31 January 2021

Never Changing Their Stripes

Zebrakenko bicycles first appeared in the US during the mid-1970s, just past the Bike Boom's peak.

Like many other Japanese bikes of that era, their lugwork and paint were clean, and they came with good, high-value components from the likes of SunTour, Shimano, Sugino and Sakae Ringyo (SR).  

Somewhere along the way--I am guessing in the early or mid-1980s, the name was shortened to "Zebra."  It was, I reckon, an attempt to evoke the animal's agility, as I don't recall any of their bikes painted with black and white stripes.

Or, perhaps, whoever rebranded the bikes had this in mind:

30 January 2021

The Need For Lanes--And Bridges

There are some things "real" New Yorkers never do.  They include walking three (or more) abreast on sidewalks, eating cupcakes*, going to Times Sqaure (at least since it's been Disney-fied), Hudson Yards, Radio City Music Hall or Statue of Liberty.

I confess that I once went to RCMH for a holiday performance and, honestly, enjoyed it.  But I've never been to the Statue of Liberty or Hudson Yards, and have only passed through TS en route to or from the Port Authority Bus Terminal since "the Deuce" was turned into a shopping mall/amusement park.  

Then there are things no "real"--or at least in-the-know--New York cyclist does.  Among them are riding across the Brooklyn Bridge for any reason or the Queensboro/Ed Koch (a.k.a. 59th Street) Bridge except to reach places in Midtown or Long Island City.  The last time I went across the BB, a couple of years ago, I had to dodge and weave around selfie-takers and people who stroll across it without understanding that, even though the path is closed to motor traffic, it isn't a bucolic lane in their hometown.  And, while I occasionally use the 59th Street, if I am going anywhere that isn't in Midtown Manhattan, I take another crossing, whether the Manhattan or Williamsburg Bridges for downtown Manhattan and the Staten Island Ferry) or the Triborough  for uptown spots and the George Washington Bridge.

Cyclists and pedestrians on the Queensboro/Ed Koch/59th Street Bridge.  Photo by Clarence Eckerson Jr, October 2019.

While the Brooklyn is full of people, sometimes nearly shoulder-to-shoulder, who aren't paying attention to their surroundings, the  59th Street Bridge (what real New Yorkers call it) bike/pedestrian lane is simply too narrow.  Others have echoed my complaint and have told me, or written on message boards, that they try to use the other crossings I've mentioned.  

The city, it seems, has heard our complaints.  Yesterday, Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced that new bike lanes will be built on the Brooklyn and 59th Street Bridges.  

I must say, though, that I have mixed feelings.  My hope is that the new lanes--and, more important, the approaches to them--will be well-designed.  As I've lamented in other posts, too many bike lanes are poorly-conceived or -constructed, going from nowhere to nowhere or, worse, leaving cyclists (and, often, pedestrians) in hazardous spots, forcing them to make stops and turns that leave them vulnerable to being struck by motor vehicles.  

I also must confess that new bike lanes will be built leaves me with another kind of apprehension.  Other cyclists have confirmed my impression that aggression and hostility from motorists has increased.  That rage was echoed in a "man in the street" interview broadcast on a local news station:  The interviewee, whose first name is Spiro (I didn't catch his last name) complained, "the mayor is building bike lanes when there's a pandemic."  He added, half-jokingly, that he was going to run for mayor and, if elected, the first thing he'd do is to "get rid of the bike lanes."

His comments were tinged, I thought, with class resentment:  I could practically hear him thinking that cyclists are "privileged" on the backs of poor and working people like him.  That, I think is what led him to the false equivalency:  Building bike lanes doesn't detract from the fight against COVID-19 or anything else.  If anything, building lanes, if done properly, can be part of the battle, and the work that needs to be done after:  Cycling is good for physical and mental health, and can be done while maintaining proper social distancing.

All we can do is hope:  that the new lanes will be well-designed and -built, and that folks like Spiro will come around.

*--In his Vanishing New York, Jeremiah Moss wondered, " [I]s there anything more blandly sweet, less evocative of this great city and more goyish than any other baked good with the possible exception of Eucharist wafers than the cupcake?"

28 January 2021

An Explorer Joins Her Ancestors

What I do whenever I arrive in a foreign place or a place I have not been to before, is that I have a tendency to explore--either get on a bicycle and ride all over or I walk all over.  

Did I say that? If you've been reading this blog for a while, you might think I did.  But someone far better-known uttered it during the course of an NBCBLK interview in April 2018.

That she had a tendency to "explore" makes perfect sense when you realize that she was a pioneer:  She not only played characters (or actual people) who were strong and assertive, she also took the sorts of roles women of her race and background were expected to play and imbued them with depth and substance:  sometimes more than their writers or directors afforded them.

Right now, I am having a hard time believing she's gone, even though she was 96 years old.  Just the other day, I listened to an interview with her on the release of her memoir.

She wasn't just another great actress or beautiful woman:  Because of her, we have Diahann Carroll, Pam Grier, Halle Berry, Angela Bassett and Viola Davis.  I say as much because her talents and determination would not settle for anything less than being defined on her own terms.  

I am speaking of none other than Cicely Tyson, who passed yesterday. Her family and agent gave no details about her death.   Whatever the circumstances, I still have a difficult time believing it:  When I heard her on Tuesday, I had little doubt she'd live to 100 and beyond.

We could talk about all of her great roles and advocacy.  But I'll leave you with this:

Tell me, who has ever looked better with or on a bike?

Dutch Bicycling In The Snow

A snowstorm that dumped snow on the Midwest just barely grazed New York City the other day.  We had a few flakes, but more sleet and freezing rain.

Even though we've had a few noticeable snowstorms during the past decade, on the whole, there's been a lot less of the white stuff than in previous winters. 

Apparently, that is the case in much of the Northern Hemisphere.  Mark Wagenbuur, the Bicycle Dutch author, posted about riding in the first snow to fall in Utrecht in nearly two years.

As he recounts, the snow recorded at De Bilt, the Dutch weather agency, on the 16th was the first in 700 days:  a record for the station.  The coating was light enough that the city didn't clear it, figuring motorists would drive it away. ("Drive it away" sounds like an exorcism or a fight against an enemy attack, doesn't it?)  His video and commentary shows that, for all of the Netherlands' reputation as a cyclists' paradise, there are still intersections and other roadway features that aren't so bike-friendly.

Then again, folks like Wagenbuur cycle for transportation, not for recreation or sport, as his "about" page tells us.  People who use their bikes as vehicles are more likely to see the defects in cycling infrastructure because we see our bicycles as vehicles and ourselves as, in effect, drivers.

27 January 2021

She Saved Jews On Her Bike

 In 1994, I took a bike tour from Paris to the southern Atlantic coast of France.  Along the way, I stopped in Bordeaux for a few days.  Wine isn't the only reason to visit:  Like other French cities, it's rich with architectural and artistic treasures.  

One of them is the Palais Rohan.  Originally built for the Archbishop of Bordeaux, it became the Gironde department's prefecture and later the Bordeaux Hotel de Ville (City Hall), the function it serves to this day.

In the parking lot were spaces reserved for various city functionaries--and Nazi officials.  The latter retained their markings and were not used, half a century after the city's, and France's, liberation from German occupation.

(I tried to find photos--which I'm sure I took--of those spaces.  If and when I come across them, I'll post them here.)

I am reminded of that encounter today, the anniversary of Auschwitz-Birkenau's liberation by the Allies (with African-American soldiers at the front).  The United Nations has designated today as Holocaust Remembrance Day.  

So why am I writing about it on a blog about bicycles and cycling?

Well, as I've mentioned in other posts, many people escaped, or helped others, escape death by pedaling away from the advancing storm or by riding from house to house, village to village, to warn people or deliver things that would help residents weather the attacks, hide Jewish refugees (or themselves) or pass on messages.  Cycling is faster than walking or running, and it's easier to evade roadblocks, checkpoints and other obstacles on a bike than in, say, a car or bus.

For that reason, Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, includes a bicycle. Marie-Rose Gineste, a social worker in Montauban, France, donated it to Yad Vashem, where she was enshrined as Righteous Among the Nations in 1985.

On 26 August 1942, Pierre-Marie Theas, Bishop of Montauban, followed the example of Archbishop Jules-Geraud Saliege in nearby Toulouse and issued a pastoral letter condemning the deportation of Jews.  He knew that, for full effect, it needed to be read from all of the pulpits in his diocese.  He thus turned to Ms. Gineste to ensure that the letter would be replicated and distributed in time to be read the following Sunday, 30 August.

Marie-Rose Gineste in 1943

"It was with great enthusiasm that I accepted this mission," she recalled.

Remember, there was no Internet in those days.  And she knew that it wasn't feasible to send it through the post office, as the Vichy authorities would surely censor it.  So, she hopped on her ancient steed and delivered the letter to all of the parishes in the diocese.

That Sunday, the letter was read from the pulpits of all except one of the parishes, where the priest was a known Vichy sympathiser.  That pronouncement, along with that of Archbiship Saliege a week earlier, is seen as a turning point away from the Catholic Church's earlier passive attitude toward the Petain government and a signal to French citizens to protect Jews from deportation.

The bicycle Gineste rode.

But Ms. Gineste didn't stop there.  Bishop Theas noticed her commitment and called on her to find shelter for Jewish children and adults at various religious institutions and supply them with false identities. She accomplished those tasks, and more:  Gineste also obtained ration cards from government offices and warehouses, or received them from sympathetic government officials.  Working with Jewish clandestine organizations, she ensured that the cards went to Jews in hiding.

Marie-Rose Gineste, at her Montauban, France home in 2000, just before she donated her bicycle to Yad Vashem..

I believe that every bicycle has a story.  If they could talk, I don't think any of mine, or those of just about anybody I know, could recount anything as intense or important as what Marie-Rose Gineste experienced on the bike she gave to Yad Vashem on her 89th birthday!

Note:  All photos in this post came from the Yad Vashem website.

26 January 2021

A Path From Work

Two of my uncles and my maternal grandfather worked on the Brooklyn waterfront docks. I don't think they could have envisioned anyone going there for a leisurely late-afternoon walk or bike ride.  They probably would have thought such an undertaking in the dead of winter was sheer insanity:  After spending the day working outside in the cold, they wanted to ensconce themselves in the warmth of their apartments and the suppers my grandmother and aunts cooked.  

For that matter, my grandfather and uncles probably could not understand how physical activity could be a way to "relax" at the end of a day.  To be fair, grandpa's last gift to me was a bicycle--albeit one I wouldn't be able to ride for a couple of years--and my uncles lived long enough to see that I would not give up two wheels and two pedals the moment I was legally old enough for four wheels and one pedal with a motor.

Then again, they might have thought it odd that someone would construct a bike and pedestrian lane along the waterfront where they unloaded ships--or that anyone would make a trip, whether by bike, bus or car, to it--and pay money to shop in the stores or eat and drink in the cafes around it.  

Really, I had to wonder what they would have thought of me, spinning my pedals along a path that zigs and zags around places where drinks are poured and shopping carts are unloaded--in the very places where men like them hoisted crates and even railroad cars from ships.

What might have been the strangest thing of all, to them, about the ride I took late yesterday is that I actually find beauty in those places--such that I would stop to take a photo of two bare trees in a copse of steel and brick at the time of day when they would have left the Red Hook twilight's metallic haze  for the incandescent glade of their kitchen tables.

25 January 2021

Magical Mystery Turismo

I wish I had spent more time....

So begins a familiar deathbed lament.  When the end is imminent, people say they wish they'd spent more time with their kids or grandkids or doing almost anything besides whatever they did for a living or anything else they had to do.

What got me to thinking about that?  Well, if you spend enough time listening to National Public Radio, you could come away thinking that during the lockdowns and other COVID-19 related restrictions, everyone in the world learned a new foreign language or how to bake sourdough bread.  Or they figured out how to do, on Xoom or some other online platform, the things they did before or with flesh-and-blood humans.  If they didn't engage with such pursuits, they were writing novels, making furniture or taking advantage of all of those business opportunities the pandemic presents--assuming, of course, you have the cash to invest.

You have to wonder whether, when things revert to "normal," whatever that mean, some people will say, "Gee, I wish I'd spent more time (fill in the blank) during lockdown."

Well, OK, you don't have to wonder. (Who am I to tell you that, right?)  But I do because, well, my mind wanders into all sorts of dark and arcane places and leads me to all manner of useless knowledge and speculation.  I have, however, started to ask whether I did one particular thing that might have added to the treasure trove of knowledge and wisdom--well, all right, wit and whimsy--found in this blog.

So what could I have spent more time doing--during the pandemic, and before?  Reading old Campagnolo catalogues?  Hmm...Maybe.  Just when I think I know as much about Campy as Sheldon Brown knew about, well, everything (or so it seemed) related to bicycles, I find out something that changes my view of...what I know and don't know. (Is that solipsistically esoteric, or what?)

I console myself with the thought that until I learned--within the past few days--what I'm about to relate, I held the same mistaken belief 99 percent of Campagnolo (or retro-bike) aficionados held.  I can further assuage my guilt feelings by telling myself that while this is fairly significant in the world of cycling, in the scheme of things, it pales in comparison to, say, the fact that until the middle of the sixteenth century or so, almost everybody thought our little orb is flat. 

Believe it or not, some folks--who have access to the same technology you're using to read this--still cling to such a notion.  Then again, millions of people in the richest and most technologically advanced nation the world have ever seen continue to deny the result of said nation's most recent presidential election.  Ergo, according to their logic, Joseph R. Biden is not the Leader of the Free World, just as their country claimed, from 1949 until 1979, that a nation containing one of every four people living on this planet didn't exist.

(Imagine what would have happened if the US hadn't, finally, recognized the People's Republic of China.  Mango Mussolini would've been blaming Mexicans for everything!)

But I digress.  The revelation that shook my foundation--of Campagnolo knowledge, anyway--is the revelation that the Gran Turismo rear derailleur isn't what I--and, probably, you--thought it was.

No, I didn't learn that it actually shifted better on 14-34 freewheels than the SunTour Cyclone GT or Huret Duopar and that mine didn't because I didn't use butter from the milk of buffaloes grazed and milked in the shadow of the Croce d’Aune to lubricate the pulleys.  I didn't learn that because, well, I never actually owned or rode a Gran Turismo. I adjusted and replaced a few GTs when I worked in shops, and even their owners admitted the GT wasn't great.  

What I learned is that the mechanism that looks like a baroque scimitar, and was introduced in 1971, is not the only  Campagnolo derailleur with “Turismo” in its name.  Nearly a decade earlier, Campy brought out a derailleur called simply the "Turismo."  

It bore almost no resemblance to the later contraption bearing the same name.  For one thing, it didn't have those wild red "C" bolts. (For a long time, they were the reason why I wanted to a GT, if only to collect.)  For another, and more important, thing the earlier Turismo doesn't look like it was designed with touring in mind--unless you are a credit-card tourer who sprints across flatlands (flat earth?).  If anything, the Turismo appears to be a less-expensive version of the original Gran Sport, which became the Record/Nuovo Record.

I've spent some time looking up old Campagnolo catalogues.  The only listing I could find for the Turismo is in the 1962 edition.  Then again, Campagnolo sometimes--especially in those days--manufactured items that were never listed, or continued to make or offer parts without listing them.  So it may well be that the Turismo wasn't a one (year)-and-done affair.

1962 Campagnolo Turismo.  I don't know whether they were typical, but the pulleys on this one seemed to be a "transition" or "compromise" between earlier smooth pulleys and later toothed ones.

Campagnolo Gran Turismo, circa 1972

I couldn't find much other information about the derailleur.  But from my knowledge of other Campy stuff, I believe that the  Turismo might have been a "transitional" derailleur.  Their original Gran Sport rear derailleur*--the first with their familiar dropped-parallelogram design--appeared in 1951 and continued until the introduction of the Record (a refinement of the GS) in 1963.  The Record had the same parallelogram as the GS but its pulley cage was offset from the bottom pivot to allow for a more nuanced chain gap between the derailleur and freewheel and, thus, somewhat larger gear capacity. The Turismo, on the other hand, had a slightly longer cage than either the GS or Record and its lower pivot was set to allow more rotation--which, in theory, should have allowed for the self-adjustment in chain gap and greater gear capacity (26T vs 24T) offered by the Record. 

Tullio Campagnolo may well have intended  the 1962 Turismo as a touring derailleur.  If that is the case, it reflects his, and the company's misunderstanding of, or disdain for (depending on what you believe) bicycle touring.  It's equally plausible that he was trying to make a "budget" version of the GS:  The pressed-steel cages and cadmium plating on most parts would indicate as much.  Or, as I posited earlier, the Turismo was to be a "transition" model from the GS to the Record.

Whatever Tullio's reasons for creating it, or how long his company produced it, the Turismo is an interesting curiosity.  Do I wish I've spent more time perusing old Campagnolo catalogues during lockdown?  Well, maybe...

*—The original Campagnolo Gran Sport, made from 1951 to 1963, is similar in design but different in materials and finish from the derailleur with the same name that was produced from 1975 to 1985.  The original GS was Campy’s “professional “ offering, while the later one was the company’s second-line (to the Record/Nuovo Record) offering.

24 January 2021

Propulsion Avant?

 Yesterday, I mentioned Specialites TA founder Georges Navette's attempts to make a front wheel-drive (Traction Avant) bicycle.  They failed, but he succeeded in creating a crankset with chainrings of widely varying sizes.

What if he had continued in his quest for alternative ways of powering a bicycle?

23 January 2021

Traction, Up Front


Specialites TA is known for making high-quality cranks, chainrings, bottle cages and other bike parts and accessories.

Most people refer to the company simply as "TA," without any notion as to what it signifies.*  It never would occur to most people that "TA" is an acronym for "Traction Avant", or front drive.

Specialites TA  founder Georges Navet was, like Tullio Campagnolo, a craftsman with an imagination--what we might call a "tinkerer."  Navet, a joiner/carpenter, was fascinated by a then-new Citroen innovation:  the front-wheel drive automobile.  Why can't we have a bicycle like that?, he wondered.  

Now, if you want to be technical (pun intended), front wheel drive bicycles were not new:  Before the invention of the chain-and-sprocket drive, bicycles were propelled by crams and pedals attached to the front wheel.  That is why front wheels of 1880s high-wheel (“penny farthing”) bikes were usually much larger than rear ones.  Navet, however, wanted to create a front-wheel drive bike on which the gear didn't depend on the size of the wheel.

Sadly for him, none of his traction avant experiments worked.  But in the meantime, derailleurs gained popularity and were finally approved for use in competition.  The real potential, he saw, was in cranksets with multiple chainrings--in aluminum alloy, for light weight--in a wide range of sizes.  A triple crankset greatly expanded the gear range offered by freewheels of the time (just after WWII), which had three or four sprockets ranging in size from 14 to 24 teeth.

(Now you know why those old derailleurs from Campagnolo, Huret and Simplex could wrap up yards and yards, or meters and meters, of chain even if they couldn't handle more than a 24  or 26 tooth rear sprocket:  They were designed to accommodate the gearing available at the time.)

So, in a sense, even though he couldn't realize his vision of a front wheel drive bicycle, Georges Navet achieved another kind of traction avant with his cranksets and chainrings.

*--When I was growing up in Brooklyn, some of the subway cars bore TA logos, for Transit Authority. In the academic world, a “TA” is a teaching assistant:  usually, a grad student who does the work senior tenured profs don’t want to do.  To this day, I associate TA with trains and schools as well as bikes!

22 January 2021

Fewer Bikes In A Dutch Lane?

A city wants fewer cyclists to use a bike lane.

Yes, you read that right.  Oh, but it gets better:  that city is in what is often seen as one of the world's most bike-friendly nations.

That country is the Netherlands.  The city in question in Utrecht; the bike lane, alongside Vredenburg, is said to be the busiest in the nation.  It was widened a few years ago; even so, it's not enough to meet the demand.  

So many cyclists ride it because Vredenberg path is the main east-west corridor the city center.  As in many older cities, there simply aren't many options available:  Other streets dead-end at rivers, canals, railroad tracks or other natural or artificial barriers.  (This is also true in some older areas of cities like New York and Boston.)  In some places, it isn't possible to build bridges or other ways to navigate those obstacles--and, in some of the more historic and scenic areas of a city like Utrecht, it's too expensive or people understandably don't want to do such a thing.

Also, as the author of the Bicycle Dutch post points out, just as "we all know that more asphalt isn't the answer to too many cars," it's "probably also not the answer to too much cycling."  In other words, old European cities like Utrecht have very limited amounts of space on which to build anything, so adding more pavement would defeat one of the purposes of encouraging people to ride:  reducing congestion. The city is thus looking at other possible solutions, which including the closure of some streets to motor traffic and turning them into bike routes. Another suggestion includes using a former railway bridge as a crossing for cyclists.  

At least it seems that the city is trying to create a comprehensive plan to make movement from place to another safe, convenient and sustainable. Too often, American cities build bike lanes or other transit facilities without a coherent scheme.  That, I think, is why too many bike lanes are poorly constructed and maintained and don't offer useful routes, or even connections to other forms of transportation.  

21 January 2021


Have you ever cried at the end of an arduous climb--or any other difficult, or simply long, ride?

I have.  I can't tell how I'll react at the end of any ride:  I might giggle with giddiness or fall asleep.  Or my tears might spill out:  sometimes from joy, or as a catharsis.

Yesterday I shed tears of release.  They felt, somewhat, like the ones that have rolled down my cheeks after a ride: salty as a tide, but cleansing like the rain.  

But I hadn't taken a long, hard, ride--or any ride at all.  I had planned to get out on one of my bikes, but I listened to the speeches and performances of yesterday's inauguration.  I wasn't expecting much:  Even before Trump campaigned for the presidency, I was pretty cynical when it came to political candidates' or office holders' words.  Even their most absurd claims or outrageous lies didn't enrage me:  They all seemed part of their stock in trade.  Never was I moved--as some claimed to be by "Ask not what your country" (I was about two years old when JFK made that speech!)--or by anything else an office-seeker or -holder said on the stump.

Yesterday, though, I couldn't help but to weep while listening to Joe Biden's inaugural speech.  He doesn't have the oratorical skills of JFK or Obama, and his words, while important and wise, weren't as stirring as those of Amanda Gorman, the young poet who followed him.  In hearing him, though,  I knew this:  I'd survived.  Those tears, the tension leaving my body, were the same as what I'd felt after the most traumatic events of my life--or, more precisely, the moment when I'd processed them, whether through finally talking or writing about them, or going on a ride.  

Speaking of which:  I am going to ride later today.  I haven't decided where, or which bike I'll ride.  All I know is that whatever and wherever I ride, whatever came before it is past, like the storm that's moved out to sea--or the tormentor who is gone.  At least, I hope they're gone, and all I have is the road ahead.

(For my next post, I'll try not to stray too far away anything related to cycling!)

19 January 2021

Going Back Is Not An Option

I am writing, now, during the final hours of Donald Trump's presidency. I have no wish to analyze, interpret or even comment on it; really, there is much about it I'd prefer not to remember, at least now. 

To tell you the truth, I can't analyze or interpret or comment because I'm not thinking at this moment.  I'm not even sure that I can:  My mind's eye is projecting a stream of images, a riot of feelings, some related to personal experience, others coming from seemingly unrelated works of art.

About the latter:  One is a story I first read many years ago, and assigned in a few of my classes:  Eudora Welty's "A Worn Path."  The protagonist, an elderly black woman named Phoenix Jackson, trudges along the "worn path" through all manner of obstacles--as winter is bearing down--to get to town, ostensibly to procure medicine for her grandson who, as she tells the nurse who supplies it, never fully recovered from the damage to his throat caused by swallowing lye.  

What she encounters sees along the way is so real that it seems hallucinatory, or so hallucinatory that it seems real, depending on your point of view.  The nurse treats her with condescension and casts doubt on, not only Phoenix's story about her grandson swallowing lye, but even on the existence of the grandson himself.  But, perhaps, it doesn't matter whether Phoenix's story is actually true or the grandson is alive or ever existed in the first place.  One senses (or at least I sensed) that Phoenix had to make that journey, for whatever reason.  Or, more precisely, she couldn't not make it--perhaps she simply couldn't stay wherever she was.

A favorite film of mine, Cafe Transit  (released in the Anglophone world as Border Cafe), is full of characters like Phoenix. The film opens with Reyhan just having lost her husband and deciding to support herself and two young daughters by taking over his cafe, located on a mountainous Iranian road near the Turkish border.  

Because of its location, the cafe serves as a meeting and stopping-off point for people on their way to or from one place to another.  Some, like a Russian girl who lost most of her family members and who survived a sexual assault by a truck driver, have a definite destination:  She wants to be reunited with her sister, her sole surviving family member, in Italy.  Reyhan gives her an almost maternal welcome.  Others, like a Greek truck driver who takes a liking to Reyhan, simply can't or won't return home, whether because of some trauma (like the driver's wife leaving him) or because that home is gone.  

I mention all of this because while most viewers and reviewers focused (as I did, the first time I saw the film) on Reyhan's independence, I think she shared this with those other characters:  She was moving forward--on the road ahead, as it were--because, really, she couldn't do anything else.  For her, supporting herself and her kids wasn't about making a statement or defying the norms of her society:  Taking over that cafe, and making those meals (which you can practically taste while watching the film!) is her path.  

In other words, hers was not an act of defiance; she simply knew that following the norms of her culture by assenting to her brother-in-law's desire to become her second husband wasn't for her.  He wasn't a monster or villain--if anything, he's rather sympathetic, at least until the end of the film; she simply knew that her way forward didn't include him.  And the way forward was all she had.

So it was when I took  two of the most important bike rides I've ever taken.  One I described in "The Mountain We Climbed" and "Up the Col du Galibier." The other, shorter and less arduous, I took about a year later:  the last one from the apartment I shared with my former partner to my current life.  I had moved almost all of my stuff to my new place; I went back to pick up a few small things I'd left--intentionally, so I would have to take that ride?

I feel as if the coming Biden presidency will be like those journeys:  None of us knows what lies ahead; we just know that we must move ahead.  Going back is not an option.    

Right At The Cemetery, Nature Takes Over

In some parts of New England, upstate New York and the upper Midwest, nature is slowly reclaiming formerly industrial areas.  That makes sense when you realize that the Industrial Revolution first reached--and left-- the United States in those regions.

An afternoon ride I took on Friday reminded me of that.  I took a right at a cemetery on the Brooklyn-Queens border and followed a new link in the Brooklyn-Queens Greenway to a landscape that wouldn't have looked out of place in an Andrew Wyeth painting.

The Ridgewood Reservoir was built in the middle of the 19th Century, when Brooklyn was still an independent city.  Civic and business leaders believed economic growth had stalled because the Croton Reservoir, which supplied New York City, wasn't adequate, the Bronx River was too difficult to access and there weren't enough natural lakes and ponds on Long Island.  So water was diverted from nearby streams to the reservoir's location, on a butte that served as a lookout during the American Revolution and today offers fine views of cemeteries, the ocean (along the Rockaways) and the Manhattan skyline.  You might think of it as our version of Montmartre, without the cathedral or artists' studios.

The reservoir would see less and less use as a water source and would be decommissioned and drained during the 1980s.  Since then, various stages of forest have grown around the reservoir, and the area around it--Highland Park--has become a spot for in-the-know bird-watchers, hikers, runners and cyclists.  I say "in the know" because it's in an area not visited by tourists (or the sort of people who leave Manhattan only to go to Europe, or the hipsters who leave Williamsburg only to go to their parents' houses on Long Island). 

One day, it might become a full-grown woodland--and, if the Reservoir retains its water, you'll get a glimpse of the old Times Square.  I don't mean TS before Disney turned it into a mall:  I mean what it, and most of New York City, looked like before Europeans took it from the Lenape natives.  As long as the path is still there, I'm sure it will offer a relaxing ride, as it does now.

18 January 2021

Riding With The People

Today Martin Luther King Jr. Day is observed in the United States.  If I had Napoleon's prerogative of re-inventing the calendar, there are some holidays I'd do away with. But I'd keep this one.  Perhaps I'd restore it to his actual birthday, 15 January.  But I understand why it was moved to the third Monday in January:  It's easier to keep government offices, schools, banks and the like closed for three consecutive days than it is to close for a day in the middle of the week.  Also, who doesn't like a three-day weekend?

Seriously, though, there aren't many other people more deserving of their own holidays.  He truly was a martyr for a just cause.  But for all of his seriousness of purpose, he seemed to really enjoy himself sometimes.  At least, he looks that way in the photos I've seen of him on a bicycle--and there are more such photos than I ever expected to find.

Martin Luther King Jr rides bicycle with William Wachtel (the son of King's lawyer, Harry Wachtel) on Fire Island, NY, 3 September 1967,  Photo from Hofstra University collection.

I get the sense that riding a bike was, for him, a release from the rigors of touring, speaking and preaching--and the tension from FBI spies and CIA snipers lurking allies who became rivals when, among other things, he announced his opposition to the Vietnam War.

Also, from the photo, and others I've seen, riding a bicycle was a way for King to show that he was one of the common people.  When he was assassinated, in 1968, the dawn of the North American Bike Boom was just starting to flicker.  American adults  were, for the first time in half a century, mounting bikes and taking early-morning or after-work rides--or, in a few cases, riding to work or school.  Bicycles were still ridden mainly by those who were too young--or poor--to drive.  

I can't help but to think that those bike rides were at least one reason why he gave speeches that instructors (including yours truly) have used as models of good writing and effective communication for their students.  As lofty as his rhetoric could be, it reached all kinds of people:  Anyone could understand it.  In the above photo, he's on level with a young boy; when he rode a bicycle, he experienced the places where people lived in a way he wouldn't have if he were in a limousine.  And people saw him eye-to-eye--as, I suspected, he wanted to see them. 

Which, I believe, is a reason why he would call the the devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic--or, more precisely, the President's inept or callous (depending on what you believe) response--as the racial, economic and social injustice that it is. He had an acute moral compass honed by, among other things, his bike rides.

17 January 2021

Spinning His Wheels

Dooth somme goode dedes, that the deuel, which is oure enemy, ne fynde yow nat vnocupied. 

In his Melibeus, Chaucer was echoing what St. Jerome wrote in one of his letters a millenium earlier:  Fac et aliquid operis, ut semper te diabolus inveniat occupatum.  Roughly translated, it says, "Do something, so that the devil may always find you busy."

Those sentiments have come to us in the proverb, "The devil finds work for idle hands."

Now, what some might call the work the devil finds for idle hands, others might call creativity or ingenuity--or just fun.

An example is something a man in Perth, Australia did on 30 November.  He used an electric bike, not to make a delivery or get to work, but to create something that's art, graffiti or pornography, depending on your point of view.

He was caught, on tape, spinning the e-bike's wheels on a Murray Street sidewalk to make an image of male genitalia.  

The police are looking for him.  Maybe they don't want to be caught idle by the devil--or they just don't have a lot of crime in their precinct.

16 January 2021

Fixing Bikes Adds Up To Joy

 During the pandemic, some people have taken up new hobbies and other activities:  They've become novice cooks and bakers, with varying results.  Others have spent their time gaining new knowledge or skills, or pursuing in depth what they already know.  Still others, like Ric Jackson, are helping their neighbors.

The Potomac, Maryland resident is a retired mathematician and avid cyclist.  Back in April, a neighbor was looking for someone to fix the brakes on his daughter's bike.  "I fixed it up," Jackson recalls.  "He took it back.  And she was thrilled and he was thrilled." 

Ric Jackson.  Photo from CBS News

So was Jackson.  "It's just mushroomed," he says of the bike-repair practice that developed. To date, he's fixed about 650 bikes for friends, neighbors, even strangers.

And he hasn't charged any of them a cent.  For him, rewards come in the looks on children's faces when their bikes are transformed.   When he looks at a bike, he sees "a thing of beauty," he says. "If you clean off the dirt from the tires, put new handgrips," he explains, "before you know it, it will be...something that will just delight the heart of some little girl someplace."

That is just the sort of thing that "makes my day," he says.  Or, to put it another way, it all adds up for retired mathematician and current cyclist Ric Jackson.

15 January 2021

What Makes A Bike Share Program Work?

Yesterday, I wrote about something that might encourage more people to cycle:  more safe and convenient bicycle parking.

Ironically, some planners and entrepreneurs thought that eliminating bicycle parking--or, more precisely, the need for it-- would make bicycle-share programs more convenient and popular.  Too often, though, dockless share systems resulted in bikes abandoned on sidewalks, in stairwells or wherever else the rider stopped riding it.  That was not only an inconvenience; for people with limited mobility, a bike lying on its side in the middle of a sidewalk or path can be an obstacle or even a hazard.

In some Chinese cities, the bikes filled not only sidewalks and other public spaces, but also parking pens, fields and landfills.  One reason is that in those cities, where some of the first dockless share systems were launched, they were run by private companies like Ofo (which also ran some programs in the US and other countries) with little or no communication with, let alone oversight from, local or regional government agencies.  

According to a "Future Planet" article on the BBC website, the Chinese bike share saga can serve as a lesson on what makes for at least one part of a successful bike share program.  Once, when I was very young (which, believe it or not, I once was), I believed that simply allowing innovators and entrepreneurs to "slug it out" would result in the best possible goods and services at the lowest possible prices.  Perhaps it wouldn't surprise you to know that at that point of my life, I had immersed myself in Atlas Shrugged and other Ayn Rand works, in addition to other fantasies.

One  problem with allowing what is, essentially, anarcho-capitalism, is that the businesses in question have no incentive to deal with the consequences of their work.  Think of the pollution and other environmental consequences of unchecked industrial development.  

Another problem is one that I see in, interestingly, the subway (metro) system of New York, my hometown.  Different parts of the city's rapid transit system were developed by individual companies.  As a result, stations are clustered in relatively few areas while other parts of the city are transportation "deserts."  For instance, on the "Q" line in Brooklyn, the distance between the Beverly Road and Cortelyou Road stations is so short that when the front of a train enters one station, the rear is still in the other!  The distance between the 14th and 18th Street stations on the #1 line in Manhattan isn't much greater.  But Floyd Bennett Field, where I sometimes ride (and a very interesting place), is about seven kilometers from the nearest subway station.  Compare that to, say, Paris, where no point in the city is more than 500 meters from a Metro station and where correspondance (transfer points) are convenient.

From the BBC site, credit to Getty Images

How does that relate to bike share programs?  Well, according to the article, another problem with allowing unregulated companies to run bike share programs is that they generally do little or nothing to integrate their systems with bike lanes or other bicycle infrastructure--or with existing transit systems.  Most people won't ride to school or work if it's more than half an hour's ride from their homes, but they might ride to a train, bus, ferry or other mode of transportation if they can park their bikes--or if bikes were allowed on mass transit.  

(Cities in Africa and Asia that are densely populated but where few own cars could be developed to accommodate cyclists and would be good opportunities for bike share programs.  They could avoid the problems experienced by, say, Chinese cities that rapidly switched from bikes to cars.)

The BBC article points to some other factors that make for successful bike share programs.  One is topography:  Most popular bike shares are in relatively flat cities.  (That is a reason why Citibike has been so widely used in New York, a city with relatively little bike infrastructure or integration with other forms of transportation.)  One way to make bike shares work in less horizontal locales is to offer incentives for leaving bikes on tops of hills.  

Also, bike shares have been most successful in cities that are compact: Again, Paris comes to mind, along with places like Amsterdam and Copenhagen.  This fact could also

In brief, bike share programs are not "one size fits all" propositions:  They have to be integrated with other forms of bicycle infrastructure as well as other transportation systems, and have to be tailored to their locales in various other ways.  And share operators need support and oversight from local officials.  But, as the experience of successful programs has shown, bike shares can be an integral part of a city's transportation structure, and can enhance its quality of life.

14 January 2021

If They Can Park, They Might Pedal

In earlier posts, I’ve lamented the poor conception, design and construction of too many bike lanes in New York, my hometown, and elsewhere.  

Sometimes I feel that a bike lane that doesn’t provide a safe, useful route to schools, workplaces or other forms of transportation (like trains or ferries)—or a truly interesting or physically invigorating ride between parks, museums, shopping areas or anything else people might want to visit—is worse than no bike lane.  

Such shoddy bicycle infrastructure, I believe, does nothing to encourage people to even consider the bicycle as a healthy, economical, environmentally conscious—-and safe—alternative to driving or other forms of transportation or recreation.

If urban planners and other policy-makers can’t or won’t come up with bike lanes that make sense or other useful infrastructure, I would rather that they provided good bicycle parking, whether curbside or in protected areas.  That might do more than anything else to entice people into the saddle.

At least, more and better bike parking would augment other initiatives, such as bike share programs.  That is the premise of a report issued by Transportation Alternatives, an organization of which I am a member.

13 January 2021

Getting Drawn In

I have been listening to the radio as I read and write.  The voices broadcast from the Capitol rotunda have grown louder, literally and figuratively.  

One member of Congress after another opined about whether the President should be impeached, forced to resign—or simply left to serve the last week of his term.  A few are diehard Trump loyalists and believe that he didn’t do anything to incite the insurrection; one even tried brought up instances of Democrats challenging results of previous elections.  That, of course, is a false equivalency:  In each of those cases, including that of Hilary Clinton in 2016, the Democratic candidate conceded.

For the most part, though, one Congress member’s speech repeats points or pleas made by another.  Still, I’m having a hard time pulling away.  I guess I’d listen to someone reading a telephone directory if it could affect the immediate and far future of this country and world.

I’m going for a ride.  The question is, now or later?  Should I pull myself away from the drama of the moment and listen to (or watch) it later?  Or should  I allow to be drawn in and take a ride to “decompress” later—if I still have the energy?

12 January 2021

For $300, "Up To 48 Times Better"

I wonder whether this dude bought this helmet.

Back in September, I wrote about a guy who wiped out on a turn.  Banged up and bleeding, he was worried about scratching his $12,000 bike and $300 helmet.

Well, if he wants a reason to be upset for paying such a price for head protection, he should talk to Andrew Glancey of Stattsburg, New York.  Mr. Glancey is the lead plaintiff in a class-action suit against Trek Bicycle Corporation related to its Bontrager brand.  

According to the suit, the company used "false, deceptive" claims that the technology in Bontrager WaveCel helmets is "up to 48 times more effective than traditional foam helmets" in preventing concussions from a bicycle crash.  

 Cutaway view of Trek/Bontrager WaveCel helmet, introduced in 2019.

First of all, whenever an ad says a product is "up to X times" better, more effective, longer or whatever, I am suspicious.  I wouldn't be surprised if Mr. Glancey, who doesn't allege any injuries while using the helmet, felt the same way.  But, there is something more than my paranoid mind to back up skepticism about Trek's claim. 

Turns out, the tests cited in the claims weren't conducted with the helmet in question.  Rather, according to the report from the very laboratory--the Helmet Impact Testing facility of the Portland Biomechanics Laboratory--that did the test, a Scott ARX helmet modified to include the feature that is supposed to make the WaveCel helmet more effective. 

According to a press release from 2019, the year the helmet was introduced, the traditional EPS foam found in most helmets is replaced with layers of cells designed to move independently until the cell walls crumple and glide, dissipating both direct and rotational energy from the wearer's head.  That may well offer better protection than other helmets but, as I said, I am skeptical about "up to 48 times."  Also, there may well be other structural differences between the Scott and Bontrager helmet that could have affected the test's outcome.

So, if I were that guy I met on a ride to the Rockaways, I'd be upset about paying $300 for a helmet--unless, of course, it did its job. My Giro Atmos did just that when I crashed:  I had injuries, but, as the doctor said, it could have been much worse.

11 January 2021

Am I Normal Yet?

Public figures and everyday people talk about the world or their lives "returning to normal" once Mango* Mussolini is out of the White House or "when the pandemic is over."  Of course, the new "normal" is never the same as the old "normal;" it never can be.  When our routines or the machinations of society are disrupted, things change and we, hopefully, learn.

Even with this knowledge, however, I am going to give in to the temptation to say that something in my life might be returning to normal.  Yesterday and the day before, I did something I hadn't done since I was "doored" in October:  On Saturday, I pedaled up to Connecticut; on Sunday, I rode to Point Lookout.

The Saturday trek was my standard route to the Greenwich Common via Glenville Road, about 140 kilometers (85 miles) round-trip.  As I hadn't done the ride in about three months, I actually wondered whether I'd get up the last climb on the ridge, just after I crossed the state line.  But partway up, I realized that I was fighting not only "rust," but also a headwind.  

The last time I saw the Common, leaves were turning red and gold and orange.  On Saturday, bare trees bore witness to the cold and wind through which I'd pedaled.

On my way home, I felt ready to challenge Jeanne Longo, Rebecca Twigg and Missy Giove in their prime.  Pedaling downhill with the wind at your back can make you feel that way!

Yesterday's ride took me to the South Shore of Queens and Nassau County, through the Rockaways and Atlantic Beach to Point Lookout.  Under a clear, bright sky, the water barely rippled.  And, in contrast to Saturday's ride, this one is flat, and I encountered barely a breeze on the 120 km (72 mile) round trip.

In late summer or early fall, when I'd normally have pedaled a lot of miles, the Point Lookout jaunt would be a "recovery" ride if I did it the day after a Connecticut ride.  But it seems odd to call it a "recovery" ride when the past three months have been a time of recovery for me!

One thing I couldn't help but to notice was how little traffic, motorized or otherwise, I encountered on both rides.  I guess the cold kept people in their homes in spite of the bright sunshine.

In case you were wondering:  I rode Dee-Lilah, my Mercian Vincitore Special, to Connecticut and Zebbie, my 1984 Mercian King of Mercia, to Point Lookout.  Being able to do those rides again was enough to make me feel good, but being on bikes that look and ride the way they do made me feel even better.

Things may not be "normal" yet.  But at least one part of my life is getting there, I hope!

*--I feel guilty about equating  a mango, a fruit that brings nothing but pleasure to those who eat it, to someone who's slammed democracy and people's lives with a baseball bat.

10 January 2021

Making Sure It Doesn't Get Worse

 After nearly half a century of cycling without a serious accident, last year I suffered through two mishaps--a crash and getting "doored"--that resulted in a two-night stay at a trauma center and a visit to an emergency room, respectively.  Oh, and the crash ended my journey with Arielle, my Mercian Audax (the first Mercian I acquired).  

I suppose things could have been worse, though:

From Teepublic

I mean, if I'd had a Strava (or any electronic measuring device), it would have shown an average speed of O.O5 mph or something by the time I got home.

09 January 2021

You Can't Sell Snow To The Eskimos Or Buy This In England

 Last week, the United Kingdom's "divorce" from the European Union, commonly called "Brexit," took effect.  Not surprisingly, this has affected the country's bicycle business--though, in some instances, in unintended ways.

Anyone who has ever reported on business and finance will tell you, "The markets don't like uncertainty."  The stock exchanges, whether in New York or London or Tokyo, usually fall when traders don't know who will be in offices or what policies will or won't be in place.  And businesspeople don't like to make investments when a change in a law could adversely affect them.

So it's no surprise that, for the time being, Canyon, based in Germany, stopped shipping bikes to the UK on 19 December.  A message on the company's website says that this stoppage will continue at least until Monday the 11th and is a result of "changes in tariffs and logistics in clearing points of entry into the UK."  

In other words, Canyon wants more clarity--more certainty--about the UK's new policies on imports from the EU.   So does Campagnolo, which has suspended all deliveries to the UK as the Italian component and wheel maker is "awaiting for EU dispositions in regards to the Brexit situation."

Now, it makes sense that because Italy is part of the EU, Campagnolo would want more certainty about Brexit-induced shipping and tariff regulations before sending its derailleurs and brakes to Derby or Birmingham.  But an Italian wish for clarity about policies is also delaying or halting deliveries of at least one British company's products--including what might be the most iconic English bike part of all.

Brooks leather saddles, including the B-17, Professional and Swift, are still made in England.  They are, however, shipped to a distribution center in Italy--where Brooks' parent company, Selle Royal, is based.  (SR purchased Brooks in 2002.)  From there, orders are shipped worldwide--including to UK customers.

You can buy this--as long as you don't want it delivered to you in England!

That is, at least, how things work in normal (whatever that means anymore) times.  But for the time being, "ongoing changes in the Brexit situation have made it necessary to suspend all new orders from brooksengland.com to the UK."  The company's website doesn't give a timeline as to when shipments to UK customers might resume.