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?

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!

17 January 2020

Is Thin “In” Again?

When I first became a dedicated cyclist, about four decades ago, it could have shared a motto with the fashion industry: Thin is “in.”  Even touring bikes had tires, and were constructed from parts, that are positively svelte.

Cycling was also like fashion because thin and rich went together.  The most expensive bikes were thinner and lighter than the rest:  You could get a Schwinn baloon-tired bike for a song, or less.

All of that began to change with the introduction of frames made from large-diameter aluminum tubing—and mountain bikes.  Road racing bikes still had skinny tires, but the development of mountain bikes showed many people the practicality of wider tires.

About a decade ago, “fat tire,” or simply “fat”bikes appeared.  They looked like downhill mountain bikes on steroids.  While they first became popular as “snow” bikes or the two-wheeled equivalents of Hummers.  I’ve seen some here in New York, though none in hipster or affluent neighborhoods.  And I have seen fewer of them over the past few years.
Image result for fat bike

It seems that I’ve been witnessing a larger trend, according to Jeff Barber in Singletrack. Apparently, the fat-bike trend reached its peak around 2015, at least if we judge it by the number of models offered by manufacturers.  According to Barber’s article, half as many models are available this year, and a few companies have stopped making them.

One thing I have noticed is that here in New York City, the popularity of fat bikes seems to have fallen off as motorized   and electric bikes have become more common.  Just as I don’t recall seeing fat bikes in Greenpoint or other self-consciously hip precincts, I don’t see residents of such neighborhoods on e- or motorized bikes.  In such places, if you see someone on a bike with an electric or mechanical
assist, he (yes, he’s almost invariably male—and an immigrant) is probably delivering dinner to someone who doesn’t ride an e-bike, but might ride a “fixie” to the N.Y. Waterways ferry.

I wonder whether the fall of the fat tire correlates with the rise of ebikes in other parts of the country. Or is thin “in” again?

16 January 2020

Does Your Bike Lie?

It’s 2:00 in the afternoon.

Is the bike’s owner inside the bar?

The girlfriend of an old cycling buddy once told me she could gauge his mental and emotional state by looking at his bikes. “He doesn’t say much,” she explained.  “But the bikes tell me everything.”

I wonder what she’d make of this bike.

15 January 2020


Shawn Granton, the man behind Urban Adventure League, was running errands in his adopted hometown of Portland.  He was riding at a speed normal for those circumstances when the seatpost on his Raleigh Crested Butte broke under him.

What was unusual, though, was the way it failed:  in the middle of the tube, near the seat tube collar.

In my four decades-plus as a cyclist, which includes time as a bike mechanic, I have seen and heard of maybe a handful of seatposts that broke.  And I can think of only one post besides Shawn’s that broke mid-tube:  In my last bike-shop gig,  I worked on a warranty claim for a customer who experienced the failure of an early carbon fiber post.  I think he rode into a pothole or something, because the jarring threw him forward, away from the jagged edge of the sheared post.  Had he not been thrown forward, he could have found out what it’s like to have a broken bottle shoved into his crotch.  I don’t wish such a thing on anyone!

The only other mid-tube seatpost failure I can recall happened to a onetime mountain-biking buddy.  During a ride in Massachusetts, his post bent about halfway between his saddle and seat collar.  Perhaps that doesn’t count as a “failure,” but I don’t think he was anticipating a mid-ride change in his bike’s geometry!

Image result for broken seat post

I myself have had two seatpost failures. In the first, about 30 years ago, the seat rail clamp bolt broke on a Laprade-clone post.  I was a block from my apartment , on my way home from work.  Fortunately,, a driver about 50 feet behind me saw me and swerved away.  Only my feet made contact with then pavement.

The second seat post failure was potentially more serious.  I wasn’t hurt but I was pissed.  On that post—an expensive after-market Syncros—the head, which included the seat clamping mechanism, separated from the tube of the post.  I was doing (or trying) some stupid mountain bike trick  when the break occurred.  I think I did another stupid mountain bike trick to keep myself  pedaling , more or less upright, through a turn.

Syncros wouldn’t replace the post, but the shop where I bought it gave me another.  Not long after, Syncros had a major recall.  At the time, I remember thinking “I should have known better than to buy anything called ‘Syncros’!”  After all, it was the name, a few years earlier, of Campagnolo’s early (and short-lived) indexed shifting system.  It certainly earned its nickname: “Stinkros.”

Anyway, I am happy that Shawn and his bike are OK—and hope he doesn’t experience another mishap like it.