28 February 2021

I Deny It! I'm Not Getting Old!

 For more than a decade, I've been writing and publishing this blog under the name Midlife Cycling.

I have no plans to change.  As a very wise person told me, "As long as I don't know when I'm going to die, I'm in the middle of my life!"

No, I am not in denial about getting old!

From Displate

27 February 2021

It Isn't Easy Ridin' Green

One of the risks in making a film (all right, movie:  I am a snotty intellectual, what canitellya?)  that relies on special effects is that those effects can very quickly appear dated and primitive.  If the film doesn't have other merits--say, a compelling story, good writing, impressive cinematography or fine acting performances--then there is little reason to watch once the effects start to look clunky.

I haven't seen it in a while, but I suspect that The Muppet Movie might escape that unfortunate fate.  For one thing, I think the Muppets will always be fun to watch.  For another, four decades after the Muppets graced the silver screen, one effect in particular is still impressive because it's deceptively simple and doesn't rely on gadgetry:

How can we forget Kermit the Frog riding a bicycle?  How did he--or, rather, Muppeteer-in-Chief Jim Henson and special effects supervisor Robbie Knott--achieve the feat?

Well, they started by making a scaled-down model of a Schwinn cruiser.  Now, I don't know whether an actual frog can ride a bicycle, but I don't think a puppet can.  So, for the bike-riding scene, Henson and Knott, in essence, turned Kermit into a marionette.  

The full-bodied Kermit puppet was posed on the miniature bicycle, hands on the bars, feet on the pedals.  Then invisible wires were attached to him, which allowed Knott to maneuver him from a crane hidden from the camera's view.  For close-ups, Henson used a hand puppet of Kermit, which he operated below the camera while riding a low-rolling dolley.

Henson and Knott undoubtedly would agree with Kermit:  It isn't easy bein' green!

26 February 2021

On Thin Ice, Literally

Some years ago, I read Fooled By Randomness.  Its author, Nassim Nicholas Taleb--who is credited with coining the term "black swan"-- made his money on Wall Street before embarking on an academic career. (Hmm...Is that what I should have done?)  What I remember about the book now is that in it, Talib shared one of the lessons he learned as a trader:  People trust to chance precisely the events they shouldn't and try to control those things that are bound by fate.  

One problem, I think, is that people who work in jobs that jobs that reward caution, too often, play it safe in other areas of their lives:  They are the kind of people who will order the same dish in any restaurant of any kind anywhere in the world.  Conversely, some people who work in areas where risk-taking is rewarded, or at least expected, tend to take unnecessary and even dangerous chances with other things. 

An example of the latter kind of person might be Boston cyclist and vlogger Lucas Brunelle.  "I ride my bike the same way I trade stocks," he explained.  What's more, he documents his risky rides on videos he posts to YouTube.  To wit:

On 15 February, he departed from a parking lot in Allston and pedaled onto an frozen Charles River. At least, that's how the river probably looked to him. He transversed about 800 feet before falling through a crack in the ice.

Venturing onto any glazed body of water is risky. But ponds and lakes, which are usually stagnant and filled with fresh water, are more likely to develop a thick icy crust than a river, which has a current.  What makes a river like the Charles even more treacherous is that while it normally contains fresh water, salty currents from Boston Harbor--an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean--wash into it.  Salt water freezes at significantly lower temperatures (which is why, among the major oceans, only the Arctic and Antarctic freeze), so a river like the Charles might not develop a solid base underneath what appears to be a coat of ice.

Ever the risk-taker, Brunelle took to the ice the following week.  And, he says, he plans to continue his risky rides.  After all, what rewards him as a trader will make his rides rewarding, right?  Just ask Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

25 February 2021

Did She Or Didn't She--Vote?

 Late yesterday, I zigzagged between Brooklyn and Queens on Tosca, my Mercian fixed-gear bike.  I sometimes take rides like that with no particular destination, and turn wherever something looks interesting--or, sometimes, just to take the path of least resistance (less traffic, a better-looking road or just inertia).  Rides like the one I took yesterday inevitably lead me along streets never frequented by hipsters or the bourgeoisie and never visited by tourists.  Those streets are also among the increasingly-small number of byways not enclosed by towers built from beige Lego blocks, black metal bars and windows designed for people to look at, but not see themselves.

One such street--Borden Avenue--parallels the Long Island Railroad tracks in Hunter's Point, about five kilometers from my apartment.  It's still an industrial area, and sometimes interesting graffiti-murals (like the lamentably-gone Five Pointz) can be found.  

While pedaling along Borden, I chanced upon something I would have expected to see on Five Pointz but, surprisingly, graced a billboard.

I have to admit that I felt a bit of shame.  Sojourner Truth, Alice Paul and Ida B. Wells are familiar names to me, but until yesterday, Mabel Ping Hua-Lee wasn't.  All of them fought for human rights, specifically for women and people of racial "minorities."   The sad part is that, among them, only Ms. Paul (who died in 1977) lived long enough to fully benefit from the legislation for which she fought.  

Sojourner Truth was born into slavery and died decades before the 19th Amendment became law.  Ida B. Wells lived to see it, but not the civil rights legislation of the 1960s.  Ms. Ping Hua-Lee apparently (I'll explain) lived long enough to enjoy the right to vote and to be a benificiary of civil rights legislation--but it's not clear as to whether she could, or did, take advantage of those rights.

Ms. Lee was born in China but came to New York as a child when her father, a missionary of the Baotist church, was sent to take over a church in Chinatown.  The neighborhood--now endangered as a result of pandemic--could just as well have had a wall around it.  Back then, it was much smaller.  Some people, especially the women, almost never left their homes because of the hostility they faced and, like Lee's mother, had bound feet that made walking difficult.  And, in contrast to today (or, at least, say, a year ago, before the pandemic), tourists rarely visited, except to gawk.

Moreover, Lee's father was unusual, not only for being a minister, but because he was able to enter the United States at all.  The Chinese Exclusion Act was passed about a decade and a half before he arrived, but a few people like him--diplomats and other educated professionals--were sometimes allowed to emigrate.

Lee quickly took to the educational opportunities available to someone of her intellect and talents.  She attended Erasmus Hall Academy, whose alumni include Beverly Sills and Barbara Streisand and whose most illustrious dropout is Bobby Fischer.  After graduating Erasmus, she would attend Barnard College and become the first Chinese woman to earn a PhD in the United States--in economics, from Columbia University.

What she is best known for is her leadership in the suffragist movements, especially her role in the massive 1912 march.  Energized by these experiences, she wanted to return to China and spark a similar movement.  But those plans were thwarted when her mother fell ill and her father died.  Although she wasn't a minister, she became the director of his church and used her position as a platform to advocate for gender and racial equality.  Interestingly, she believed that Protestant theology could be used to advance causes of social justice, knowing full well that one of the goals of the Chinese Exclusion Act was to help keep a white Protestant majority in the United States.  Of course that, thankfully, failed:  Most of the mass immigrations that came from southern and eastern Europe between 1880 and 1919 wasn't Protestant. (Catholics and Jews, oh my!) 

Little is known about Mabel Ping-Hua Lee's later years.  She is believed to have died in or around 1966.  It's not clear as to whether she ever became a citizen--and, thus, whether she exercised the right to vote for which she fought!

Now, in case you were wondering:  After I got home from my ride and ate some vegetarian nachos I made for supper, I did a Google search on Mabel Ping-Hua Lee.  I often do such things after rides and, in the days before the Internet, I'd go to the library the first chance I got after riding.  You might say that bicycling has caused me to continue my education!

24 February 2021

Let's Hope They Don't Get Stranded On The Island

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a few paradoxes.  The bike business is booming, but some shops are closing because supply chain disruptions have cut off their supplies.  And more people are riding, but bike tour companies are struggling.

The latter situation is playing out in, among other places, Maui.  And two enterprises in particular embody its contradictions more than most.

"I am currently seeing more people out riding their bikes," reports Donnie Arnoult. A longtime cyclist, he owns Maui Cyclery on the island's north shore.  Sales and repairs have surged during the pandemic, and rentals increased during the holidays but slowed a bit this month.  "{M}y clients are people who can work remotely and they are staying in Maui for a longer period of time," he explains.  So, he is "busy with less numbers, but still riding just as much as before the pandemic."

Photo by Matthew Thayer, The Maui News

In contrast, Bike Maui is struggling.  They re-opened in October after halting services for a few months.  Though Bike Maui has a shop and mechanic "for locals and their repairs," the "majority of our business is tourism," says Ron Daniel, who directs operations, sales and marketing.  Visitors are the ones who rent Bike Maui's bikes and ride in the company's guided and self-rented tours, and tourism has suffered, possibly, more in Hawaii than anywhere else in the US. 

So, while many new cyclists in Maui say they plan to continue riding after the pandemic, and tourists will almost certainly return, one can only hope that Bike Maui and Maui Cyclery will still be around to serve them.

23 February 2021

Are Helmets An Issue Of Racial And Economic Justice?

 Four decades after helmet-wearing became widespread among cyclists, at least here in the US, helmet laws and regulations remain controversial.  Medical experts are all but unanimous in recommending helmets, citing their efficacy in preventing brain injury (something to which I can attest).  So, most doctors and surgeons favor requirements to wear head protection.

On the other hand, not all cyclists favor such regulations. I admit that sometimes I miss the wind through my hair, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels that way.  But I want to keep on riding, so I am willing to sacrifice that to keep my brain intact. And, as much as I respect this country's Constitution, with all of its flaws, I don't buy civil libertarian arguments against helmet laws--which some cyclists voiced years ago but I rarely hear anymore. (That, of course, may be a consequence of where I live and the people I normally see.)  Still, I am conflicted about helmet laws.  I certainly encourage cyclists to wear helmets, but I also understand that laws have unintended consequences.

One such outcome has played out in the Seattle area.  In a way, as upsetting as it is, it shouldn't come as a surprise because it's a result of a pernicious, pervasive problem:  the unequal enforcement of the law. 

If you are, or are perceived as, a member of any "minority" group, whether by race, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, or socio-economic class, you are more likely to be cited for minor infractions--or for no infraction at all--than other people are.  (Yes, it's happened to me.)  Turns out, one such minor infraction can be riding bareheaded in places with helmet laws.   And, if you are a member of a "minority" group, that citation for a minor infraction is more likely to turn into a major fine or even a jail sentence, just as a cut is more likely to turn into an infection or something more serious if you don't have the means to treat it.

The key word here is "means."  "Folks aren't riding around without helmets because it's fun," according to Edwin Lindo.  "They're doing it because helmets aren't cheap."  Lindo, who identifies as Central American Indigenous, started the NorthStar Cycling Club to support Indigenous, Black and other cyclists of color in the Seattle area.  He was referring to Seattle Municipal Court statistics showing that while an estimated 4.7 percent of the city's cyclists are Black, they receive 17.3 percent of the summonses for not wearing helmets.  For Native American and Alaska Native cyclists, those numbers are 0.5 and 1.1 percent, respectively.

Edwin Lindo

For this reason, and others, Lindo and other activists encourage helmet-wearing but want Seattle to repeal its mandatory helmet law.  They cite the experience of Tacoma, which repealed its own helmet law, because it was, if unintentionally, reflecting the racial and other disparities in law enforcement.

One of the other disparities is economic:  Homeless and poor people are also disproportionately cited for not wearing helmets.  As often as not, they are riding bikes that were acquired for little or nothing.  So, they don't have funds to pay for buy a helmet--or pay for a ticket when they're cited for not wearing one.

So, the question of wearing helmets raises a question the COVID-19 pandemic has brought up:  How does a society promote the health and safety of the greatest number of people without exacerbating racial and economic inequities?

22 February 2021

Chocolate, Quakers and Chinatown

Over the weekend, I rode on ribbons of shoveled asphalt and sand occasionally punctuated by patches of ice and slush--or mounds of snow that inconveniently appeared in my path.  Since I try to give people the benefit of the doubt, I'll assume that shoveling snow into a bike lane is an honest mistake, not an act of aggression!

Anyway, on Saturday I pedaled out to Coney Island, again, where I saw a surprising number of people strolling (and sometimes slipping) along the boardwalk, and on the Verrazano-Narrows promenade on my way back.  I didn't take any photos, as I didn't see much of anything I didn't see when I rode there a week ago.  I did, however, make a point of stopping at William's Candy Shop.  It's a real old-school seaside sweet shop, lined with ancient glass display cases filled with almost-as-ancient glass bins full of candy apples, marshmallows on sticks and chocolate, fruit gel and other sweet substances in various shapes and sizes, as well as a popcorn maker like the ones you used to see in movie theatres. William's is a remnant of a gritty beachfront strip that's quickly being swallowed up by condo towers, chain restaurants and stores, including It'sugar. (When the old flea-market stalls along Surf Avenue--including one where I bought a Raleigh Superbe--disappeared and were replaced by Applebee's, IHOP and the like, I knew Coney Island as I knew it wasn't long for this world!).  Whenever I go to Coney I stop by, in part, to reassure myself it's still there.  I bought nonpareils (an old favorite), sour cherry balls and a hunk of dark chocolate. The old man who owns the place just happened to be there, giving his gruff-but-warm old-time Brooklyn greetings and thanks, in unison with the more effusive pleasantry of a twentyish young woman (his granddaughter?) who was working there.

I brought some of those nonpareils and cherry balls with me yesterday, as I pedaled up and down the Steinway Manor hill half a dozen times on my way out to the World's Fair Marina, Fort Totten and the coves along the north shore of Queens.  I ventured a bit into one of New York's "other" Chinatowns, in Flushing.  On my way back to the World's Fair Marina, I spun along Bowne Street, named for the man who occupied this house:

It's one of the oldest still-standing habitations in this city.  But it's not just a place where John Bowne sipped his cup of tea at the end of a long day--and sometimes they were long!  There, he and the other Quakers living in Flushing worshipped.  

At that time, most of Queens was still wood- or marsh-land, and reaching the few settlements (like Flushing) could take a day, or longer, from Manhattan.  That, probably, is the reason why Bowne and the Quakers settled there:  They could live self-sufficient lives as farmers, fishers, artisans or tradespeople, "under the radar," so to speak, of the Dutch colonial government.

Here in America, one of the ways we're inculcated with the notion that winners win (i.e., get rich or otherwise "succeed") because they deserve to and losers deserve their fate for being naïve or worse is through  the way we're taught about Peter Stuyvesant.  According to the story we're taught, he bought an island for the equivalent of twenty-four dollars worth of trinkets.   

That island is, of course, Manhattan.  (And real estate developers today think they've gotten a good deal when they score a fifth of an acre in Washington Heights for a million dollars!)  In painting him as, essentially, America's first real estate mogul, the writers of our textbooks--and teachers who presumably don't know any better--leave out his brutality and flat-out bigotry.  He owned slaves which, as terrible as that was, wasn't so unusual for a man of his stature.  But even for his time, he bore an inordinate animus for Jews and Catholics, of whom there were very few in his or any neighboring colony, save for the French settlement of Quebec.  

His most intense hatred, however, was reserved for Quakers.  The best explanation anyone has for it can be found in the name of the denomination, which is really a nickname (officially, they're the Society of Friends) derived from their practice of praying so intensely they sometimes shook ("quaked").  So, no matter how quietly they otherwise lived, their worship practices made them conspicuous.  Other religions, on the other hand, were more able to worship "in the closet," if you will, in places like New Amsterdam that had official religions like the Dutch Reformed Church.

Anyway, Bowne was arrested and extradited back to the Netherlands where he made his case for religious freedom to the Dutch authorities, who reprimanded Stuyvesant and returned Bowne to America.

Somehow, it seems fitting that Bowne's house still stands in a neighborhood where signs are printed in Mandarin and Korean as well as English and Spanish--and where in-the-know New Yorkers (like yours truly) stop for congee and dumplings during cold-day bike rides.

21 February 2021

She Didn't Pass Me! I'm Drafting Her! Really!

Given the life I've lived, it's no surprise that I've seen "both sides" (or all sides) of many issues and situations.  For example,  I have "mansplained" and been "mansplained" to.  And I have "chicked" and been "chicked."

I'm making that last confession for the first time. (If you are chicked and no one is there to see it...) When I was living as a dude named Nick, it's something I never, ever would have wanted anybody to know.

So what does it mean to get "chicked?"

From Bikeyface.

It is perhaps the worst affront to the ego of a cyclist who's running on testosterone.  The truth is, though, that I didn't like being passed by anyone--unless, of course, I was "drafting"* them. 

Believe it or not, in my current life, I've chicked a few male cyclists.  These days, though, when I'm passed by another cyclist, it may have as much to do with an imbalance in age as in a gender difference!

*--or wanted to look at them from behind.  (Pretend you didn't read that! ;-))

20 February 2021

Spinning Music Out Of Nowhere

 Artists and sculptors have been turning bicycle parts into objets d'art since, well, bicycles have been around.  Perhaps the most famous examples are the "bull's head" Pablo Picasso fashioned from handlebars and a saddle, and Marcel Duchamp's bicycle wheel.

In those, and other works, the parts are ingredients used, like paint or clay, to create forms or evoke images.  Rarely are bike parts used as the means--think the paintbrush, pen or musical instrument-- rather than the materials or medium, for making a work.

Nicolas Bras is a Paris-based musician and tinkerer who evokes his sounds from homemade instruments.  You can see and hear some of them on his "Musiques de Nulle Part" (Music from Nowhere) series on YouTube.  Among them is this "flute" made from a bicycle wheel.

The "music" is made by blowing through a tube onto the randomly-tuned pan flutes attached to the bicycle wheel.  I put quotes around "music" because not everyone would so categorize the sound coming from it.  Bras, however, says he is working on more melodious and complex sounds from his rotary flute.  I don't doubt he's capable of such a thing:  After all, we don't know what came out when Pan, the Greek god of nature (for whom the flute is named), supposedly exhaled into it for the first time.

Ancient Greek images depict shepherds playing it. Perhaps in the future, we will follow the tunes Nicolas Bras spins on his bicycle wheel flute.

19 February 2021

To Ease The Shock

Consternation followed his victory.

There weren't any rumors of doping or other cheating.  Nor were any questionable decisions by race officials.

The fact that he was 37 years old--ancient for a European pro cyclist--or that he'd been trying to win that particular race for years didn't get tongues wagging.  Even his palmares, which included a number of wins and high places in one-day races but no such results in multi-day events, wasn't the reason why cycling fans and the media were shocked when he won the Paris-Roubaix.

When Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle ascended the podium in the Roubaix Velodrome on 12 April 1992, no one talked about the course of the annual race--dubbed "L'enfer du nord" (the Hell of the North) for its cobblestones, mud and unpredictable weather-- or his persévérance.  Rather, all of the attention was on his bike--specifically, one part.

At that time, suspension or "telescoping" (as they're called in Britain) front forks were the hot new item on mountain bikes.  Until that day, no one had seen them on road bikes.  

Gibus, as he was called, rode a LeMond road bike equipped with a specially-modified Rock Shox fork.  The funny thing is that, with all due respect to LeMond bikes, the fork was really its only unusual feature.  The rest of the frame was a typical road bike of the time, equipped with standard Campagnolo road components.

What's surprising, to me, is that there weren't more attempts to create suspended road bikes before Gibus rode his.   The great Bernard Hinault won the Tour de France five times and a number of one-day events.  But he refused to ride Paris-Roubaix until 1981 (he won) because the jarring conditions would aggravate his tendinitis, the condition that caused him to withdraw from the cold, rainy 1980 Tour.  He's not the only elite cyclist who couldn't or wouldn't ride P-R because of bone-shaking conditions.

Since then, road bikes have incorporated various forms of  front suspension.  Rear suspension, however, caught on in any major way with professionals because it's difficult to achieve a balance between weight, shock absorption when needed and stiffness when ridden on smooth surfaces.

In April 2018, Specialized applied for a patent describing a system that allows the upper portion of a bike's seat post to move and absorb shock.  To accomplish this, the seat post is clamped much further down the seat tube.  The patent application, approved in October of last year, indicates that a pivot could be placed there and that it might be adjustable to the rider's weight.

According Specialized, the system could make its appearance on, appropriately enough, the company's Roubaix model.  And it might come out next year:  the 30th anniversary of Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle's first Paris-Roubaix win. (He also won the following year.)

I can't say I'm shocked. 

Photo of Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle in 1992 Paris-Roubaix by Graham Watson.  Drawings from Specialized patent application.

18 February 2021

She Knew: Self-Care Is Not A Luxury

 Alert:  I will reveal something very personal (yes, even by the standards of this blog) in this post.  

She would be 87 years old today. But she lives on for me, and many other people.

I first encountered Audre Lorde's poetry when I was in college--right about the time the world (as I knew it, anyway) was discovering black artists and lesbians--and colleges were starting to offer courses in Women's Studies (no gender studies or queer studies) and African-American Studies.

That was during the late 1970s.  The way I came to her poems--and her work as a feminist activist--wasn't through class assignments:  She came to read on our campus.  Honestly, I knew nothing about her before then--or, to be fair, many of the poets who gave readings at our college. That, of course, is exactly the reason I went to those readings.

Some I've long since forgotten.  But I knew Audre Lorde would stick with me, even thought I was far from being "out" as a non-heterosexual, non-cisgender person and am about as white as anybody can be.  (According to a DNA test, I am 4 percent African.  Anthropology 101 tells us the human race began in Africa, so that proportion seems like some sort of baseline for everyone.)  Her poems were unlike any I'd heard or read up to that time and, in ways I wouldn't articulate until much later, she showed there were ways one could carry one's self in this world that, up to that point, I hadn't seen.

She's one of those writers that even people who've never read her quote, sometimes without realizing it.  "Poetry is not a luxury." Of course, you're not going to hear that from your parents or most of the people you know when you announce that you're changing your major from Business or Engineering to Creative Writing or English Literature (unless, of course, you tell them the latter is a preparation for teaching or law school). What she meant is that poetry is, in her conception--and mine--an attempt to say what hasn't been said and, as often as not, what others won't say.

I don't know whether she did much cycling.  But these words of hers capture the reason why many of us  ride:

She knew about self-care:  Some of her later activism was motivated by her battle with breast cancer, which claimed her at 58 years old.  Her spirit motivates my riding and writing, which are as much a part of my self-care as visiting my doctor.  

Oh, my doctor is part of the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, of which she was a co-founder.  I go to that doctor because I like him, and on principle:  That he would work for C-L when he probably could make more elsewhere says much about his motivations, of which Audre Lorde would surely approve.

17 February 2021

As Smooth As The Icycycle

 If Shakespeare's Macbeth were working today as a meteorologist, his forecast might be "Snowstorm and snowstorm and snowstorm."

At least, that's how it's seemed for the past couple of weeks.  And Texas is sending some more white stuff and ice up this way, I hear.  

So, in response to commenter "Jay from Demarest," I am outfitting one of my bikes for the weather.

Hmm, it might not make the NYC Transportation, Sanitation and Police Departments happy.  But I might've liked it last week on the Coney Island boardwalk--or even on the icy patches dotting the bike lanes.

An engineer who identifies himself as The Q (an unfortunate moniker in times like these, wouldn't you say?) wanted to ride his bike across a frozen lake. Ever the tinkerer,  he replaced the wheels with circular sawmill blades.  When he tried to cross that lake, however,  the blades cut through the ice, making it impossible for him to ride on the surface. So, he took the bike back to his workshop and fitted less-sharp metal bits to the blade's teeth.  That did the trick:  His vessel--which he dubbed the "Icycycle"--took him to the distant shore. 

While we don't know his name, some of us have seen "The Q"s work:  Two years ago, he replaced a pair of conventional bicycle wheels with ones he fashioned from multiple running shoes affixed to large spokes.  What the purpose of that was, I don't know, and he admits that the ride was bumpy.  He claims, however, that his "Icycycle" rides "as smooth as ice."

16 February 2021

Will He Still Be A Paperboy?

Yesterday, while waiting on the supermarket line, a second register opened.  A customer stepped up to it; a couple of people on the line grumbled.  But a man who stood behind me reminded them, "They were ahead of us."

Hearing that, I was reminded of how "they" has become acceptable as a gender-neutral singular pronoun.  I can recall, years ago, the chair (actually, at that time, chairman) of the department in which I taught castigated a colleague for using "they" in that way.  "But we don't know whether it's a guy or girl," she protested.  Ever the fusty one, that chairman reminded that colleague, in one of the most condescending tones I've ever heard, that "they" is plural.

Of course, that locution hasn't made its way into most formal writing. Nor has the use of "their" for "his or her."  I believe, however, that it, and "they" will, unless someone comes up with useful, roll-off-the-tongue, gender-neutral singular substitutes for "him or her," "he or she" and "his or her."

Perhaps I pay more attention than most other people do to such things because I've taught English--and am a transgender woman.   Because I identify as a woman, I go by feminine pronouns.  But I also understand, better than most people (if I do say so myself), why someone who doesn't identify on either side of the gender binary would use "they" and "their" in the absence of other gender-neutral pronouns one can use to reference one's self.

I am happy that terms referring to cyclists and cycling are, mainly, gender-neutral, at least in English.  But I remember working in my first bike shop and hearing an older mechanic referring to "male" and "female" parts--and noticing that while some shops had a female sales person or even manager, the industry and sport were overwhelmingly male-dominated. 

Before that, I held two titles, if you will, that are particularly ironic, given how I now live.  During my Brooklyn childhood, I was an altar boy.  Today they're called "altar servers" but in the years just after Vatican II, girls weren't allowed on the altar--except to get married.  (At least, that's my understanding of how things were in the Roman Catholic church of the time.)  As incongruous as the title and role seem to me now, I have to admit that, at the time, I enjoyed the experience:  In a community where most of us attended the same church, and many of us the same Catholic school, altar boys were held in an esteem few other kids enjoyed.  Also, the church sponsored events for us:  We went to shows, ballgames, amusement parks and the like.  Those experiences, I think, helped to form some of my earliest friendships.

A couple of years later, after my family moved to New Jersey, I became a paperboy or, if you like, newsboy for the Asbury Park Press.  Although some women (including, for a time, my mother) delivered bundles of newspapers to paperboys, it was unheard-of for girls to deliver an individual copy to someone's mailbox or doorstep.   When the newsboy with one of the Press's largest routes "retired" (he graduated high school and joined the Army), the folks in the Press office "weren't sure" that it "would be OK" for a girl to take over.  But a few people, including my mother, managed to convince them that the girl in question would be a capable replacement--and she was.

I enjoyed darting down the streets and winding through the cul-de-sacs of Port Monmouth and New Monmouth, a sack of papers slung across my body, on my Schwinn Continental.  For one thing, I was getting paid to ride my bike.  For another, I felt free:  I had no other imperative but to be sure that when people came home from work or picking up their kids, a copy of the newspaper was in their mailbox, doorway or wherever else they wanted to find it.  

It didn't matter that I wasn't the best-looking, most popular or smartest kid in the class--or even what my gender identity or sexual orientation might have been.  All that mattered was that people got their copies of the Asbury Park Press. That, of course, was the appeal being a New York City messenger would, years later, hold for me:  Nobody cared whether I could "fit in" as long as they got their papers and packages.

Given who I am--more specifically, how I've become who I am--it is indeed ironic that I once worked and identified as a paperboy. Believe it or not, it's even stranger to see someone else, who's never identified as anything but male, to so identify himself.

George Bailey, paperboy

Every morning, George Bailey delivers copies of the Daily Mail in Headcorn, the southeastern England village where he lives.  It's not his first job:  Before taking up the route, he worked at a local golf course, for a food manufacturer and a stockbroker. Yes, you read that right.  Oh, and he did those things after working a paper round for the first time, starting at age 11.

Now he's 80, and still refers to himself as a "paperboy."  He returned to making deliveries as a pensioner, but recently considered "retiring" from it.  That is, until he made headlines and someone folks from Evans Cycles and Raleigh heard about them.  Together, they donated an e-bike to him.  "Offering a little electrical assistance when needed," e-bikes "increase enjoyment and ultimately encourage riders to ride more often," said David Greeenwood of Evans Cycles. 

Of the e-bike, Bailey said, "It's given me a new lease on life."  Now that he's using it, "I might even still be doing this when I'm 90."

If he is, will he still be referring to himself as a "paperboy?"  

15 February 2021

Their Sales Came On Two Wheels

Five years ago, I wrote about "Bicycle Day."

During the first "bicycle boom," bicycle makers debuted their new models on what was then called Presidents' Day. At that time--the last two decades of the 19th Century and the first of the 20th-- the holiday was observed on George Washington's Birthday, 22 February.  Later, Lincoln's Birthday (12 February) would be observed and, finally, during the 1970s, the two fetes would be merged into Presidents' Day, observed on the third Monday in February.

"Bicycle Day" was a big deal in the days before motorcycles and automobiles because it was the first mode of transportation that was potentially faster--and lower-maintenance--than horses or horse-drawn carriages.  The bicycle also remains, to this day, the only amplifier of human energy, meaning that it's the only known device that can take the energy a person would expend to walk or run and turn it into a faster form of forward motion without any other input.

Bill Clinton, riding indoors

Just as the bicycle has been called, with good reason, as the "parent of the automobile and grandparent of the airplane," Bicycle Day can be seen as the forerunner of other retail traditions.  As motorcycles and, later, automobiles became the "main event" of American capitalism, companies debuted their new motorcycle and car models on Washington's Birthday and, later, Presidents' Day--and dealerships held sales and other events to mark these events.  

Some car and motorcycle dealerships continue the custom to this day. More common, however, are the myriad of Presidents' Sales, on everything from lingerie to Legos, in brick-and-mortar stores as well as online retailers.  In some circles, Presidents' Day has come to be known as the "second Black Friday" or "second Cyber Monday," as store owners and website managers stoke their "bottom lines" after the lull that follows the Christmas-season rush.

Ronald Reagan with first wife Jane Wyman, presumably during their Hollywood years.  When was the last time you saw someone smoking a pipe while riding a bike?

Whether or not they are aware of it, those businesspeople are carrying on a tradition brought to them on two wheels, via Bicycle Day.

(Photos are from The Bicycle Story.)

14 February 2021

I Love You As Much As I Love My Bike. Really, I Do!

 One of the more felicitious times in my life was when I had a partner who enjoyed cycling.  I didn't have to coax her to ride; sometimes she beckoned me onto my bike.

From cyclelicio

But some of you are not quite as fortunate.  I've "been there, done that," too:  I had a spouse and a couple of paramours who not only didn't ride, but who were convinced that my cycling was "stealing" time from them--or, worse, that I was going on rides to see someone else with whom I was having an affair.

From Bike Nashbar

No matter what I said or did, I couldn't convince them that I was choosing my bike over them.  

I'm single now.  I don't mind, for any number of reasons:

Happy Valentine's Day!

(If that last image best represents this Valentine's Day for you, here's a song for you.  It was released on Valentine's Day.)

13 February 2021

Getting Untucked

 This sort of thing has got to stop.  Otherwise people will keep on buying tickets.

That assessment has been attributed to Conn Smythe, the longtime owner of hockey's Toronto Maple Leafs.  He is also said to have threatened to fire any player who won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, which the National Hockey League awards for the player who best exemplifies "sportsmanship and gentlemanly play."

(What does it say about the league when one of the LBMT winners was nicknamed "Butch?")

Smythe--if he was indeed calling, if in sarcasm, for its abolition--was talking about the fights that often break out during hockey games.  To be fair, fisticuffs are less frequent today than they were in the 1970s and 1980s, when every team had an "enforcer" and at least one team built its strategy around rough, often violent play.

And I met more than a few people who, after watching a game, wouldn't talk about a deft pass or slick goal.  Instead, they'd enthuse about a brawl involving, say, Dave Schulz or "Tiger" Williams.  So, if Smythe indeed uttered the words at the beginning of this post, he may have been onto something.

At any rate, he knew that his sport, like just about every other, has moves and tactics that are popular with fans (some, anyway) but cause the sports' governing bodies--and, sometimes, commentators--to wag their fingers, whether at the player who did something not-quite-legal or ethical, or the fans who enjoyed it.

Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

In cycling, one of those tactics is riding in a "super tuck" position.  The rider places his or her forearms on the handlebars--sometimes on "aero bar" extensions for this purpose--and pedals, head down and back tilted forward.  Sometimes the rider even sits on the frame's top tube.

This move originated with time trialists, became popular on the track and increasingly became part of road racing, especially in "breakaways" or downhill descents.  In races that are decided by seconds, or fractions thereof, riding for a time in this position can make a difference between finishing on the podium or in the pack.

For whatever advantages it may offer, one can be forgiven for wondering whether teams, race promoters or others encourage racers to ride in the position because it makes for great photos, posters and videos.  I'll admit that it catches my eye, even though I've seen it many times.

But that's not the reason why the Union Cyclisme Internationale (UCI) is banning it.  Rather, the sport's governing body cites the danger, not only to the riders themselves, but to the riders--and, in some cases, spectators--around them.  While the position is aerodynamically efficient and may allow maximum use of certain muscle groups for brief periods of time, it's also less stable.  

Opponents of the ban cite the riders' skill:  After all, their "day at the office," if you will, is spent on their bikes or trainers.  So, they say, such riders, who understand its pros and cons, should be allowed to take the risk of using it.  The other riders in the peloton have, one assumes, similar skill levels to person "going into a tuck" and will either do the same or adjust, in some other way.  

Of course, this argument begs two questions:  1. If riders are allowed to take the inherent risks of riding in "the tuck," should they be allowed to take on other risks--such as from using performance-enhancing substances?  2. Is a "blanket" ban the right solution to eliminate the risks inherent in "the tuck?"

Whatever its merits, or lack thereof, the ban is set to take effect on 1 April.  No, that's not a joke!

12 February 2021

Lincoln's Ride

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may not be doing your regular commute.  I have mixed feelings about not doing mine:  a varied route, I enjoyed it--especially the stretch in Randall's Island--but as a result of not doing it, I've had more time--at least when I'm not getting doored or shoveling snow!--to ride for fun.

I wonder whether Abraham Lincoln felt the same way about his commute.  

For three summers (1862-64), he moved to a cottage in Petworth.  Today it's a fashionable neighborhood in the northwestern part of Washington, DC.  In Lincoln's time, however, it was still mainly rural.  And, although contraptions we'd recognize as bicycles had been created, they weren't in wide use.  So, Abe made the three-mile trip from Petworth to the White House on a horse.

Although he moved to the house for space and fresh air--and, one assumes, to escape from the pressures of leading the nation during its Civil War--he liked the commute because it brought him into contact with those affected by his decisions, according to Jenny Phillips of President Lincoln's Cottage.  On his route he would have seen, among other things, the Captiol building, which was under construction. He also passed First National Cemetery, which predated Arlington and where 40 bodies were buried every day.

In the summer of 2018, the Cottage and DC Cycling Concierge hosted a bike tour that re-traced the 16th President's route.  Unlike them, Lincoln rode alone--until someone shot at him. (The bullet went through his top hat.)  After that, he agreed to ride with a cavalry.  

He requested that Mary, his wife, not be told.  I suspect, though, that none of the DC Cycling Concierge or the Cottage had to hide the details of their ride from anyone.  I'm sure they're wishing him a happy birthday today!

11 February 2021

Between Snowstorms

Yesterday afternoon I pedaled along the Queens and Brooklyn waterfronts to Coney Island.  More snow was on the way, so I wanted to get a few miles in.  

Along the way, I encountered a few things I expected, such as snow piled (deliberately?) on the bike lanes and ice patches.  

And on the Coney Island Boardwalk:

Even the sea and sky seemed to reflect the storm's residue:

The funny thing is that the Verrazano Narrows promenade (the one that passes under the bridge), which I rode on my way home, was snow- and ice-free--and teeming with people out for late-day walks.  I think I saw two or three other cyclists.

I admit that I wasn't riding fast.  But it was good, all good.


10 February 2021

Another Kind Of Justice

 The second Senate impeachment trial continues today.  But I am going to talk about another kind of justice:  the poetic kind.

One fine day in 2017, Juli Briskman rode her bike in Sterling, Virginia.  Minivans passed beside her.  That in itself is not unusual. Even the fact that they were black would not have been noteworthy, especially given the proximity of Ms. Briskman's route to the nation's capital city.

But she knew who was in one of those vehicles:  the owner of the nearby golf course. She made a gesture toward him because she knew he probably wouldn't have heard what she might have said:  Truck Fump.

All right, that's an anagram of what she could have said.  So you know what kind of gesture she made.  Who among us has not made it at motorists who cut us off or did other things to endanger us?

Normally, such an incident would go unnoticed.  But someone posted it, and it went viral.  Someone brought it to the attention of her employer--a government contracting firm.  As a result, she lost her job as a marketing executive because her bosses decided she'd violated the company's code of conducted.

Now, there are all kinds of ways people deal with the loss of their jobs.  They depend mainly on the fired employee's circumstances and temperament:  They can look for another job, sue, go into business for themselves, go back to school or pursue something they've always wanted to do, among other things.

Juli Briskman decided to run for office.

In November, she won a seat in the Algnonkian District of the Loudon County Board of Supervisors.  Sworn in last month, her new job includes overseeing leisure facilities.  

In that capacity, she's already helped to build bicycle lanes in her district.  Oh, and she's worked to remove a Confederate monument and release funds for COVID-19 relief.

And she's a Democrat.

Hmm...a Democrat working to build bike lanes and remove Confederate monuments--and release funds for COVID-19 relief.  In just a few weeks, she's managed to accomplish three things Mango Mussolini would hate.  It sounds like poetic justice to me.

Photos in this post by Brendan Smialowski, from Getty Images.

09 February 2021

Braking His Enthusiasm

Sometimes the old questions become new again.

A couple of days ago, I wrote about Specialized's decision to have two of its teams ride nothing but clincher tires with tubes on all except one-day "classics" races. They were, ironically, answering a question in the way many of us did two or three decades ago, when high-performance clincher tires and rims became available.  What made Specialized's action all the more interesting is that Roval, the wheel supplier to those teams, decided to offer two of their lightest wheelsets only for tubed clincher tires, thus bucking a trend--fueled at least in part by Specialized itself--toward tubeless tires.  All the more intriguing is that Roval's parent company is--wait for it--Specialized.

Now a four-time Tour de France winner is speaking against, if not bucking, another industry trend that Specialized has helped to foster. 

For this season, Chris Froome has switched teams--and bikes.  For the past ten years, he rode a Pinarello with rim brakes (what most of us ride) for Team Sky/Ineos. That run includes all of his Tour, as well as other, victories.  Now he is riding for Israel Start Up Nation and, as is customary when changing teams, he's also changing bikes.  His new main bike Factor Ostro VAM, and it's equipped with disc brakes.

Froome likes everything about the bike except the brakes.  While he admits that "they do what they're meant to do," he says he's "not 100 percent sold on them yet."  

Chris Froome.  Image by Noa Arnon.

Now, elite racers like Froome are hardly "retrogrouches."  As Eddy Mercx once famously observed, the function of a racer's bikes is to "win and make money."  So they normally welcome whatever will give them an advantage, and many old-timers imagine what they could have done if they'd had the kind of equipment today's pros use.

But Froome makes some of the same complaints about discs we've heard from other riders:  "constant rubbing, the potential for mechanicals, the overheating, the discs becoming warped on descents longer than five or 10 minutes of constant braking."

We've heard those complaints from Froome, other folks riding at all levels today--and from riders back in the 1970s, when I first became a dedicated cyclist.

In those days, discs weren't offered by as many companies--or as widely-used--as they are now. Then, almost all bicycle disc brakes in use were found on tandems, which of course require more stopping power than single bikes.  There were legitimate reasons, other than "retrogrouchiness," why other cyclists didn't use them:  They were even heavier, more cumbersome and complicated than they are now--and even more prone to failures.  In fact, Phil Wood's disc brakes may have been the company's only unsuccessful offering.

What tells us a lot about the state of disc brakes in those days was that they weren't adopted by the early mountain bikers, who retrofitted their old balloon-tired bombers--or built new frames--with cantilever brakes.  One reason was that Joe Breeze, Gary Fisher and all of those other dudes barreling down northern California and New England fire trails were engaging in what would be branded as "downhill" riding in the '90s.  In other words, they were subjecting their bikes to at least one of the conditions Froome describes.  

In a way, Froome is dealing with an issue that faced cyclists of the 1970s and 1980s, just as those Specialized teams dealt with one that confronted cyclists a decade later.  And, while Froome hints that, for the moment, the new answer may be the old answer, those teams are answering it in the way many of us did all of those years ago.