of some people, the cyclist or rape victim brought it on him/her self.

So, it catches my attention when a hit-and-run driver who kills a cyclist is actually brought to account for her actions.

I used the female pronoun because, in this case, the perpetrator is indeed female.  Lacey Jade Jordan of Oakdale, Louisiana was driving a Chevrolet Silverado south on U.S. 165 when she struck Taurus McQuarn, who was cycling in the same direction.  She struck him and fled the scene.

Lacey Jade Jordan

Notice that I said "her actions."  You see, it's not the first time Ms. Jordan has done something like that.  In November 2012, she struck and killed another cyclist along the very same road.  Then, she and the cyclist were both traveling on the northbound side.

So, it took two cyclists' deaths before a negligent driver was arrested and charged.  Does it mean that, in the eyes of Louisiana law enforcement, each of our lives is worth half of a non-cyclist's life?


02 February 2020

If He Sees His Shadow....Let Him Eat Crepes!

Happy Groundhog Day!

From More On Cycling

As far as I know, Daniel Rebour--who made the drawing of the early Deore crankset in this illustration--never drew an image of Punxsutawney Phil.  

Then again, the French (at least as far as I know) don't celebrate Groundhog Day.  On the other hand, until recently, they--like other predominantly-Catholic countries--observed Candlemas, a holiday that falls on the same day, exactly 40 days after Christmas and commemorates the presentation of Jesus at the temple.  

(Actually, I remember going to Mass on that day when I was a kid.  I don't recall whether it was actually a day of obligation or one of those days when you kinda sorta oughta go to church.)

As with many other Catholic/Christian holidays, it coincides with another holiday that preceded the Church.  In much of Europe, a feast occured on or about that day to celebrate the winter harvest and commemorate the mid-point of winter.

The French, being the French, made this day about food. (That's one of the things I love about the French.)  They still call it "La Chandeleur" (Candlemas), but the real "point" of the day is to--are you ready for this?--eat crepes.

Now there's a holiday I can get with.  Of course, simply eating one of those tasty treats won't do:  There are all sorts of rituals and superstitions around it.  As an example, in some parts of the country, you have to hold a coin in your right hand while flipping it with the left--or simply place a coin on top of the crepe while cooking it.  L'argent is for good luck.  

Oh, there is one parallel between Groundhog Day and La Chandeleur:  People believe that if it rains that day, there will be another 40 days of unsavory weather, while bright and sunny skies mean that winter is almost over.

Hmm...If Punxsutawney Phillippe finds a crepe when he pokes his head out of the ground, what does that mean?

01 February 2020

Backpedaling on Brexit?

Today is Day 1 of Brexit.

In this post--or this blog--I want neither to endorse nor denigrate the move.  I can understand why some people wanted it.  On the other hand, it's hard not to think that it will ultimately hurt the country in some of the same ways the trade war with China is harming the US.  Also, a good chunk of the British economy is fueled by London's financial industry, which owes much of its strength as a "bridge" between America and Europe and, to some extent, Asia.

As a writer and lover of the arts, I also have to wonder how London's and England's cultural communities will be affected:  At least some of its vibrancy has to do with its diversity, facilitated by the free flow between the island and the continent--as well as other continents.

Anyway, I got a kick out of this:

31 January 2020

Maybe, After Buying The Bike, She Couldn't Afford The Outfit

Some folks have nightmares about showing up for a ride in the "wrong" outfit.  Never mind having a flat or other bicycle malfunction:  They worry about not wearing the right team kit, or cycling clothes that are "out".  Or--horrror of horrors!--embarking on a ride clad in "civilian" clothes.

Time was when I had such fears.  These days, I ride either whatever I think will be most comfortable or strikes my fancy.  The only bike-specific garments I now own are gloves (Do they count?) and a couple of pairs of cold-weather tights.  

Worrying about whether you have the "right" bike clothes is what might be called a "first world" problem:  more specifically, one endemic to certain segments of cyclists in the developed world.

I'm not sure that children anywhere worry much about what they wear when they're riding.  Their nightmares might have to do with not wearing clothes at all:  Children often wake up in terror after going to school or some other place, naked, in their dream-world.

Unfortunately, for one 4-year-old boy in Gastonia, North Carolina, such a nightmare was all too real.  At half past midnight on Thursday, he was seen riding his bike naked, in the middle of the road in front of--are you ready for this?--a nightclub.

The temperature was 5C (40F), but the air was dry. So, after emergency crews treated him, he was OK.

Things didn't end so well for his mother, though.  She now faces charges of child abuse and resisting her arrest.

In an earlier post, I wrote about Naked Bike Rides.  I don't think this is what they had in mind, though!

29 January 2020

Who's Paying Their "Fair Share"?

Sometimes a motorist's animosity toward bicycle riders stems from a negative experience with a scofflaw cyclist--or one who is following the safest and most sensible practices but somehow manages to inconvenience said driver.  Other times it comes from our actual or perceived "privileged" status:  While many of us are indeed better-educated and younger (I am, in spirit!) than the population generally, there are also some who pedal because, for whatever reasons, they can't drive.  

Notice a word I used in the previous paragraph:  "perceived".  Perceptions, as we all know, are not the same thing as reality.  More than once, I have had non-cyclists berate me and other cyclists because of inaccurate notions about us.  

I think now of a time when, on a narrow Brooklyn street, a man driving just behind me wanted to park in a space I was passing at that moment.  He leaned on his horn; I glanced back at him and lipped, "Excuse me."  Then he let out a stream of profanities and what sounded like a threat. 

I turned back and said, "Excuse me, sir?"

Then he went into a rant about how careless cyclists are because we "get to use the same streets but don't have to pay for them."  I asked him to explain himself.  "I have to pay all sorts of taxes to maintain these streets."

"I do, too.  We all do, whether or not we drive. All of that is funded from what's deducted from our paychecks--or what you pay if you're an independent business owner."

He had the frustrated look of someone whose anger had, against his will, been defused.  "Yeah, but I'm still paying more taxes than you."

"Probably not.  Do you have kids?  A mortgage? Any loans?"

He looked confused.

"I am a single renter.  And I can't claim the deductions that some people claim. I don't get those big refunds I hear about from other people--if I get a refund at all."

He actually seemed to be listening to me. "The only tax that you pay, and I don't, is for the gas in your car.  But even there, I pay, too, because the price of gas is subsidized.  Why do you think we don't pay 10 dollars a gallon, like they do in France and Germany?"

From there,  our exchange became less acrimonious, and I wished him well.


I thought about that encounter, again, when I came across a letter to the editor containing the "If they want to use our roads, let them pay for it!" canard.  It's amazing how the misconception that we don't pay our "fair share" still exists.

What bothered me almost as much is the editor's response:  That Oregon cyclists are indeed paying their share with the bicycle tax that was imposed two years ago.

What was that about two wrongs not making a right?

28 January 2020

Flying Fish, Submerged To The Depths In The Sunshine State

I am usually sad to see a mom-and-pop bike shop close for the same reasons I lament the loss of most independent book stores:  They are the source of a family's ( or a person's or community's) pride as well as livelihood.  But, too often, those closures are inevitable.

Such, it seems, is the case of Flying Fish Bikes in Tampa, Florida.   Opened in 1963 as Dud Thames Bicycles, it has served generations of the area's cycling community.   But even the area's year-round climate for cycling wasn't enough to keep it going into another decade.

Two of the usual culprits were blamed:  mismanagement and the proliferation of online retailers.  Indeed, some people who showed up for the auction of Flying Fish's remaining inventory admitted that they do most, if not all, of their shopping via touchscreens. 

But there were two other factors in Flying Fish's demise that caught my attention.  One is the machinations of a much larger retailer.  Now, the big-box stores like Wal-Mart can be blamed for the loss of some shops' sales, but one would think that even if people bought all of their bikes and accessories, for their kids or themselves, at Wally World, at some point they'd need a real bike shop for service.  

Unfortunately, such people might visit a bike shop once or twice, and may not spend very much money.  Still, the "big boxes" I'm talking about aren't just the retail behemoths we see along the interstates.  Instead, I'm talking about the giants of the cycling industry.  Though they are miniscule in comparison to Walmart and other mega-corporations, a few of the largest players in the bicycle industry can have the same power to destroy independent bike shops that the "big box" stores have to annihilate smaller shops that sell hardware, clothing and just about anything else.

The giant that vanquished Flying Fish is not just a giant in the industry: It's Giant.  In 2012, Giant Bicycle, Inc., made a deal in which Flying Fish owner Francis Kane agreed to buy and sell $120,000 of their bicycles in the Spring of 2013.

In a subsequent lawsuit, Kane said that Giant agreed to promote Flying Fish as the dominant Giant dealer in the area.  Moreover, Kane said, Giant did not disclose that it was planning to terminate its relationship with Flying Fish and open a "concept" store nearby.   

After a two-year court battle, a jury awarded Kane $250,000 in compensatory damages and $3 million in punitive damages in September 2015.  But even such a settlement ultimately wasn't enough to keep Flying Fish in business:  Giant countersued for the $120,000 in inventory Kane didn't pay for, as well as "compensatory" damages.  And, of course, there were legal fees. (Contrary to public perception, few people get rich by winning lawsuits.)

The court battle, though, wasn't the only thing to ground Flying Fish.  Performance Bicycles opened a mega-store in the area.  Last year, the company went bankrupt, but their Tampa store was falling to another force that contributed to the demise of Flying Fish.  Some would argue that it was an even bigger factor than the Internet, the business practices of Giant or big-box stores.

Even though cities all over the US are building bike lanes and starting bike-share programs, the number of people who commute by bike fell from a high of 904,463 in 2014 to 872,000 three years later, according to American Community Survey.  In the Tampa Bay area, the decline was even more precipitous:   According to ACS, the number of people who ride their bikes to work fell by 50 percent.  That, even as the League of American Bicyclists declared Tampa and St. Petersberg "Bike Friendly Communities" in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

One probable reason for that was, ironically, expressed by some of the people who showed up at the Flying Fish auction.  They said that they never depended, or stopped depending, on their bikes for transportation because doing so is "too dangerous."  If they ride, they stick to pre- or post-work training rides on bike lanes, or they drive with their bikes to ride in other places.

Their perceptions have some basis.  As I've mentioned in other posts, Florida has, by far, the highest per capita death rate among cyclists in the United States.  And the Tampa Bay area's statistics are in line with the rest of the state, meaning that a cyclist has a much greater chance of being killed there than in almost any other part of the nation.  I've never cycled in the Tampa Bay area, but my experiences of cycling in other parts of the Sunshine State make it easy for me to see why there's such a high mortality rate, and why, even though there are many casual or recreational cyclists, few people depend on their bikes for transportation.  It's one thing to go for "fun" rides on trails and bike lanes; it's another to navigate, day in and day out, roads with no shoulders or sidewalks and 55 MPH speed limits--and drivers who, usually, haven't cycled since childhood, if they ever rode at all.

So, while the Internet, big-box retailers and shady practices by one of the "giants" of their own industry may well have led to the closure of Flying Fish Bikes, it might have ultimately been done in because, as we have seen, a thriving bicycle culture doesn't exist without people who depend on their bikes to get to school or work, to shop or to get to the places where they get their entertainment or other social interactions.  No declaration of "bicycle friendliness" from the LAB or anyone else can make it otherwise.

27 January 2020

Alliteration Alert!

News reporters rarely, if ever, get to write their own headlines.  That can be both a good and a bad thing, as I discovered when I was writing for a local newspaper.

Sometimes titles bear little or no relation to the articles they accompany.  Other times, though, they can draw attention in a way the story itself might not. 

Case in point:  "Bavarian Bakery Bicycle Burglary". 

If I didn't know any better, I might wonder whether some thief took off with a strudel-maker's Kalkhoff  in Munich.  

Turns out, the perp robbed the Bavarian Bakery of Dover, Delaware and fled on his bicycle.  

Some time after midnight on Friday, police officers saw 56-year-old Samuel L. Curtis riding on the wrong side of the road with no lights or reflectors, and wearing dark clothing while carrying a dark backpack. When the cops tried to stop him, he kept on riding--until he fell off his bike.  That's when the constables collared the crook and, on him, found a box he took from the bakery and tools he used to break in.

Bavarian Bakery Bicycle Burglar

He was released on a $15,150.00 unsecured bond.  For that price, he could have gone to Bavaria--and a few other places!


26 January 2020

The Eternal Quest

What special knowledge do I possess as a male-to-female transgender cyclist?

Well, here’s one pearl of wisdom I can offer, for whatever it’s worth:  Organized bike rides are one of the few events in which the line to use the women’s restroom is shorter than the men’s.

Still, there’s never a place to go when you really need it!

The eternal quest - 'There's gotta be a fireplug around here somewhere!'

25 January 2020

Anti-Car Terrorists?

It doesn’t matter whether they’re called globalist or nationalist, libertarian or socialists:  It seems that the de facto and de jure leaders of the world’s major economy-states perceive any challenge to the fossil-nuclear fuel/internal combustion engine hegemony as an existential threat.

Case in point: The UK Counter-Terrorism Police have distributed a pamphlet to schools and hospitals that is filled with symbols of which public sector employees should be wary.  Some are the “usual suspects,” like the swastika and emblems of jihadi and anarchist groups.  Among them is this:

Logo of Critical Mass

Yes, Critical Mass is lumped with groups that commit murder.  The British authorities believe that some CM events are “anti-car.” To be fair, England is not the only country where there’s such a fear of a group that, at its worst (or best, depending on your point of view, stops traffic.

23 January 2020

Keep Your Eyes On The Road And Your Hands On...

Every few years, someone resurrects the urban legend that cycling causes erectile dysfunction, or even sterility, in men.

I wonder whether any of them envisioned this.

Seriously, you have to wonder what else that kid tried to do with one hand!

22 January 2020

What I’ve Never Said During A Ride

I have known more than a few cyclists who were devotees of Star Trek.  

However, according to a study conducted by Patricia Mokhtaraian of Georgia Tech, their love of the series, in all of its incarnations, probably doesn’t extend to a seemingly-fantastical mode of transportation featured in it:  teleporting.

Professor Mokhtarian, in fact, used teleportation as a baseline for “assessing whether an individual views travel purely as a disutility.” In non-academic terms, she gave people the hypothetical choice between teleporting and whatever mode of transportation they use to get to work or school. 

This study was conducted in Portland, so some experts would caution against extrapolating attitudes in society as a whole from it.  Then again, even in such a city, where commuting is, one assumes, less stressful than it is in, say, New York, just over half of respondents said they’d rather be teleported.

The most interesting part of the study, however, is one that, in my opinion, could be used to understand or even predict larger trends.  While there is indeed a fairly even split between those who would and wouldn’t choose to arrive at home or in their schools or workplaces a nanosecond after they took their first step, the divide grows or shrinks dramatically depending on the mode of transport.

In this regard, two methods of getting to where you’re going are practically inverses of each other:  While 73 percent of those who drive to work would choose teleportation, should it ever become available, only 27 percent of pedestrians would make such a choice.

Oh, another two methods are like photo-negatives of each other:  While 65 percent of public transport users would have themselves beamed in, only 34 percent of cyclists would.

All of this makes intuitive sense.  Most people who walk or ride to work in a city are doing so by choice and enjoy the open air and exercise.  I suspect that the higher satisfaction rate among pedestrians may be due to the fact that someone who can’t drive (for whatever reasons) or doesn’t have public transport available is more likely to be pedaling than walking to work.  I am not familiar with Portland, but in New York and most other large cities where I’ve spent time, people who walk to work almost always live within a few blocks of their workplaces.

All I know is that I’ve never heard a cyclist—not even one who’s a hard-core “Trekkie”—say “Beam Me Up, Scottie!” during a ride.

20 January 2020

The Real Way To Promote Peace

Although his actual birthday was the 15th, Martin Luther King Jr. day is being observed today in the US.  Like most other holidays, it's been observed on Monday for the past few decades.  I guess it makes more sense for offices, banks and such to close for three consecutive days than on a day in the middle of the week.  And, tell me, who doesn't like three-day weekends?

But I think this is one holiday that shouldn't be only for watching basketball games or taking advantage of sales.  I always try to pay homage to Dr. King, whom I regard as one of the few true American heroes.

I mean, for this alone, I'd give him a holiday--and even the Nobel Peace Prize:

Who could hate after seeing someone so enjoying himself?

19 January 2020

I Could Call It A "Leisurely" Ride

I know I'm getting older and slower.  Still, I can stay ahead of this rider.

Funny Sloth Biking Slow Rider Bicycle Gift Art Print

At least, I hope I can.  

18 January 2020

A Time Capsule In A Local Bike Shop

In this blog, I have often mentioned Bicycle Habitat.  It's a fine shop (well, now they're a series of shops) and I have a relationship with them that goes back decades, to the time I was working for American Youth Hostels and Habitat was around the corner.  They've remained a "go-to" source for me, and their chief mechanic and partner, Hal Ruzal, turned me on to Mercians.

I also patronize a shop in my neighborhood:  Tony's, right in the heart of the still-Greek part of Astoria.  Actually, I learned about them years ago, when I was an artist-in-residence at St. Mary's Hospital for Children and a chain snapped on my way home.

Recently, I bought a couple of things from them.  I got to talking with the owner, who is friendly and helpful.  Although he sells current-model Cannondales and Treks, he has a trove of older parts.  He probably wasn't joking when he said some of them have been there since the shop opened in the early '70's.

I spotted one such piece of equipment in his showcase:  a pair of Shimano bar-end shifters from the '70's.  "I haven't seen those in a while," I remarked.

"I can show you something else you probably haven't seen in a long time."

That was an understatement, to say the least.

I think that I've seen one other set of Simplex bar-end shifters in my life.  Certainly, I haven't seen them in four decades, or close to it.  

Most cyclists who rode bar-end shifters during the '70's and '80's chose SunTour's.  I even saw a few otherwise all-Campagnolo bikes with "Bar Cons," and with good reason:  Sun Tour's ratcheting mechanism made them much smoother and more reliable than other companies' bar-end shifters.  To this day, they are probably still the best-selling bar end shifter of all time:  Many cyclists, even some who aren't "retro-grouches," seek them out on eBay and other places.

If my own observations are indicative of wider trends, I'd say that just about everybody who didn't use SunTour's bar end shifters in those days opted for Shimano which, while not as pleasant to use as SunTour's, were still better than the ones made by other companies--including Campagnolo.

Simplex and Huret bar ends (which are often believed to have been made in the same factory) relied on friction to keep the lever in place when it wasn't being shifted.  So did Campagnolo's bar ends, as well as most other shift levers made for derailleurs.  Friction is fine on downtube shifters, but makes for balkier shifting with the extra cable length required by bar-end shifters.

Simplex, however, seemed to believe it had a solution to the problem with its demultiplicateurIt clamps to the down tube, near the bottom bracket--in the same spot a cable guide would have been placed.  While most guides for rear derailleur cables were (and are) "tunnels" through which one cable runs continuously, the demultiplicateur was a bell crank-like device to which two lengths of cable--one forward to the shift levers, the other rearward to the derailleur--were attached to pivot points with differing radii.   This increased the mechanical advantage, which made for easier and smoother (if not necessarily more accurate) shifts.  A few constructeurs and custom builders brazed them onto their frames, most often tandems, which required cables longer than some of the rides people take.

Based on my limited experience with the demultiplicateur,  I'd say it did what it was intended to do, and did it well. It made shifting those old Simplex and Huret derailleurs (as well as Campy derailleurs that didn't have "Record" or "Gran Sport" in their names) tolerable, even with bar-end shifters.  But shops usually tried to dissuade customers from them:  For one thing, they were never easy to come by.  But, more important (at least from their point of view), they were more complicated than other cable-routing systems, which meant that mechanics hated installing them and customers balked at the extra cost (for the extra time needed) to install them.

I was tempted to make an offer on those shifters and their demultipilicateur, which were still in the packaging from nearly half a century ago.  But I encouraged Tony to list them, unless he wanted to keep them:  Someone out there is restoring a French bike and would want, if not the shifters, then at least the demultiplicateur.  Or, I'm sure, some collector would want them.

I asked Tony whether he had any Simplex downtube shifters.  (Of course, I'm thinking of the retrofriction levers.)  He doesn't think he has any, or any other vintage downtube levers, he said.  But those Simplex bar-ends were certainly a find!  Even if you're not interested in vintage bike equipment, people like Tony are fun and interesting to talk with just because they've been involved with bikes for so long. Oh, and I shared my reminisces about Greece with him.  He assured me that my itinerary was a good one for a first visit!