30 April 2021

Worth Its Weight In...

A few days ago, someone paid $5.2 million for a LeBron James trading card from his rookie year.  While I cannot understand paying that much money for a piece of cardboard, I am not surprised:  Basketball, more than any other team sport, focuses attention on individual stars.  And Le Bron James is arguably the brightest of the 21st Century, much as Michael Jordan, "Magic" Johnson and Julius "Dr. J" Erving were the luminaries of their times.

Of course, if someone can afford to spend that much money on a card, well, who am I to tell them they shouldn't?  I suppose that if I had that much money, I probably would--after I helped people I want to help--develop some collection or another.  And some people would wonder why in the world I was collecting whatever it was I was collecting.

If I were collecting bicycles...hmm...would I want classics?   Bikes from a particular country or region?  Genre?  Color?  Or would I concentrate on really obscure bikes, or ones that were not meant to be ridden?

In that last category might be this machine:

Photo by Lisa Powell, for the Springfield News-Sun

The color on the frame didn't come from a Krylon rattle-can. (Aside:  Graffiti artists don't like Krylon. Don't ask how I know that!)  In fact, it didn't come from any can or brush.  It is actual gold.  

To be exact, it's 14 karat gold plating on a chromed frame.  Very few bikes are chromed these days because it's expensive and some jurisdictions have made it all but impossible to do because of its environmental impact.  Also, if not done properly, it's worse than leaving the metal bare.

Even fewer bikes have ever been plated with gold.  For a time, some Campagnolo parts were available with gold plating; a few bike makers made special-edition machines--sometimes one-offs--with the shiny yellow stuff.  In 1972-73, Lambert of England offered its bike built from "aircraft tubing" with gold plating--for $259.95.  Soon afterward, the price of gold skyrocketed and Lambert discontinued those bikes--which, I am sure, are collector's items.

Most other gold-plated bikes were from makers at the very top end of the food chain.  Note that I said "most":  The bike in the photo is not anywhere near that level.

It is, in fact, a Huffy--the millionth bike produced by the company, on 13 May 1947.

The bike is on display in the Dayton Cyclery Building its namesake city's Carillon Park.  Other bikes in the museum pay homage to Miami Valley's history as a bicycle-making center.  Fabricators included a couple of young men who would parlay their knowledge and skills into another invention that would change the world.

Their names were Orville and Wilbur.  They used, not only the expertise in machinery they gleaned from building and repairing bikes, but what they learned about aerodynamics from different bike designs and riding positions. 

Hmm...I wonder what the Wright Brothers thought about Huffy bikes.  From what I've read, Huffy--known in those days as Huffman--bikes were actually respectable.

29 April 2021

Another Fine Afternoon RIde

If I took a fine Spring ride the other day, yesterday's spin to Point Lookout would be my first summer ride of the year, sort of.

On Tuesday I began just after noon and got home from Connecticut in time for dinner.  The day began cloudy and chilly but sunlight--and warmth--broke through.  Yesterday, I began a bit before noon and rode through an afternoon when clear skies and bright sun brought the temperature up to 83F (28C), at least in the central parts of the city.

Most of my rides to Point Lookout, including the one I took yesterday, include crossing the Veterans Memorial Bridge. It spans Jamaica Bay and leads to the Rockaway Beach, a string of land barely a kilometer wide that separates the bay from the Atlantic Ocean. 

At this time of year, "mainland" Queens and Manhattan might bask in summery air, if for a day.  But the waters are just emerging from winter:  The ocean temperature at Rockaway Beach was 9C, or 48F, yesterday. The water temperature of Jamaica Bay probably wasn't much higher. That meant the air temperature dropped by about 15 degrees F, or seemed to, when I crossed the bridge and another couple of degrees when I reached the boardwalk.

Not that I minded.  The sun shone so brightly and other cyclists and strollers seemed to be in a good mood.  Also, the wind blew out of the northwest:  in my face for most of the way out, and at my back for most of the way back.

Today bouts of showers are punctuating a cloudy but still warm day.  I might try to sneak in a quick ride between spritzes.  But I'm happy that, for two days in a row, I managed to get in what would normally be, at this time of year, day rides in the space of an afternoon.

28 April 2021

Colors Of An Afternoon Ride

 Yesterday I took advantage of the lengthening stretches of daylight:  I took another noon-to-dinner ride that didn't require the lights I brought with me.

As I did last Tuesday, I pedaled to Connecticut and back.  My ride started cloudy and chilly just before noon.  But, by the time I reached Greenwich, clouds opened and sunlight filtered through.  Along the way, cherry blossom, wisteria and lilac flowers seemed to burst with more color with every moment.  

Then there were the tulips on the Greenwich Common Memorial.

 They are in full bloom now.  So, of course, they are bursting with color.  This purple one isn't an "outsider" or as lonely as William Wordsworth's cloud:   Its hue, like the reds and yellows behind it,  seem to be fuller, and more intense, after a couple of hours of riding

Or were my perceptions influenced by the chocolate (Ghirardelli 92 percent) I munched?  I can't help but to believe that it--or Lindt's or, of course, craft dark chocolates--are drugs Dr. Hofmann himself would have envied!

27 April 2021

What (And Who) Is This Law For, Anyway?

We shouldn't make a law we're not willing to use guns to enforce.

So opined Adam Sullivan of The Gazette, a newspaper and online publication based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

He voiced this conclusion in a discussion of bicycle licensing laws.  Though he was dealing mainly with such regulations in Iowa, what brought him into the discussion was the viral video of Perth Amboy, New Jersey police officers stopping a group of kids who were popping wheelies while weaving in and out of traffic.  While one officer lectured the kids about bicycle safety, the cops used the boys' lack of bicycle licenses as a pretext for confiscating their bicycles and taking one boy--who is, ahem, African-American--into custody.

Sullivan called this--and what he deemed "outdated" bicycle licensing laws--government overreach, if not in so few words.  He makes the legitimate point that many Iowa cities once had mandatory bicycle licensing laws, and the system mainly served two purposes:  to give the police a chance to interact and "make nice" with kids and other community members when they registered their bikes, and to aid in the recovery and return of lost and stolen bicycles.

While those might be legitimate purposes, bicycle licensing, which is now mainly voluntary, no longer serves them.  Few, if any, stolen or lost bikes are returned to their original owners, in part because police departments, especially in larger cities and towns, don't place bike theft or loss high on their list of priorities.  Also, most bicycle licensing systems began during the 1950s and 1960s, when most Americans still thought, "bikes are for kids."  Today, many more bikes are ridden by--and the stolen from--adults.  So, there is less reason for cops to use bike-safety classes to build rapport with kids, or the larger community.

Also, people's attitudes toward cops, especially in cities, are very different, to say the least, from what they were a couple of generations ago.  So the bike-safety and community efforts would be seen as condescending by some and overreach, as Sullivan says, by others.

While Sullivan frames his argument against bike licensing laws--or any other regulations that can't be, or aren't being, enforced--in libertarian terms, I think his editorial also implies another question:  What, exactly is/are the purpose(s) of bicycle licensing regulations?  If almost no stolen or otherwise missing bikes, with or without tags, are returned to their owners, and meaningful efforts toward improving bicycling safety aren't made by police officers or others who understand cycling (or, better yet, are actually regular cyclists), what good is it to require tags?

Oh, and there is the issue of cost:  Perth Amboy bike licenses cost 50 cents. (How long ago was their law enacted?)  As Sullivan points out, most Iowa bike licenses cost around five dollars.  I have to wonder just how much money is actually collected, and how much it actually helps to make cycling safer.  While I think low-income people shouldn't have to pay for licenses, I also believe that those who can afford to pay more, should, if bicycle licensing programs are to serve any real purpose.

On the whole, I am in agreement with Sullivan on his main point:  Any law that isn't going to be enforced--or, worse, that will be enforced selectively, as it was in Perth Amboy-- shouldn't be on the books.  Ditto for any law that isn't used for the overall public good--or no longer has, or never had, a real purpose-- as is too often the case with laws related to bicycles and bicycling.


26 April 2021

Balancing Their Needs

 A week ago, I wrote about the measure l'Assemblee Nationale approved.  It would give a 2500 Euro (almost 3000 USD) grant for an electric bicycle to anyone who turns in an old, highy-polluting car, which would be used for scrap.  

Although I dream, to this day, of people giving up, not only two wheels for four, but also petrol power for muscle juice, I understand why some people can't or won't ride bicycles that require their own input in order to move.  Some are elderly and frail; others have illnesses and disabilities--including balance issues.

Of course, that last problem is also a reason why someone wouldn't ride an electric or otherwise-assisted bicycle.  Jiaming Xiong and his colleagues at China's Beijing University recognized as much.  So, they created what they describe as a self-balancing electric bicycle.

What look like training wheels are attached to the rear stay.  It also looks like they're mounted just above ground level so that one of them touches when the bike wobbles, or is turned.

More important, and revolutionary, though are the gyroscopic sensors. They detect when the bike starts to lean and trigger it to steer into the direction of the potential fall in order to stabilize the bike.  

Another benefit I can see is that it's less cumbersome than an adult tricycle. (Are there electric or motorized adult trikes?)  It would take up less space and, perhaps most important, would probably be more maneuverable and visible in traffic.

If there are positive side-effects to the pandemic, one of them just might be efforts to make bicycling, in whatever form, more inclusive and practical for more people.  This self-balancing electric bike, like the French scheme, are two examples of that.

25 April 2021

Who And What Can It Carry?

Two questions for today:

1.  What do you carry on your bicycle?

2.  How many people can, or should, ride it at one time?


24 April 2021

Seeing Myself, Seeing Themselves In Alex

 Last month, I wrote two posts--"The Unbearable Whiteness of Cycling" and "Our Bodies, Our Bikes"--in which I describe how some people are discouraged from bicycling because they don't see themselves represented in images of cycling and cyclists.  Too often, ads and other media show only certain types of people astride bikes.  Usually, they are young and Caucasian--and thin, especially if they are female.  By implication, the folks depicted in those images are, or seem to be, middle-to-upper class professionals or living on trust funds.

And they all seem to fit cultural notions of gender and sexuality as well as they fit the "lifestyle" apparel they wear.  The women might be fit, even somewhat muscular, but they always fit into  standards of femininity and attractiveness of their milieu.  The men likewise fit into their society's ideas of masculinity.  Nowhere does one find any hit of gender non-conformity or "queerness."

In those posts, I also mentioned that I nearly gave up cycling when I started my gender-affirmation process because while I saw dudes on bikes who looked something like the guy named Nick I was--and images of men like that--I didn't see many of middle-aged women and, although I had mental images of the woman I wanted to be, I really had no idea of what I'd actually become, other than a woman named Justine, and whether she would be anything like any of the few women I saw on bikes.  

That, after I spent much of my life cycling--and some of my youth participating in other sports--in an attempt to fit into those notions of masculinity (and heterosexuality) represented, not only in bike-related ads and art, but in the general culture.  And, I must say that I fit in, at least somewhat:  I got respect in my circles of bike riders and other athletes as well as from teachers and professors.  Sometimes I was teased for not bragging about sexual conquests of girls or women, but the taunts could be taken only so far when the taunters and teasers saw me beside a woman.

Now, I've been talking about seeing myself, or one's self in images of cycling and cyclists.  While I am referring to visual and graphic ones, I am not referring only to them:  I know how much all of us--gay, straight, trans, cis, male, female, White, Black, Asian, Hispanic, Pacific/Alaskan Native, rich, poor, or whatever--need to hear our stories echoed, or at least paralleled, in the ones told in books, magazines and newspapers, or on websites, radio, television, film or podcasts.

Alex Showerman in the White Mountains of New Hampshire

That is why I had a brief catharsis in reading about Alex Showerman.  As much as she excelled as a cyclist, as well as in other sports and in school,  "I was not experiencing the world as I wanted to, and the world didn't see me as I wanted to be seen."  This sense of isolation and alienation led to depression, which she tried to numb with alcohol.

In 2015, she began seeing a gender therapist to make sense of who she is.  Last July,  on a bike trip in New Hampshire with two of her closest friends, she "came out" for the first time.  She never felt so free, she said:  She finally could ride just for the love of riding rather than to "outrun her shadows," as a Bicycling article put it, or to pound herself into maleness, as I tried to do.

I am happy that she has begun to live as her true self a decade and a half earlier in her life than I did in mine--and that she realizes that life includes cycling.  She might become the cyclist in an image in which some young trans girl or boy--or other gender or sexual non-conformist--sees him-, her- or them-self for the first time.

23 April 2021

Cycling While Black, I Mean, Without A License

You've probably seen them:  groups of kids, almost always boys, weaving their bikes in and out of traffic lanes, veering across center lines and riding as close as they can to oncoming cars.  Sometimes, they're popping wheelies as they're zigging and zagging along the pavement.

When I see such groups, if I can catch the gaze of one of their members, I might yell, "Be careful, OK" or simply give them what I believe is a concerned but nonjudgmental look.  Kids need to be kids and, truth be told, I did more than a few stupid and dangerous things.  But I want them to be able to look back and reflect on, well, the stupid and dangerous things they got away with doing.

If cops are going to deal with them, they should stop to the kids and talk to them.  They might continue what they were doing as soon as the cops are out of sight, but I think the cops should at least make them think.  Ticketing--or, worse, arresting--them on bogus charges probably will accomplish nothing more than to make them more distrustful of authority, and defiant, than they already are.

Especially if the charge is one that has never been levied in the history of the kids' community.  

That is what happened last week in Perth Amboy, New Jersey--a city connected to Staten Island, New York by the Outerbridge Crossing.  I occasionally ride through it as I'm pedaling to other parts of New Jersey and I rode in and through it fairly often when I was a student at Rutgers.

Then, the majority of Perth Amboy residents were poor or working-class Hispanics, and there was a sizable Black community.  In that sense, it hasn't changed, save for which Hispanic and Black people live there.  Also not changed is the relationship between the people and the ones who police them.

An already high tension level has ratcheted up during the past year, in the wake of George Floyd's murder and other crimes and misdeeds by police officers against non-white people.  Things could have reached a breaking point--and might, still--after videos surfaced of the police confiscating the bikes and handcuffing one of the boys--who happens to be African American.

The charge--riding while black, I mean, without a bicycle license. I'd love to know when was the last time, before last week, that law was enforced.


22 April 2021

Afternoon Nourishment

Over the past week or two, clouds have blanketed, and rain has fallen on, this part of the world more often than the sun has shone.  But the days have grown noticeably longer:  Every day, it seems, the sun sets a few minutes later.

That means I can start early in the afternoon and still get a decent ride in.  On Monday, I rambled along local streets and roads to the North Shore and central Queens to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.  

The cherry blossoms were, well, not quite blossoms, not yet.  But the buds were visibly more open than they were over the weekend: open enough that I could envision the pink canopy the grove will soon provide.

I deliberately used the word "provide" because such sensual spectacles are sustenance for me:  They sustain me on my journey and the journey.

The following day, I didn't see cherry blossoms after I pedaled a few miles from my apartment.  I pedaled north and east, across the RFK Bridge into the Bronx and Westchester--into Connecticut.  I realize now that the difference in latitude, however slight, may have been enough to make a difference in the blooms:  Festivals in Washington, DC and much of Japan happen early in April (or even late March) because their trees, at a more southerly latitude, are exposed to the necessary sunlight, and therefore bloom, earlier.

I did, however, enjoy a snack or late light lunch*, depending on how you look at it, by a bed of tulips:

The soldiers, sailors and flyers commemorated at the Greenwich Memorial aren't buried there. Throughout my life, as I've become increasingly anti-war, I have become more pro-veteran.  Maybe I still have the hope that one day, whether or not it happens during my lifetime, no one else will have to do what they did--and that beauty can flourish in the ruins.

All right, enough faux-profound commentary.  It was great to start after noon and finish a 145 kilometer ride well before dark--and to chow down on some Italian American soul food--baked ziti and salad--after feeding my apartment mate.**

*--A quarter of a whole wheat baguette with Brad's peanut butter and Bonne Maman preserves--cherry on half, wild blueberry on the other half.

**--I always feed Marlee before I feed myself.  I got into the habit of feeding my cat(s) first years ago, with my first feline companion.


21 April 2021

Debris Causes Fatal Bike Crash

One of the least-acknowledged hazards to cyclists is debris.

Once, I flatted when I ran over a metal strip used to bind bundles of lumber or bricks together for shipping to construction sites.  Work crews were leaving them on sidewalks and in streets until the city cracked down on them.  My tire was punctured near Tompkins Square Park; I fixed it in part because I wasn't takin' no stinkin' subway home when I could pedal.  Also, I might've been too poor to take the train!

I can joke about it now, but I'd heard of cyclists who suffered more serious accidents, resulting in serious injuries, as a result of running over those straps.  I've also heard of riders who crashed as a result of other kinds of debris or from sharp bumps that result from cement dripping from trucks and drying.  

As a result of my experiences, and of the stories I've heard, I occasionally clean up the section of bike lane that runs by my apartment, and pick up potentially-hazardous objects I find.  I like to think I'm helping to make conditions safer, and to prevent an accident.

Bill Woodard, about to embark on his last bike ride, 13 April 2021.  

Like the one that befell Bill Woodard in St. George, Utah.  Shortly before 11 am last Tuesday, responders were dispatched to Woodard, who lay on the side of Route 7.  He'd been riding with longtime friend and riding partner Gordon MacFarlane when he rode over a piece of metal that lodged into the spokes of his front wheel.  

The object that caused the crash.

Apparently, MacFarlane didn't hear it and assumed his friend was rolling behind him until a vehicle pulled up alongside him. Its driver yelled to him that a cyclist was lying on the side of the road.  He turned around and headed back to find ambulance crew members performing CPR on Woodard.

They--and MacFarlane--at first assumed that Woodard, who was 75 years old, suffered a heart attack or other medical issue.  But, it seems that anything they'd done would've been to no avail:  His neck was broken and he incurred serious head trauma.  Since Woodard never regained consciousness after falling, he couldn't tell anyone what happened, and the cause of his accident wasn't surmised until the object that lodged in his spokes was found.  

Kevin Kitchen, a spokesman for the Utah Department of Transportation, confirmed that debris is a "serious problem" in area roads and "much of the debris" the maintenance force finds "appears to have come from loads consisting of construction materials."

There is another little-acknowledged problem--much of the debris that is hazardous to cyclists, and to the general public, is a result of construction, especially in places like southern Utah that are experiencing construction booms. 

20 April 2021

420 On 419

 Today is Cannabis Day.  According to at least one story, this date was chosen because "420" is police parlance for "pot smoking in progress." (With weed becoming legal in many state, this will become an interesting bit of history.)  Another account says that it this date comes from Bob Dylan's "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35":  Multiply those numbers and you get 420.  Ohh-kaay.  Some have also tied it to the fact that it's Adolf Hitler's birthday, though what he has to do with it is beyond me.

The most plausible explanation I've found is that it started with a group of Marin County high-schoolers who met at 4:20 in the afternoon on this date (or some fine day) in 1971 to "toke."  If that's true, today would mark the 50th anniversary of that historic encounter.

I have to wonder whether this "holiday" will grow or decline in importance now that "weed" is being legalized or decriminalized in one jurisdiction after another.  

One reason I mention 420, though, is its possible connection to another "chemical" holiday--one that is connected to a bicycle ride and about which I was remiss in not mentioning!

On 19 April 1943, Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann, often called the father of psychedelic medicine, took (dropped) lysergic acid diethylamide--at 4:20 pm--and went for a bike ride.  This might be the reason why the experiences--which, for some, resemble an almost-cinematic evolution of sensual stimuli-- that ensue from dropping acid are called a "trip."

From Double Blind

Believe it or not, it didn't become illegal to possess LSD in the United States until 24 October 1968.  But 19 April didn't become a holiday, if an unofficial one, until 1985, so it couldn't be called "Acid Day" without attracting the attention of authorities. You're a lot more likely to get busted for dropping than for toking:  For the latter, the gendarmes, depending on where and what race you are, might look the other way.  Thus did 19 April become World Bicycle Day.

As for Hofmann himself:  He described his experiences in rather vivid detail.  And he lived to be 102.  Maybe it had something to do with his bike-riding.

19 April 2021

Dragons, Rescues And Purple Tulips

An early spring weekend of riding turned out to be a slalom:  I wove my way between bouts of rain and threats of rain, and among momentoes to death and loss and life's renewal.

First, to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, the home of the Unisphere.  If you haven't been there, you saw it in "Men In Black."  I rode a route that took me through the park because I wanted to see the cherry blossoms.  The ceremony the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens holds was canceled this year, as it was last year.  It's still a great place to see the blooms because of the walks and paths lined with the trees, and the variety of cherry blossoms grown at the Gardens.  But those of us in the know will tell you that if you want to walk through a pink canopy without the throngs of selfie-takers, there's no better place in this city than FM-CP.

I think I might've been a bit early--or the trees might be blooming a bit later than they did last year:  The buds, lovely as they are, do not burst with color in the same way.  Like all buds, however, they are a visual reminder of hope and the future.  So, I can look forward to going back in a few days--I hope.

I did, however, see "Leo."

During the past few years, an inordinately high number of trees have toppled in this city's parks and on its streets.  Part of the reason is that once-in-a-century storms are striking every ten, five or even fewer years.  Another, as a park ranger told me, is that many trees are old and have been decaying from within for years.  

So, contrary to a rumor I may have just started, there isn't a dragon named Leo who knocks the trees down.  Maybe he's kept at bay by coolers of--Gatorade?  beer?--left for him!

My riding took me into Manhattan, the whole length of the island and beyond.  At its base, Battery Park--where you get the ferries to the Statue of Liberty and Staten Island--there's a memorial to members of the Merchant Marine who were wounded or killed in World War II.

According to the inscription, the sculptor was inspired by a photo.  I don't doubt it, but if said sculptor could also have claimed inspiration from something else:

I mean, can you imagine what the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel would look like had someone besides Pope Julius commissioned--or Michelangelo (one of my artistic heroes) painted it.  

(Fun fact: Michelangelo didn't want to do the ceiling.  He was at work on other projects and insisted he was primarily a sculptor rather than a painter.  During the course of working on it, he wrote poems, tinged with sarcasm, about his displeasure at working on the fresco.)

Another irreverent thought occurs to me:  Both Michelangelo's fresco and the sea sculpture can be seen as Rorsach tests of a sort:  When you see one hand reaching out to another, do you think the stronger one should grasp the other and pull the other up?  Or do you think the person being to whom the hand is being extended should learn to fend for himself?  Will the guy in the water start to swim and, if he doesn't, does he deserve help?  

At one time such a test would have classified me one way, and now it would reveal me in a different way.  All I'll say is that my days of writing editorials for libertarian publications are long past!

Anyway, near the monument is a cafe for tourists.  I must say that I was impressed with the garden around it:

With a setting like that, the cafe could serve sludge from the water and people would enjoy it!  Me, I enjoyed my weekend of riding, even if it wasn't high-mileage.

18 April 2021

The Real Reason "Safeties" Won Out?

 Let me tell you what I think of bicycling.  It has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance.  I rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel...the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.

Those words were uttered by Susan B. Anthony.  It's no coincidence, I think, that the women's suffrage moment gained momentum during America's first "Bike Boom," in the 1890s and early 1900s.  Both developments followed the development of the "safety bicycle," with two wheels of equal or nearly-equal size and the rear propelled by a chain-and-sprocket drive.

OK, I'll try to say this without sounding sexist.  I think that the safety bicycle encouraged women to take up riding for two reasons.  One is that is that it's easier to ride a "safety" in the clothes women wore in those days. (I'm not sure how they could mount 60-inch wheels in hoopskirts.)  The other is that women are, on average, smaller than men and would--even if they were wearing lycra tights (which, of course, weren't available at the time) thus have more difficulty in getting aboard a high-wheeler.  

Plus, "safeties" just make more sense--like letting people vote, regardless of their gender.


17 April 2021

From The Voiture A Petrol To La Velo Electrique

Over the past couple of decades, the Dutch and Danes have gotten things mostly right when it comes to everyday cycling.  Note that I said "mostly":  As I noted a few days ago, the author of "Bicycle Dutch" encountered a newly-constructed bicycle viaduct that, as it turns out, isn't very practical--and, possibly, not very safe--for cyclists. 

Still, the Netherlands, like Denmark, does better than most countries in making the bicycle a practical transportation alternative.  So does France. While the French aren't yet on par with their northern neighbors, cycling infrastructure and regulations are much better thought-out than what we have in the US or other countries.

And French planners are dealing with a reality that I, in my youthful arrogance, would not acknowledge until recently:  Not everyone will forsake four wheels for two, or one pedal for two--or, more important, petrol for muscle.

Some, of course, just don't want to exert themselves physically.  But others, particularly those who are elderly or have disabilites (or whose bodies are giving out on them for other reasons), can't.   So how do you get them to give up their cars--which tend to be older and less fuel-efficient because, well, such people also tend to be poorer than those who can afford a Prius or Tesla.

Acting on that realization, l'Assemblee Nationale--France's equivalent to the US House of Representatives or the UK's House of Commons--has just approved a measure that would give people the chance to hand over their old, exhaust-belching voitures for scrap.  In return, they'd receive a 2500 Euro (2975 USD at current exchange rates) grant to buy an electric bicycle.  

The measure is an amendment to a climate bill passing through Parliament that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in by 40 percent from 1990 levels in 2030.  If the measure is adopted, France would become the first country in the world to offer people the chance to trade in their old cars for electric bicycles.  Perhaps most important of all, it is a recognition that "the solution is not to make cars greener, but simply to reduce their number," according to Olivier Schneider of the Federation Francaise des Usagers de la Bicyclette (FUB), an organization dedicated to everyday cycling.

16 April 2021

Piercing Its Facade

This post will do something that, to my knowledge, few if any other pieces of writing have done:  mention an early bicycle suspension system and a French ladies' utility bicycle from the 1960s or 1970s.

That wasn't my original intention, but in the admittedly-cursory research I did, the two topics became entangled.

How did I start on this path (pun intended)? Well, a few days ago I saw this

parked around the corner from my apartment.

At first glance, it looks like any number of French ladies' utility/city bikes of its time:  The swept-down top lateral tubes lend it a grace most "beast" bikes don't have.   That detail distinguihes somewhat from the mixte bikes that made their way to the US during the 1970s Bike Boom.  Those bikes--like the Peugeot UO8 mixte--had straight twin lateral tubes.  As a result, bikes like the U08 had slightly tighter geometry than bikes like the one in this post, which gave them a somewhat sprightlier ride.

You can still find plenty of bikes like the one in my photos parked on Paris streets and all over France:  they were, and still are, for many French women what classic British three-speeds were for generations of women riding to work, the marketplace or the park in much of the Anglophone world.

But I knew, right away, something was odd about this bike.  One give-away was the "Belle de Paris" decal on the downtube:  I mean, if you saw that in a movie, you'd think it was a joke.  No French bike maker would have given such a name to a bike it planned to sell in France--or to anyone who knows anything about French bikes!

(I think now of the car Renault sold as "Le Car" in the US.  Even if you don't know or care about anything French, you just had to roll up your eyes on seeing that!)

Another odd thing about the bike is the brand name:  Pierce-Arrow.  As far as I know, there never was a French bike-maker by that name.  And then there's this:

Some of the Motobecanes imported early in the US Bike Boom had fork crown caps stamped with the telltale "M" emblem.  Also, some bikes made by Motobecane and sold under other names--like Astra--bore it.

And, of course, Motobecane made many bikes like this one:  Of all French manufacturers, it's likely that only Peugeot made more.  So, I surmised--correctly, my research would confirm--that I was looking at a Motobecane rebadged as "Pierce-Arrow".

So what of Pierce-Arrow?

Anyone who knows anything about the history of luxury automobiles knows the name.  Heck, even I knew about them!  Before World War II, they had a cache on par with the revered names of today like Rolls-Royce and Mercedes Benz.  And, like most other auto manufacturers of the time--and a few that survive today (think of Peugeot and Ford)--Pierce-Arrow was a bicycle-maker before it manufactured cars (and, in Pierce's and Peugeot's case, motorcycles).  And, in another interesting parallel with Peugeot, Pierce began as an industrial company that manufactured a variety of items (Yes, that peppermill was made by the same company that made the PX-10!) before venturing into wheeled goods.

George N. Pierce started his company in Buffalo, NY in 1872.  In 1890, at the dawn of the first "Bike Boom," Pierce produced its first bicycles.  They quickly developed a reputation for quality and elegance as well as elegance.  As per the latter, the company offered one of the early "ladies'" models of safety bicycle, with a graceful tube that swept down from the head tube.  

Seamless joint. From 1897 Pierce Bicycle catalogue.

As for technical innovations, they contributed two that would influence later bicycle develpment.  According to their 1897 catalogue, their frames had seamless joints achieved by "fittings inside one tube and shaped to fit snugly around the opposite tube."  This can be seen as a predecessor of both lugged and fillet-brazed joints:  the joining methods used to this day on most high-quality steel frames.  

Pierce Cushion Frame, 1901

The other?  One of the earliest frame suspension systems.  In 1898, their Cushion Frame line featured a shock absorber on the post connecting the rear axle to the seat pillar.  Hmm...I think I saw something like that on a few mountain bikes--in 1998, or thereabouts!

Anyway, Pierce continued to make bicycles until 1918, when the Emblem Manufacturing company in the nearby community of Angola acquired them.  Emblem continued to produce bicycles until 1940--ironically, two years after Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company ceased to exist.

Now, from what I've gleaned, the company's bicycles were never called Pierce-Arrow.  That appelation was reserved for cars. Bicycles and motorcycles were always called "Pierce."  The Pierce-Arrow name, however, would be conflated with Pierce bicycles--possibly because of the arrow in Pierce's emblem.  In the years after the last Pierce bicycles were made, at least one distributor sold bicycles rebadged as "Pierce-Arrow."  To my knowledge, no bicycle manufacturer ever made a "Pierce Arrow" line of bikes:  That label was a creation of the distributor/importer, just as "Nishiki," "Azuki," "Centurion," "Shogun" and "Univega" were.  (Although those bikes were made in Japan, you can't buy one with any of those names in the Land of the Rising Sun.)  Apparently, the distributor was banking on the residual cache of the "Pierce Arrow" name.

Don't you just love the fender details?  I think Velo Orange's "Facette" fenders were inspired by these, or something like them.

So...whoever bought the bike I saw parked in my neighborhood may have thought he or she was getting some connection to a classic car.  Instead, he or she got something like what a madame would have pedaled to school, work, the market or to her relatives in the next village or arrondissement.  

15 April 2021

Il A Demissione Pour Gagner (He Quit In Order To Win)

 What do Dave Cowens, Rebecca Twigg,  Lance Armstrong and Theo Nonnez have in common?

Because you're reading this blog, you certainly know about Lance and probably have heard of Rebecca.  Unless you're a basketball fan (which is practically synonymous with being a New Yorker of my generation), you might not know about Dave Cowens.

As for Monsieur Nonnez--well, you might not know anything about him (except that he's French) unless you avidly follow bike racing.

OK...So what do they share?  No, not needles, Lance's revelation notwithstanding.  They all did something almost nobody expected of them:  They walked away from their careers as world-class (or, in Nonnez's case, potentially world-class) athletes.

Dave Cowens was perhaps the greatest "undersized" (Where else but in the NBA is 6'9" "small"?) center in the history of the game.  As a New Yorker, I am not a fan of the team for which he played most of his career--the Boston Celtics.  I am enough of a basketball fan, however, to respect him:  He simply never seemed to play a bad game.

In the middle of the 1976-77 season--just a few months removed from his team's most recent championship--he took a leave of absence "for personal reasons."  There was no contract dispute or feud with a coach or team management:  He simply needed to, as we might say today, re-set.  The term "burnout" wasn't yet in wide use, but if you read accounts of that time, it's pretty clear that's what he was suffering.

So it was for Rebecca Twigg a decade later.  Three years after winning a silver Olympic medal in the road race, she crashed--literally and metaphorically.  A misaligned rear wheel led to a mishap in which she was lucky to emerge with a broken thumb and mild concussion.  At the time, she said she was tired of waking up early, regardless of the weather, and pushing her body to its limits.  She took time to complete degrees and start a new career in information technology before deciding she needed to be on her bike again.  And she did so in a rather big way, winning another Olympic medal in Barcelona in 1992.

(Unfortuantely, she "crashed" again and has been homeless for the past few years.)

Now, I know it's not fashionable to talk about Lance without bashing him, but here goes:  He, of course, quit racing for two years after his cancer diagnosis.  But, before he confessed to Oprah, he talked about how he considered retiring after his fifth Tour de France win.  Had he not "juiced," he would have been, in at least one sense, in elite company:  Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Mercx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain reached that magic milestone. (They all won other races, including the Giro d'Italia, Vuelta a Esapana, some of the "classics," and various other cycling events, so even if Lance didn't have his wins vacated, I don't believe he wouldn't have been in their class.)  He spoke of something similar to what Twigg described:  He was tired of a life that revolved around training.  Few people outside the sport realize what a singular, solitary existence bike racing is.

That's what Theo Nonnez learned.  What he also said is, in essence, that if you realize that you're not willing to give up literally everything else in your life--including relationships and the foods most other people eat--you probably won't reach the heights of the folks I've mentioned.  You really have to want to be a champion more than anything else--possibly life itself--in order to keep yourself so motivated.

My previous sentence may well explain why Cowens took his leave, Armstrong almost quit and Twigg did, for a time.  I think it might also explain why she "crashed" in life:  After pursuing something so single-mindedly, and not having another suitable outlet for your adrenaline (IT?), it's easy to burn out on life, if you will.

Again, in my unfashionable all-but-defense of Lance, I think it might explain why some athletes cheat:  When you compete against someone who's spent his or her life pursuing the same goal you've devoted your life to pursuing, and the difference between you and that person is a second, or a stroke of bad luck (an accident, say), the temptation to grasp at any possible advantage, however illegal or unethical it may be, is great.

Theo Nonnez

I think Theo Nonnez may have seen these possibilties.  What he did say is that he realized, even after winning a junior championship, cycling wasn't the right career choice for him, and that he was pursuing it in part because of the hopes and expectations of people around him. Je me suis mis a pleurer sur le velo--"I began to cry on the bicycle"--he reports in the tweet announcing his retirement.  He has not announced concrete plans, but says he wants to help others.

If all of that is true--and I can't find any reason to doubt him-- Theo Nonnez is wise beyond his 21 years.  Best of all, he's still young enough to come back if he changes his mind a few months or a year from now. (He shouldn't wait too long, though:   An athlete's career is brief!)  Whatever he does, he's already a winner, and I wish him well.

14 April 2021

What They Brought, What I Took Away

Yesterday I pedaled out to the Brooklyn Army Terminal, better known today as a terminal for the ferries to downtown Manhattan and the Rockaways.

BAT has also been a vaccination site--which is the reason I rode there.  I got my second jab; the first went well, so I figured I wouldn't have any problem riding there or back.

I didn't.  I did, however, enjoy a beautiful early Spring afternoon.  I still find it ironic to be riding a bike for enjoyment in a place where men like my uncles and grandfather did difficult and often dangerous work.

And they weren't going there to look at the Statue of Liberty, the passing boats or the lower Manhattan skyline.  The latter looked very different in those days--which included my early childhood.  The Twin Towers that came tumbling down after the 9.11 attacks had yet to be built.  They may not have even been conceived, any more than the promenade or cafes were--or the notion that the piers would ever be used for anything other than unloading loading and unloading the ships that came and went, and the flatbed railroad cars that connected them to the factories were still other men (and some women) did other kinds of hard and dangerous work.

And to think--getting jabbed with a needle was the most pain I experienced on this waterfront, where so many others endured so much more, and ocean waves lapped against ships with cabins soaked within by their sweat, the blood of some and the tears of others.  

I rode, my wheels seemingly lofted by the sun and wind.

13 April 2021

Speed, From The Comfort of Your Sofa

In my post about the death of Prince Philip, I mentioned that he particpiated in one of the few genres of cycling in which I've never tried:  bicycle polo.

Now I'm going to talk about one of the few kinds of bicycles I've never tried:  the recumbent.

The "safety" bicycle, with two wheels of equal (or nearly so) size and a gear-and-chain drivetrain appeared in the late 1880s.  Earlier bicycles--the high-wheelers often called "penny farthings"--had a front wheel much larger than the rear.  The crank and pedals attached directly to the front wheel, so how high or low a gear you rode depended on the size of the wheel.  Typical front wheels were 60 to 70 inches in diameter, which meant for a rather precarious perch in the saddle.  The "safety" bicycle was a contrast to such machines.

Charles Challand's "Normal"

But not everyone liked the bent-over position of those early "safety" bicycles.  So, Charles Challand, a Geneva professor, created the "normal" bicycle--so called because it allowed the rider to pedal in a "normal" position.

Around the same time, Irving Wales of Rhode Island applied for a patent on a similar bicycle.  His bike, however, had an added feature:  a hand drive similar to the one on a rowing machine.  Though augmenting pedal power could make for a faster ride, hand power never really caught on.

Other tinkerers would experiment with other features, which re-appear from time to time on modern recumbents:  An Italian recumbent had a steering wheel instead of handlebars; an English machine had a 16 inch front wheel and short wheelbase, rather like a time trial or triathlon bike.  A long-wheelbase recumbent from France, possibly made by Peugeot, had a 26-inch rear wheel and 22-inch front, with a front end resembling that of a diamond-frame safety bike.  But the handlebars were where the saddle of a safety would have been; bridle rods linked them to the steerer (headset). 

That long-wheelbase recumbent might have been the most conspicuous example of what recumbent bike designers have tried to achieve:  a smooth, stable ride from the comfort of your sofa.

Paul Jaray's "Sofa" bicycle

Speaking of which:  In 1921, Austrian aeronautical engineer Paul Jaray created the "sofa" bicycle.  In addition to its seating arrangement, it boasted another unique feature:  treadle drive.  On his first stereotype, Jaray connected the treadles to the rear wheel by steel cables with return springs.  

In a later version, a cable from the left treadle lever wound several times around a left drum on the rear hub, then onto a horizontal pulley, and then onto a right drum.  After several more winds, the cable connected to the right treadle lever.  This might seem complicated, but it did away with the "dead center" problem of the first stereotype.

Over the years, other cyclists, engineers, inventors and tinkerers experimented with different recumbent designs.  Two developments, though, halted the machines' evolution for a few decades.  The first came in 1934, when the UCI published a new definition of racing bikes that, some said, was crafted specifically to exclude recumbents, which were being ridden to record times and distances.  The second was World War II.  

Still, the recumbent never quite faded away.  There seems to be renewed interest in them, and they're being reconfigured with modern materials and componentry.  One rarely, if ever, sees recumbents here in New York or in other large cities, I believe, because of their (and their riders') lack of visibility in traffic.  But I intend to ride a "sofa" one day.