31 May 2021

A Journey In Memory

Here in the USA, it's Memorial Day.  The temperature hasn't exceeded 10C (50F) since Friday and rain has fallen nearly continuously--sometimes in torrents, other times in a drizzle.  The rain could stop and clouds could break by this afternoon, so some of the festivities associated with this holiday--nearly all of which were cancelled last year, when we were in the thick of the pandemic--might be staged.  So might the some of the barbeques and family gatherings postponed last year.

Photo by Rachel Smook.  From Massbike.

What I hope is that the people who weren't mourned, wheether they died in uniform or on a ventilator, will get the remembrances they deserve.  While this day is intended as a remembrance of those who died while serving in the military, I think it's fitting to recall those (including seven people I knew) who perished as a result of a pandemic that has killed more people in this country than all of the armed conflicts in which we've been involved since World War I.

The Tour of Somerville was one of many Memorial Day events cancelled last year.  This year, it's been moved to Labor Day (6 September).  I think the race organizers chose that date because here in the US, Labor Day is seen as the unofficial end of summer, just as Memorial Day is seen as its beginning.  The only other race cancellations came during World War II, which claimed the lives of its first two winners.

It just so happens that this Memorial Day is the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre, which I mentioned last week.  On 31 May 2021, white mobs descended on Greenwood, the Tulsa community dubbed "The Black Wall Street."  The city's police chief deputized hundreds of white citizens to join those mobs and commandeered gun shops to arm them.  The following day, the Greenwood district was wiped off the face of the earth.  It's estimated that 300 people died, but the true number may never be known.

However we choose to spend this day--I plan to take a bike ride later--it is intended as a memorial.   I try to remember that.


30 May 2021

What’s In The Wind?

So what is the purpose of the fan?

Does it help him go faster?

Or is he a nice guy who wants to cool off the sweaty cyclists behind him?

If anyone is riding behind him, I hope he remembers Rule #5 of Cycling.

29 May 2021

I’ll Keep It Charged For The Ghost

 Riding in New York City can, at times, feel like an archaeological expedition. Urban treks reveal artifacts of a city past, and one that is passing.  Sometimes I see “ghost” signs of long-gone businesses, political campaigns and products.  (One of my favorite non-cycling blogs, Ephemeral New York, has devoted several posts to them.)

Those signs also marked things that were once ubiquitous but have all but disappeared, at least in much of the developed world:

I spotted that sign on Van Dam Street, in an industrial area of Greenpoint, Brooklyn.  The phone was nowhere to be seen.  A truck driver who was munching on a sandwich waved to me.  I asked him whether there was a public phone anywhere in the vicinity.  He laughed. “Haven’t looked for one of those in years,” he said.

We wished each other a good afternoon.  “Be safe,” he avised me. “And keep your phone charged!”

28 May 2021

All-Wheel Drive “Fat” Bike

Some of you ride cranksets, chainrings or other components or accessories made by Specialites TA in France.  “TA” stands for “Traction Avant,” or forward drive.  

Before he started making the parts for which the company would be renowned, founder Georges Navet tried to make, and market, a front-wheel drive bicycle.  High-wheel or “penny farthing” bikes had pedals attached to cranks fitted directly to the axle on the front wheel, which was much larger than the rear.

Navet, however, wanted to make a modern bicycle (two wheels of more or less the same size, propelled by a chain-and-sprocket drive) with front-wheel drive after seeing cars with the then-new innovation.  I would not be surprised, then, if some cyclist, especially one who rides off-road, looked at, say, a Subaru Outback (or, perhaps drives one) and wondered, “Why can’t my bike have this?”

“This” would be all-wheel drive. Someone called “The Q” may have been that cyclist.  Check out his attempt to make an all-wheel (OK, two-wheel) drive fat-tire bike:

27 May 2021

To Continue His Work—And Passions

At schools and universities, celebrated alumni are memorialized with libraries, collections, laboratories, galleries and other facilities named for them.

Not many, though, have bicycle repair shops or programs that bear their names.

I must say, however, that few people would want to take the route to fame, if you will, of Sam Ozer.

Last year, days after his graduation from the AIM Academy in Philadelphia—where he was the co-captain of the mountain biking team—was riding along Henry Street when he was struck by a vehicle.

The fatal crash was accompanied by some terrible ironies:  It was Fathers’ Day and he was going to spend time with his Dad, Sidney—who, along with Sam’s grandfather Morris, were founding members of the Bicycle Club of Philadelphia.

Even if he hadn’t been working at the Trek Manayunk Bicycle Shop on Main Street, Anne Rock, his cycling coach, would not have been exaggerating when she said bicycling was “in his blood.” His passion for cycling was accompanied by his love of the outdoors, which may have been inculcated by his mother, Mindy Maslin, the founder and program manager of Tree Tenders for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.

Thanks to her, her husband’s, Ms. Rock’s and other people’s efforts, Sam’s school will have a bicycle repair shop and program.  Aside from commemorating the “grit” Ms. Maslin recalled in her only son, the shop and program are appropriate in another way:  The AIM Academy is a school for intelligent and gifted kids with dyslexia, and bicycling and bike repair helped to put Sam Ozer on a road to becoming a confident adult.  Before he graduated, he took two college courses and had been accepted in all six colleges to which he’d applied.

26 May 2021

I Didn’t Miss The Train

 Yesterday afternoon, I unwound myself with a no-destination ride.  I have no idea of how many miles or kilometers I pedaled.  All I know is: a.) I was hungry when I got home (I fed Marlee first!) and b.) I wandered through Brooklyn neighborhoods seen by almost no one who doesn’t live in them—streets where women in long dresses and thick hosiery pushed baby carriages while young men in colorful shirts chatted and swaggered to the beat of Bob Marley songs and other sounds from Jamaica, other parts of the Caribbean and Africa.

I also wended down streets in a neck of Queens between Jamaica Bay and the Hawtree Inlet.  The narrow streets, some barely or not at all paved, could just as well be part of a New England or Gulf fishing village.  It would be easy to believe they weren’t part of the New York City borough of Queens were it not for this:

Part of the neighborhood—Hamilton Beach* —lies within the Gateway National Recreation Area, which includes parts of the New York and New Jersey coastlines.  The West Hamilton Beach part might well be the only part of the US National Park system that has a municipal railway running through it.

That subway line is the A train—yes, the one in Duke Ellington’s song.  The Hamilton Beach section of Gateway is about 30 miles as the crow (or seagull or egret or whatever bird you like) flies from Harlem.  As Ellington reminds us, if you miss the A train, you’ve missed the fastest way to Harlem—especially from one of New York’s most remote locales.

Fortunately, I was riding Negrosa, my vintage Mercian Olympic, so I didn’t have to worry about missing the train.

*—Although the neighborhood shares its name with a brand of kitchen appliances, there is no relation between them.  Supposedly, the community is named for two of its early developers.

Fun Fact:  Hamilton Beach is one of the few NYC communities with a volunteer fire department!

25 May 2021

Why George Floyd And Tulsa Matter For Cyclists

There's just something about this date, 25 May.

Around this time, I believe, Spring starts to tilt toward Summer, at least in the temperate parts of the Northern Hemisphere.  Every few years, Memorial Day falls on this date, as it did last year.  It's the birthday of Lucy, of the eponymous novel by Jamaica Kincaid.  In 1787, the US Constitutional Convention convened in Philadelphia; Argentina's revolt against Spanish rule began in 1810.  And, interestingly, on this date in 1961, President John F. Kennedy challenged his country to land a man on the  moon before the end of the decade; exactly 16 years later, one of the most popular movie franchises in history--Star Wars--premiered.

And, one year ago today, enough happened that, if Stephen Dedalus of The Portrait of An Artist As A Young Man had witnessed it, he'd have to repeat his assertion that history is a nightmare from which he was trying to awake.

Amy Cooper, a.k.a.  Central Park Karen, falsely accused a black man of threatening her and her dog.  Fortunately, the man--Christian Cooper, no relation--captured the event on his phone.  Still, in February, a judge dismissed the charges against her after she completed five therapy sessions "designed for introspection and progress," according to the Assistant District Attorney.

Not surprisingly, that incident was overshadowed by the murder of George Floyd.  That, at least, has brought issues of policing in "minority" communities (in which I include not only non-white people, but those of us who aren't cisgender or heterosexual, or don't otherwise fit into societal standards of gender and sexuality) to the forefront.  

Those incidents, I believe, are relevant to us as cyclists because in too many places, at least here in the US, incidents in which motorists run down cyclists aren't taken seriously. The driver, even if he or she is impaired, distracted or should not have been driving for some other reason, gets off with a "slap on the wrist" and the cyclist is blamed for his or her injury or death.

Oh, while I'm on the subject of relations between non-majority or non-mainstream communities and those who police or rule them, I want to call attention to another incident that occured on the traditional Memorial Day--31 May (next Monday).  Exactly a century ago, on that date, one of the worst incidents of racial violence and mass murder took place in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  A black shoeshine "boy" rode an elevator with a white woman.  I think you can guess what happened next:  the "black ram is tupping the white ewe" rumors began.  They led to confrontations in which  the city's police chief deputized white mobs and commandeering gun shops to arm them--and private planes to drop bombs on the Greenwood district, then known as "Black Wall Street."

Like most other people, I learned about the incident, in which the district was wiped off the face of the earth, by accident, when I was researching something else.  I was, to say, the least, astounded--but not surprised--that the Tulsa Massacre has been omitted from history books. (Victor Imperatus, anyone?)  My shock led me to write an article about it nearly five years ago.  

I mention that incident, and the George Floyd murder because, although one is being brought to light (because of its centenary) and the other resulted in the conviction of a police officer, we as cyclists still need to be wary of increasingly-militarized police forces who still, in too many cases, harass, ticket and even arrest cyclists on specious or simply phony charges  (as happened recently in Perth Amboy, New Jersey) -- and the power structures that give rogue officers more credibility than those they victimize.  

24 May 2021

Where Is His Rival?

I'm now waiting for a rival.

That sounds like something Muhammad Ali could have said at the peak of his career.  Or, perhaps, Eddy Mercx, Bernard Hinault or Martina Navritilova.  I think we could also add Serena Williams, Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky to the list of athletes who were in a class by themselves when they were at the top of their game.

The man who uttered it, though, may have had even more of a right to make such a claim. In February 2012, he rode 24.250 kilometers (15.1 miles) in an hour, on a track.  That might not seem remarkable, much less like a record of any sort, until you realize that the ride was accomplished by a man who had turned 100 a few months earlier.

Robert Marchand thus set a record for track cyclists 100 years or older.  Two years later, he bested that mark with 26.927 kilometers (16.73 miles) in an hour.

If he was looking for a rival then, he would have an even more difficult time finding one on 4 January 2017. That day, an hour of pedaling the Velodrome National, just outside of Paris, added up to 22.547 kilometers (14.01 miles).  That would set one-hour track record for the 105-and-over age group, a category created specifically for him.

Now tell me, who is going to rival that?

What's really interesting about Robert Marchand's feats, though, is that he isn't a "career" cyclist.  He had racing aspirations in his youth, but a coach advised him to give them up because, he said, his size (1.52 meters, or 5 feet and 52 kilograms, or 115 pounds) would hold him back.

Robert Marchand was born in the northern French city of Amiens on 26 November 1911.  After decades of working in Venezuela and Canada, he returned to France in the 1960s.  At age 68, he dedicated himself to his youthful passion of cycling.

Before setting his track his track records, he took some long-distance rides, including a trek from Paris to Moscow in 1992.  

In addition to the track records I previously mentioned, he also holds the record for someone over the age of 100 riding 100 kilometers.  When he turned 106, his doctors advised him to stop training for records.  But he continued to ride, at least 20 minutes every day.  In February 2018, he completed a 4000 meter race in the same stadium where he set his over-105 record.  And he celebrated his 107th birthday with a 20 kilometer ride.  

He finally transitioned to indoor riding, due to hearing loss, after he turned 108.  He continued, however, to ride every day until a week before his death on Saturday, age 109.

Even if he hadn't set records for his age group, I think one would have to look very, very long and very, very far to find a rival for Robert Marchand.  

23 May 2021

True Upward Mobilty

You've heard about the snail who was insecure about himself.

He bought a "Z" car and changed the "Z" to an "S."

Now, whenever he drives by, people gush, "Oh!  Look at the S-Car go!"

What would that snail have done with a bicycle? 

22 May 2021

What's Going On

Had I been anywhere near Washington, DC yesterday, I would have taken a ride on the Marvin Gaye Trail.

Would there have been a better way to celebrate his album, "What's Going On" on the 50th anniversary of its release?

The title song, and other tracks, were time capsules of the mood of the time--and among its most innovative works.  

Those songs were written from the point of view of a Vietnam War veteran.   It's hard not to think that he could have written it, almost verbatim, from the consciousness of someone returning from Iraq or Afghanistan.  

So much was going on then, as now.  The Summer of Love and Woodstock expressed hope that the world could change for the better; Marvin Gaye's song--as well as others released the same year (Think, of John Lennon's "Imagine," for example) said that things must change.  They remind me, in a way, of W.H. Auden's September 1, 1939, in particular its penultimate stanza:

    All I have is a voice 

    To undo the folded lie, 

    The romantic lie in the brain    

    Of the sensual man-in-the street

    And the lie of Authority

    Whose buildings grope the sky:

    There is no such thing as the State 

    And no one exists alone;

   Hunger allows no choice 

   To the citizen or the police; 

   We must love one another or die.

Interestingly, Marvin Gaye's album saw the light of day just as the North American Bike Boom was gathering steam.  Although many people purchased bikes they rode once or twice, more than a few were motivated to buy and ride by the knowledge that an economy and society in which people drive cars everywhere and burn fossil fuels to do everything else was not sustainable: The inevitable results would be environmental degradation (Now we know environmental destruction is an all-too-real possiblity!), inequality and all manner of other injustices--and war.  

What's going on now?  What would Marvin Gaye make of it?  Would he take a ride on the trail named for him?

I always suspected that Marvin was one of us!

21 May 2021

Bill To Ban Bicycle Licenses In New Jersey

Perth Amboy, New Jersey is a largely working-class and non-White city over the Outerbridge Crossing from Staten Island, New York.  Last month, Perth Amboy cops stopped a group of boys on bikes who were popping wheelies and weaving in and out of traffic.  The cops could have used that stop to talk to the boys about bicycle safety. One of the officers did that, but the situation devolved into the cops confiscating the kids' bikes and handcuffing one of them.

The charge?  The kid they took into custody was riding without a bicycle license.

While the city has had a bike license ordinance on its books for decades, that incident marked the first time, to anyone's knowledge, that it was actually invoked.  That it was used to bring in a boy--who, guess what?, is Black--was, to be  polite, specious. 

The incident garnered national attention, which raised the question of what, exactly, are the reasons for, and purposes of, bicycle licensing regulations.  Most were enacted decades ago (That Perth Amboy's license costs 50 cents should give you an idea of how old that policy is!), ostensibly for purposes that are no longer, if they ever were, applicable.  Or increasingly-militarized police forces use them as yet another way to bully, intimidate and harass people less powerful than themselves. (The Perth Amboy cops could just as well have said they were arresting that kid for Riding While Black.)

Yvonne Lopez lives in Perth Amboy.  She also represents Middlesex County, of which the city is part, in the New Jersey State Assembly. On Monday, she introduced a bill (A5729) that, according to its synopsis, "prohibits municipal ordinances from from requiring license tag to use bicycles within municipality."  Currently, a few other New Jersey municipalities require tags or plates on bicycles, but specifics of those regulations vary.

In order to become law, the bill would have to pass in both chambers (Assembly and Senate) of the state Legislature.  I haven't heard any prognostication about the bill's chances of passing, but I suspect they're good, if for no other reason that the State probably would prefer uniformity from one jurisdiction to the next but doesn't want to be tasked with creating a state bicycle license system. 

20 May 2021

Gwen Inglis, R.I.P.

 The other day, before I mounted my bike, I slathered my arms, legs and face with sunscreen. But I didn't replenish it during my ride, so I ended up with tomato-tinted limbs and cheeks.

So, I rode without enough of one kind of protection.  But I wore my helmet and gloves, so at least I shielded myself in other ways.  

There are some things, though, that won't protect you.  They include your current or former status as a champion (if you have such a thing) and, sometimes, riding in a bike lane.

They certainly didn't protect poor Gwen Inglis.   She was the reigning national road race champion for her age group (45-49).  On Sunday morning, she took a training ride in a Lakewood, Colorado bike lane near her home, something she'd done many times. 

Around 10am local time, Lakewood police responded to a call about a crash involving a driver and cyclist.  Inglis was rushed to a local hospital, but couldn't be saved. 

Ryan Scott Montoya, a 29-year-old Denver resident, has been taken into custody.  He is suspected of being under the influence of drugs when he struck Inglis with the compact sedan he was driving.

Gwen Inglis suffered a horrible fate and that if Montoya was indeed intoxicated or simply careless or indifferent, he doesn't get off with a "slap on the wrist," as happens in too many cases of drivers killing or maiming cyclists.  

One thing I wonder, though, is whether that bike lane was simply lines painted on pavement or a real lane separated by barriers of some sort.  When the "lane" is simply paint, it's all too easy for a motorist to veer into it--or use it to pass other cars.  But even when barriers sometimes aren't enough to stop a driver who's high, drunk or bent on destruction.


19 May 2021


Yesterday was the warmest day of the year.  And the sun shone brightly.  I took an afternoon ride down to the Rockaways, by the sea.

It's a ride I've taken many times before.   I was feeling really good until I pedaled into Howard Beach--about 45 minutes' ride from my apartment.  Then, suddenly, I felt as tired as I might feel after a ride to Connecticut or Bear Mountain in which I've spent a good part of the time pedaling into the wind.

When I got home, I realized why:  My arms and face were red!  

Every year, around this time of year, I have a ride like the one I had yesterday, on a day like yesterday:  a premature summer day in the middle of spring.  The temperature reaches 30C or so, as it did yesterday, and I ride with less clothing than I'd been wearing through the previous few months.  So, more of my skin, which hasn't yet grown accustomed to the sun, is exposed.  Moreover, the sea (or any body of water) seems to magnify the solar refulgence.

I used sunscreen but, apparently, not enough.  At least, I didn't apply it as often as I, with my melanin deficiency, should have.  When my skin absorbs more sun than it's used to, I get tired.  

At least I can get away--I think--with not blaming yesterday's fatigue on aging.  I am still in midlife, after all!

18 May 2021

If More Women Ride...

There are things I never would have understood were I not a lifelong cyclist.

And there things I never would have understood were I not a transgender woman who, in middle age, decided to live her life by her true gender identity.

Sometimes they intersect.

To wit:  Contrary to what some believe, laws and policies against discrimination and harassment--or that allow people to marry whomever they please--don't give "special privileges" to women, members of racial and ethnic "minorities," disabled people and those who aren't heterosexual or don't idenitfy with the gender binary.  Rather, those laws and policies are made so that the people I've mentioned have the same rights, protections and guarantees that men, cisgender people, heterosexuals and members of the "majority" race, culture and religion (white Christians in the US) take for granted.

When I was living as a male who was presumed to be cisgender and heteorsexual, I never had to think about such rights and guarantees.  In fact, I didn't even know that I didn't have to think about them.  There probably are still privileges I have and never think about because well, I'm still White.

Likewise, while they complain about the price of gas or highway tolls, most American motorists have no idea of how much their driving is subsidized, and how much of the landscape has been re-formed for them.  Many also don't realize how much of a sense of entitlement they've developed about "their" roads and public spaces.  That is why they are upset when a lane is "taken" from them and "given" to cyclists and pedestrians.

And, while I laud any attempt to promote cycling and decrease dependence on anything that burns fossil fuels, I have come to realize that, too often, planners have their own unquestioned assumptions about who rides, and how and why.

Is it coincidence that as I have been thinking about such issues and how to articulate them, I should chance upon an article that discusses them?  That article--which appeared first in Streetsblog and was reprinted in Greater Greater Washington--cites a study, published in Transport Reviews, that indicates the best way to cast the bicycle as a viable mode of transportation, and not merely as a toy for kids or the trust-fund crowd--and simply to get more people on bicycles--is to get more women to cycle.

Photo by Joe Flood, licensed under Creative Commons

And how do we get more female-identified* folk on two wheels?  Understand how and why we ride--which, of course, will lead to a greater understanding of why some won't ride.

Perhaps it will come as no surprise that countries where cycling is really a part of people's everyday lives--in other words, where it's seen as much a part of the transportation system as driving or taking buses, trains or planes--are also the countries with the largest proportions of female cyclists.  As you might have guessed, those countries include the Netherlands, Switzerland, Finland--and Japan.

The reason I call particular attention to Japan is that, unlike the other countries, it has few segregated bike lanes and relatively little cycling-specific infrastructure, at least in comparison to Northern European countries.  But there is a culture of cycling--and, more important, a recognition of how and why women ride, and how it's different from men's riding.

The study shows that women who cycle are doing so for transportation at roughly the same rate as men.  But in most places, "transportation" for men means, mainly, going to and from the job.  On the other hand, women are more likely to combine errands on a bike trip--say, to drop off their kids at daycare and go to the store.  This is particularly true in Japan, where women are still likely to leave the paid workforce after giving birth.  

So how does that affect bike infrastructure planning?  Well, I think that if a useful bike lane were to be built, it should connect residential areas, not only with office buildings, schools or factories, but also with shopping areas, whether they're "Main Streets," malls or farmer's markets.  And, bike lanes should run, not only to or through parks, but also to museums and other venues.

Another finding of the study is something that doesn't surprise me:  Women are less willing to ride in traffic or in non-protected bike lanes.  I don't think we have a greater fear of traffic. (Perhaps we're just smarter ;-)) Rather, women--and children-- are less vulnerable to harassment and intimidation in a protected bike lane.  

While we're on the subject of infrastructure:  One thing that, I believe, would make cycling safer and more convenient for women is more safe and clean public toilets and washrooms.  I used to joke that rest stops on bike rides are the only occasions when the lines to use the men's room are longer than those for the women's room.  Then again, I have discovered--as a result of my gender-affirmation process--that there are also fewer women's or gender-neutral bathrooms.

Anyway, I found it interesting that the study in question shows how the world of cycling can be a mirror for society:  If more women cycle, more people cycle.  What equality means is that everyone wins, or at least no one loses.

*--The study stuck to traditional definitions of men and women.  I think it would be interesting, and useful, to look at the reasons why non-binary people ride, or don't, ride bicycles--and whether their patterns of riding align with those of their chosen or given gender identity.

17 May 2021

A Chorus Of Purple Echoes A Spring Ride

 How do I reward myself on a gorgeous mid-Spring afternoon after a busy morning?

With a bike ride, of course!

I did another one of my aimless wanders along Queens and Brooklyn streets.  I felt no need to ride to any particular place; I simply wanted to fill myself with the light and air of this season, and to stimulate my senses in as many ways as I could in a couple of hours.

Early in my ride, I wended along the paths by the Long Island City piers, a.k.a. Gantry State Park.  I don't know who does the gardening there, but whoever they are, they're outdoing themselves every season, every year.

OK, if you've been reading this blog for a while--or if you just look at the pictures of my bikes--you know what colors I like best.  I could look at any and all purple flowers--lilacs, wisteria blooms, asters--all day.  But I really like the way the gardeners used the different shapes and heights of the blooms to make a chorus of purple.

Ah, the rewards of cycling!

16 May 2021


I gathered up the change from my sofa cushions.  I begged friends and relatives who hadn't heard from me in years for their penny jugs and spare change. I even started to put together a GoFundMe page to "preserve a piece of history."

That GoFundMe page never went online.  No one surrendered their loose or jugged coins to me and the money I found in my sofa, alas, wouldn't buy me a spare inner tube. So I tried use my charm, wit, erudition and looks as currency to bid on the bicycle Lady Diana rode to work before she became a Princess.  You can guess how well that worked.

Anyway, somoene bought the 1970s Raleigh Traveler she pedaled to the nursery school where she worked until she was told that bicycling to work was unbecoming for a would-be royal. 

The bike, dubbed the "shame bicycle" by the British tabloids, was expected to sell for 20,000 GBP.  It fetched more than double that: 44,000 GBP, or about 62,000 USD at current exchange rates.  Burstow and Hewett auctioned the bike on 28 April; the identity of the buyer was not disclosed.

Given the recent revelations of the Royal Family's and British tabloids' mistreatment of Meghan Markle, comparisons between her and the difficulty shy Diana had in living in the royal fishbowl were inevitable--and probably piqued interest in the bike.  So...while I didn't get it, I wish its new owner well.

If nothing else, Diana was safer on it than in at least one other vehicle she rode.  Riding it tarnished the repuatation of the Royal Family, at least in their imaginations.  A ride she took one night in a Mercedes-Benz W 140 had far worse consequences.

(I'm not a conspiracy theorist, so I won't say that the Royal Family was behind it. But the thought has crossed my mind.)

15 May 2021

Say It Won't Close!

Many years ago (Can I still say I'm in "midlife" if I can use a phrase like that?), I worked at Buck's Rock Creative Work Camp.  Aside from having one of the strangest names of any place in which I've ever worked, that place taught me things I probably wouldn't have learned any other way.

About the name:  Until someone encouraged me to apply to work there, I thought a "work camp" was a place where wayward youth were sent--a stop between reform school and "juvie."  So how could a "work camp" be creative?

Well, Buck's Rock was a camp for creative work:  Kids could spend their time in art, sculpture or dance studios, at the radio station, practicing and playing musical instruments or engaged in crafts like woodworking, batik or weaving.  A farm bordered on the camp; campers could attend to chickens, goats or other animals if they didn't want to indulge in their artistic impulses (or if they didn't have such urges:  some campers were rich kids whose parents' involvement with them was inversely proportional to how much money they had).  

So what was I doing there?  Well, there was also a creative writing workshop.  I was a "counselor" there:  I worked one-on-one with young poets, fiction writers and other scribes.  Two other writers worked with me to conduct group activities and the occasional class, which we tried to make as little like the classes to which they were accustomed as we could.

As you might guess, it was an important experience for me because it was the first time I was paid for working with people on their writing and, if you want to use the term loosely, teaching.  I also met two people who are friends to this day.  In addition, I  came to understand, a little, a world completely apart from the blue-collar Brooklyn and New Jersey enclaves in which I grew up.  Most of the kids came from neighborhoods like the Upper East and West Sides.  Some went to boarding schools, and came home only at Christmastime and for a week or two between the end of the school year and the beginning of camp.  During that time, they didn't see their parents:  Nannies, au pairs or housekeepers tended to them.  More than one kid told me they talked to me than they talked to their parents!

That is one reason I chose not to return for a second summer.  I really liked working with the kids--aged 12 to 18--with their poems and stories, and sometimes playing chess or softball, or simply talking, with them.  But that last part was sometimes heartbreaking:  I came to the realization that they needed an adult they could trust and confide in more than they needed that camp.  Then, perhaps, they would have been healthier:  Even when I worked in a children's hospital and as a writer-in-residence in schools located in some of New York's poorest neighborhoods, I never saw kids who were sick, whether physically or emotionally, as I did at that camp.

Another reason I didn't want to go back is that I did almost no cycling that summer.  You see, I was on site around the clock; I got one day (literally:  24 hours) off every two weeks.  That was the only time I could leave the premises.  So, while I learned more about some of my passions, the experience took me away from another--and I learned that I don't want to live and work in the same place.  (Many people have come to that realization during the past year!)

Our time off really didn't leave much time except to go from one place to another and back, as the camp was in a pretty remote location.  Also, I was on camp with someone with whom I would elope and, a few years later, break up. (Is it a divorce when you break up an elopement?  Is "elopement" even a word in English?) She was about as far from being a cyclist as anyone I've ever met: In fact, she was all but allergic to any form of physical exercise except one, if you know what I mean. We did manage to get the same days off and went to some nearby hotel or cottage where she could get her exercise, which she didn't like to do alone.

On our way to wherever we went to work out, we'd stop in the town.  I would leave her for an hour or so--our only time apart--to look in a gift shop or some other place while I browsed and chatted with the folks in Bike Express.  It was frustrating to look at and talk about bikes when I couldn't ride; they understood and indulged my browsing.  I think I bought a couple of things I wouldn't use, of course, until the summer ended.  

What brought back those memories is a news item that came my way:  Bike Express is closing. 

The reason?  Its owner, John Gallagher says, "I want to go out and ride my bike for fun."  He's 67 years old and has owned it since he and his brother bought it in 1985.  The lease is up in October; he hopes to sell the shop by then because he doesn't want to leave New Milford without a bike shop.

John Gallagher, in his Bike Express shop. (Photo by H. John Voorhees III)

The past year, he says, has been a paradox. "Last year was our best year ever," he says.  This year, however "will be our worst" because "there is an unavailability of bicycles to sell our customers."  That actually could help to sell the shop, he explains, because as with any such enterprise, a buyer pays for the business as well as the inventory.  He still has 200 bikes on order from the last eight months and a waiting list of between 60 and 70 customers--but has received only 15 bikes in that time.  That means his inventory could be "at its lowest level ever" so if someone wants to buy, "they won't have to put up a huge chunk of money" for the inventory as well as the business.

I hope this all ends with New Milford keeping its bike shop--which, according to its "tech expert" John Lynch caters to the "regular person"--and John Gallagher having his days to ride for fun.

14 May 2021

Mayors On Bikes

I am going to make a confession.  If you've been reading this blog, you probably guessed--correctly--that my politics (such as they are) are to the left of most Americans.  Some of that has to do with my temprament, but more, I think, has been shaped by my life experiences--which, of course, include cycling.

Knowing that, it might surprise you that I am mostly lukewarm about the mayor of my city, Bill de Blasio.  I had hopes when I first voted for him:  His wife is black and, in her youth, lived as a lesbian.  And he talked about things we rarely, if ever, heard from politicians not named Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders or even Barack Obama.

But while he did something that, I think, will help to address racial and economic inequality--namely, universal Pre-K--he failed to address other issues, like affordable housing.  On the other hand, he has made efforts toward gender and LGBT equality and the city's environment and health.  

About that last issue:  While he didn't start the Citibike share program or the collection (I wouldn't call it a network) of bike lanes and other infrastructure, he accelerated their development.  So, in some ways, I would see he was at least expressing support for, if not actually supporting, cycling as a viable transportaion and recreation alternative.

My biggest problem with him, though, is that--if you'll indulge me a cliche--he sometimes talks the talk but doesn't walk the walk.  As an example, for all that he's talked about environment and health, he had his driver take him--in his City limousine--nearly 20 kilometers from Gracie Mansion (the Mayor's residence) to the gym in his home neighborhood in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

Oh, and I don't recall seeing him on a bike--until the other day.

All right, I didn't actually see him on a bike: He may well have been riding when I was.  But, still, I have to give him credit:  He pedaled the 10 kilometers from Gracie Mansion to City Hall.

Granted, he made the trek on protected bike lanes and probably had police escorts.  I must nonetheless acknowledge that he's the first NYC mayor in half a century to even make a "photo op" on a bike.

The last Mayor to replicate the trip de Blasio took was John Lindsay who pedaled his English three-speed on more than one occasion:  on the trip from Gracie to City Hall, in Central Park and in other places around the city.  Early in his mayoralty--and the first time he was seen on a bike--there were still relatively few adults on bikes.  About midway through his term, the North American Bike Boom took off.  Photos of him on a bike didn't hurt the cause:  Often compared to JFK, he was dashingly handsome in a patrician way and looked the part of a sportsman who could look as at-home on a bike as on a boat, a horse or small plane.

Bill de Blasio might not win as many style points as Lindsay could command on a bike.  But it certainly doesn't hurt the cause of cycling, whether for transportation or recreation, to see him riding. 

13 May 2021

Riding The Penny Bridge To The Market

"Penny Bridge."  It sounds like a song from Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club doesn't it?

But its location is less quaint, if oddly bucolic.  Actually, I should say "was":  That bridge, so named because it cost a penny to cross (It was privately built and operated), stood at a spot I reached on my afternoon ride.

I'd ridden into the area-- possibly the last part of Williamsburg not claimed by hipsters, trust fund kids or Hasidim--before.  I had not, however, stopped at that particular spot, on Newtown Creek, until yesterday.

It's only a few hundred meters upstream from the new Kosciuszko Bridge, which has a nice pedestrian and bike lane.  But that spot, on the edge of an industrial area, is out of reach of the trucks, cars and buses and, it seems, rarely visited by anyone.  So, in spite of the hustle and bustle, the soot and grime all around it, it's rather peaceful.  

The Penny Bridge, built over 200 years ago, was the first crossing over Newtown Creek and helped to spur industries that continues to this day.  According to a marker at the site, the Creek, being a navigable waterway that empties into the East River (which is really a bay of the Atlantic Ocean), once carried more nautical traffic and freight than the Mississippi River!

I meandered along side streets, from one Brooklyn neighborhood to another, and after about 20 kilometers of pedaling, I found myself in another interesting spot about 5 kilometers from Penny Bridge:

Before today, I think I'd read or heard about the Moore Street Retail Market.  Opened in 1941, it's one of the later Works Progress Administration structures built in New York City.  Architecturally, it's hardly unique but certainly identifiable as a WPA structure.  One reason it's interesting and important is that it's one of a series of Retail Market Places built by the WPA. (Others include the Arthur Avenue Market in the Bronx, Essex Street in Manhattan and 39th Street in Brooklyn.)  While other WPA projects include everything from schools and courthouses to roadways and waterworks, the marketplaces may have been unique in their conception and purpose.  

Fiorello LaGuardia's tenure as Mayor of New York City almost exactly coincided with the Presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who signed the WPA into being.  Though they were of opposing parties, they were allies on many issues. (Funny how crises like the Great Depression had a way of making that happen!)  They both wanted to put people back to work, and LaGuardia was trying to clean up the city, literally.  He was able to get the WPA to build those market places, which contain stalls of everything from fresh produce and homemade specialties from the ethnic groups living in the neighborhood to housewares and children's clothing, were meant to replace horse-drawn vending carts, which he believed to be un-hygenic and unsightly.

I'd wanted to go inside the marketplace, but the "no bikes" policy was being enforced.  I propped Tosca, my Mercian fixed gear, against a pole.


"Don't leave that bike here!"  Of course I wouldn't; even if I'd brought a lock with me, I wasn't about to leave Tosca, or any of my Mercians, on the street.  But I think the wiry Hispanic man knew that. "That's one nice bike you've got."  I thanked him. "Do you want to see mine?"  Of course I did, and he pulled out his i-phone to show me images of a Throne track bike and a Trek road bike with a Creamsicle finish (which I actually liked) and, I think, Shimano 600 components.  I mention that last detail because I couldn't tell which model it was, but my guess it was one of the better ones in the Trek lineup.

Another man, a friend of his, stopped to greet him and look at my bike.  He, too, pulled out his phone to show me his Bianchi road bike--carbon fiber, but still in that trademark Celeste green.

So, while I didn't get to shop in the marketplace, I did pick up a few moments of cameraderie with a couple of cyclists.  Perhaps I'll bump into them again.

12 May 2021

Bike And Food Drive In Washington State

During the pandemic, increasing numbers of people have needed...well, everything.  Folks who have lost jobs or been otherwise affected are looking food, clothing, anything that can connect to the Internet--and, in some cases housing.

And bicycles. 

Between folks who have discovered or re-discovered cycling for fun, or are using it as an alternative to public transportation, it's hard to find a bicycle--new, used or otherwise.


Apparently, the folks at Keller Williams Realty of Kent, Washington understand as much.  Tomorrow, they will close their offices, as they do every year, for a day of community service.  This year's event will be a contactless food drive to benefit the Kent Food Bank and other local food banks through Northwest Harvest.  

For the drive, Kelller Williams is accepting non-perishable food items with current shelf life*.  They are also taking in used bicycles and usable bicycle parts that Bicyce Rescue for Youth will refurbish for low-income households with children.

I think it's good that Keller Williams recognizes that certain needs go hand-in-hand:  Families that need food also can use bikes, whether for the kids or adults, for the trip to school or work--or to look for work.

*--Pasta is a commonly-donated item.  It's a good choice, as it has a long shelf life, and most people like it.  But, as my mother, who helped run the food bank at her church, taught me, it's a good idea to give a jar or can of sauce with each package of pasta you give.

11 May 2021

Where Are You Going? Does The Bike Lane Go There?

In one of my early posts, I recounted a distracted driver who made a dangerous turn in front of me.  She rolled down her window and castigated me for not riding in a bike lane.

I explained, as politely as I could, that the lane followed another street and wouldn't take me to where I was going.  She insisted that I should ride that lane anyway, not "her" street, where I was riding.  I then asked her whether, if she had to be someplace, she'd drive down a street that didn't take her there.

The memory of that incident has stuck with me because that woman echoed what seems to be a notion that (mis)guides planners, designers and builders of bicycle infrastructure.  They seem to think that cycling is only a recreational activity, not to be taken seriously.  So bike lanes are designed for, at best, aimless meandering (which I sometimes do) rather than as conduits of transportation. The lane that woman believed I "should" have taken is fine for riding from the neighborhood near LaGuardia Airport to Astoria Park, and useful for commuting if you work at the power generating plant or one of the metal fabrication shops (or the Halal slaughterhouse!) along the way.  

That driver didn't "get it;" perhaps she still doesn't.  But Alex Kent of Amherst, Massachusetts does. In a letter to the Daily Hampshire Gazzette, Kent makes the point that "bicycles are essential."  

The letter is a response to another letter writer who "claims not to understand why bike lanes are needed in Northampton when there is a rail trail nearby."  That person, Kent shows, does not understand that a bicycle is not simply a piece of exercise or recreational equipment; it is "an essential form of transportation."  The bicycle is "a way of getting from one place to another" and, as Kent points out, that place "may well be a business on Main Street and not on the rail trail."  Moreover, Kent explains, many cyclists--especially in places like Northampton and Amherst as well as cities like Boston and New York--don't even own cars:  The bicycle is their main form of transportation.

Alex Kent could have been me on that day when a driver cut me off and tried to tell me it was my fault because I wasn't riding in a bike lane that, at that moment, was of no use to me.  Unfortunately, I think there will be many more encounters like the one I had with that woman, letters like Kent's and "bike lanes to nowhere" before we have bike lanes or other infrastructure conceived as though the bicycle is a viable form of transportation.

10 May 2021

R.I.P. Helmut Jahn

He once remarked that one of his creations made his reputation throughout the world but killed it in Chicago.

Bicycling gave him a long, healthy life, but two cars killed him about 100 kilometers west of the Windy City.

The creation in question is the Thomposon Building, nee the State of Illinois Center, designed by architecht Helmut Jahn.

That building, and 55 West Monroe (originally known as the Xerox Center), the Chicago Board of Trade and the United Airlines Terminal at O'Hare International Airport, are among the most iconic structures in Chicago's distinctive profile. Jahn created the Art Deco Revival addition to the Board of Trade, and conceived and designed the others.

His quip about how he's regarded is a result of the Thompson Building's history.  Like too many high-rise structures, like the Empire State Building and the World Trade Center (Twin Towers) in my hometown, it has been a "white elephant" that bled barrels of cash.  (ESB, finished just as the world was about to plunge into the worst economic depression of the past century, didn't break even until 25 years after it opened; the Twin Towers were in the red from the day they opened until the day they fell.)  Last week, the State of Illinois began accepting bids for the Thompson's sale.

Of course, the edifice's financial woes are not Jahn's fault.  I hope the same can be said for the crash that ended his life.  According to a police report and witnesses, he didn't stop at a stop sign and proceded through an intersection in St. Charles.  There, a Chevrolet Trailblazer SUV traveling southeast knocked him into the northwest lane, where a Hyundai Sonata going in the opposite driection from the Trailblazer struck him.

Now, not having seen a video of the incident, or the incident itself, it's hard to know whom or what, if anyone or anything, to blame.  Did Jahn not see the Stop sign?  Did he not see the vehicles until it was too late?  Perhaps he misjudged their speed and figured he had enough time to cross?  Or were the drivers of either or both of the vehicles speeding or driving distractedly?

Whatever the answers to these questions, losing anyone in what must have been a gruesome collision is bad enough.  And, just as the world renowned Helmut Jahn as an architecht, it--we--will mourn his loss.

09 May 2021

For Moms And Kids Who Ride

During the past year, I've seen more people on bikes than I've ever seen before.  Not only is the number of bikes a departure from times past:  People I never expected to see on bikes are riding, and riding in ways I rarely saw before the pandemic.

Those new riders include many women riding with children in carriers, towed in trailers or pedaling smaller bikes behind them.  This post is dedicated to those women and children who are bonding over bikes.

From Have Fun Biking

Happy Mothers' Day!

From Scoperta Creations

08 May 2021

Would You Live On A Street That's A Singletrack?

 Some neighborhoods' and towns' street names have themes.  For example, when I pedal to Point Lookout, after traversing the Atlantic Beach Bridge, I cross a series of streets named for New York State counties.  Other communities have streets named after flowers or trees--or the children of the developers.  Then there are the "gem" streets of "The Hole."

Well, in Colorado there's a town called Fruita.  You might expect the streets to be named after strawberries or blueberries or cherries or other delectables.  But, being near Grand Junction, it's adjacent to some of the most renowned mountain biking in the world.  So, the builders of a new development paid homage--by building their new homes on Singletrack Street, Pivot Street and Yeti Street.  

Photo by Mattias Fredericksson

Executives of Yeti and Pivot bicycles deny that they had anything to do with naming the streets, but are nonetheless delighted.  It's "better than a star on Hollywood Boulevard," said Chris Conroy, the president of Yeti, which is based in nearby Golden.  Chris Cocalis, the CEO of Pivot, called the naming "a complete and awesome surprise."  

The town sounds like a nice place to go if you get tired of city life.  But I have to ask:  If the developers refused to sell their houses to road bikers, would that be a violation of Federal fair housing regulations?