31 March 2021

Our Bodies, Our Bikes

Two weeks ago, I wrote "The Unbearable Whiteness of Cycling."  In it, I discussed some of the possible reasons why the current "bike boom" is largely a Caucasian phenomenon.  A major factor is the images of cyclists portrayed in advertising and the media in general:  Nearly everyone astride a two-wheeler is white.

And young, unless the cyclist in question is a celebrity--in which case, said cyclist probably looks younger than he or she is .

And easily idenitifiable as male or female:  There is little or no gender amibiguity or "queerness" among  cyclists shown in promos.

And thin, especially if the cyclist is female.

That last issue is the subject of a new video, "All Bodies on Bikes," directed by Zeppelin Zeerip, Its stars, Kailey Korhauser and Marlee Blonskey, remind us of a basic fact:  "To be a cyclist, you just have to be a person riding a bike."

As I watched this video, I was showing it to two other people:  My early-childhood self and the person I was early in my gender-affirmation (what I used to call my gender-transition) process. Before I started running, wrestling, playing soccer and riding long distances, I was a fat kid.  And, when I embarked on my journey from life as a man called Nick to a woman named Justine, I wondered whether I'd have to give up cycling.  I even raised that question to my social worker, a transgender man, and my therapist, a heterosexual cisgender woman--who, as it turned out, were cyclists themselves, though "not like you," as both told me.

I now realize that those fears showed how I'd internalized the images of cyclists I'd encountered, and how they were reinforced by my experiences: Until fairly late in my life as Nick, nearly all of the cyclists I knew were white and male, and if any were at all overweight, it was by only a few pounds.

My social worker and therapist used my question about cycling to re-pose (Is that a word?) another question to me:  How did I envision myself?  When I identify myself as female, how do I see that?  That, of course, is a question any therapist or social worker poses to anyone who believes he or she may be transgender, because it's fundamental:  Are you seeing yourself as Angelina Jolie or Jennifer Lopez (icons of the time when I embarked on my process )  or as the housewife or single mother you see in the market--or as your own mother, or someone else?

Although I've lost some weight and have been told I'm looking good, nobody will mistake my body for Christy Turlington's or Rihanna's.  Part of that is, of course, genetics and my body structure:  As I mentioned in my earlier post, I probably never will be smaller than a size 10.  That is true of many other women, including many who, at least to my eye, are quite beautiful.  

So, the issue of body shape is not just one of dress size (a sexist measurement).  It's also one of biology, class--and race.  Members of some ethnic groups, such as natives of American Samoa (which produces National Football League players far out of proportion to its population), are just naturally bigger than other people.  

This question of what a cyclist should look like is an example of what Kimberle Crenshaw defined as "intersectionality." For the most part, what we've seen in advertising and the rest of the media shows us that cyclists are supposed to be young, thin and white--and, by extension, of a certain social and economic class.  If we are to truly gain acceptance from larger society (and less hostility from motorists), the imagery of cycling has to be more inclusive.  "All Bodies on Bikes" is one step in that direction.

30 March 2021

Taking A Stand

In my youth, bicycles were scarcely mentioned at all in daily newspapers.  Editors, it seemed, reflected the attitude most Americans held: Bikes were for kids, and not worthy of "serious" consideration.

Bikes appeared in daily newspapers only in public service announcements about bike safety (some actually told kids to get off their bikes at every intersection and walk their bikes across) buried deep in the paper.  Or, perhaps, a bike shop would take out an ad for a sale or the holidays.

Never did I imagine that any paper would ever post reviews of bicycles--or of bike accessories.  So imagine my surprise when I saw a review of double-leg kickstands in the Chicago Tribune's online edition.

From The Chicago Tribune

I think the review's author, Kevin Luna, did a good job.  He evaluated kickstands on a number of factors, including ease of installation, crispness of the mechanism and whether or not the length of the legs can be adjusted.  He thought the best overall came from Luminitrail, BV offered the "best bang for the buck" and that Velo Orange's offering (the Copenhagen) merited an "honorable mention."

Mind you, I'm not in the market for a double-leg kickstand, but I can understand why someone would want them for a cargo bike or any loaded machine.  If nothing else, they make more sense than single-leg kickstands. 

29 March 2021

Using Bicycles To Break A Cycle

Community-minded cyclists have started organizations like New York's Recycle-a-Bicycle all over the US.  Their stated goals usually include, keeping old but serviceable bicycles out of landfills, providing good bicycles that are affordable (many such organizations sell bikes to finance, among  other things, giving bikes to the poor) and helping people learn bicycle-related skills.

That last goal often has another positive side effect:  It engages young people.  Kids who are misfits or outcasts become confident when they ride with cyclists who want to share their love of cycling, or when they learn how to fix or even build bikes.  

Any time a kid is involved with an activity that takes dedication--whether it's cycling, chess, a school magazine, dance or something else--he or she is less likely to be involved with gangs, drugs or other things that can adversely affect their lives and futures.

From Remember Us Urban Scouts' Facebook page

Now it seems that organizations that serve young people are seeing the value of cycling.  One such organization is Remember Us Urban Scouts of Columbus, Ohio. It has partnered with the city's Parks and Recreation Department to create a mobile bike shop that will be sent into low-income communities.

"One thing that impacts people that live in low-income areas is mobility," obsereves Ayriq Sims.  The RUUS Program Director explained that in such communities, people lack transportation because they family may not have a car, the kid doesn't have a bike and nobody in the family can afford bus fare.  

The result is that kids can't, for example, get to the activities that build social skills and positive memories for young people.  They thus feel alienated and are easy to recruit into gangs, or are otherwise vulnerable to getting sucked into get involved in the worst the streets have to offer.  If it doesn't lead to jail or death, Sims says, it can lead to "lifelong trauma."

So, Remember Us Urban Scouts is extending work that urban bicycle recycling programs and bike clubs are already doing:  Using a bicycle to break a cycle--of youth violence.

28 March 2021

What Was He Riding?

Today is Palm Sunday.

I haven't been part of any religion or faith tradition in a long time.  I did, however, attend Catholic school and was an altar boy. (That sounds so odd to me after more than a decade and a half of living as female.) One thing I recall is that while we had an hour of religious instruction every day and were brought to confession after our Friday classes, we were not encouraged to read the Bible. 

Later on, I did read the book on my own and, in fact, was even part of a couple of study groups.  I came to the conclusion that while the Roman church might have had its own reasons to discourage Bible reading, it probably saved me, if unintentionally, from falling down the rabbit hole of all rabbit holes:  Biblical interpretation.

Since I can't read the Biblical languages, I can't say which translations are the most accurate, or which interpretations are closest to, as Constituional fundamentalists would say, the original intent.  (Constitutional scholarship might be the second-deepest rabbit hole.)  Was God male, or did God become so because of translations?  Did Jesus turn water into an alcoholic beverage rather than wine, and should Matthew 6:11 read "Give us this day our daily nourishment"?

Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus' entry into Jerusalem on, as recounted in Matthew 21.  Traditionally, this account has him riding a donkey.  But at least one Biblical scholar that someone was exercising poetic license, if you will, and argues that the story should have him astride a "pack animal" or "vehicle."

Hmm...How far can we take such an interpretation?

27 March 2021

Inventing One Kind Of Superhighway, Getting Another

Folks in that part of the world invented one kind of superhighway.  Now they might get another.

San Jose is the largest city and seat of Santa Clara County, California.  Just south of San Francisco, the county is part of "Silicon Valley," where the technology that brought this blog to your screen--often called the "information superhighway" was developed.

Now it might see a "superhighway" that's more closely associated with parts of Europe than any place in the United States.  It would run 10 miles  through San Jose and Santa Clara. What would differentiate it from the county's  800 miles of bikeways and 200 miles of dedicated bike trails is continuity.  Local activists and commuters, like their counterparts in other US locales (including my hometown), complain that too many lanes and trails go from "nowhere to nowhere," beginning and ending in seemingly-arbitrary spots, and are thus not useful as transportation conduits.

From San Jose Spotlight

This "superhighway" was recently proposed as part of the Santa Clara Countywide Bike Plan.  Three different routes have been suggested.  Information about the progress of this project can be found on the Valley Transportation Authority's website--which you will access, of course, by the other kind of superhighway.

26 March 2021

Where Hipsters And Millenials Dare Not Tread

 Yesterday afternoon, I took another ride into the heart of Brooklyn.  What, exactly does that mean?  Well, the way I'm using the term, I mean a place where no hipster or white milennial dares to tread.  Or, you might say that it's anyplace along the 2,3,4 or 5 subway lines past the Eastern Parkway-Brooklyn Museum stop, or the L (a.k.a. the Hipster Express) beyond the Aberdeen-Bushwick stop.

No, I didn't ride up those tracks!  They carry the L train along Van Sinderen Avenue, widely seen as the border between the two toughest neighborhoods in Brooklyn, if not the whole city:  Brownsville and East New York.  I was on the Brownsville side, where Riddick Bowe and Mike Tyson were born and raised.  Meyer Lansky was raised the and started Murder Inc there.  Interestingly, Larry King and Alfred Kazin also hail from there.

People often talk about being "on the wrong side of the tracks."  That phrase has no meaning here.  Perhaps it will come as no surprise that the two neighborhoods have turned out, per capita, more hip-hop artists than anyplace else in the world.

I must say, though, that the drivers I encountered were careful.  And a few people waved to me.

Maybe it has something to do with the atmosphere that once prevailed at the other end of the neighborhood:

The East 105th Street station is the penultimate stop on the L line. Until the mid-1980s, it held an interesting distinction:  It was the only New York City subway station with a street-level grade crossing.  Yes, it had a gate that dropped, bells that rang and lights that flashed when a train pulled into, or out of, the station.

That, of course, meant people couldn't be in as much of a hurry as they are in other places.  Could it be that calm driving practices are passed on--genetically?

Oh, by the way, a guy was selling sweet and salty snack foods, and knockoff accessories, from a table.  I bought a few snacks, which I gave to homeless people I saw on my way home. The man seemed genuinely happy for the couple of dollars I spent at his table.

25 March 2021

He Kept A Community's Wheels Turning

I love a beautiful bicycle as much as anybody does.  All you have to do is look at Dee-Lilah or Zebbie, my Mercian Vincitore Special and King of Mercia, to see how I care  about fine workmanship and finishes.  At the same time, I appreciate and respect the technological refinement of modern bikes and components.  I avail myself to as much of it as I find useful--and affordable.

But I also understand that what if the current bike boom, fueled by COVID, is to continue, it won't be on the wheels of bikes sold in boutique shops for more than workers in the developing world make in a couple of years.  Wherever the bicycle is seen as an integral part of the transportation network, let alone as a way of life, people are riding utilitarian machines (think of Dutch city bikes) to work or school, or bikes that are sportier, if not much pricier, to the park, seashore or market.  And, in such places, bike shops and mechanics concentrate on keeping those commuters and recreational cyclists on the road (or getting them there in the first place).  They don't spend much, if any, time working on the electronic shifting systems of $12,000 bikes.

In other words, those mechanics are like Joe Haskins who work in shops like the one that bears his name.  He bought it from its founder, his aging uncle, in 1958, when the shop was still known as Tampa Cycle--and he was 17 years old.

Joe Haskins.  Photo by Kelly Benjamin

He never left, literally and figuratively.  Over the years, the shop moved to several different locales, all within the same area of Tampa--and, most important of all, serving the same sort of clientele:  basically, anyone who needed a bike or repair.  Sometimes his services had nothing to do with bikes or cycling:  Former Tampa Bay Times reporter Alan Snel (who writes the Bicycle Stories blog) noted, "every mayor has their downtown pet projects, but the essence of a city is the neighborhoods and small businesses like Joe's bike shop that help everyday residents with everyday issues."

So, when the driving force/guiding spirit of such a business retires or passes away, as Joe did last Saturday, it leaves a hole in the community.  But it seems that the shop will continue:  During the past few years, as Joe's health declined, family members stepped in to keep the shop's unwritten mission alive.

Tampa's All Love Bike Crew will honor his memory with a ride on Sunday.  Somehow I don't think that many Crew members will be riding $12,000 bikes or $300 helmets. 

24 March 2021

A Ride To Visit Shirley

What's the best thing ever built on a dump?

I may have cycled to it yesterday afternoon:

Shirley Chisholm State Park opened in 2019 but was only recently named in honor of the woman who represented my Congressional district (albeit with different boundaries) for seven terms. In 1972, she became the first woman to run for Democratic party's presidential nomination, and the first black woman (she was born in Brooklyn to West Indian parents) to run in either major party.  

I would love to know what she'd think of the park's location:  In addition to all sorts of substances not meant for human consumption, various rumors had it that the Mafia, other crime groups and individual criminals disposed of bodies there.  I wouldn't doubt the veracity of those stories, and I'm even willing to believe that one reason the location was used was, in addition to its remoteness from central parts of the city, its chemical composition:  Supposedly, the bodies dissolved quickly in the toxic stews and soups that festered there.

Ms. Chisholm, though, probably would be pleased that it's been turned into a park.  It's officially been part of the Gateway National Recreation Area since the 1980s, when the dump closed and cleanup began, but was off-limits to the public.  Some trails and a really nice loop for walkers and cyclists opened recently, and there are exhibits that explain the kinds of wildlife and fauna living in the area.  

What would please the park's namesake most of all, I think is that the park borders East New York, one of the most impoverished neighborhoods in the United States.  Not surprisingly, nearly all of East New York's residents are black or brown.  An adjacent neighborhood, Brownsville, is like East New York but even  poorer and tougher:  One of Brownsville's projects (what the Brits call council flats), the Pink Houses, gave the world Riddick Bowe and Mike Tyson. 

Oh, and the park's entrance opens onto the bike/pedestrian path that runs along the Belt Parkway from Howard Beach, Queens to Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn.  As it happened, I rode in and around the park on my way to Canarsie Pier, where I've taken many a ride.

Shirley Chisholm overcame many obstacles.  So it's kind of ironic to see this:

A steep hill?  A bump?  Only sissies are intimidated by such things.  I am a transgender woman.

23 March 2021

Spoke Folks Picks Up And Delivers

Trash collection and waste disposal aren't the most environmentally-friendly industries.  Every aspect of it is, if you'll pardon the pun, "dirty," from the vehicles used to collect garbage to the ways in which our throways are destroyed or disposed.  

Perhaps it won't be turned into a "green" industry any time soon.  It seems that the best anyone can do is to transform one stage of the process at a time.  Justin Bondesen and Jess Cooper recognize as much.  Their efforts, says Bondesen, might be "really small" in "the scheme of things" but, he hopes, that it will show that thinking creatively about waste disposal is possible.

He and Cooper founded Spoke Folks. The Norway, Maine-based company is using bicycles instead of trucks to pick up trash.  

Bondesen admits that this change is "nothing compared to" what will need to be done "to undo global warming from depending on trucks for decades."  His and Cooper's work, they say, is part of their mission to get residents and businesses to rethink what, and how, they discard.  

They think that working from bicycles instead of trucks "is a lot more personal," in the words of Cooper.  And, getting people to think about the environment starts, for her and Bondesen, with their connections to their community.  Those ties have been reinforced by their hiring of two additional cyclists to haul trash, and by making their company a co-operative that is locally- and employee-owned.

In other words, they understand that caring for the environment is inseparable from strengthening communal bonds.  Scientists, policy makers and thinkers have been saying as much for decades, but people are more receptive to just about any message if it comes from someone with whom they perceive as one of their own.

In addition to carting garbage, Spoke Folks is expanding their philosophy of replacing gas pedals with bicycle pedals:  They are offering a delivery service.  


22 March 2021

Her Eyes Were Watching Amazon

 This story stokes my cynicism in so many ways.

A motorist struck a cyclist in Florida—the state that leads the US in the number of cyclists killed by motorists.

The driver was arrested.  I shouldn’t be so cynical, you say.  Well, I can’t help but to think the constables in Volusia County were diligent enough to apprehend the driver because someone captured the incident on video.

Oh, and the cyclist in question is Mike Chitwood—the Volusia County Sheriff.

Now, I am glad that, according to his tweets, he is recovering well from a fractured fibula and a gash caused by the car’s mirror. Having sustained similar injuries from being “doored,” I empathize with him.

But, in addition to the video and his position as Sheriff, there is another factor that led to a prompt arrest:  the driver, Paige Bergman, was shopping on Amazon on her phone—yes, while she was driving—when she struck Chitwood, who was on a 20-mile ride.

She was also charged with leaving the scene of an accident.  Unless they’re caught on video, hit-and-run drivers who hit cyclists are rarely arrested.

Apparently, Sheriff Chitwood isn’t the only person she hit: Online court records indicate that in December, she was arrested on domestic battery charges.

So, tell me:  Had she not been so flagrant, and had her victim not been a high-ranking county law enforcement officer, might she still be behind the wheel, looking at her screen instead of the road?

21 March 2021

The Jersey Off His Back

A domestique is, literally, a servant.

On a cycling team, it's his or her job to help the team leader win the race.  That often means riding for long stretches in front of the leader, making a slipstream that allows him or her to conserve energy for a breakaway or climb.  It can also include inserting themselves into a breakaway and forcing other teams to chase, or to chase another breakway that threatens their team.    

A domestique can also  bring water or food from team cars to the leader.  He or she might also be called upon to give up a wheel--or even a bicycle--if the leader's machine fails.  I've also heard of domestiques giving leaders the jerseys off their backs!

How far should a domestique go to help the team's leader win?  


20 March 2021

A "SMART" Tire?

The single most important innovation of in the history of the bicycle is the one that someone or another has been trying to render obsolete from the day it was introduced.

I am talking about the pneumatic tire, created 133 years ago.  Of all bicycle innovations, it's had, by far, the most influence beyond the world of cycling: Without it, motorized vehicles would be no faster, sturdier or more reslient than those powered by animals, and modern aircraft could not take off or land.

What makes pneumatic tires seemingly indespensible is also their flaw:  They are elastic membranes filled with air.  If that air is lost, whether through a puncture or leakage, your carbon fiber wheels ride as if they're cast in lead.  Having to fix your flat can make you late for work, school or a date (yes, I've ridden to those!) or lose time in a race.  And, fixing a tubular tire was probably the closest I've come to performing surgery--which is one reason I stopped riding tubulars a few years after my racing days ended.

So it seems that every few years, someone comes up with an "airless" tire.  About four decades ago, I had the opportunity to try a pair of Zeus LCM rim coverings.  Essentially, they were solid polyurethane donuts fitted to bicycle rims.  I did a half-century and a weeks' worth of commutes on them and felt as if I'd spent a year on a "boneshaker."  Since then, a few other tinkerers have tried their hands at making "flat-proof" tires.  Most never go beyond the prototype stage; a few are released and meet the same reception I had for the Zeus rim coverings.

The problem is that when you get rid of air, you also sacrifice buoyancy and resilience--the very qualities that made pneumatic tires such an important innovation.  I don't know whether this is an insurmountable problem, but there always seems to be someone with more technical expertise (or simply a different kind of imagination) than mine who believes it isn't.

Photo from SMART Tire Company

One such person is Calvin Young, an engineer based in (where else?) Portland.  As an intern at NASA's Glenn Research Center, he started to work on what would become the Martensite Elasticised Tubular Loading (METL) tire.  It's essentially the tire that allowed the Perserverance Mars rover to traverse the Red Planet, adapted for bicycles.  

The spacecraft tires were woven from Nitinol, an alloy of titanium and aluminum.  This makes them strong yet elastic--and flat-proof. (I would imagne they're more resilient than the Zeus LCMs I rode.)  But they don't make for very good grip on slippery surfaces.  So, one of the ways Young adapted the tires for bicycle use was to add a layer of our friend polyurethane.  As I understand, it can be re-applied, further adding to the tire's durability.

SMART (Shape Memory Alloy Radial Technology) Tire Company, for which Young now works, plans to make these tires available to consumers some time in 2022. I'd be interested in trying them.  They didn't quote a price, but I imagine it's a good bit higher than what you paid for your Continentals or Michelins or Panaracers.  


19 March 2021

The Myth Of His "Accident"

Without even trying, I came across more than twenty articles about what happened to Shawn Bradley.  But only one called the incident what it is--or, more precisely, said what it isn't.

On 20 January, he was riding his bike near his St. George, Utah home when a driver struck him from behind.  Such collisions normally don't garner more than a report or two in a local or regional news medium.  The reason why this story captured more attention can be summed up from a sentence in the statement announcing his plight:  "Doctors have advised him that his road to recovery will be both long and arduous,  perhaps an even more difficult physical challenge than playing professional basketball."

The italics in the previous sentence are mine.  While Shawn Bradley's situation is terrible--he is paralyzed, with a traumatic spinal cord injury--it's unlikely that anyone beyond whatever communities he lives in or belongs to would have heard about it. But it just happens that one of his communities is that of former National Basketball Association players.  While he wasn't a star on the level of Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan or LeBron James, his career spanned 12 years--a geologic age in the NBA--more than eight of which he spent with the Dallas Mavericks, where he earned a reputation as a shot-blocker and rebounder. 

Shawn Bradley.  Photo by Jeff Mitchell, for Reuters

But, even with all of the attention paid to Bradley's story, there is one thing that every media account I saw, save for one, got wrong.  They called the collison an "accident."

Henry Grabar, in his Slate article titled (appropriately enough) "It's Never A 'Bicycle Accident,'" corrects this error. "A child falling off his bike in the park is a bicycle accident," he writes.  "A wipeout in the Tour de France is a bicycle accident." But, he admonishes, "Getting rammed from behind by a car is not a bicycle accident." 

Safe-streets advocates have tried, for years, to convince reporters, police officials and engineers not to use the word "accident" to describe car crashes.  As Grabar points out, the use of this word implies "the carnage could not be avoided through better policy and design." The use of the word particularly egregious when, say, a cyclist is run over by a minivan driven by someone who is looking at a screen rather than the road, or who is intoxicated.  It allows the police to spin the incident as a result of a bicycle malfunction--or, worse, to imply that that the cyclist was at fault.  "The press repeats the assertion, and the myth of the bicycle accident is renewed," Grabar observes.

Since retiring from the NBA fifteen years ago, Bradley has become a dedicated and, from all accounts, very skilled cyclist.  So it doesn't seem likely that he did something stupid, careless or illegal.  And I have to wonder:  How could a driver not see a guy who's 7'6"  (232 cm) tall?

So, of everyone who reported on Shawn Bradley being struck from behind while riding his bicycle, only Henry Grabar managed to say what the incident wasn't.  Unfortunately, it will take many more folks like him to dispel the myth of the bicycle accident.

18 March 2021

A Theology Of Bike Repair For All

 In the spring of 2017, I spent two months volunteering at the Jubilee Soup Kitchen in Pittsburgh.  One day, a 70-year-old black man named Rupert showed up with a nasty bruise over his eye.  A bicycle accident because of faulty brakes, he said.

John W. Miller recounts this experience in America:  The Jesuit Review. After asking around, "I was stunned by how many people rode bicycles to come get their meals," he recalls.

In his article, he reports something I've described in other posts:  In cities like Pittsburgh and New York people who cycle by choice--whether for transportation, recreation or fitness--tend to be younger, better-educated (and whiter) and have better incomes than those who cycle out of necessity.  In fact, those in the latter category are in the lowest income categories and include the unemployed and those who receive public assistance--and, of course, use soup kitchens.

From Dreamstime

He also makes an observation I've related:  Poor cyclists are, as often as not, riding bikes in dire need of repair and maintenance. They may be riding bikes purchased from flea markets, yard sales or on the street--or inherited, or rescued from a curbside or fished out of a dumpster.  

Miller applauds organizations and initiatives that give bikes to the poor--and, in the case of programs like Recycle a Bicycle, teach people how to resurrect bikes that might have otherwise met their fate in a landfill.  But he also points out that it's necessary to keep those bike maintained so more folks don't end up like Rupert.  Even more to the point, a reliable bike is reliable transportation--to school, a training program or a job.  

Finally, since he's writing in a Jesuit magazine, Miller makes the point that everything he recommends is consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church--and the current Pope has expressed his approval of bicycles.  Given that he's expressed more genuine concern for the poor than other prelates, it's not a surprise.

17 March 2021

Nothing But Happiness Through Your Door

 Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Well, I wonder how happy it will be--for you, for me, for anybody. In a sad irony, my city--New York--and many others shut down on this day last year.  The day before last St. Pat's was the last time I set foot on campus, and some shops have yet to open.

Once again, the parade will not be held in person.  But, I hope to go for a ride later today.  This old Irish blessing captures the spirit of cycling for me:

May your troubles be less

and your blessings be more

and nothing but happiness 

come through your door.

(Illustration from Lula Bell)

P.S. I got my first dose the other night.

16 March 2021

The Unbearable Whiteness Of Cycling

When a (n-word) comes in with a nice bike, I know he didn't buy it.  I know it's a stolen bike.

The owner of a shop in my undergraduate university town made that pronouncement.  I hadn't thought about him--probably gone--and the shop--long gone--in a long time, until I wrote posts about Black and Native American cyclists being cited at much higher rates than White riders for helmet infractions.

I got to thinking about it, again, when I came across a report of a study, "Where Do We Go From Here?"  People for Bikes conducted it, and Charles T. Brown of Rutgers University's Vooorhees Transportation Center led it.  

Among its conclusions:  The increased popularity of cycling--accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic--in US cities has largely been a White phenomenon.  Focus groups conducted in ten cities reveal that, in addition to economic barriers (something I mentioned in my earlier posts), non-Whites, and Blacks in particular, cite a non-inclusive cycling culture and infrastructure.  Some participants said they saw cycling as a "white thing," in part because of images of cyclists projected, consciously or unconsciously, by the media and the cycling community itself.  "Whenever I see pictures of cyclists or anyone on a bicycle," one participant explained, "I just think it's not for me as someone who is over a size 10 and Black."  

(By the way, I am over a size 10 and probably always will be, no matter how much weight I lose!)

Pedal Possse Divas. Photo by David Swanson, for the Philadelphia Inquirer

The study's conclusions are all valid.  Our culture needs to be more inclusive, and its infrastructure more accessible.  But I also can't help but wonder whether some non-White people--young Black men in particular--are deterred because of how the police and criminal justice system treat them when they ride.  In addition to being disproportionately cited for not wearing helmets in places like Seattle, they are more likely to be ticketed for violations like riding on the sidewalk* --or simply stopped for "suspicion" if they're riding a nice bike.  

In short, as the People for Bikes study concludes, we won't see more non-White cyclists if Blacks, Native Americans and others don't see themselves in images of cycling--or sipping lattes in cycling cafes.  But I think the changes have to include not treating non-White cyclists as criminals when they ride the same bikes in the same ways as White cyclists.

Our bikes come in all sizes and colors.  (So do many cyclists' jerseys!)  Why shouldn't our images of cyclists?

*--Every cyclist I've met, or heard of, who's been cited for riding on the sidewalk in New York City is not White.

15 March 2021

Visiting The Visiting Nurses

 My late-Saturday ride brought me to the light.

No, I didn't have a religious experience.  Rather, the last dusk before Daylight Savings Time--a little more than a week before the Spring Equinox--cast a glow on this city's streets and seemed to capture the flickerings of hope so many yearn for, after a year of the pandemic.


Nurses are widely celebrated as heroes.  They deserve an entryway like the one on this building, next to the Oxford Nursing Home.  The fellow sitting in front (he offered to move; I told him "It's OK") and his friend told me that the building now serves as artists' studios and offices for arts organization.  Not surprisingly, they added, the building was a residence for the nurses and other personnel.

The street on  which it's located--South Oxford--is nestled among the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Atlantic Terminal-Barclays Center and recently-built offices.  The Visiting Nurses building is just one treasure on a street chock-full of them.  Oh, and I wasn't the only person on a bicycle.

14 March 2021

Daylight Savings Record?

Daylight Savings Time begins today.  If you're in an area where it's observed, remember to set your clock (and Garmin) ahead an hour.

Hmm...What if someone started a 24-hour challenge at midnight and had ridden, say, 35 miles by 2 am--the moment when clocks are set back an hour? Would that person still have 35 miles--with an extra hour to ride?

Maybe, at my age, I can set a record after all!


13 March 2021

Protection Or Discrimination?

Was he protecting the company's interests?  Or the would-be customer's?  

Or was he discriminating against the would-be customer?

Giant Halifax, a shop in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, refused to hand Sebastien Barsetti a bicycle he'd bought.  Barsetti made the purchase from the Giant Bicycles website and was later notified that it would be ready to pick up from Giant Halifax.

Before going to the shop, Barsetti called to ask some questions about proper adjustments.  "I told them my weight, my height," he recalls.  "Shortly after, they told me they wouldn't sell it to me because of my weight."

Sebastien Barsetti

Barsetti tips the scales at just over 300 pounds,  the rider weight limit. Riding the bike was part of his plan to get back into shape. Even though he pledged not to ride the bike until he lost some weight, owner Barry Misener backed his shop's refusal.  "You cannot ride that bike safely," he explained. He expressed concern that the bicycle's components could fail and result in serious, possibly life-threatening injury.

Finally, Misener said he'd let Barsetti take the bike only if he signed a release. "So he finally understood that the bike is not safe to ride," Misener said.  "At that point, he hung up on me."

While Misener cited safety concerns, Barsetti saw the situation differently.  "I wonder, would they weigh everybody going into the store?"  

He got a refund through Giant Group Canada.  But, he says, he plans to push forward with his active lifestyle goals.  "I'm hoping to find a bike and just commute to work," he said.

I can understand, somewhat, how he felt:  like one of many people who walked into a bike shop and felt discriminated-against because they didn't fit the shop owner's or employee's image of what a cyclist should be.  (I actually once overheard a shop salesperson telling a potential customer that she should lose weight before she started riding a bike.)  On the other hand, I also understand why Misener acted as he did:  Just about all bikes and parts can bear only a certain amount of weight.  In particular, many lightweight racing parts, such as rims and handlebars, are made for riders of 85 kilograms (185 pounds) or less.

12 March 2021

Does The Bike Business Understand Economics?

 When I was an undergraduate, I knew a few business majors.  Some started off that way; others swtiched from fields ranging from biology to fine art because, well, they saw the starting salaries for folks with business degrees.  One thing I couldn't help but to notice was that the "B" majors--at least the ones I knew--hated Economics, which was a required course.  

I could understand:  As bad as I was at math, I was worse at economics.  Math by its nature is abstract, which is part of the reason I wished I could understand it better.  On the other hand, it seemed that economics was abstract because, well, it could be, if that was how economists wanted it.  Perhaps the business majors felt the same way.

After seeing those fellow students, it really came as no surprise, some years later, when some pundit--I forget whom--declared, "Most business people don't know a damned thing about economics, and most economists don't have a clue about business."  The first part of that statement, I think, could apply to six of the seven US Presidents who were businessmen before they ran for office.  (The exception, Harry Truman, failed at business but is generally regarded as a successful President, his decision to drop atom bombs on Japan notwithstanding.)  They showed the world that the United States (or any other nation, for that matter) can't be run as a business in part because it's an economy.  

One of those Presidents is, of course, Donald Trump. His tax cuts benefited people who didn't need them, and some would argue that they would have led to economic woes even if COVID-19 hadn't brought so much enterprise to a standstill.  

Another of Trump's economic policies that probably exacerbated the problems wrought by the pandemic were the tariffs he imposed.  He, like Herbert Hoover (one of the other businessmen who occupied the White House) passed them in the belief that making foreign goods more expensive would lead to more production in the US and "bring back American jobs."  That didn't happen in either case. Nearly every economist and historian now says that the import taxes passed under Hoover’s watch (known as the Smoot-Harley Tariffs) helped to tip the stock market crash of 1929 into a full-blown depression just as, I believe, Trump's tariffs will be see as an accelerant of the current economic crisis.

What Trump didn't seem to understand is that no matter what economic theories you follow, simply making steel from China or India more expensive isn't going to cause new mills to appear, or for shuttered plants to re-open or abandoned or demolished factories to be re-built in Pittsburgh or Youngstown or Gary or Lackawana--or anywhere else in this country.  Or, to put it in more technical terms, cutting off foreign supply does not lead to an increase in domestic capacity.

Photo by An Rong Xu, for the New York Times

I mention all of this because two leaders of the bike industry are showing that they are as ignorant of economics as Trump or Hoover.  At the Taipei Cycle Online Expo, Bob Margevicius said, "There's a gold mine today in the bike industry, but you have to invest." Component makers, according to Specialized Bicycles' Executive Vice-President, are "very reluctant to invest in additional capacity."

His belief was echoed by Ton Anbeek, the CEO of Accell Group, which owns, among other brands, Batavus, Koga, Lapierre and Raleigh.  Like Margevicius, he blamed the current shortage of bikes, parts and accessories on manufacturers' unwillingness to make more of them.  "To meet the growing demand in the coming years, we need component suppliers to invest in extra capacity to produce more critical components and parts," he urged.

While both of them are right, at least in one sense--that more products won't be available if more of them aren't made--they are missing a point:  Simply investing money isn't going to lead to more manufacturing capacity overnight, especially if new facilities need to be built.  Their exhortations will no more bring more bikes, helmets, tires or locks to bike shops or online retailers than Trump's tariffs will cause steel to be made in the US.  That might be the extent of my understanding of economics, but according to the old pundit, it's still more than what some businessmen seem to know!

11 March 2021

Hopeful In Connecticut

The Spring equinox is less than two weeks away.  I can see that days are growing longer: Today I started a ride to Greenwich, Connecticut--140 kilometers round trip--and, even with a half-hour lunch stop in Greenwich, managed to get home before dark.

Although the trees are still bare in the Veterans' Memorial, I saw some green shoots in the ground.  And I saw another sign of the day's mood in front of Town Hall:

Artist Charlie Hewit created this work to resemble the 1950s and 1960s highway road signs that pointed to restaurants, diners, hotels and other businesses.  Their bright colors and bulbs were meant to beckon potential customers, much as Hewit's sign is, perhaps, a call to better days ahead.

A call--and a yearning.  People walking with their dogs, and each other, shed their literal as metaphorical coats; their tired, aching psyches seemed to be reaching for hope just as those green shoots turn toward the fleeting light and warmth of a spring almost begun, their limbs thrusting through ashes and bones turned to mud by melting snow.

A new season beckons on the horizon, much as the sunset served as a call, not only to finish this day's ride, but toward more rides, more days, ahead.

10 March 2021

A Flock Without Masks

Yesterday I took another ride to Point Lookout.  By mid-afternoon, the temperature had reached 15C (60F), in contrast to the freezing-level temperatures compounded by wind I experienced last Thursday. Also, the day was bright and sunny, so I wasn't surprised that half the world, it seemed, was out and about.

When birds congregate like that, I wonder what they're up to.  Are they just "hanging out?" Or is there some other purpose?  Maybe they'd just been enjoying lunch together:  After all, that beach seems to be one of their prime feeding spots.  And to think that they eat stuff for which humans pay real money in restaurants!

Whatever their motives, I can't say I blame them, even if they weren't cooped up, the way people have been.

Speaking of humans:  I noticed an interesting contrast in their behaviors.   I rode down the Rockaway Boardwalk, as I usually do on my way to (and sometimes back) from Point Lookout.  I also pedaled along Long Beach's boardwalk, which I sometimes do.  On the Rockaway Boardwalk, which was nearly empty last week, I'd say that I saw at least a couple hundred people on the seven kilometers or so from the Veterans' Memorial Bridge to the Beach 9th Street.  Most of them were wearing masks and even those who seemed to be family or friends were keeping the prescribed social distance (6 feet).  On the other hand, on the three-kilometer stretch in Long Beach, I saw about as many people, but only two other people--both of them cyclists--wore masks.  And I saw some furrowed brows and stares aimed in my direction.

The one explanation I can think of for the difference is demography:  The Rockaway crowd is more diverse and, it seems, more accustomed to cyclists. I don't think I saw a single nonwhite person (not even an Asian!) in Long Beach, which I suppose makes sense given that it's not as diverse as Rockaway Beach, Arverne or Far Rockaway, the Queens communities through which I pedaled on the boardwalk.  Given that disparity, another is not surprising:  the Long Beach crowd is definitely more middle- to upper middle-class and, I am sure, included at least a few of the New York City and Nassau County detectives who live there.

Perhaps I shouldn't be critical of Long Beach's seeming homogeneity--after all, the birds in the photo all look alike.  Then again, the birds weren't wearing masks, not out of ignorance or as a political statement (in this case, they're the same thing), but because, well, that's just not something birds do!

09 March 2021

His Research Confirms It

Two weeks ago, I wrote "Are Helmets An Issue of Racial and Economic Justice?"  In it, I described a perhaps-unintentional consequence of laws mandating helmets:  Black, Hispanic and Native American cyclists are far more likely to be ticketed for infractions than White or Asian cyclists.  That begs the question of whether non-white or -Asian cyclists are less likely to wear helmets and of why some don't wear them.

One answer to the latter question is economics:  Nonwhite cyclists are more likely to be poor, or even homeless, and riding bikes they bought for very little, inherited or rescued from a dumpster.  People don't buy a helmet if they can't, or can just barely, afford a bike.

Cyclist pedals by the Suzzallo Library (Photo by Nicole Pasia)

But the question of whether some groups of people are less compliant than others is still open.  Ethan C. Campbell might have an answer--or, at least a reason for a non-answer.

He is a doctoral student at the University of Washington and a member of advocacy group Central Seattle Greenways.  As part of his research, he has been working on an infractions analysis of tickets issued to Seattle cyclists from 2003 to 2020.  So far, he's learned that Black cyclists were cited for helmet-related infractions at 3.8 times the rate of White cyclists.  For Native American and Alaska Native cyclists, that rate is 2.2 times.  On the other hand, Asian and Pacific Islander cyclists were cited at only 10 percent of White cyclists.  

(I could find no mention of Hispanic cyclists.  Perhaps they are not as statistically significant as they are in cities like New York.  From what I've heard and read, Native Americans and Alaska Natives are a larger percentage of the population than they are in other US cities.)

To be fair, the disparities are more egregious in other cities:  In Washington, DC, for example, Black cyclists were almost ten times as likely to be stopped as White cyclists, while that ratio in Oakland, CA is five times.  

While Campbell's findings are important, he admits there are two significant problems in compiling and analyzing them.  First of all, it's difficult, without someone sitting on a corner with a counter, to gauge each demographic group's share of bike trips in Seattle.  (And, I might add, some people's racial and ethnic heritage is not easily idenitifiable.)  For another, says Campbell, "we don't know the demographic of who wears a helmet."  In other words, does the fact that certain groups of people are cited for violating a law actually mean that they are more likely to violate said law.

(Memories of my youth--which, I admit might be a bit hazy (ha, ha) give me an answer of "NO!":  While the white students I knew in college were more likely to smoke weed, black "townies" were more likely to be busted for it!)

Even with those questions, Campbell's research confirms that if you're Black or Native American or Alaska Native in the Seattle area, you're more likely to get a ticket for not wearing a helmet.  That reflects realities in other parts of the US, some of which I've witnessed:  Almost everyone who's cited for riding on a sidewalk in New York City is non-White or -Asian. 

And, of course, Black, Hispanic, Native American and Alaska Natives are less able to pay for the tickets they receive--which leads to all sorts of other inequalities.

08 March 2021

Audrey McElmury Made Them Possible

Today is International Women's Day.

To mark the occasion, I am going to talk about Audrey McElmury.

In one of my early posts, I wrote about Nancy Burghart. She won eight US National Championships during the 1960s. That brought her international press attention in the days before 24-hour news cycles and when the US was seen as, at best, a cycling backwater by the sports' powers in Europe and Japan.

I mention Burghart here because you might say that Audrey McElmury picked up where Burghart left off--and carried the torch to the great generation of American female cyclists that included "Miji" Reoch, Sue Novara, Sheila Young, Connie Carpenter and Rebecca Twigg.

In 1969, the year that Burghart won her final national championship, McElmury rode the World Championships in Brno, Czechoslavakia (now the Czeh Republic).  In the previous year's World Championships, held in Rome, she finished fifth in a road race that ended in a sprint.  Around the same time, the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslavakia to suppress the "Prague Spring."  The 1969 World Championships would run on the anniversary of the day the tanks barreled down the streets of the Czech capital.

That day, McElmury rode both the road and track races.  She came in seventh in the 3000-meter pursuit race.  Later that day, she rode the 62-kilometer road race on her road bike, made by Johnny Berry in Manchester, UK.  She would recall the race this way:

The pavement was somewhat chewed up from the tank treads.  The course was one that suited my riding: I was good in the hills* and time-trialed well.m On about the third lap, it started pouring buckets.  On the fourth lap, I got away on the hill by about 15 seconds, but I fell down while putting on the brakes in a corner on the descent.  The pack caught me as I got up.  The rain was chilly enough that I didn't feel the full effect of my bruised hip, and the rain exaggerated the amount of blood from a cut on my elbow.  I chased the pack with an ambulance following me to see if I was all right.

Being the tough customer she was, McElmury gained on the rest of the pack during the last lap and pulled ahead on the last hill.  She finished that race one minute and ten seconds ahead of the runner-up, Bernadette Swinnerton of the UK.

Audrey McElmury on the podium in Czechoslavakia, 1969.

McElmury's victory gave her the gold medal--and World Championship--for the road race.  In winning, she became the first American World Champion in cycling since Frank Kramer took the professional sprint race in 1912--31 years before McElmury was born.  In fact, it was the first road racing world championship victory, ever, by any American of any gender.  

To say that her triumph was unexpected was an understatement.  The awards ceremony had to be delayed by half an hour as officials searched for a recording of the Star Spangled Banner to play. She returned home to the same indifference she, and other cyclists, had previously met in the US.   A reporter, who apparently knew nothing about cycling, wanted to know more about the anniversary of the Russian invasion than her championship.

That indifference toward cyclists was compounded by the fact that she was a woman in a male-dominated sport.  She had to pay all of her own expenses--about $10,000--to compete in Brno.  The American cycling federation claimed that it didn't have enough money to pay for her, or the other two women accompanied her, because the dues they paid amounted to so little.  

Audrey McElmury's Johnny Berry bike.

On the other hand, her victory was celebrated in Europe.  For one thing, there was a culture of cycling and a fanbase for racing that simply didn't exist in the US at that time, so Europeans appreciated her determination, courage and skill.  And the Czechs, after their experiences, cheered for Americans in the races and were more than enthusiastic about McElmury.  They booed the Russians who won other events.  

She would be recruited by the Italian team, for whom she would ride and later coach.  Upon returning to the US, she still couldn't get her expenses covered, even though she showed she could hold her own with the top American men in the criterium circuit. 

After a 1974 crash, McElmury retired from racing and, with her husband Michael Levonas, coahed cyclists and tri-athletes in Southern California before working in hotel and food service management in the western US.  She died in Bozeman, Montana on 26 March 2013, at age 70.  In 1989, she was enshrined in the United States Biycling Hall of Fame.

So, for International Women's Day, I have taken the opportunity to celebrate Audrey McElmury, who helped to usher in the generation of Americans who would dominate the world of women's bicycle racing--and, I would argue, paved the way for American men like Greg LeMond, who would garner far more attention--and money.

*-Having cycled in and around Prague, I can attest that there are hills in that part of the world !