31 December 2021

And This is How 2021 Ends (Apologies to T.S. Eliot)

So how will you remember this year?  

Whatever the state of the  COVID pandemic, or anything else in the world, I can say that 2021 was better than 2020 in at least a few ways, however small.

For one thing, I didn't have two accidents (here and here) that landed me in an emergency room (one of them to a trauma center), as I did last year.  I guess one of my blessings, if you will, is that they were the only two such accidents in my nearly half-century of dedicated cycling.

For another, I've met a couple of new potential riding partners.  As much as I like to ride alone, I sometimes want someone to share the experience.  And one of those new fellow riders is two years older than I am and took her first rides in four decades--with me.  Lilian is good company and the educator in me finds fulfillment in helping her re-enter the world of two wheels and two pedals.

And last year's first crash, which wrecked Arielle, my Mercian Audax, yielded enough insurance money for me to buy another Mercian frame--La Vande, a custome Mercian King of Mercia constructed from Reynolds 853 tubing and equipped mainly with parts I had in my apartment.  She's a nice complement to Dee-Lilah, my custom Mercian Vincitore Special.

I still wish I could have taken a trip somewhere more than a state or two away. Well, I could have, but even though I am fully-vaccinated, I have been reluctant to get on a bus, train or plane.  That hesitancy has also kept me from doing a few rides that I've done a couple of times in each of the past few years because they involve a ferry ride to connect parts of the trip or a train ride to get me home.  So, I've been doing many of the same rides again and again.  Perhaps, in the coming year, I'll seek out some new routes.

Oh, and Marlee has been at the beginning and end of my rides.  She joins me in ushering out this year, and wishing you good tidings in the new year.

Late Afternoon, Early Winter, End Of Year

Late afternoon.  Early winter. End of the year.

That was today’s ride, down the Brooklyn and Queens waterfront and back.

I lingered a bit at the Long Island City promenades op and piers. I started riding there long before it sprouted glass towers, trendy cafes and young people who might be a little too self-consciously hip for their own good.  

Back then, it was an industrial area where each block, it seemed, showed a different stage of post-industrial decay.  But it felt comfortable, to me anyway, like a sweater that might look a bit tattered but feels right.  One thing that hasn’t changed is that it offers some nice harbor vistas and the best views of my two favorite Manhattan skyscrapers—the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings. I wonder, though, whether we’ll be able to enjoy those  views for much longer:  It seems that developers are building more and more, as tall and as close as possible to those edifices, as possible.

I mean, if they continue to hem it in, nobody will be able to see this, from Long Island City or anywhere else.


Still, the ride was a nice ending to a day and a year, at the beginning of winter.

30 December 2021

Rest And The Path Ahead

 I wanted to ride this afternoon, but I wasn’t feeling adventurous.  Perhaps it has to do with the year ending:  Starting new journeys seems more appropriate for a new year.

So I rode to the Flushing Bay Promenade, recently renamed the Malcolm X Promenade.  He lived in nearby East Elmhurst, along with other luminaries like Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald.

The ride is pleasant enough, sort of like comfort food for me and my bikes.  I rode up and down the promenade a few times, in part to get into a physical and mental “groove,” but also because of two men.

Short and squat but broad-shouldered and thick-fingered, they looked like the sort of Central American immigrants who wait at strategic but discreet intersections in residential neighborhoods where contractors, landscapers and other small business people hire people like them as day laborers.  

Such people work and sleep hard, wherever they can. So it’s unusual to see men like them dozing on park benches.  

But were they sleeping ?

Their faces, which probably would have been colored like terra cota or the earth from which they came, instead looked as if they’d been worn to reflect the gray sky and water. One man’s hand drooped in front of him, his fingers frozen in a grip of something no longer there.  

The other man’s head was cocked to his side, as if he stopped himself from resting it on the other man’s shoulders—or a pillow he realized wasn’t there.

A mobile phone propped between them played bouncy conga drum and stringed music.  But it could just as well have emitted “elevator music,” for all of the effect it had on them.

Finally, when I rode by them for the sixth time, I think, the man with the cocked head stirred. 

“¿Estás bien?” I shouted. He nodded.

“¿Necesitas algo?” He moved his head slowly from side to  side.

“¿Estás seguro?” Another nod.

“OK. Feliz año nuevo.” Even if they’re OK, I hope the path ahead is easier and clearer for them in the coming year.

At least the ride back was, for me.

Another Reason Your Favorite Shop Doesn't Have What You Want Or Need

During the 1980s and early 1990s, some bike shop owners and employees, it seemed, regarded robberies as a rite of passage.  I knew, and was known in, most Manhattan and Brooklyn shops and I don't think a single one escaped having expensive bikes, parts or money stolen.  Some even prepared themselves for what seemed an inevitability:  One employee was able to free herself, two fellow employees and the shop's owner after a perp tied them up and fled with cash and merchandise.

Later in the 1990s, as overall crime dropped, such events became less common.  Theft in bike shops, by that time, was more likely to be a matter of  some sticky-fingered opportunist absconding with a bike computer or expensive accessory or part--or low-paid employees taking "samples" of stuff they couldn't afford on their salaries.  

If you live long enough (as someone with a blog called "Midlife Cycling" has), you realize that almost no condition, good or bad, lasts forever--and that the good usually has at least one bad consequence,and vice versa.

Case in point:  the COVID 19-induced Bike Boom.  Anyone selling or repairing bikes, or anything related to them, was doing more business than they've done in years, or ever.  Then, lockdowns and workforce attrition throughout supply chains--from factories in the Far East to docks on the East and West coasts--led to scarcity that caused the prosperity that burned so brightly to consume the very shops that enjoyed it, however briefly.  

Those shortages--and the overall increase in crime--led to something that now seems all but inevitable:  an increase in theft, of bikes parked on streets, stored in warehouses or displayed on showroom floors, and of parts and accessories.  So, the number of bike shops incurring theft--whether of small items or bikes with five-figure price tags--has risen for the first time in decades.  

Worse, bike shop robberies and other crimes have been "taken to another level," in the words Gillian Forsyth.  She owns BFF Bikes in Chicago, which was hit when "people were going to work and cars about" on a weekday morning.  The robbers "crashed through one of my windows" and "targeted five very high-end bikes," she said.  "They just kind of rushed in, grabbed the bikes and left very quickly."

Although she has security footage of the incident, Forsyth says that identifying the perps will be difficult because they were masked--an ironic consequence of a measure taken to deal with the COVID pandemic.

In an ideal world, everyone will have a good bike and will ride it without worrying about their safety while riding or the bike's safety when parked.  In the meantime, we'll have to settle for part of the utopia, I guess:  More people are riding bikes.

29 December 2021

Sobre Las Piedras

 During the past couple of weeks, I wrote a couple of posts that didn't have much to do with cycling.  But I felt I had good reason:  After all, they, like my rides, are part of my journey of Midlife Cycling.

Now I'll be completely self-indulgent and post something that has even less to do with cycling.  I hope you don't mind.

This is the coqui guajon, also known as the Puerto Rican Rock Frog.  It lives in the southern part of the island in, as the name indicates, caves and rocky streams. 

Say what you will:  I am not impervious to cuteness.  

Policing Of Cyclists is A Social And Economic Justice Issue

For a very brief time in my youth, I worked in sales.  As with jobs of that kind, numbers were everything:  I, and other salespeople, were rated on the number of sales and the dollar value of them.

Knowing that, I, of course, went for the easiest "closes." (A "close" is a completed sale.)  After I drained the pool of easy marks, I realized that I hated sales and quit soon after.

There are other lines of work in which people are similarly evaluated.  Management calls those numbers "metrics" and use them, not only to decide on promotions, but also whether to continue someone's employment.  Such a situation, I discovered, also prevails in the academic world:  Decisions on tenure, promotions and continued employment are based on, among other things (like the ever-so-concrete category called "collegiality") the number of a faculty member's publications, and how much grant money he or she brings to the institution.

If anyone asks you what a professor and a police officer have in common, now you know.  In many departments--including the one in the "City of Angels"--police are judged by, among other things, the number of tickets they write and arrests they make.  Here I have no truck with conspiracy theories:  Constables themselves have said as much.  They also admit that they go after cyclists because we're the proverbial low-hanging fruit.  I am learning that I am not the only cyclist who's been stopped by cops--and ticketed--for something I didn't do.

One way you can tell a true salesperson, without knowing his or her numbers, is that such a person is a "schmoozer" (which I can be, when I feel like it) and gets a rush out of engaging, and closing the deal with, a customer.  It always seemed to me that to a true salesperson, the deal or the sale is, to them, as the painting or sculpture is to an artist.

Many police officers, I suspect, get a similar thrill out of a "collar."  "Everybody loves a good bust," said J.P. Harris, a retired Los Angeles County sheriff's lieutenant who now sits on the Sheriff's Civilian Oversight Board.  "The person who makes the right hooks, they are respected, they are admired."

A source for the Sheriff--who asked to remain anonymous because he's not authorized to speak in public--confirmed the suspicions I, and probably many of you have about why we're targeted:  "Like a lion looking for prey, what is she going to do?"  The source explained, "That's what cops do--they look for the easiest stop."

From the Good Word News

That also partially explains why non-white cyclists are disproportionately ticketed and arrested while riding their bicycles.  Another officer explained that when cyclists are stopped, it's not really about the missing reflector or bell, although that's might be the reason the officer gives when he or she approaches a cyclist.  Also, that officer explained, the goal isn't always to write a ticket, though that is often the result. 

Rather, stopping a cyclist--especially in a low-income neighborhood, and especially if the cyclist is not white--is really seen as a gateway to making an arrest for something more serious, like gun or drug possession.  Another officer explained that when was a new assistant in Compton, his training officer told him that in low-income areas like Compton, he should assume that any adult on a bicycle had most likely lost his (they're usually male) license because of some crime he'd committed.  

In other words, that law enforcement agent was trained to see any cyclist in a low-income neighborhood as a criminal. And he says he wasn't the only one inculcated with that notion.

That sort of training continued for years, even though it didn't produce the expected results.  According to a Los Angeles Times investigation, 44,000 cyclists were arrested in the county from 2017 until July of this year.  Of them, 85 percent were searched.  Only 8 percent of those searches revealed illegal items, and weapons were seized only 164 times, or in only 0.5  percent of all searches.

Perhaps the most galling aspect of those stops, arrests and seizures--and the training and mentality that produces them--is that they target the very cyclists who are least able to defend themselves against the charges.  It's hard not to think that makes poor black and brown cyclists such appealing targets for sheriff's assistants with itchy ticket-writing fingers:  Cops don't look good to their peers or superiors when their summonses are dismissed or charges dismissed. (That, by the way, is also the reason why the so-called War On Drugs so decimated black and brown communities:  Cops won't arrest a pot-smoking prep school kid whose parents can afford a good lawyer.)  In rare cases, large numbers of frivolous citations and arrests lead to disciplinary measures against and, even more uncommonly, dismissal of officers.

So, I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that the way cyclists are policed isn't just a first-world, white people's issue:  It's a matter of social and economic justice.

28 December 2021

What I Need After The Past Two Years

Here is what I would have posted yesterday, had I not invoked the Howard Cosell rule for someone who deserves it as much as anyone:  Desmond Tutu.

On the day his illustrious life ended--Boxing Day--I rode out to Point Lookout.  I woke, and started my ride, late:  It was close to noon before I mounted the saddle of Zebbie, my red vintage Mercian Vincitore that looks like a Christmas decoration. (I don't say that to throw shade on her; I love the way she looks and rides.)  One consequence is starting late, and stopping for a late lunch at Point Lookout, is that it was dark by the time I got to Forest Park, about 8 kilometers from my apartment.  That also meant, however, that I saw something that made me feel a little less bad about not traveling this year, or last.

Because the Rockaway Boardwalk rims the South Shore of Queens, you can see something you don't normally associate with the East Coast of the US:  a sunset on the ocean.  From the Rockaway Peninsula, the Atlantic Ocean stretches toward New Jersey.

The next time I feel as if I have no influence on anybody, I'll remember yesterday's ride. As I stopped to take photos, people strolling along the boardwalk stopped and turned their heads.   One couple with a small child actually thanked me:  "Otherwise, we never would have looked:  It's perfect!," the man exclaimed.

It was about as close to a perfect sunset as I've seen in this part of the world, and I've seen some stunners--in Santorini (of course!), the Pre Rup temple (Cambodia) , Sirince (in Turkey), .Le Bassin d'Arcachon (near Bordeaux), Lands End Lookout (San Francisco) and from the window of an Amtrak Coast Starlight train.  

All right, I'll confess:  I'm a sucker for sunsets--and bike rides.  Either one is a form of "redemption," if you will, for a day that could have been lost from having beginning  too late.  And they make a difficult year, a difficult time, more bearable--especially in a moment when I don't have to feel, or think about, anything but my legs pumping away, the wind flickering my hair and colors flowing by my eyes--and, in spite of--or is it because of?--the cold and wind, a glow filling me:  what Salvador Quasimodo meant when he wrote,



He probably never met Audre Lorde, but I think she would appreciate that, and he would understand what she meant when she wrote, "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence.  It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare."

Now, I don't claim to be the world-changer that she or Desmond Tutu were.  But on more than one occasion, I've been chided over my passions for cycling and cats.  I derive no end of pleasure from them, to be sure, but they also have kept me sane, more or less, as I navigated this world "undercover" and "out."

27 December 2021

Why We Need Desmond Tutu

Two weeks ago, I invoked the Howard Cosell Rule to interrupt this blog with something not related to cycling, but too important to ignore.  I'm going to use it again.  

Desmond Tutu died yesterday.  I simply have to mention him because I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that he was the most important, and admirable, people to inhabit this planet during the past century. Martin Luther King Jr. has, rightly, a US holiday in his honor.  I think Tutu deserves that, not only in his home country of South Africa, but in the world.*

You see, he, like Nelson Mandela, was not only a leader in the struggle for equality in his own country, which alone would be a reason to name a world peace organization after him.  He not only fought, successfully, to end the country's apartheid system; he did something few countries do after the most traumatic and shameful parts of their history:  He, in essence, put apartheid, and the history of colonialism that led to it, under a magnifying glass.  He wasn't looking to punish or prosecute: something for which he was criticized. Rather, I believe he was looking to name the people and problems.  He seemed to understand that most of the world would forget, for example, that Adolf Eichmann was executed and that it's far more important to understand, not only what he did, but what motivated and enabled  him.

While the jury is out, if you will, about the results of those efforts, they are, I believe, more honest and realistic--and included people from a greater variety of experiences--than the halting and limited efforts the United States has made about its history of slavery and the unfair laws--and other forms of subservience and worse, not only for African Americans, but for other groups of people. I think the efforts of Tutu were also more intellectually honest than whatever examinations some European countries have made of their histories as colonizers and their roles in the Holocaust and other tragedies.  And the Truth and Reconciliation committee, I think, has done more to examine its country's power structures than many countries that are nominally democracies have done about their sometimes all-too-recent pasts of totalitarinism and repression.

If those things sound like intellectual exercises, I think that Tutu's efforts are the main reason why, with all of its problems (including corruption), South Africa has made progress toward becoming a democracy in the truest sense of the world as countries like the one of my birth, and where I've spent most of my life, are going in the opposite direction.  (To be fair, as much as I abhor Donald Trump, I will say that this country's slide toward authoritarianism, and even facism, didn't begin with him.)

If power corrupts and every government (and large institutional structure) has at least some degree of corruption, the only way to hold it in check, if only to some degree, is in every person having an equal stake, and voice.  One sign of corruption and authoritarianism (or a slide toward it) is a militarized police force that cites, arrests or brutalizes cyclists for spurious or non-existent charges or lets off drivers (and motor- bike and -scooter operators) scot-free when they endanger, maim or kill cyclists and pedestrians. 

*--So does Nelson Mandela.


26 December 2021

Power Sources

In all of the Anglophone world, except for the United States, it's Boxing Day.

I can remember when the biggest disappointment, for some kids, was getting a toy they couldn't use on Christmas Day because it didn't have the required batteries. Because stores were closed, gratification had to be delayed until the following day, when those Eveready C and D cells could be bought.

Things are a bit different these days:

Kid, you plug your feet onto the pedals!

25 December 2021

Can You Imagine These Powered By Pedals?

I had lights on my bike when I did my Christmas Eve ride. Perhaps I didn’t need them: 

Laughing All The Way

 Tell me...Who wouldn't like getting a new bike for Christmas

or taking a ride dashing through the snow, laughing all the way

especially if he's going to meet a friend?

Merry Christmas!

24 December 2021

Flights Of (Holiday) Fancy

 Christmas Eve.  The sun chased the morning rain, but not the cold. Still, the weather was good enough for a late afternoon ride to Fort Totten.

On the way out and back, I wended along the Flushing Bay promenade, past the World’s Fair Marina—and within arm’s length, or so it seemed, of the new LaGuardia Airport terminals.

Few things are driven more by technology, and less by aesthetics, or at least visual displays, for their own sake than the design of aviation facilities.  Still, for a moment, one could believe the new terminal was decorated for Christmas:

Pedaling Big Macs Into Phone Juice

In the past 30-something years, I've entered a McDonald's maybe a dozen times:  to use the free Internet or the bathroom.  All right, I actually had an ice cream cone at a McDonald's in Turkey:  My host and guide on the Aegean coast thought he was doing something nice for me, an American.  And I actually went to chez Ronald just off the Rue de Rivoli because of its colorful display of macarons like the ones you see in Parisian patisseries.  They were actually better than I expected, though no rivals for the ones from Fauchon.

Never, though, have I ever been under any illusion of improving my health when walking under the "Golden Arches."

That means I'm not part of the target market for a Shanghai, China branch of the chain I regarded as "the Evil Empire" until Starbucks.  (Then came Amazon.)  You see, I would never, ever believe that such a global monolith would install stationary bikes so its customers could burn off the Big Macs, fries and shakes they're consuming.  

OK, so that makes me a cynic (or, perhaps, just a New Yorker).  But I'm not smart enough to figure out, on my own, just why the company that all but singlehandedly introduced the Standard American Diet (SAD) to a people that had subsisted, for milennia, on rice, vegetables and whatever fish or fowl they caught that day.

So what are those faux-Peloton devices doing in a branch of Mickey Dee's?

Well, you see, since Chinese are smart (or at least skeptical) enough to doubt that the top brass of what Ray Kroc wrought are trying to promote fitness, the next logical step was to "greenwash" at least one of their franchises.  If you want people to think you care about their well-being and their kids' future, you do something that helps the environment--or at least seems to.

So, that Shanghai branch installed those stationary bikes to generate power.

That sounds, if not noble, than at least wise and conscious. But customers burning off their burgers aren't generating electricity for the lights or fryers.  Rather, the "juice" is used to charge customers' phones and other portable devices.

I have to wonder, then, whether it actually helps to generate sales:  After all, wouldn't some customers buy more of what McDonald's sells if they're burning at least some of it off?

Funny how China, ostensibly a Communist country, has learned how to use capitalism in ways that we in America haven't even imagined.

23 December 2021

A Happy Holiday For Juan

We've all heard the expression, "The early bird gets the worm!"

Well, like so many oft-repeated bromides, it's true until, well, it isn't.

Case in point:  I followed my doctor's advice and got the first COVID vaccine available to me.  Of course, I followed it up a month later with the second dose and, last month, a booster.  

Well, if I'd waited, I'd be $200 richer.  Not long after I got my second dose, New York, where I live, was offering $100 people to get the vaccine.  Now it's offering that same amount to folks who get their booster jabs.

Even though I would've liked getting that money, I am of course glad I followed my doctor's advice.  Had I waited--who knows what could have happened?

Still, I have to wonder about, basically, bribing people to do what's best for themselves and the people around them.  I mean, we usually bribe kids to do what they don't want to do.  

So, while much of the world--I'm thinking in particular of Africa-- doesn't have any COVID vaccines to give its people, we in this country have to offer that spoon full of sugar to help the medicine go down.  Does that make the United States look like a nation full of sulking, petulant children?

All right. I shouldn't speak so badly of children, I know.  I don't have kids myself, but I've been around enough to know that while they have their moods and outbursts, most have a basic sense of right and wrong and really want to help, or at least please, people.  That they're sometimes rewarded for it is, la cerise sur le gateau.  

So it was for a 10-year-old boy named Juan.  He lives in Port Isabel, in the southernmost part of Texas.  Last Saturday, police temporarily lost sight of a male suspect they were pursuing.  Juan was riding his brother's bicycle and guided the officers in the direction of the suspect, whom they arrested.

From the Valley Central News

Juan was riding his brother's bike because he didn't have one of his own.  So, to thank him for his help, the Port Isabel police surprised him a new bike.  Needless to say, this is a happy holiday season for him.

22 December 2021

Another Reason Why Bike Lanes Aren't Safer Than The Streets

As I've mentioned in earlier posts, I generally avoid the bike lanes here in New York City.  Most of them are poorly conceived, designed and constructed.  Moreover, I see more motorized bikes and scooters than pedaled bicycles on them.  Those vehicles--and the folks who operate them--are, in my experience, far more dangerous than motorcycle, auto or truck traffic.  For one thing, you can't hear the scooters or Vespa-style bikes until they're practically at your elbow.  And the people who drive them tend to be more reckless than anyone else.

But lately I've encountered other reasons not to ride on the marked lanes--even the ones separated from motor traffic by physical barriers. Lately, I've been seeing more broken glass an other debris in them.  Worse still is that the lanes seem to have become magnets for all sorts of haters and their bad behavior.

To wit:  Late yesterday, I rode two blocks down the Crescent Street lane in Astoria.  Along the way, I saw two dude-bros weaving in and out of it.  I don't know whether they were drinking, but even if their motor coordination were somewhat impaired, they could have easily walked along the sidewalk:  Few other people were using it, and there wasn't any construction or other obstructions.  But they chose to weave in and out of the bike lane, playing "chicken" with and shouting obscenities at anyone who happened to be riding by.

About three or four meters ahead of me, a young woman on a Citibike--a tourist, I'm guessing--just barely missed being entangled with them.  "F---in' bike bitch," one of them yelled.  She, and I, managed to dodge them and a delivery worker riding a motorized bike in the opposite direction.  A little further on, she stopped.  I pulled up alongside her.  She told me she was OK and thanked me. 

But I was furious. I turned around, saw the dude-bros doing their pedestrian slalom and rode right into their faces.  "Who are you callin' bike bitch?" I bellowed.

One of them tried to put on his "fight" face.  But he, his buddy and I knew he was bluffing.  "Oh, no.  We were just talking about our friend Mike Rich," the other one claimed.  

I stared at them and intoned, "OK.  Have a nice holiday."

"You do the same."

(Hmm...I guess it might've damaged their sense of themselves to get their asses kicked by a trans woman of a certain age!)

Although the exchange didn't lead to a physical confrontation or worse, I was still upset and worried:  I am seeing, and hearing about more and more aggression against cyclists, especially in bike lanes, and not only from motorists who think we've taken "their" traffic lanes and parking spaces, in this city and elsewhere.  I fear that one of us could ride into something like the attack a 46-year-old Texas cyclist suffered at the hands of a shirtless, pipe-wielding guy:

The cyclist was "shaken" but not seriously injured. Understandably, he doesn't want to ride that lane again.  Even before the attack, he had a "weird feeling" about the path, he said. "[I]t's right next to houses and there's probably a lot of NIMBYs out there."

The attacker might well have been a disgruntled homeowner. But, on seeing him, I thought of the rioters at the US Capitol on 6 January.  Looking  at the comments on the YouTube video of the attack gave me a clue as to why:  Some of those comments compared us, cyclists, to all of the folks Trumpsters love to hate:  the Bidens, Democrats in general and so on. While I'd bet that most of us voted for Biden in the last election, it hardly makes us the threat to their way of life they fancy us to be.  

Oh, I also couldn't help but to notice that one commenter said that we, and all the others they love to hate, "love protecting your pedos."  How is it that all of their fantasies about us seem to lead to pedophilia?  The bike paths in this city should have such clear destinations!

21 December 2021

Turn The Lights On!

 Today the Winter Solistice arrives at 10:59 am local (US Eastern Standard) time.  

Given that there will be less daylight today than on any other day this year, this image seemed appropriate:

It was taken during the "Glow Ride," an annual London Cycle Link event held in October.  The ride, they say, is about visibility, specifically, to "raise awareness that you can cycle in London," according to Mateus Butterwick, LCL's program coordinator.

Those riders will have even more opportunities to use their lights today than I will:  There will be even less daylight in London than we'll have here in New York.

20 December 2021

A Ride From Art To Marlee

 I've ridden to museums, galleries, plays, poetry readings, concerts and other cultural events.  It's one of my favorite ways to spend a day: I get to combine some of the things I love most.  

The problem, though is parking. I know, I sound like a motorist when I say that.  But only in a few venues can one bring in a bicycle. The Metropolitan Museum has bike racks in its parking garage and valet bicycle parking during certain hours.  But at most other events and venues, you take your chances with parking on the street.

A couple of days ago, during a late-day ride, I came across a solution to the problem:

The 5-50 Gallery is located, as the name indicates, at 5-50 51st Avenue in Long Island City.  More specifically, it occupies a garage--from what I can tell, a commercial one.  Converting industrial and retail spaces to use for art and performance is not new, but this gallery's space is uniquely accessible. 

No, that isn't a portait of Marlee on mushrooms.  It's one work by Kyle Gallagher, the artist featured when I stopped by. 

The paintings have a grab-you-by-the-collar quality, full of  colors that flash with, at once, the energy of street festivals and the urgency of flashing ambulance lights.  And the way cats and other living beings are rendered makes comics seem like a kind of mythology of the subconscious,  spun from threads of graffiti, street portraiture and abstraction.

All right, I know, you didn't come to this blog for two-bit art commentary. But there was something oddly appropriate, almost synchronistic, about encountering those paintings on a bike ride through an industrial-turned-trendy neighborhood.

When I got home, Marlee didn't care. She just wanted to know, "what's for dinner?"  

19 December 2021


 Can you imagine hanging this on your tree?

Age Is Just A Number. So Is Speed.

The title of this blog is "Midlife Cycling."  Even though I've been writing it for 11 1/2 years, I'm still in the middle of my life.  Really, I am.  I may have slowed down a bit since my youth, but I'm not old.

I'm still in the middle of my life.  And riding my bike.  

18 December 2021

A "Walk Audit" In Tulsa

Yesterday I decried, as I often do, the sorry state of bike lanes here in New York City and much of the US.  It seems that bike and pedestrian lanes are, too often, conceived and designed by people who never have actually set foot, let alone walked or ridden a bike, where the lanes are built.  The result is lanes that actually put bicyclists and pedestrians in more danger than they'd experience without it and that don't offer safe and practical routes to and from wherever people live, work, go to school or shop.

Well, it seems that some folks in Tulsa, Oklahoma are reading this blog--or they have great minds that think like mine. ;=)  They are doing at least part of what I think anyone planning a bike or pedestrian lane should  do.  What's more, they plan to continue the practice for at least a year.

The other day, some of the city's business owners, neighborhood association members, city councilors and other citizens took the first "walk audit" of an area with crash areas. More such "walk audits" will be conducted through the coming year.  The purpose is to determine what needs to be changed in order to make those areas safer for walking, cycling and using public transportation.


Photo by Josh New, for Oklahoma Magazine

It sounds like a good idea, although I'd also like to see "bike audits":  Much, but not all, of what will make walking safer will also help cyclists.  As an example, the audit identified a lack of sidewalks in one area which, of course, forces pedestrians to walk in the street.  While I certainly favor installing a sidewalk, it generates this question:  Will cyclists and other wheeled (but non-motorized) vehicles be permitted on it?  In some places, like some areas of Florida I've ridden, bike lanes double as sidewalks (or vice versa, depending on your point of view).  That works out as long as there isn't a high volume of pedestrian or bicycle traffic, which seems to go against the purpose of having safe bike and pedestrian routes.

So, I think the good folks of Tulsa have begun to move in the right direction.  Now I'd like to see whether they expand their efforts, and whether they can export them--or whether they will be imported by--cities like the one in which I live.


17 December 2021

Bike Lane Mayhem: Just Don't Yell At The Cops.

I ride the bike lane on Crescent Street in Astoria only because it passes directly in front of my apartment--and I use it only to get home or to a street that will take me wherever I'm going.  

In that sense, the Crescent Street lane is actually better than some:  It not only takes me to my apartment; it also provides a direct connection between two major bridges with bike lanes: the Triborough/RFK and Queensborough/59th Street.  

For a while, I was crossing the Triborough almost every day to work, and often use it for rides to points north, including Connecticut.  But I take the Queensborough/59th Street only if I'm going to someplace within a few blocks of the Manhattan side.  If I'm going to Midtown or downtown Manhattan, I prefer to pedal into Brooklyn and cross the Williamsburg or Manhattan Bridges.  

The reason I like those bridges better is that the bike lanes are relatively wide and accessible.  The Queensborough/59th Street Bridge, on the other hand, is--like the Crescent Street lane--narrow.  How narrow?  Well, I've come within a chain link width of brushing, or being brushed by, cyclists traveling in the opposite direction.  

That problem has been exacerbated by motorized bikes and scooters.  I was under the impression that they're supposed to be limited to a maximum speed of 40 kph (about 25 mph).  But I've seen more than a few that were traveling well above that speed.  And I have seen many more of them than cyclists run red lights, make careless turns and sideswipe cyclists and pedestrians.  

Photo by Scott Gries--Getty Images

I know I'm not the only one who's noticed.  Christopher Ketcham said as much yesterday, in a New York Daily News guest editorial.  He also points out something I've mentioned:  It's illegal to operate those motorized vehicles in bike lanes.  People do it; they endanger others; cops see it and do nothing.

Ketcham described such a scenario of which he had to be a part.  Someone riding a motorized bike nearly knocked him off his bike on the Manhattan Bridge Lane.  When he stopped to complain to the cops sitting on the complain to two cops stationed on the Manhattan side, one of them said, "We're here for the bikes."

So that officer admitted what many of us know:  the police come after us because we're easy prey--and because, as former Transportation Alternatives head Charlie Komanoff said, "Cycling is everything cops are acculturated to despise:  urban, improvisatory and joyous rather than suburban, rulebook and buttoned-up."  I have noticed the hostility he and Ketcham describe even in cops who patrol on bicycles: I suspect that none of them ride when they're off the clock.

Some might say that Ketcham, Komanoff and I are paranoid or "not seeing the whole picture."  Well, if we can't see from the proverbial 30,000 feet, we certainly can look through the wide-angle lens of statistics:  In 2019, the NYPD handed cyclists 35,000 tickets for all sorts of infractions, from not having bells (more about that in a moment) to running red lights (even when, as I have described, crossing at the red light is safer for the cyclist and drivers). Truck drivers received 400 fewer tickets, although there are ten times as many trucks as bicycles on New York City streets.

When Ketcham complained to the cops at the foot of the Manhattan Bridge, they gave him a $98 ticket--for not having a bell and, allegedly, for yelling at the officers, according to the "Description/Narrative" portion of the ticket.  

I wonder how many folks driving motorized bikes were ticketed for riding illegally in bike lanes (or on sidewalks), sideswiping cyclists and pedestrians--or yelling at police officers.


16 December 2021

If You Like This Blog, Thank bell hooks

If you've been following this blog for a while, you may have noticed that every once in a while I invoke what I'll call herein the Howard Cosell Rule. I am so naming it for the sportscaster who interrupted his play-by-play and commentary of an NFL game to announce the murder of John Lennon.  About a dozen years earlier, he deviated from the format of his radio program to talk about the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.

He received a lot of hate mail--which included slurs against his Jewishness and questioning of his manhood--for reminding viewers that, indeed, some things are more important than what your favorite football or baseball team is doing on the field.  That, of course, is what some fans didn't want to hear:  When it wasn't impugning his heritage, actual or perceived sexual orientation or political leanings, the angry responses said, in essence, that he should stick to sports because that's what they tuned in to hear.

Of course, these days, you'd have to be comatose to think that politics, economics, history, gender identity and expression and sexual orientation can be separated from games, matches or tournaments. (Simone Biles and Colin Kaepernick, anyone?) And I am always conscious of the fact that I started this blog because I am a middle-aged (depending on your definition of it!) transgender woman who has cycling in one form or another for longer than she’s been living as the person she is.

That said, I am writing today about someone who, to my knowledge, didn't do much cycling. And I have not previously mentioned her on this blog.  But she has as much to do with the person I am, and why I have continued to ride, as anyone has.

bell hooks, from the bell hooks institute

Yesterday Gloria Jean Watkins--better known as bell hooks*--died at age 69 from renal failure.  As I understand, she'd been in failing health for some time.  Physically, that is. I can't get inside her mind, any more than anyone else can, but I feel confident in saying that until her last moment, it worked better than that of most people (including me) at their cognitive best.

So what does she have to do with me, or this blog? Well, first of all, any transgender person owes at least something to her.  Laverne Cox said as much.  hooks, a black feminist scholar who described her sexuality as "queer-pas-gay,"  sowed the seeds of what Kimberle Crenshaw would later call "intersectionality" in feminism and the studies of race, class and culture.  For those of you who didn't take a graduate seminar in gender studies (no shame there, really!), intersectionality explores, as its name implies, the connections between social categories such as race, gender and class--though hooks (and Crenshaw) were careful to point out that while sexism, racism, class bias and homo- and trans-phobia are related, they are not identical.  Thus, while hooks took pains to respect the differences between, say, a white cisgender woman from an upper middle class background trying to break the "glass ceiling" of an organization or profession and an Afro-Latina transgender trying to get medical treatment, she could also see the parallels between, and empathise with, their struggles.

Most important, she challenged her readers to empathise, and to embrace, the ways in which their identities, whatever they are, express themselves.  That is not to say she believed that "anything goes:" her critique of Beyonce says as much.  Rather, she wanted people to free themselves from the mostly-unspoken dictates (many of which she identified as patriarchical) about gender and race into which people are immersed from an early age.

So how did that lead to this blog?  Well, when I was starting my gender affirmation process, I struggled with the question of what, exactly, it would mean to live as a woman.  It changed, it seemed, almost from one day to the next.  In part, that had to do with the time in which I started my process:  In 2003, books like Jennifer Boylan's She's Not There had just come out.  In a recent interview, Boylan said that in re-reading it, she realizes that much of it had an apologetic tone.  She, who started her process about a decade before mine, was trying to conform to some of the very same notions I was--and which bell hooks didn't denounce as much as she said were outmoded and, in some cases, crippling.  

I think that most people who experience gender identity as I have, until recently, realized that they weren't the sex by which they were identified from birth before they understood what living by the gender by which they identify themselves would mean.  That meant, for some of us, things that we look back on with embarrassment: I realize now that, at times, I was performing an exaggerated version of femininity.  Young trans and queer people have the advantage, in part because of people like bell hooks, of realizing that they don't have to accept those notions of gender (I include the ones to which some trans men conform) that were formed by notions of the superiority of a particular gender, race, class or religious group.

For me, figuring out what kind of woman I would be included answering the question of whether I would continue cycling.  At the time I started my affirmation process, I didn't see many female cyclists. I take that back:  I didn't see many who rode as much, as long, as hard, as I was riding in those days.  So I wondered just how much (if any) cycling I could do and still be the woman I was envisioning at the time. 

Then, I realized that I had bought into a frankly hyper-masculine idea about cycling, modeled after the wannabe Eddy Mercxes, Bernard Hinaults and Russian sprinters I saw and sometimes rode with. Over time, my ideas about cycling--and womanhood--changed.  

These days, I am a woman who rides because I love being a woman and I love riding.  The forms each take have changed, and will change, in part because age inevitably changes our minds as well as our bodies.  It took time, but I think I've come to a place where I live and ride as I see fit, whether or not it fits into someone else's ideas about what a woman, a person in mid-life, or a cyclist should be.  For that, I have bell hooks, among others to thank.  She is as good a reason as any for me to invoke the Howard Cosell rule today. 

*--bell hooks always spelled her nom de plume with lower case letters. It's her grandmother's name, which she took in honor of her fighting spirit.  But bell hooks wouldn't capitalize the first letters of her name, she said, because she didn't want to draw attention to herself at the expense of her works.  I hope I don't seem cynical when I say someone as intelligent and perceptive as she was must have known that, for some people, it's exactly what drew attention to her.  I confess:  I am one of them.  I knew nothing about her when I first saw her name and started reading her works out of curiosity because of how she spelled her name.

15 December 2021

Stolen Elections And Traffic Lanes

There is nothing so demonstrably false that, if repeated often enough, large numbers of people will take as fact.  

This is especially true today, with social media as such a powerful tool for amplifying misinformation or outright lies.  (I know, you're reading this over social media.  What can I say?) If the election of Donald Trump--and the notion that he had re-election "stolen" from him--hasn't taught us as much, I don't know what will.

One problem, I think, is that people who are in a position to question such stories---a polite way of saying "folks who ought to have well-tuned bullshit detectors"--accept, wittingly or not, misinformation at face value.  They don't question the sources of such stories, let alone how anyone came to the conclusions that are spread as lies or disinformation.

A recent example came in the form of a questionable study that morphed into an urban legend via the British media.  To be fair, such a scenario could have--and probably has--played out in other countries and cities.  It's one thing when the Daily Mail (which, as best as I can tell, seems like England's equivalent of the New York Post) spreads, as we would say in the academic argot, narratives with a tenuous relationship with verities. It's another when outlets as august as the BBC spread such nonsense.  The Daily Mail's headline proclaimed, "Cycle lanes installed at start of COVID pandemic help make London most congested city in the world."  BBC London made it sound more reasonable, or simply toned it down:  "Cycle lanes blamed as city named most congested."

The story could have gotten even more traction had Peter Walker, a reporter on transportation and environmental issues for the Guardian, spoken about it  on a national radio program.  At least, more people would have taken the narrative as an article of faith if he’d spoken about it as the program’s producers might have expected. 

He had been contacted to do that, he says.  As he checked the story, the program's producers decided to bring on somebody else.  From what Walker says, I can't help but to wonder whether the person they chose parroted the lines from the Daily Mail and BBC London items.

Turns out, the business about London being the most congested city came from a report called the "Global Traffic Scorecard."  Its title makes it seem plausible enough--until you realize that it was issued by a company called Inrix, which sells traffic data.

Photo by Dominika Zarzycka, from the Guardian

Now, I haven't been to London in a long time, so I can't offer even anecdotal evidence to confirm or refute the report's conclusion.  For all I know, London might be more congested than Paris or Athens, two large cities in which I've cycled during the past couple of years.  And it may well be more choked with traffic than cities like Luang Prbang or Siem Reap, which I've also recently ridden.  

One problem is that whoever compiled the Inrix report couldn't tell us whether the British capital is more congested than any Asian, African or Latin American city because no such places were included in the study.  

Another is that their determination of London as the most congested city is based on--again I'll revert to academic argot--flawed methodology.  It seems to be based on the premise that traffic is like water:  its flow is determined by the width of the pipe, or road.  Decades of research have refuted this idea (commonly called "induced demand" or, for laypeople, "build it and they will come") about traffic, but it seems to be a foundation for the report--and an Inrix employee who embellished and amplified it.

Peter Lees' official Inrix title is "Director of Operations--Media."  In other words, he's a publicist (which, I blush to admit, I was for a (thankfully) brief time). Such people tend not to be "traffic wonks," Walker says, or a wonks of any kind.   Now whether Lees is a bald-faced liar, or simply someone who doesn't actually read the stuff he represents to the media, I won't say. I will, however mention this:  He linked London's congestion to bike lanes--which are not mentioned anywhere in the 21-page report.

Now, I have all sorts of issues with bike lanes, at least as they exist in too many places.  I've ridden too many, especially here in New York, that are poorly conceived, designed, constructed and maintained.  They don't provide practical or safe routes for transportation cycling:  Few link to other bike (or bikeable) routes or to places where significant numbers or would-be cycle commuters study, work or shop.  But any traffic congestion--including that of Crescent Street in Astoria, where I live--existed before bike lanes were built.

Misinformation, whether or not it's intended as such, can cause people to believe things that are demonstrably false and act in irrational ways, especially when it's amplified by folks with actual or metaphorical microphones.  So, in that sense, what leads folks to think that bike lanes cause traffic congestion is basically the same as what causes them to believe their candidate had an election "stolen" from him.