30 April 2020

Don't Follow O.J.

O.J. Simpson's life can basically be divided into two parts:  The part that most of us can't imitate, and the part that none of us should emulate.

About the former:  He became famous because he was a big guy who could run fast.  That is what made him one of the greatest running backs in the history of the NFL.  Before becoming a professional American football player, he attended the University of Southern California, where he starred, not only in football, but in track-and-field.  At USC, he was part of a relay team that set a world record in the 4 X 110 relay.

I think it's fair to say that while he worked hard at becoming a great runner and football player, most of us never could have achieved what he did no matter how much we trained.  He purely and simply had talents that very few of us have.

Among his other physical gifts were his looks:  Check out a photo of him from his playing days.  His appearance, and his charisma, ironically, led him to the part of his life no-one should try to emulate:  his acting career.  Someone--perhaps OJ himself--made that all-too-common mistake of thinking that looking good on camera is the same as putting one's self in the shoes of a character.  Perhaps I am not being fair:  It may be that even if he were a more talented actor--or if his movies and TV shows had better writers-- people would always see OJ and not the character he was playing. 

Being a famous athlete and acting turned him into a celebrity, which can warp just about anybody.  By the time he reached his nadir, OJ seemed, at times, to be a parody of himself.  A decade and a half after his football career ended, he was involved in the incident that has defined him ever since:  a slow-speed car chase.  I can't decide whether it's worse to actually be involved on something like that or to live with the infamy that follows.

Byron Gentry of Bryant, Alabama will get a taste of it.  Because he has never been as famous as OJ, he will never be quite as infamous.  To paraphrase Andy Warhol, though, he may well have gotten his fifteen minutes of infamy.

He was riding along Country Road 784 in nearby Sand Mountain when a deputy pulled up to talk to him.  Gentry wasn't willing and fled into a nearby yard.  

The chase, which WDEF described as "low speed," moved to County Road 141.  Gentry refused to stop.  Another deputy joined the chase.  Gentry ditched the bike and ran into nearby woods, where the deputies caught him.

A Victorian Era Criminal Leads Police on a High Speed Bicycle ...


The police didn't say why the deputies pursued Gentry.  But when they ran a check on him, they found an outstanding warrant for domestic violence.  That charge will be compounded by charges of resisting arrest and Attempt to Elude.

All of this goes that getting involved in a slow chase--especially if you are the one pursued--is not a good idea.  OJ Simpson should have proved that for all time.

29 April 2020

The Only Tour We'll See?

I saw the Tour de France today.

If you thought that was a cheap trick to get your attention, well, maybe it was.  The Tour normally doesn't begin until early July, a little more than two months from now.  Its organizers say that it's been rescheduled to begin on 29 August and run until 20 September.  Given how many other races and other sporting events--not to mention concerts, festivals and other gatherings--have been canceled altogether for this year, it wouldn't surprise me if this year's edition of the race meets a similar fate.

But, I tell you, I really saw the Tour today:






OK, it wasn't the race.  For that matter, it's not like any bike that would be ridden in one of the world's major competitions.  It seems rather like any number of other basic hybrid bikes one can buy:  probably not terrible, but not fantastic either.  Not bad looking, though.



Oh well.  It might be the only Tour de France we see this year.

28 April 2020

Ben Banks On Re-covery

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that I like Brooks leather saddles.  I ride them on all of my bikes except Martie, my Fuji Allegro.  It's a commuter/errand bike, so it doesn't get ridden for more than an hour at a time and gets parked on the streets in all kinds of weather.  For the same reasons, the Cannondale mountain bike I gave Georgios didn't have a Brooks saddle.

The main reason I ride them, of course, is that I find them comfortable once they're broken in.  But I also believe, perhaps erroneously, that they're better than other saddles for "green" reasons.  When the leather or vinyl covers of plastic-based padded saddles (like the ones from Cinelli, Bontrager and other companies) rip or deteriorate, they are as likely as not to end up in a landfill.  

Well, it seems that someone is trying to address that issue.  Someone who sells under the name "BankBen" on Ebay has contracted with a furniture upholsterer to re-cover those seats. (He writes the word as "recover," which made me think, at first, that they had been rescued--which, one could say, they were.)  There are Flite-type racing mounts as well as Avocet-type seats.  Here is a lovely example of the latter:






The red paisley covering came from an old piece of furniture.  So did the olive-covered top on this one:





and this nice brown distressed leather cover:




and this gray suede:


 



So, these saddles offer a double benefit:  They're recycling, not only what people sit on when they ride, but what the might recline in after the ride!

27 April 2020

Coming Out

The other day, I rode to Connecticut.  It was one of the most spring-like days we’ve had so far:  bright and breezy.  So, I encountered a little more traffic than I’ve seen during the past few weeks.  On the other hand, I can remember very few days, under any sorts of circumstances, when I saw more people on bikes.  Some were cycling in groups, others solo, and a number of families were riding together in and around the parks in New Rochelle, Mamaroneck and Rye.



I also remember few times when tulips seemed so bright or beautiful—even if they were growing on the war memorial monument in the Greenwich Common.



25 April 2020

An Essential Worker Gets What He Needs

If you've been reading this blog, you might remember that back in June, I got a 1996 Cannondale M300 mountain bike for not much money.  I fixed it up and turned it into a pretty decent city commuter.

It was actually good for the purpose:  I could ride it over almost any pothole or other obstacle without thinking.  It gave a smooth, fairly responsive ride, but I didn't have to worry about parking it because, in ten different shades of battleship gray, it didn't attract much attention.

So why am I talking about the bike in the past tense?  Well, I learned that Transportation Alternatives, of which I am a member, was participating in a program to give bikes to essential workers who are trying to avoid the subways and buses as they run less frequently and are thus more crowded. (Subway cars and buses been described as "Petri dishes" for coronavirus.)

I have my Fuji Allegro, which had been sharing commuting duties with the Cannondale--and had been my commuter before the 'Dale came along.  I got to thinking:  I have two commuter bikes and I'm not commuting.  Someone else has to commute and doesn't have a bike.




So why did I decide to give the Cannondale away?  Even though I installed upright bars, fenders and a rack, it's still a fairly close to its original self.  The Fuji, on the other hand, is a bit more idiosyncratic: The ways in which I altered it might not appeal to everyone.  Also, it fits me better than the 'Dale--and it's a mixte.

I sent Transportation Alternatives the bike's measurements and my height.  They found Georgios,an emergency-room doctor at Mount Sinai Hospital-Queens, just two blocks from where I live.  He's a little shorter than I am, and the bike has a long seatpost extended fairly far out, so the bike could be adjusted fit him well.


Georgios:  a hero.

The other night, when he finished his shift, we met.  Georgios, who's from Greece, told me his bike had been stolen and since the pandemic struck New York, he had been walking to work from Manhattan--about eight kilometers--because he didn't want to take the subway.

He'd applied to Specialized bike- match program, but all the bikes were gone, he told me.  He said, almost apologetically, that if Specialized contacts him and offers a bike, he'll pass the Cannondale on to someone else who needs it.  I told him not to worry:  If he likes the Cannondale, he should keep it, even if another bike comes along.  Besides, I am not about to place conditions on anything I give to someone who, in the course of doing his job, has seen patients as well as co-workers die.


I'm having a bad hair day--and week--and month!


All I asked is that he stay in touch: I want to be sure he's OK.  And I hope the bike is useful and brings pleasure for him.

24 April 2020

R.I.P. John Forester

The things you read in adolescence never really leave you, even if you stop believing whatever they teach you.

For some people, the things they read passionately during their teen years include the Bible or other holy books.  Some people continue to immerse themselves in such texts.  But even if you convert to another religion or become an atheist, whatever holy text you read (or were fed) when you were young continues to influence your thinking.

For other people, those literary works might include The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged.  I have to admit, each of those books had a hold on me for a time in my life. As John Rogers has pointed out, one of those books is "a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with unbelievable heroes," which leads "to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood" in which one is "unable to deal with the real world."  The other of those two books, he says, "involves orcs."   


My mind was also seized, at various times, by Les Miserables, Fathers and Sons and A Tale of Two Cities, as well as poems by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Hilda Doolittle.  And, since my "formative years" as a person also just happened to be the years I was born, if you will, as a cyclist, I was--and continue to be--influenced by three cycling books in particular.  One is Eugene Sloane's Complete Book of Bicycling because it was the first comprehensive book about cycling I read--or even saw.  Before I encountered it, I didn't even know that books about bicycling existed.

Next came Tom Cuthbertson's Anybody's Bike Book, from which I began to teach myself how to fix my bike.  It also taught me about writing and teaching, even though I really wasn't thinking about becoming an educator or writer.  He had a "light touch":  He took his information seriously, but could convey it in a friendly, even humorous, style.

Later, another cyclist would introduce me to what might be one of the most controversial cycling books of all time.  What made it controversial is that it wasn't just a cycling book:  It was also a critique of the way urban planners were treating cyclists--and of the way cyclists saw, not only traffic, but themselves.

That book is Effective Cycling.  When its first edition was published in the late 1970s, some cities were building bike lanes and even installing separate signs and signals for cyclist.  The thesis of EC was that all such efforts were misguided or wrongheaded.  In order to become viable options for transportation, planners and cyclists themselves had to treat the bicycle as a vehicle rather than as faster pedestrians.  



Its author, John Forester, was a lifelong cyclist who became an activist and advocate.  That avocation began in the early 1970s, when he was ticketed for cycling on a street rather than the adjacent bike lane.  He fought--and beat--the ticket because, as an engineer and planner, he was able to demonstrate that cycling in the bike lane was indeed more dangerous than cycling in the street.

Although his arguments had merit, they gained little traction among planners who, for the most part, perpetuated the mistakes he railed against.  One reason why those ideas weren't more widely implemented is that they were (and are) radical and therefore a threat to established notions about automotive and bicycle traffic.  Another reason might have been his style, which--in contrast to Sloane's earnestness and Cuthbertson's humor and relatability--was often called "preachy" or even "abrasive".  

Whatever you think of his idea of the "bicycle as vehicle," his critiques of bike lanes and policies were spot-on.  Unfortunately, four decades after EC's initial publication, I make some of the very same criticisms in this blog.

His long career--and his cycling--continued almost until the end of his life, which came last Tuesday.  He was 90 years old.

23 April 2020

Cycling Under A Pink Cloud

Yesterday we had a deluge.  Today it was cloudy, breezy and chilly.  Still, I saw unmistakable signs of spring during my ride this afternoon.



Whether or not a garden is artfully arranged, flowers lift my spirits.  To paraphrase Will Rogers, I've never met a flower I didn't like.



Am I sentimental?  Perhaps.  I will admit to being a romantic, even a hopeless one.  My newest dream is a bike lane under a canopy of cherry blossoms.



Some people talk about being on a "pink cloud."  I think I got a glimpse of what it might be like to live under one.  It would be very nice.  At least it was, for the brief moment I spent under it.


22 April 2020

Earth Day X 50

Today is Earth Day.

Fifty years ago today, this "holiday" was first observed. (I wonder whether some company or organization gives its employees a paid day off.)  Interestingly, the then-nascent environmental movement coincided with the origins of modern campaigns for gender equality and LGBT rights--and what was, arguably, the peak of the Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam War movements.

It also was about the time the North American Bike Boom was gaining momentum.  At that time, cycling was seen as integral to "helping the planet."  That connection became more tenuous during the 1980s and 1990s, as environmental concerns receded from public consciousness and too many cyclists acted like wannabe racers.  (I admit, I was one of them!)

From Bike and Roll DC


Today, while the mass gatherings normally associated with Earth Day are not possible, given the COVID-19 epidemic, we can (at least in most places) still ride to wherever we need to go--or simply to get out of our rooms, apartments or houses!

21 April 2020

WHO Do you Listen To?

It wasn't a surprise because it was.

One could say that about many things Donald Trump has done.   He says and does things almost no-one could have anticipated, and they therefore come as a shock.  But they don't surprise us because the Cheeto In Chief has a history of doing things we wouldn't expect of anyone else.

An example is his decision to cut US funding to the World Health Organization.  I don't think even Herbert Hoover, the last American president who could claim to be an isolationist, would have done such a thing had the WHO existed at that time.  But Trump, at least since he started the campaign that led to his election, has voiced--and acted with-- disdain for anything that fosters American cooperation with the rest of the world. An example was his pulling the US out of the Paris Climate agreement.

So, if he hadn't already cut off America's financial contribution to the WHO--just as the world is in the COVID-19 pandemic--the organization's latest recommendation might have roiled him enough to hold up the money.

"Whenever feasible, consider riding bicycles or walking," the organization recommends.  These activities provide "physical distancing while helping to meet the minimum requirement for daily physical activity, which may be more difficult due to increased teleworking, and limited access to sport and other recreational activities."



Now, the fact that the WHO's recommendations are based on science and logic would be troubling enough for Trump. His ire, though, would be compounded by long-standing hatred of bicycles and bicyclists, to which I've alluded in this blog.

To be fair, there was a brief period when he didn't hold--or at least express--disdain for anything without a motor and with fewer than four wheels.  He took the Tour DuPont, then on the verge of becoming one of America's, and possibly the world's, major races and re-branded it as the Tour de Trump.  This was around the time Greg LeMond was winning the Tour de France, and bike racing seemed ready to take its place as one of this country's major sports.  In brief, he saw it as a business opportunity.


He later returned to his velo-phobia, culminated with his mocking of John Kerry when he got into a bike accident.  Imagine if that had happened now--just as the WHO is recommending cycling as a means of transportation and recreation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

20 April 2020

A Sign Of Things To Come?

I should have seen this coming:



a folding electric bike.

It actually makes a certain amount of sense, especially in cities like New York and Tokyo.  

Still, it looks pretty odd--at least to me.

19 April 2020

Back To The Garden?

This is the time of year when some people get on their bikes for the first time in months.

This is also the time of year when some people begin to till their gardens.

Is it possible to combine both activities?


18 April 2020

Specialized Donates Bikes To Essential Workers

In the cycling community, Specialized is often seen, along with Trek and possibly Cannndale, as one of the "800 pound gorillas" of the bicycle industry.

While those three companies have gobbled up some smaller bike and parts makers, and often dictate what dealers can and can't sell in their shops, I should point out that the companies that make cheap bike-shaped objects sold in big-box stores are much larger.  And, even those companies are dwarfed by corporations in other industries such as automobiles, petroleum and high technology.


Having said all of that, I want to give Specialized a shout-out for their recent announcement:  They are giving away 500 bikes to essential workers.  

Ian Kenny says Specialized will be distributing half of those bikes in California and the other half in New York.  The wheels earmarked for the Big Apple will be distributed via Transportation Alternatives, and arrangements will be made with local shops to ensure that recipients also receive helmets and other safety gear.

Artist's rendering of Specialized's bikes-for-essential-workers program


He explains that Specialized will give bikes to workers that are deemed essential under Federal guidelines.  So, while people in the health-care professions will be among the recipients, so will workers like grocery store employees, bus drivers, farm laborers and others whose usual modes of transportation have been "flipped upside down" by the pandemic.

Most beneificiaries will get the "Cirrus" commuter model, which retails for about $550 new.  A few workers with longer commutes, however, will be gifted with one of the company's electric bikes.

As I said in an earlier post, if anything good comes of this pandemic, it might be that policy-makers, planners and the general public will see that the bicycle is not only a viable alternative form of transportation and recreation, but also an integral part of any locality's infrastructure.

17 April 2020

Standing Still

Late yesterday afternoon I rode along the North Shore of Queens and Nassau County.  The streets of Malba, Whitestone, Bayside, Little Neck and Great Neck were all but deserted.  So were the parks and other public spaces.




On the beach at Francis Lewis Park, I felt as if I were the only one who was moving.





And, judging from the lack of traffic on the Whitestone Bridge, I may have been the only one going anywhere.




Of course, it takes a lot to stop Arielle, my Mercian Audax, or any of my other bikes!

16 April 2020

Exploiting Animals And Bicycles

I don't have a lot of money.  And my apartment, while clean, well-maintained and safe, is hardly what starry-eyed young people in the steppes imagine when they dream of living in New York.

Still, I know I'm privileged.  For one thing, I've been able to travel overseas in each of the past five years.  (I don't think I will this year because of the COVID-19 epidemic.)  I can do that mainly because I don't have to support anyone besides myself and Marlee, and I really don't have expensive hobbies. (For all of the bikes and bike-related equipment and schwag I have, I really haven't spent a lot on them, compared to some with a two-wheeled obsession.)  Also, besides working, there really isn't much I have to do.  So, I can spend my time riding, writing, reading or doing other things I like, simply because I want to do them.



Who, me?


Another reason I know I'm privileged is that Marlee doesn't have to do a damned thing to "earn her keep" or justify her existence.  In most of the world, the animals people keep serve some purpose or another.  In fact, some beasts work all day for the privelege of becoming dinner that night.  Marlee doesn't have to worry about anything like that.  She sleeps 15-17 hours a day, and I wouldn't be upset if she slept a few more.  Of course, I benefit because sometimes she dozes off in my lap, or by my side, and I drift off into dreamland, if only for a brief spell.

Now, I can understand keeping animals as beasts of burden.  I might have a more difficult time caring for and feeding an animal--and developing a bond with him or her (as I inevitably will:  that's how I am)--only to find him or her on my lunch or dinner plate.  Still, having been in rural southeast Asia, the Middle East and even parts of this country, I can understand how people can raise animals they know they're going to eat--or that will be eaten by someone else.  I understand that I, as a city dweller, have the option--all right, let's call it what it is: privilege--of not having to look at or touch an animal before eating it.


(That said, I don't eat nearly as much animal flesh as I once did.  I don't think I'll ever be entirely vegan, though, because I like dairy products--though I don't consume as much of those, either, as I once did. )


On the other hand, there really is no reason for what some people train or force their animals to do.  I have long believed that dolphins are the most intelligent animals of all--or, at least, they are more intelligent than we are--because while naval forces around the world have used them to detect mines and protect ships, there are some things those beautiful creatures simply would not do.


As much as I love cycling, and I have sometimes wished Marlee, Max, Charlie and my other kitties could accompany me on rides, there aren't many reasons to make an animal ride a bicycle.  It's usually done for yuks, or other kinds of exploitation.





I'm thinking now of the zoo in Thailand that made one of its chimps ride a bike in human clothes, with a mask over its face.  Now, if I had to wear those clothes, I might want to wear a mask, too.  But it gets worse:  the poor primate had to ride with disinfectant tanks strapped to its back--and spray that disinfectant around the zoo.

Oh, as if that weren't humiliating enough, before beginning his "shift", the chimp is chained to a wooden block while pulling on a diaper, shorts and the tacky shirt.


This video is disturbing. But I must say that it achieves something:  How often have you seen something in which both an animal and a bicycle are abused?




15 April 2020

Do Clothes Make The Bike?

I've seen bicycles used, beautifully and imaginatively, in window displays and art installations.

I've also seen some rather extreme attempts to fit bicycles and people to each other.

I don't, however, know what to make of this:


14 April 2020

Who Can Go Lower?

Stealing someone's bike is one of the lowest things one human being can do to another.

All right, I'll confess:  I'm not the first person to say as much.  Tom Cuthbertson said it in Anybody's Bike Book, warning that bike locks are only but so effective in deterring theft.


Now, one of the lowest things anybody has said, at least in recent history, was uttered by Donald Trump. (Are you surprised?) He claimed that there wasn't really a shortage of masks.  Rather, he claimed, they were going "out the back door."

Although I am not a health-care worker, I took umbrage to that remark because some of my current and former students work in hospitals and nursing homes and a neighbor/friend of mine is a nurse in one of this city's major hospitals.  It's hard not to wonder when--or whether--I'll see or hear from them again.

Trump accusing them of theft is a bit like Lance Armstrong accusing another rider of "juicing."  Or a Kardashian castigating anybody for a lack of restraint.

How much lower can someone go?  


It looks like somebody has plumbed such depths.  I am talking about the lowlife who took Dan Harvey's bike.  

At 2 am GMT, he had just finished his nine-hour shift at Queen's Medical Centre in Nottingham, England.  He'd spent the night as he's spent previous nights:  treating COVID-19 patients in the hospital's intensive care unit.  

Dan Harvey, medic


He went to an area of the hospital where a staff ID is required for entry.  He expected to unlock his bike and "clear his head" as he pedaled home.

Instead, he had to take a taxi:  His bike was gone. And his wasn't the first stolen from that limited-access area.

The ray of light in this darkness came after Harvey shared his loss on social media.  Soon, offers to replace his wheels came in.  

Dan Harvey, cyclist


He's riding to work again.  But it doesn't make stealing a bike from someone who rides it to a job where he puts his life on the line for others any less base of an act.


13 April 2020

Empty Spaces, Everywhere

Over the weekend, I took two rides.   On Saturday, I pedaled up to Greenwich, Connecticut.  Yesterday, I took a spin out to Point Lookout, on the South Shore of Long Island.



What did those rides have in common, besides pleasure?  Well, both were seasonably cool (high temperatures around 14-15C or 58-60 F) and sunny.  Oh, and there was plenty of wind.  Fortunately for me, I pedaled into it much of the way to Connecticut and on my way down to Rockaway Beach, where the wind blew at my side on my way to Point Lookout. That meant, of course, I had the wind at my back most of the way from Connecticut, and for a long flat stretch from Rockaway Beach to Woodside.



It also meant that I saw very little motorized traffic.  I think that in 252 kilometers (157 miles) of riding, I probably saw fewer cars and trucks than I see in my 8 kilometer (5 mile) commute on weekday mornings.

That might be why the expanse of water, as happy as I was to see it, wasn't as much of a contrast with the road behind me as it usually is.

12 April 2020

Happy--Whatever!

It's kind of odd to say "Happy" during a worldwide epidemic that's killing thousands of people and leading to lockdowns all over the world.

But I'll say it anyway:  Happy Easter.  Happy Passover.  Happy Ramadan.  Happy--I don't know--third or fourth or fifth week (depending on where you are) of Spring--or Fall.  Since I'm in the Northern Hemisphere, I'm going with Spring.



Happy...Whatever!

11 April 2020

The Statute Of Limitations--Or A Limitation On Statutes?

Fernandina Beach, on Amelia Island,  is the northernmost city on Florida's Atlantic coast.

That's certainly a distinction of sorts.  But until recently, it was unique in another way:  Since 1562, it has been ruled by France, Spain, Great Britain, Spain (again), the Republic of Florida, the Green Cross of Florida,  Mexico, the Confederate States of America and the United States.  It is, therefore, the only municipality in this country to have had eight different national flags flown over it. 

Now it may have another distinction.

A Nassau County sheriff's deputy spotted Aaron Seth Thomas and Megan Lynn Mondanaro narrowly escaped being hit by a car while riding their bicycles--without lights.



But what got them arrested was their breathalyzer tests.  They'd been drinking at a nearby bar before they got on their saddles.  Moreover, seven cans of beer were found in Thomas' backpack.



They were placed in back of the deputy's car for transport to jail.  While waiting, they removed their clothes and engage in sex.

(Don't ask!)

The deputy pulled Thomas out of the car but he shoved the deputy to the ground and ran off naked.  He was later apprehended by an ice cream store.  In the meantime, Mondanaro was moved to a different car and allegedly kicked two officers along the way.

Thomas and Mondanaro are now in custody, facing various charges.  Their actions have now added to Fernandina Beach's uniqueness:  In addition to being the only municipality to have flown eight national flags, it is (probably) the only, or at least one of the few, places in this country where a couple is in custody for having too much fun.

(I don't judge!)

10 April 2020

Around The World--Until COVID-19 Struck

I'd been thinking about two holidays this summer.  One would have been a trip to a faraway place, like the ones I've taken to Greece, Southeast Asia, Italy and France during the past few summers.  The other would have been a bike tour that would have taken me out of this city but would have kept me, probably in the United States, definitely in North America.

In fact, I was ready to book the "exotic" trip a few weeks ago.  But, for whatever reasons, I decided to "sleep on it."

The next day, I read that one of the places I'd thought about visiting was under lockdown, and a cruise boat was quarantined in the area.  And then the travel restrictions spread across regions, countries and even oceans.

Even if everything goes back to "normal," I don't think I'll be taking the "exotic" trip this year.  For one thing, I can't count on travel restrictions being lifted or flights being restored. Also, I have to admit, I might be a bit leery of having to spend hours in enclosed spaces.

Marcia van der Meer in the Los Angeles International Airport


The bike trip may still be possible.  At least, that's what I think--or hope.  But I'm not counting on taking that trek, either, especially after reading about Marcia van der Meer and Bas Baan.

More than a year ago, Ms. van der Meer embarked on a round-the-world bicycle tour from her native Netherlands.  She crossed the Atlantic in a cargo ship, rode the length of South America and hitchiked from island to island in the Caribbean with American sailors before she arrived in Miami.  There, she met Mr. Baan and set out across the United States. 

Somewhere in the middle of their cross-country ride, they first heard about COVID-19.  "We thought, 'Ah, it's some kind of disease over there in China, you know," van der Meer recalls.  

But, as they rode across the western US, one part of the world--and the US--locked down.  Still, they thought that once they got to Los Angeles, they'd continue their journey to Japan.  Then the Land of the Rising Sun closed its borders to nonessential travel from the US and other places, and van der Meer's travel visa was about to expire.


Baan and van der Meer flew back to the Netherlands. For both of them, cutting their trip short was more than a disappointment.  "This is the culmination of years-long dreams, savings, banking time off and putting aside money," Baan explained. "I think it's a dream deferred."

Marcia van der Meer and Bas Baan, on their way back to the Netherlands.


For van der Meer, it's not only a "dream deferred" or lost savings:  Aborting her trip could also mean cutting her income considerably.  "I write books, I do presentations in theatres and everything afterward when I come home," she says. "If I cannot finish my trip, I don't know what will happen to my income." 

Still, she says, "I will do it."  She plans to "chill for a couple of years and "I will do another attempt to go around the world by bicycle."  



09 April 2020

Will It Take A Virus To Bring Us Our Due?

During any crisis, actual and self-styled pundits weigh in about how said crisis will change some aspect of our culture, society or economy.

In that sense, the COVID-19 pandemic has been no different.  Wherever I tune, click or listen, someone is talking about how shutdowns and lockdowns will forever change the ways we live, work, eat, shop--and, yes, even make love.

Of course, it will be a while before we know which prognosticators are correct.  I hope that at least one of their forecasts comes true.  Specifically, it's one that appears in Tree Hugger.

That title--and the fact that I'm talking about it--is a giveaway that it has something to do with bicycles.  The opening line of Lloyd Alter's article sums it up:  They are not toys, they are transportation, and they can be a big help in this crisis.

Alter, however, is not merely making a prediction or expressing a hope.  Rather, he describes the way the definition of an "essential business" has evolved during the crisis.  He mentions that when Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a shutdown of "non-essential" businesses in New York State, he included bicycle shops--but not auto-related enterprises--in that category.  London Breed made a similar pronouncement when she ordred a lockdown in San Francisco, where she is the Mayor.  After pressure from folks like me, she and Cuomo revised their definition of "essential" businesses to include bike shops.  Not only is cycling one of the few outdoor activities in which one can engage in a dense urban area while keeping a safe "social distance", some essential workers, like food deliverers, use them to perform their jobs while others, like hospital employees, are using them to get to their jobs as trains and buses become more crowded due to service cutbacks.



As Alter points out, this crisis might finally show that bicycles aren't just a viable alternative to other forms of transportation; they should be considered integral parts of transportation planning.  Even after the virus is "defeated," many people will be reluctant to return to commuting in trains, buses or other shared vehicles.

That said, as I mentioned the other day, some shops (including one of my favorites) have chosen to remain closed, or to see customers only by appointment.  I understand their decision, just as I am happy that some shops have remained open.

08 April 2020

Where Has The Rider Gone?

Had you fallen asleep, say, a month ago and awakened today, you might check your calendar to be sure that it is indeed Wednesday, not Sunday or a holiday.   Your favorite stores, restaurants and public venues are closed, or open for only a few hours.  And there's practically no motorized traffic on the streets, save for men--almost all of them are men, and immigrants at that--delivering food on motorized or electric bikes.  

I also notice, surprisingly, fewer people on bicycles.  Since cycling is still allowed, as long as cyclists keep their "social distance" (2 meters or 6 feet), this is somewhat surprising.  Also, I would think that some people who still have to go to work might ride bikes, whether because the buses or trains they normally take are running less often or not at all, or because they wouldn't want to get on a bus or train--or share a car with anybody.



But the Citibike racks are close to full, and bikes that are normally parked overnight have remained on the streets for weeks.  I wonder whether their owners ride only to work or school, or are too scared to go out. (I've heard more than a few people say they planned to shut themselves in this week.)  Or--might they be sick, or worse?



Across the street from that Schwinn chained to the lightpole, I saw a sign that it is indeed early spring:




As the cliche goes, life springs eternal, even in the face of disease and death.