30 May 2020

A Color Of My Ride

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

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

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

29 May 2020

A Leg To Ride On

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

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

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

Leo Rodgers stops for a snack during a ride.

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

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

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

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

28 May 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

27 May 2020

Get Your 1965 Collegiate Now!

Did you get a Schwinn Collegiate in 1965?

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

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

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

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

Green bike.
The new "Schwinn Collegiate"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

26 May 2020

How Many Riders In An Event?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

25 May 2020

Memorial Day: Heroes And The Lionhearted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

24 May 2020

I Tried. Really, I Tried!

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

You can "adopt" this cat here.

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

Really, I tried! ;-)

23 May 2020

Untangling His Brakes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

22 May 2020

Bikeways To The Future: I Hope Not!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

21 May 2020

Rue de Rivoli: An Axis For Cyclists

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

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

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

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

20 May 2020

A Perfect Storm For A Ride

Yesterday I took a late ride out to Point Lookout.

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

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

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

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

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

Still, it was a perfect storm for a ride.

19 May 2020

GM Pulls Plug On Electric Bikes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18 May 2020

Losing Her Child

"Like a mother who lost her child."

I am sure many of you would feel that way if your bicycle went missing.  Whether the bike is a means of everyday transportation or has transported you across a continent, you are probably as protective of it as a parent of his or her progeny.

Patricia McNeil, a stroke survivor who lives in the Florida Panhandle, certainly is feeling such a loss.  Her black Trek took her across the country twice and served as her sole means of transportation.  In Florida, the latter is really saying something and is one reason why she logged over 40,000 miles on it in two years.

She left her machine in the foyer of a local Target. It's not the first time she parked her bike there and whenever she left the store, she retrieved her bike--until last Wednesday, that is.

Security footage confirmed that the bike was indeed stolen--by a local male who "looks like actor Paul Walker" and has a sleeve tatoo on his left arm.  It sounds to me that he knew about McNeil and her bike and the theft was a crime of opportunity.

Anyway, I hope he is apprenhended and Ms. McNeil gets her bike back.  Nobody deserves to lose her child.

17 May 2020

Lilacs On Lilac

Today I won't do a "Sunday funny."  Instead, I'll share something that is lovely, or at least charming.  

This house stands on King Steet in New Rochelle, near the Mercy College (formerly College of New Rochelle) campus.  I pass it almost every time I ride home from Connecticut, as I did on Wednesday.

Lilacs on a lilac house.  It's a visual respite from the gloom of pandemics and lockdown.

16 May 2020

Imagine A City Of Cyclists

Today I am going to take you to a city with an international airport named after a Beatle.  To my knowledge, it's the only such city.

You may have guessed that city is Liverpool, England.  Now I'll give you a clue as to which Beatle has the honor:  Its mayor has said the time has come to be "as radical as possible."

Which member of the Fabulous Four are you most likely to associate with the word "radical?"  John Lennon, of course.

All right, I admit that I took his quote just a little out of context.  And, of course, I can't take you to Liverpool:  Not even the airlines can do that right now.  For that matter, there aren't many places the airlines can take you now.

But, as I used to tell kids for whom I did creative writing workshops, your imagination can take you anywhere.  If you can imagine (There's another John Lennon word!), you can.  

And, it seems that Mayor Joe Anderson is doing just that. He is pleased with the improvement of his city's air quality since the lockdowns began.  More important, he imagines maintaining it.  More important still, he understands what needs to be done in order to keep its skies the clearest they've been since the Industrial Revolution began.

Mayor Anderson has just green-lit 2 million GBP to improve cycling in the city by introducing up to 100 km of pop-up lanes.  He gave his approval as the city has already begun a 45 million GBP redesign of the center city that includes 11 km of permanent bike lanes. 

While that will make the city's center more bikeable and walkable in the long-term, the "pop up" lanes are intended, in part, to help in the city's recovery from the pandemic.  It comes at a time when the UK Government is encouraging local councils to improve cycling and walking structure as public transport will be operating on very limited schedules due to social distancing guidelines.

All of this, it seems, comes from a recognition of a question I've raised about in a couple of recent posts:  Of those who have taken up cycling during the pandemic, how many will continue once things return to "normal?"  

As I have mentioned, during the 1966 and 1980 New York City transit strikes, some people cycled to work.  But once subway and bus service returned to normal, they hung up, sold, gave away or discarded their bikes.  I maintain that in 1966, few adults cycled in the US and there was no cycling infrastructure; by 1980, more adults pedaled but there was little infrastructure.  On the other hand, after the 2005 transit strike, many new cycle commuters continued to ride to work and school, in part because there was more of a cycling culture--and more infrastructure--than existed during the earlier labor stoppages.

Mayor Anderson seems to recognize that some Liverpudlians who took up cycling or walking are enjoying favorable conditions, with far fewer motorized vehicles on the city's streets than one normally encounters.  Once shops, offices and other workplaces, and schools, re-open, traffic volumes could creep back up to pre-pandemic levels.  And once public transport returns to a full schedule, people will return to commuting on buses and trains.  Some of the newly-minted cyclists and pedestrians could be enticed to continue walking and riding if there are spaces in which they feel safe while riding, and other infrastructure (bike repair stations?) to support them.

"The COVID pandemic has impacted our way of life beyond imagination but the challenges it has presented has also provided us with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to re-imagine how we use and travel within our cities," Mayor Anderson says.

"Imagine."  "Reimagine."  How appropriate for a city that named its airport after John Lennon.

(Thanks to regular commenter "Voyage of the Eye" for alerting me to this story.)

15 May 2020

The New Toilet Paper?

Today's post relates, at least somewhat, to yesterday's.

As I mentioned, bikes are in short supply all over the world as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  With transit systems on severely restricted schedules, or shut down altogether, many vital workers are pedaling to work and people are using their bikes to get to appointments and whatever stores are still open.

One result is that some communities have declared bicycle shops as essential businesses.  If you're reading this blog, that designation seems self-evident.  Some people, however, seem to disagree--and have some ideas that are, to put it charitably, interesting about what constitutes an "essential" business. (Tatoo parlors? Golf courses?)

This conflict came to head in Normal, a central Illinois town of 55,000 people that is home to the main campus of Illinois State University.  Its mayor, Chris Koos, has threatened to hand out summonses to anyone who doesn't follow the State of Illinois order to maintain social distance--or any open business not deemed "essential" by the State.  So far, that doesn't sound like anything officials haven't done in other parts of the world.

Also not unusual  are the the protests against his mandate, or the fact that many of the protestors--some of whom started a Facebook group and even made death threats--own or work in hair salons and other businesses deemed "not essential."  I have never been to Normal, but I imagine at least some of them associate bicycles with the college, which they equate with privilege.

As Mayor Koos has said, they don't understand that many people depend on bicycles for transportation, in much the same way people see their cars as necessities.  Also, most cyclists were, in effect, "social distancing" before it was required.

Last week, a group of protestors gathered near the Vitesse bike shop to decry the shop's--and other bike retailers'--opening.  

Why did they choose to gather at Vitesse?  Well, it just happens that Mayor Koos has owned it for the past 42 years.  He and his employees have received death threats, and the shop's website has been "bombed".  He, however, came up with a creative response to the threats and protests.

"PROTESTER FLASH SALE," the banner read. "Protesters Only 5-6 p.m.  Bikes Parts and Accessories on Sale!"

None took the bait.  Koos seems to expect as much:  "It was as much a joke as anything."  But, he says, he would have given the protesters sale prices for whatever they wanted.

The protesers didn't take him up on his offer, but many others didn't need such a lure.  Since the pandemic hit, Koos explains, sales have been up 71 percent and the shop gets "constant service requests."  Like Charlie McCorkle and other shop owners, he says he can't get enough bikes to keep up with demand.

 "Bikes are the new toilet paper, " he says.

14 May 2020

Where Are The Bikes?

There is a national bike shortage, unlike anything I have seen before. This is due to increased demand and extensive disruptions to the supply chain. My advice: when you see something that you like – BUY IT. I expect to have a very limited inventory of our most popular bicycles very soon.

That message came from Charlie McCorkle, co-founder and owner of the Bicycle Habitat shops here in New York.  He is echoing somthing I've heard and read from sources all over this country, as well as in England, France and other places:  The shutdown or limited schedules in effect on transit systems, restrictions on travel and increased numbers of people working from home (or not at all) have boosted the demand for bicycles.  People who haven't been astride two wheels in decades are mounting saddles and pushing pedals to get to their jobs in hospitals, nursing homes, shipping centers and other places where essential work is done.  Other folks are riding bikes to shop at whatever places are open, and I've noticed more families (or, at least, adults and children) riding together than I can ever recall seeing.

But the restrictions on travel--and employees who are too sick to work or are self-quaranitining--mean that bicycle manufacturers, importers, wholesalers and shippers means that fewer bikes are being produced, and whatver bikes are produced are slower to arrive in shops.  Moreover, most bike dealers are, ironically, remaining open for fewer hours, and with fewer employees (due to social distancing regulations), so it takes longer for bikes to go from their shipping cartons to the shop floor.

This situation reminds me of the 1970s North American Bike Boom.  At its peak--around 1972-73--domestic manufacturers simply couldn't crank out bikes, and importers couldn't bring them to this country, quickly enough.  Customers frequently had months-long wait times for popular models from major brands.  I know, because I was one of those customers:  I placed a deposit on a Schwinn Continental in July 1972, just after my birthday, and didn't receive it until the middle of October. 

Back then, companies simply couldn't keep pace for a sudden surge in demand.  This time, though, the capacity is there, but the people aren't.  Also, during the Bike Boom, most bikes purchased in the US were made in-country or came from Europe or Japan.  Now, the vast majority of bikes and bike-related items sold here come from China or Southeast Asia, where production has decreased or stopped altogether.  So, while the bike shortage of the Bike Boom didn't extend to other pars of the market or economy, bikes are in short supply now for the same reasons medical suppliles and other goods are hard to find right now.

13 May 2020

Forever And Connecticut

It’s a classic beautiful spring afternoon.  After doing what I needed to do, I took off.  

Up through the winding path of Pelham Bay Park and the side streets of Westchester County I rode.  Even though I was pedaling into the wind, I felt as if i could go forever.

I ended up in Connecticut, feeling younger than my years.  It was that kind of ride.

12 May 2020

When Things Return To "Normal"

Yesterday, this article caught my attention.

Since 2010, cycling fatalities have been on the rise as driver and passenger fatalities have reached all-time lows.  During the decade, the number of cyclists has increased.  So has the number of motor vehicles on the road.  Those trends, in themselves, may not be considered causes in the increased number of cyclist deaths.  

One factor, I believe, is that drivers are more distracted:  If I had a nickel for every time I saw someone looking at a screen instead of the street, I could rescue Mavic.  I have also experienced increasing hostilty from drivers, who sometimes resent cyclists whom they see as privileged, entitled or any other negative stereotype you've heard about milennials. (All right, I still don't see what's the big deal about avocado toast.)  Moreover, at the risk of seeming as if I'm stereotyping, I think that the rise of Uber, Lyft and other ride-share companies has put more reckless or simply bad drivers, and unsafe cars, on the road.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, most streets have been blissfully free of traffic. So, it will be interesting to see how statistics from March and April of this year compare with the same months of recent years.  Will there be fewer injuries and fatalities?  And, if there are, will the unfortunate "normal" levels return once traffic becomes as dense as it was before the shutdowns?

Then again, I wonder whether traffic will return to previous levels.  Some companies might decide that people who are working from home can continue to do so--or that they don't need those employees after all.  If that happens, I hope all of those newly-displaced workers don't become Uber or Lyft drivers!

11 May 2020

Acceptable Behavior During A Pandemic

As of today, the two countries with the most COVID-19 cases are...the United States and the United Kingdom.

Does that mean speaking English is a risk factor?*

Seriously, as some countries relax their restrictions and others impose new ones (or re-impose ones they'd just struck down), people debate about what constitutes acceptable public behavior during the pandemic.

Thankfully, cycling not been prohibited here in New York or, to my knowledge, any place else in the United States besides Puerto Rico.  Really, as long as we keep our "social distance" (two meters or 6 feet) and don't spit or fling our sweat, we really don't pose any more a risk than, say, someone walking a dog or pushing a shopping cart full of toilet paper.  

On the other hand, what's allowed in public parks or beaches--if they're open--varies widely.  One of the big debates in places like Florida seems to be whether sunbathing should be allowed. When restrictions were imposed here in the Big Apple, they included a prohibition against basking in solar refulgence.  At the time, they seemed academic because, well, March weather in the Rockaways is, shall we say, a bit different from conditions that prevail in Ormond Beach.  

Actually, our winter was quite mild right up to the end, with scarcely any snow.  Some of us have joked that just we can't tell one day from another, thanks to lockdowns, we also can't distinguish one season from the next.  

So how do you know whether or not to sunbathe, if it's allowed?

This woman seems not to care.  The funny thing is that while some people weren't keeping their social distance from each other, I am the only one who broke that protocol with this sunbather.

To be fair, she's reposing in an intersection near Court Square in Long Island City.  Not many people walk by and because it's near entrance ramps for the 59th Street Bridge and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, cars don't stop or slow down.  I think only I, in the course of yesterday's ride, stopped to see her.

She wasn't worried:  She knew I wouldn't admonish her for sunbathing--or social distance.  Perhaps she knows that cyclists aren't judgmental, except toward other cyclists who aren't wearing or riding what they "should".

At the end of my ride, I met with someone who prefers the warmth of a human body to that of the sun.

*--I ask this question in jest, of course!