31 March 2020

Taking To--Or Over--The Street

Every time an elected official takes to the airwaves, I fear the worst, even if I know what they're about to say might be for the best.  I know the virus has to be stopped, but I worry that we might not be allowed out of our apartments, ever again.  

(Then again, if they confine us, they might have to enact a permanent rent freeze--or declare that housing is a human right and give it to us for free.)

So far, we still can go outside, as long as we keep our distance from each other.  Now the city is doing something that, at first glance, seems counterintuitive:  It's closing off some streets to traffic.  It makes sense when you realize that pedestrians, cyclists and all other kinds of non-motorized travelers have free reign over the street.  The idea, apparently, is to get people outside but still offer them space.

I like it.  If anything, I wouldn't mind if this street closure were extended:

It's a stretch of 34th Avenue in Jackson Heights, about 5 kilometers from where I live. 

It's also a kilometer, if that, from LaGuardia Airport.  While I enjoyed the nearly-empty street, it was a bit odd to ride  through that part of town without seeing a plane overhead. 

30 March 2020

You Know The Drill

So why am I writing a post about drillium when the world is going to hell in a handbasket?

Well, I could get cute (as if I could, at my age) and say that COVID-19 is poking holes--or exposing them--in the structures of our societies.  Or some such thing.

But, truthfully, I'm writing this post because I can't say anything you haven't heard about the corona virus epidemic--and because somebody sent me this picture:

Apparently, someone in Germany is selling that stem on eBay.  Don't worry:  I'm not going to buy it.  It caught my notice because a stem is one component I would never think of drilling.  I've seen fluted, milled and pantographed goosenecks.  But I can't remember the last time I saw a drilled-out stem.

Mind you, I'm not anti-drillium.  In fact, I've seen some lovely pieces, including this Stronglight crankset:

But sometimes folks get silly with their drills (Hmm..."silly with their drills"...such an odd phrase).  You really have to wonder what purpose saving a couple of grams actually serves.

Then again, how many people actually believed that it was about function or performance? 

28 March 2020

Vital, But Closed

Are bicycle shops "essential" businesses?

I imagine that you, or anyone else reading this blog, would answer "Of course!"  And I would agree with you.

Apparently, New York City officials as well as their peers in San Francisco and some other cities have listened to us:  They have included bike shops as "vital" because, as we argued, some of us normally use our bikes for transportation, while others are using them because of their fears about taking trains and buses, as well as cutbacks in service.

Even some non-cyclists agree that bike shops should be allowed to stay open during the COVID-19 ("coronavius") outbreak.  After all, gas stations and auto repair shops are still operating because some people are driving--and to keep ambulances and other emergency vehicles running.

Notions about what is "essential" aren't always so clear-cut. A candy factory is still operating because anything having to do with food is considered "essential."  On the other hand,  hairdressing and nail salons aren't.  I stupidly put off a styling, so I'm facing weeks, possibly months, of "bad hair days."  Of course, that's a good reason to keep on cycling-Still, I understand why hairdressers', barbers' and nail finishers' shops are closed:  I don't know of anyone with arms long enough to cut or color the hair or nails of someone sitting six feet (two meters) away.  I also understand why other businesses aren't operating:  there isn't enough business or their workers can't, or won't come in.

That last category includes a longtime favorite of mine, Bicycle Habitat. Even after a surge of repairs, tuneups and new bike sales, it's closing for a week.  Charlie, the owner, says it's a matter of protecting himself (He's in the high-risk age group), family and customers as well as doing right by the community in general.  I also imagine that it's difficult to enforce "social distancing" in the confines of a bike shop.  In his Chelsea shop, it probably means allowing no more than two customers in at a time. 

Ironically, bicycling--at least solo--is one of the best ways to get outdoor exercise while still keeping a safe distance from others in an urban environment.

24 March 2020

RIding Solo--In More Ways Than One

When I wrote my previous post, I was worried--about a lockdown, and other things. I'd heard that in Puerto Rico, people aren't allowed to leave their homes for just about any reason.  Even taking a walk, cycling or skating alone are out of the question.  Italy has enacted similar restrictions.  I wondered whether I wouldn't be able to ride for weeks, even months, just as the season is beginning.

So, the other day, I made it a point to take a long ride--to Connecticut. On Sundays, Greenwich Avenue in Greenwich teems with strollers and shoppers, and the street is lined with parked cars.  But, from the Greenwich Common, I saw this:

and this:

Arielle, my trusty Mercian Audax, isn't accustomed to such isolation.  She could have been forgiven for wondering whether I took her on a trail instead of a street.

Speaking of streets, here was the view down University Avenue in the Bronx at 2 o'clock this afternoon:

Mind you, on the right, that's an entrance to the Cross-Bronx Expressway--the gateway to upper Manhattan and the George Washington Bridge.

Of course, I didn't mind having to contend with so little traffic, although it seemed almost surreal.  Still, I''d be happy if some of the cars and trucks didn't return after the epidemic--as long as their drivers survive.  I don't extend any bad wishes to people.

While we're on the subject of people:  There is a calm, if not a quiet, I haven't seen since the days just after 9/11.  Sometimes people eye each other warily, even suspiciously--Is that person sick?--but complete strangers are telling each other, and me, to be safe.  

And I want you, dear readers, to be well and safe--and to ride, as often and much as you can!

19 March 2020

Can I Ride Tomorrow?

For the past week, I haven't gone to the college.  Like many other educators, I am working online.  

While it's been interesting as a learning experience, I can't say I like it.  So much of the work I do with my students is driven by questions and discussions that, as best as I can tell, arise from the interactions between us.

Also, I miss the ride into, and from, the college.  Under normal circumstances, not having to go to the workplace for a while is relaxing, even if I am doing work to prepare for my (and my students') return.  But now I am home because circumstances beyond my control are spiraling out of control. Or so it seems.

I managed to quell my anxiety yesterday, when I rode to Connecticut, and the other day, when I took a ramble through parts of Queens and Brooklyn to the South Shore.  Riding felt great, and allowed me to have a couple of good nights' sleep.  I must say, though, that in their way, the rides had a surreal quality:  On weekday afternoons, major streets like Utica Avenue in Brooklyn, Boston Post Road (a.k.a. US 1) in Westchester County and Greenwich Avenue in Connecticut were almost as free of motor vehicle traffic as some trails normally are!

And, say what you will about Daylight Savings Time, I liked that I was able to start my ride to Connecticut after the stroke of noon--after I'd finished the work I needed to do--and get home before dark.  

But I didn't ride today, in part because it rained pretty heavily this morning and early in the afternoon, and I just decided to get more work done.  I'm just hoping to have some time to ride tomorrow, and over the weekend.  

You see, I've heard about the shelter-in-place orders in China, much of Europe, and the San Francisco Bay area. Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to do the same here, though Governor Andrew Cuomo says he can't:  Only the state can issue such an order, he explains.

I hope he's right.  Or, at least, I hope that the conditions of the lockdown aren't as dire as I've heard.  Early reports said that people in San Francisco couldn't even go for a walk (unless it's to go to work at a "vital" job, a doctor's appointment or to buy food or medicine) or  bike ride, but I've since read dispatches saying they can ride or walk solo, as long as they keep their distance from others.

If anything, if we're riding, even in small groups, I should think we're less of a danger to ourselves and others than people who are riding subways or other mass transit--or taxis or Ubers.  I can't think of any time when I've ridden solo and come closer than three meters (about 10 feet) from another person.  And, in small group rides, we're usually at least a few feet apart.

Plus, we, as cyclists, are healthier than most people.  I've read and heard the stories about "gym rats" who still got sick with the coronavirus, but from what I understand, getting exercise and engaging in other healthy practices (All right, I just ate a San Giuseppe pastry!) are at less risk of getting just about any illness and, if we do get sick, have a better chance of recovering--and not spreading our illnesses to others.

Spring officially begins at just before midnight.  There is hope, I guess.

15 March 2020

A Real Cycling Condition (;-)

I don't deny that a lot of riding--especially without proper conditioning or an ill-fitting bike--can cause pain, numbness and other problems.  

I also don't deny that long hours in the saddle--especially if that saddle is wrong for the rider--can cause discomfort and even dysfunction in the genital area.

But it seems that every few years someone manages to whip up hysteria about how cycling causes sterility or worse.  Back in the day, some of us used to joke that those folks were right and we indeed had "bike balls."

Yes, cycling can make you radioactive down there! ;-)

14 March 2020

At The Right Angle

In a few posts, I've complained about poorly-conceived, -designed and -constructed bike lanes and paths.  They lead to nowhere and expose the cyclists to all sorts of hazards.

Sometimes those hazards are embedded in the lane or trail itself.  Among the worst are railroad tracks, especially if they run parallel (or nearly so) in proximity to the cycling route.  Ideally, tracks and lanes (or paths) should cross at right (90 degree) angles or as close to it as possible. 

If the tracks cross at a more oblique angle, the  tires can graze against the rails, or get lodged against them, and send the cyclist tumbling to the ground.  That's happened to at least half a dozen riders on the Centennial Trail where it crosses the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe tracks in Arlington, Washington, 64 km north of Seattle. At that point, the trail crosses the tracks at an angle of less than 45 degrees--or near the one o'clock position.  (A 90 degree angle crosses at the 3 o'clock position.)

Recognizing the problem, the Arlington City Council has just awarded a contract to realign the trail so that the trail, which heads north, would turn east about 15 meters (50 feet) from the tracks so that it can cross at a 90 degree angle.

City engineer Ryan Morrison says the project will take about two to three weeks, and that it will timed to coincide, as best as possible, with improvements Burlington Northern-Santa Fe has planned for that same area.  That means the work will start around late May or early June.


13 March 2020

Fall Classics?

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the coronavirus might keep you from getting the new bike you want

The other day, I wondered whether quarantines or containment zones might keep us from doing some of our regular rides--or force us to re-route them.

Now I've learned that bike races, just like other sporting events can be affected.  The Sea Otter Classic, which had been scheduled for next month in Monterey, California,  has been rescheduled for 1-4 October.  

Of course I understand organizers' reasons for re-scheduling the event.  And, given that Italy is basically under lockdown because of its virus outbreak, it's no surprise that this year's Strade Bianche and Milano-San Remo one-day classic races have been postponed.  So, I wonder whether upcoming "classics" further north in Europe, such as Gent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix will also be affected, as the scope of the outbreak is spreading and France has banned gatherings of 1000 or more people.

If those races are postponed or cancelled, what will happen to the Giro d'Italia, which runs in May, or the Tour de France or Vuelta a Espana if the epidemic engulfs those countries.   
David Lappartient, the president of the Union de Cyclisme Internationale, says that canceling the Giro or the Tour would be a "disaster" for cycling.  He seemed more optimistic about the prospects for the Tour, not only because he's French, but also because the worst of the crisis may pass before the race starts.

The Tour's grand depart is scheduled for 27 July--a week earlier than normal--because of the Tokyo Olympics, which themselves may be postponed.

Perhaps the Sea Otter won't be the only major cycling event in October after all. Or, to put it another way, the World Series might not be the only Fall Classic this year!

12 March 2020

Will Cyclists Be Locked Down?

The news can hit close to home. Sometimes, too close.

By now, you've heard that the whole country of Italy is basically on lockdown, due to the coronavirus.  The prime minister has told people to stay home and that they need permission for "non-essential" travel.

Now an area of New Rochelle, about 35 kilometers from my apartment, is a "containment zone," where National Guard troops have been posted.  

I frequently cycle to or through New Rochelle.  My rides to Connecticut or northern Westchester County usually take me through one part of the city or another.  

Image result for cyclists stopped

Seeing how many Italian cities (and Seattle) have become "ghost towns", I have to wonder whether the New Rochelle quarantine will be extended--and to what degree will people's movements be restricted.  Will they stop us from riding our bikes?

11 March 2020

Cyclist Pays Price For Dollar Van

Some of my most harrowing encounters have been with "dollar vans."

For those of you who don't live here in New York City, dollar vans typically operate in "transportation deserts" that are far from subway and bus routes.  While they follow more or less set routes, their itineraries or schedules are not published; rather, people usually learn of them by word of mouth.

Dollar vans are said to have begun during the 1980 transit strike.  At that time, the New York City transit fare was 50 cents; after the strike, it climbed to 60 cents (and to 75 cents a year later, now it's $2.75). The vans operated all over the city, as they would during the 2005 transit workers' walkout. Between those labor actions, and since then, the  vans have served mainly the aforementioned "deserts".  

This might sound good, even though the ride now costs $2.00, but the problem is that these vans are not as regulated as taxis or even Uber-type car services are in New York.  So, if you take a dollar van, you run a greater risk of riding in an unsafe (not to mention unsanitary) vehicle.  Also, because there is so little regulation, drivers tend to be more aggressive and sometimes get into fights with each other over passengers and routes.  Plus, more than one accident investigation has revealed that the driver of a dollar van had a suspended drivers' license--or no drivers' license at all.  And no insurance.

Finally, at least in my experience, dollar van drivers' aggression toward each other is, too often, transferred to anyone and anything else they encounter on the road.  It's not uncommon for them to cut off other drivers, or to drive at pedestrians or cyclists who have the right of way.  I think the only reason dollar van drivers don't hit more cyclists than they do is that, well, there aren't as many cyclists in the neighborhoods where they operate as, ironically, in the more transportation-rich areas.

I was reminded of what I've just described yesterday, when I heard about a woman on a bicycle who was struck by a dollar van at Flatbush Avenue and Avenue U, in a decidedly un-hipster neighborhood of Brooklyn.   

The driver thought he was going to get away with it when he leapt from his car and began to run.  Fortunately, though, a bunch of people who just happened to be there tackled the guy.  

I hope the woman recovers.  Last I heard, she was in "serious but stable" condition and faces losing a leg.

10 March 2020

They Got A McCoy, But Not The Real Burglar

I'm almost never an "early adopter" when it comes to technology.  Two years after getting an iPhone, I'm still adapting to--and sometimes resisting--it.  Some features are nice, but there are some functions I rarely, if ever use.  In fact, I keep some of them turned off.

One of those features is the tracking device.  Sometimes I'll use it to help me find directions and, I suppose, if I were lost or in some sort of emergency, it might help me to find my way or for someone to find me.  But I think it's just creepy that my whereabouts could be known at all times.

Actually, it's more than creepy.  It can be disruptive, even dangerous.  That's something Zachary McCoy of Gainesville, Florida learned the hard way.

Zachary McCoy

He'd been using RunKeeper to track his cycling as Google location services were activated on his Android phone.  During one ride nearly a year ago, he passed by the same house three times in the space of an hour.

It just happened that the house was the scene of a burglary.

Google shared this location data.  It wasn't enough for law enforcement officials to identify him personally, at least not immediately.  

But he would later receive an e-mail from Google's legal investigation team, notifying him that local police made a request for information from his account.  The company explained that it would release the data unless he went to court to block it--and that he had seven days to do so.  "I didn't know what it was about, but I knew the police wanted to get something from me," McCoy recalled in a recent interview. "I was afraid I was going to get charged with something, I don't know what."  

He had no previous record, and there police had no reason--other than the data from Google--to suspect him.  His lawyer, Caleb Kenyon, criticized the police for making their decision based on a hunch rather than traditional policing techniques. "This geoforce warrant effectively casts a blind net backwards in time, hoping to ensnare a burglar," Kenyon said.  "This concept is akin to the plotline in many a science fiction film featuring a dystopian, facist government."

Later, the police in Florida withdrew the original location request, claiming that new details emerged that led them to believe that McCoy was not the real culprit.  They would not, however, share what those details were.  

In any event, this incident shows us how far some law enforcement officials will go, and what methods--however flawed--they will use to track down a suspect, even if he or she is potentially innocent. It also begs the question of how things might have turned out for a guy who was riding his bike and minding his own business if he couldn't afford a lawyer and defend himself in court.

Oh, and it reaffirms my commitment to cycling without electronic devices.


09 March 2020

Leaving A Trail--And A Mystery--Where The Buffalo Roam

Here is something neither I, nor anyone else who lives in my part of the world, has had to do this year:  explain tire tracks in the snow.

We've had very little of the white stuff this winter.  The only real storm, if you can call it that, left us with about two inches--which disappeared within a couple of days--in the middle of January.  There have been a couple of other minor snowfalls; as a result, this season's total has been a mere 4.8 inches, according to the National Weather Service.  That's more than a foot below average, and it means this winter has been the least snowy in 13 years.

While much of Wyoming has received less-than-normal snowfall this winter, the difference between this season and a typical one hasn't been as great, in most parts of the Buffalo State, as it has been in New York.  That is why one man found himself stranded in Sheridan--almost.

He'd gone to visit a rancher friend.  He phoned his wife to say they were going to Sheridan to "pick up a few parts" for his old pickup truck.  Apparently, the store didn't close until 2 am.  His wife was not pleased.

The next morning, a snowstorm raged.  He realized that he'd left his truck downtown, after riding back with his friend.  He pondered asking his wife for a ride, but thought better of it when he realized he could take his bicycle down from the hooks in the ceiling and pump up the tires in no time.  

He left a trail of weaving tracks on the road--and his co-workers wondering why he was covered  with snow and his pants and shoes were so wet.

"No big deal," Rick mumbled on his way to his office.

03 March 2020

He Was Sitting On Quite The Collection

Some thieves are professionals.  You might say stealing is their job, or even their career.   They might end up in that line of work out of circumstance, for a lack of other options.  Or they may have a compulsion or proclivity.  

(Is someone born to be a thief?  Has anyone ever taken a Myers-Briggs test and learned that he or she is best suited to a life of taking other people's stuff?)

Then there are those who steal to support themselves or others, or habits or hobbies.   That type of crook sometimes changes his or her ways, whether from  a change in life circumstances or getting busted.

Finally, there are the ones whose pilferage is focused on a particular item or category of goods.  They may start off by taking something for their own use or to sell but, for whatever reasons, stealing that specific thing becomes an obsession.

That last category of thieves includes 57-year-old Hiroaki Suda.  A security video showed him taking two seats at a train station and parking lot for bicycles in Higashiosaka, just east of Osaka, Japan.  That led to his arrest on 13 February.  

While admitting to the charges, he told police he'd been stealing bicycle seats for "about 25 years" to "relieve stress at work."  "Gradually," he said, "collecting them turned out to be fun."

How many did he collect? 5800.  At least, that's how many Osaka prefecture police seized from a storage facility Suda rented. 

I'd like to know what's in that collection.  Are there any long-since-discontinued Brooks or special-edition Ideale saddles?  Perhaps there's something from a Japanese maker whose wares were never exported.  Or something made from an exotic material. 

As for his motivation:  Somehow I don't think any therapist has recommended stealing bike seats as a way to relieve work-related stress.

02 March 2020

Cheap Jeep?

I recall seeing a Jeep full-suspension mountain bike about fifteen years ago.  It sold for $300.  I thought the price was about $299 too high:  It looked like a lot of cheap Chinese-made bikes sold in big-box stores.

Now, I have no experience with actual Jeeps.  I am sure, however, that the company had nothing to do with manufacturing the bikes and little, if anything, to do with designing it.  It seemed that lending its name to a line of crappy bikes was a cynical ploy to cash in on customers' loyalty to the brand.  

To be fair, Jeep isn't the first company to do such a thing.  Nor will it be the first auto-maker to try to  cash in on the latest trend in cycling:  e-bikes.

The company debuted its first electric bicycle yesterday.  Micah Toll reviewed it for Electrek.  Having no experience with e-bikes, I can't comment on his comparisons with other companies' models.  What I found amusing, however, is his umbrage at the price:  $5899.

That is a lot more expensive than some other e-bikes on the market.  But it's actually a good bit less expensive than, not only other e-bikes, but some non-electric, non-motorized bikes offered by some other companies that also peddle (pun intended) eBikes.  I am talking about Specialized and Santa Cruz, two of the best-known names in the mountain bike world.  Their eBikes cost a good bit more than Jeep's--but less than their top-of-the line mountain bikes, and less yet than Specialized's high-end road bikes.

01 March 2020

Don't Worry: You Look Fine!

I once knew a woman who wouldn't ride a bike because she was afraid that it would "mess up" her hair.

I don't know where she got that idea.