30 June 2021

The Need Remains; They Want To Keep On Delivering

Back in February, I wrote about Bicycle Meals and its founder, Mike Pak.

Last year, on a Monday, he put up a flyer on Instagram, calling for help in assembling and distributing packets to the un-housed of Koreatown, the Los Angeles community he calls home.  The following Friday, 20 strangers rolled up to his apartment, ready to help.

Bicycle Meals volunteer getting ready to deliver. Photo by Angel Carreras, from KCRW.

The volunteers included people of varied backgrounds, including graphic designers, audio producers and former chefs.  Most were either working from home or not working at all, so they were able to contribute much time and energy--and, in many cases, their own money (to purchase food and other items).  They assembled packets containing sandwiches, fruit, snacks, masks and hand sanitizer--in the apartments of Pak and Bicycle Meals co-founder Jacob Halpern.

They have since moved the assembly operation to the basement of a nearby church.  Halpern notes that this has made the operation more efficient, but there is another problem:  As pandemic restrictions loosen, many volunteers have returned to their old workplaces and schedules, which doesn't leave them as much time to be, well, volunteers.

The need for their services, however, has not decreased.  Nor is the need for food and supplies.  Local businesses supplied some of them, but much also came from the volunteers themselves.  Some of the businesses can't donate as much as they did at first because they've lost so much revenue, and some of the volunteers are tapped out.  So, Pak and Halpern are hoping to engage more of, and beyond, the community for help--not only with money and material resources, but also help in accessing social services and job placement.

It seems that with all of the changes, Pak and Halpern are still trying to deliver.

29 June 2021

New Law In Old Dominion

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that I'm critical, sometimes even cynical, about bicycle-related laws--especially when they are presented as being in the interest of "safety."

So when I heard that a new law is to take effect 1 July in Virginia, I thought, "What now?" 

According to the new law in Old Dominion, drivers are required to change lanes when passing cyclists unless the lane is "very wide."  It also stipulates that two cyclists are allowed to ride abreast of each other if a single is approaching.  These rules apply only to regular streets and roads; when cyclists are in a designated bike lane, neither they nor drivers will need to do anything different from what they do now.

It will be interesting to see the effects of this new law.  I think requiring cars to move over makes sense, but I wonder about cyclists riding next to each other with trucks passing at 50 or more MPH.  If cycling in Virginia (which I haven't done) is anything like cycling in Florida (of which I've done a fair amount), the scenario I described wouldn't be uncommon, especially in rural and other remote areas, where the only road might be a county or state road.

Entirely predictable were some of the ignorant comments that followed a news story announcing the new law.  They were full of stereotypes about cyclists and complaints that cyclists were taking "their" roads that they "paid for."  One said that cyclists should be taxed--apparently not realizing that bicycle infrastructure is usually paid through transportation funds, which come from the same pot of tax money into which we all pay.  Still someone else said bicycles should be allowed only on designated bike paths, sidewalks and roads on which the speed limit is not greater than 25 MPH.  

What those commenters don't seem to realize is that today, a greater number of cyclists than ever are pedaling for transportation, and not solely for recreation.  The new law--at least part of it--seems to show some cognizance of that fact.


28 June 2021

Here Comes The Heat

 Apologies to George Harrison for the title of this post!

This morning I took an early ride. It was pleasant, if not challenging:  a bit more than an hour in a loop that took me down to Sunnyside and Woodside, then up past LaGuardia Airport and Citifield, along the World’s Fair Marina promenade—on Tosca, my Mercian fixed-gear bike.

As I pedaled the promenade, I was really glad that I took an early ride.

The haze in the distance was a harbinger of the heat that would blast us later.

I have to admit that I’m following the news about the heatwave in the western part of the US and wondering whether it will reach us.  As hot (and humid) as it is here in New York, our weather is spring-like compared to theirs.

If that heat makes it here, I guess I’ll have to start my rides earlier.

27 June 2021

More Signs

 When I’m on my bike, I can’t help but to notice signs.  As I mentioned in earlier posts, sometimes their meaning isn’t clear, or what their creators might have intended.

A case in point is what I saw the other day on Point Lookout.

I mean, it’s nice that the village now has a bocce court.  But what do they think the players are doing after games?

The day before, I pedaled to Connecticut, which involves crossing the RFK Memorial-Triborough Bridge.  Like most other crossings in this area, it has a sign for those who are thinking about going to the other side—and I’m not talking about Randall’s Island.

As someone who’s lost people to suicide, it’s not something in which I normally find humor.  I must admit, however, that I chuckled when I saw this.

“Don’t waste the trip.  Take Don Jr. with you.” I would prefer, though, that Darwin would find a way to deal with the son of El Cheeto Grande—and the big cheese himself.

26 June 2021

Pour Boucler La Boucle

Demi Vollering

The women’s version of the Tour de France was called, for a time, la Grande Boucle.  Literally, it means “the big loop”and referred to the fact that, like the men’s Tour de France, the race took riders around the country.

The name now seems weirdly appropriate.  Yesterday, La Course was held.  It’s billed as the feminin  version of the Tour,  At one time, the Boucle could legitimately make such a claim, as it was a multi-stage race.  Now, however, it’s a one-day prelude to the men’s Tour—as it was during the early years of the Boucle.

You could say the race a boucle la boucle (has come full circle), though not in the way cyclists or women’s sports advocates might have hoped.  

After expanding to 15 stages in the 1990s, organizational and logistical problems led to its shrinkage and, for a few years, it’s cancellation.  The race and riders were always scrambling for sponsorships, and race organizers scheduled stages in whichever cities contributed money.  That led to long and awkward transfers between stages.

For the record, Dutch cyclist Demi Vollering won yesterday’s La Course, held in the northwestern French town of Mur-de-Bretagne, about 130 kilometers from Brest, where the Tour started yesterday.

25 June 2021

Easing The Shock Of Gravel

 What are some telltale signs of an early '90s mountain bike?

One might be bar ends, especially those from Onza and Club Roost.  Another could be early Rock Shox or Manitou suspension (or "telescoping," according to the Brits) front fork--or a sprung rear triangle.  

Another popular form of suspension was built into handlebar stems, such as the ones from Girvin or Softride.  I never tried one myself, but I suspect they didn't do nearly as much to dampen shock--and make a ride more stable--as a suspended fork or rear triangle.  I suspect, though, another reason why they fell out of favor is that spension forks led to two nearly-simultaneous changes:  28.6 mm (1 1/8") steerer tubes replaced 25.4 (1") as the new standard, and threadless headsets became an industry standard.  Girvin and other suspension stems were of the "quill" type and manufacturers couldn't, or didn't want to, make threadless suspension stems.

Well, in the cycling world, very few ideas actually die.  SunTour made cassette hubs and indexed shifting in 1969.  I've never seen them, but from what I've read and heard, they worked well. The market wasn't ready for them, however, until Shimano re-introduced them a decade and a  half later.  Likewise, suspension stems didn't end up as road- (or trail-) kill.  A recent trend has brought them back from the dustbin of cycling history.

Gravel biking is credited for showing that wider tires aren't only for mountain bikes or beach cruisers.  It also has renewed interest in minimalist, lightweight forms of suspension.  Most suspension forks are simply too heavy, and too dampening, for gravel bikers' tastes.  Those forks also have straight or nearly-straight blades, which negate the benefits of the low-trail bikes' geometries.  And I don't know how feasible rear-triangle suspension is for a gravel bike.

During the past couple of years, some new suspension stems have appeared on the market.  Unlike Girvin and Softride, the new Shock Stop and Kinekt models are threadless stems.  The former uses swappable elastomer inserts, rather like a few of the 90s suspension forks and USE fork.  Not coincidentally, Shock Stop offers an elastomer-equipped seatpost to complement its stem. Kinekt, on the other hand, uses a parallelogram system reminiscent of the Soft Ride.

In my limited experience with suspension systems, one problem I found with elastomers is that dirt, moisture or cold stiffened them.  A mechanical system like Kinekt might be heavier, but more reliable, and avoids the problem of manufacturers who discontinue replacement elastomers (or go out of business).  I am not making any recommendations, as I have never used any new or old suspension stem.  I do find it interesting, however, that a new trend in riding has given an old idea a new lease on life.

24 June 2021

Cycling For Our Lives

Whenever I went to Florida during the summer, I woke up before sunrise so I do a ride before midday. Or, if I started later, I would plan to spend a couple of hours at the beach, or in a shady area, at lunchtime.  The idea was, of course, to avoid the midday heat and humidity, which could be unbearable.

For me, that was not an imposition.  If I did an early ride, I could have lunch and go to a movie or to stores--which are air-conditioned--with my parents during the hottest part of the day.  And who could complain about spending time on a beach in Florida?

But for others, the consequences of extreme weather are more extreme.  I'm hearing stories about parents who, during the current record-breaking heat wave in much of the western US, wake their kids up before dawn just so they can go outside for a couple of hours before the heat is not only unpleasant, but sometimes dangerous.  

Others, though, face much worse, including the loss of their homes, their livings or even their ways of life.  As an example, aboriginal peoples in Arctic regions will lose everything from their culture to their traditional diets if the ice continues to melt at current rates.  Likewise, people in coastal regions all over the world face displacement, and in still other regions, famines could result from crop or fishery failures or destruction.

James Baldwin once remarked that the future is like heaven:  People exalt it, but they don't want to go to it now.  He was talking about the Civil Rights struggles, but he could have been describing the current situation:  People know we need to change our ways, but not now.  Policies for reducing greenhouse emissions set goals for 2050 or some other year many of us won't see.  During the past few years, however, we've seen and heard evidence of accelerating climate change and environmental degradation. 

"The worst is yet to come, affecting our children's and grandchildren's lives much more than our own."  That blunt assessment came from an unlikely source:  a report compiled by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of scientists who have been studying the issue.   The 4000 page document is not scheduled for official release until February 2022, but Agence France Presse received a draft yesterday.

From Ecoist magazine

I have devoted a post to this report because there is hardly a better reason to encourage cycling.  One of the chief causes of climate change is fossil fuel combustion, and one of its main sources is motor vehicle use.  I understand that, given the realities of how too many places are designed, and the ways in which some people make a living, some driving is necessary and inevitable.  But every time I ride by a line of SUVs transporting only their drivers, I have to wonder whether they're just going to the store down the street.

23 June 2021

Truck Plows Into Bike Race

He shook hands with, and wished good luck to, a fellow cyclist.

Such a scene is repeated before races all over the world, especially if they are amateur or club races.

Each rider might go home to his or her family or friends after the race.  Or they might share a beer or lunch.

Neither, I reckon, imagined what happened next.

A few minutes after they shook hands, Tony Quinones would witness the other cyclist, whom he had just met, flipped onto the hood of a pickup truck, along with other cyclists and their bikes.

When that truck approached the road on which they were riding, Quinones said he expected the truck to turn toward a nearby parking lot.  Instead, its driver aimed straight for the group of cyclists--and accelerated.

He didn't stop until he hit a utility pole.  Other cyclists pounded on his window, screaming for him to get out.  Instead, he made a U-turn and headed back toward the cyclists.  Quniones feared he'd strike again.  Instead, the driver sped away.

Later, that driver--identified only as a 35-year-old male--was shot by police when he didn't comply with their order to stop.

As many as ten cyclists were hurt, six of them seriously. One is in stable condition.

Photo by Tony Quinones

Authorities in Show Low, Arizona--the site of the incident--haven't ascertained the driver's motives.  About all they know is that he didn't fall asleep or have a heart attack at the wheel.

Call me paranoid, but I can't help but to wonder whether resentment and the hyper-politicized environment of the past year and half had something to do with his motivations.  

As more people cycle, and more bike lanes and infrastructure are built, I sense--and have experienced--more hostility from motorists. Some believe we are taking "their" streets from them. I also sense that some see riding a bicycle the way others (or, perhaps, they themselves) see wearing a mask.  A former colleague of mine lives in an area full of Trump supporters and was, and is, ridiculed, harassed or even threatened for covering her face.  Although she's vaccinated, she continues to protect herself because of underlying medical conditions that aren't readily visible.

And it just so happens that Arizona is one of the states where the election was most contentious.  President Joe Biden was the first Democrat the state elected to the White House in decades, and the Secretary of State has been assigned a security detail because of the death threats she's received in the wake of her refusal to overturn the election results.

Of course, I can't speak of the driver's motivations.  But could he have seen those cyclists, or anyone who wears a mask, as an "enemy?"   

22 June 2021

An Epic And CNN

One of the great things about cycling is that you can get from place to place faster than you can walk, at eye level. And you can stop without having to alert a bus driver so you can hop off.  An example is a ride I took yesterday afternoon. I zigzagged through industrial areas along the Broooklyn-Queens border.  Some of the old factories and warehouses have become studios and shops but, thankfully, there's still a lot to see from the street.

You can even witness an epic battle that doesn't involve gangs.

One piece I saw in Bushwick, however, reminded me of old-school hip hop, when it wasvcalled "the CNN of the ghetto.

Is he warning the neighborhood about something?

The world moves on.  Things change--including ourselves and, in some cases, our bikes.  I just hope that we don't lose the spirit of those graffiti murals--and that I can see them simply by taking an afternoon bike ride!

21 June 2021

The Longest Day

 The Summer Solstice arrives today in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s the official first day of summer, and “the longest day.”

Some clubs and individuals have planned “longest day” rides to take advantage of the long stretch of daylight.  I am going to take such a ride later.

In my youth, I did a “longest day” ride that spanned the entire day and state of New Jersey. We began at dawn at High Point, where the states of New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania meet, and pedaled just over 200 miles to Cape May, about 50 miles south of Atlantic City.. (No, we didn’t go to AC.)

Honestly, I don’t remember much about the ride.  I hadn’t slept the night before because I was so concerned about missing the meetup—at 3am, if I recall correctly—and van ride to the start point.

The flickering of dawn was about the only sunlight we saw that day.  The good  news was that the sun wasn’t beating down on us on that humid day.  The bad news  was that the humidity fell on us—as showers somewhere around Clinton and in a torrent just south of Prlinceton.

Cape May juts into the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay about 50 miles south of Atlantic City. (No, we didn’t go to AC!) The pizza we ate, in large quantities, wouldn’t have passed muster in my old Brooklyn neighborhood or northern Jersey Shore (Long Branch and Asbury Park) hangouts.  And I have no idea of what kind of beer we drank, pitcher after pitcher.  Few things, though, have ever tasted better—or more earned, at the end of the Longest Day.

P.S.  There is an edited version of Saturday’s post on The Daily Kos.

19 June 2021

Juneteenth Ride And Reflection

Today is Juneteenth, the date in 1865 when slaves on Galveston Island, Texas would become the last to learn they were no longer slaves--at least, not officially.

This morning I took a bike ride out to Fort Totten. I wanted to get some miles in before the heat and rain roll in this afternoon.  Plus, I wanted to do something easy after pedaling to Connecticut yesterday.  My morning ride totaled about 20 miles, which I did on Tosca, my Mercian fixed gear.

Just this week, President Biden signed the bill declaring Juneteenth a Federal holiday, which was observed (and offices were closed) yesterday, as today is Saturday.  That means the holiday will be observed on Friday or Monday next year, as it will fall on Sunday.

From the Detroit MetroTimes

As I rode, I reflected on this date.  In my first paragraph, I said that the slaves were officially free. But just how free are African Americans today. I pondered, for example, whether I would have been taking my ride alone--or at all--were my skin and hair darker.  Given the stories I've heard from friends and acquaintances, and of Ahmaud Arbery,  I have to wonder how many African-Americans or dark-skinned Latinx people--or, in some places, Asians--don't go out for a bike ride, a run, a hike or even a walk because they don't know whether they'll make it back.  That could be one of the reasons why African-Americans of nearly all age, education and income levels have worse health outcomes than even poor white people who didn't finish high school.  (In my home state, the Bronx--which is overwhelmingly nonwhite--ranks last in health outcomes of New York's 62 counties.)

If people don't feel free to leave their homes so they can exercise--or shop, go to a library or museum or attend a concert--just how free are they?

That is why I am glad that President Biden made Juneteenth a holiday.  I am all for commemorating it with bike rides and other events.  I just hope that it doesn't degenerate into another orgy of shopping or other excesses, which too many other holidays that should be serious occasions have become.

18 June 2021

R.I.P. Harris Cyclery

Perhaps you've already heard:  Harris Cyclery of West Newton, Massachusetts closed its doors on Sunday, the 13th.  Their online ordering service--which I've used a few times--is also gone.

I stumbled over the bad news when Googling one of Sheldon Brown's tech pages.  He, of course, is how I learned of the shop in the first place--about 40 years ago, if I recall correctly, when I read an article he wrote about wheelbuilding.  At that time, of course, the website didn't exist, but when I got up to Boston, I made a point of visiting the shop.  Alas, he was away.  But I did get to meet him on a subsequent visit.  He was about what you expected if you read any of his writing:  warm, generous with advice and posessed of a quirky sense of humor.  

Sheldon Brown

Those are traits I also encountered in other Harris staffers.  They, and Sheldon, did much to promote everyday as well as recreational cycling in and around Boston.  So did their predecessors at Harris.  They had to:  When the shop first opened its doors 70 years ago (in a different building), it was one of the few anywhere in the US to offer high-quality, high-performance bikes and parts for the few adult everyday cyclists as well as enthusiasts of the time.  In other words, they helped to keep the flame lit during what Sheldon has called the "Dark Ages" of American cycling, which spanned roughly two decades after World War II.

It's always distressing to lose any beloved small business.  What makes the loss of Harris so disturbing, though, is that it shows us no shop may be immune to the vicissitudes of the marketplace. Being a New Yorker, my first thought was, "Their landlord wouldn't renew their lease--or wanted to increase the rent by an outrageous amount."  From what information I've gleaned, however, it seems that Harris got caught in the vortex that sucked in many other shops during the past few months:  After a COVID-fueled "boom" in sales, their showroom was bare.  They were able to keep themselves going with repair work--until they couldn't get any more parts, due to disrupted supply chains.  Customers, naturally, don't want to wait months for a new bike, much less a repair or tuneup--or to buy a helmet, lock or light.  

My biggest concern, though, is Sheldon's pages.  In addition to containing more useful information and insights--and well-informed, if at times cranky, opinions-- than just about any other site or guide, it's a continuation of his legacy, a dozen years after his passing.  I hope we don't lose those pages along with the shop!

17 June 2021

She’s A Champion. Sign Me Up!

 Molly Cameron has become one of my heroes.  Her decades as a cyclo-cross racer and in the bicycle industry has given her a platform—which she isn’t shy about using—to advocate for gender equality and LGBTQ+ rights.

In April, she announced that she won’t be going to a CX World Cup event in October or the 2022 World Championships if, as currently scheduled, they’re held in Arkansas. “I won’t be spending any money in Arkansas or any other state that is passing laws to discriminate against the LGBT community,” she said.

Now she’s going even further:  She’s opened a GoFundMe page to raise money for her advocacy work as she launches a national organization for LGBTQ+ representation in the bicycle industry and sport.

Sign me up!

16 June 2021

A Juneteenth Freedom Ride In Bronzeville

Lately, there's been much talk about things returning to "normal" or becoming a "new normal" as pandemic-induced restrictions are eased or lifted.

Some aspects of the "new normal" will be welcome.  One, I hope, will be a ride Jason Easterly and Mike Allan took last year and are repeating this year.

Jason Easterly. Photo by Ariel Uribe, from the Chicago Tribune

Easterly is, among other things, a spin class instructor.  Allan was one of his students.  Last spring, when gyms were ordered to close, Easterly took his classes online.  Allan continued his participation.

In the days after a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd, in the words of Easterly, "we were living in a powder keg." People were "sitting in lockdown, not able to get out" as "our loved ones" were dying.

Allan suggested a bike ride--in person, through Bronzeville, the Chicago neighborhood where he and Easterly live.  They would invite a friends.  A 15-mile route was planned, as was the date:  19 June a.k.a Juneteenth.

They decided to call it the "Freedom Ride," in commemoration on the date in 1865 when Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston to inform enslaved Americans that they were free.  At that time, Texas was the frontier:  There were really no major cities between St. Louis and San Francisco.  The Lone Star State was the last bastion of slavery, as it was the Confederate state farthest from Washington DC.

So the slaves of Texas, the last to be liberated, learned of their freedom some two months after the Civil War ended and two years after Lincoln declared the Emancipation Proclamation.

Apparently, a lot of people in Chicago (and other places) wanted to be liberated from lockdown.  About  200 showed up for that ride.

It will be reprised this Saturday, the 19th.  Riders will meet at noon Wintrust Arena, 200 East Cermak Road, and pedal to Bronzeville and then into downtown.  

Perhaps the “Juneteenth Freedom Ride” will become an annual event—and part of “the new normal.” 

15 June 2021

And The Point Of This Is....?

Fifty Shades of Grey showed us that there's no book so ridiculous and poorly-written that people won't read it.*

The past few years have shown us that there's no candidate so ignorant, petty, vulgar and just plain mean that people won't vote for him/her. 

And there are some ideas so impractical and pointless that some tech person with too much time on his hands won't work on it:

Zhihui Jun, a Huawei engineer, got the idea for the riderless bike when he was recuperating from injuries sustained in a bicycle accident.  Hmm....That sounds like designing a shoe that walks itself while waiting for your sprained ankle to heal.   

Anyway, I must pay all due respect for his talents as an engineer (He must be better at math than I could ever dream of being!) and, I suppose, his imagination.  Maybe it was a "just for fun" project.  After all, what is a bicycle without a rider?

Again, with all due respect to Mr. Jun, he isn't the first to come up with the idea.  This was spotted on an Amsterdam Street a few years ago:

I ask:  Why?

*--Aside from lines like, "I must be the color of the communist manifesto" and the number of times the author uses words like "oozes" and phrases like "my inner goddess," the book is objectionable because its depictions of BDSM are BS.   Don't ask how I know! ;-)

14 June 2021

I Made It Home This Time

 I finished my ride yesterday.

Normally, that would hardly be worth mentioning, especially since it's one I've done many times before:  to Greenwich, Connecticut and back.

Yesterday, however, marked one year since the crash that ended the life of Arielle, my Mercian Audax Special.  It was my first Mercian, so the loss was all the more painful.

Yesterday, I mostly retraced the route I took one year earlier. I must admit that I slowed down a bit more than I needed to, and was especially wary, when I made the turn onto Bonnefoy Avenue in New Rochelle.  That is where I crashed:  about 30 kilometers from home. Instead of home, I spent the rest of that weekend in Montefiore-New Rochelle's emergency room and Westchester Medical Center's trauma unit.

I was transferred to the latter facility because of the the impact to my face and head.  There was "slight" bleeding around my brain, but that healed relatively quickly.  After a month, I was back to riding more or less the way I was before.


Ironically, the "dooring" incident I suffered late in October kept me off my bike for longer, and led to a slower recovery, but the accident in New Rochelle had the potential to be more serious.  Once the bleeding around my brain subsided and there were no signs of a concussion, I was able to ride without pain:  the wounds to my face, while they required stitches, looked worse than they actually were.  On the other hand, after the "dooring," I suffered deep lacerations and injuries to my right thigh muscles and knee.  

I didn't finish that ride, either.  But I made it home yesterday, from Connecticut--and made myself a sumptuous dinner of cavatelli with broccoli rabe and fresh mozzerella, and a dessert of a fresh peach and cherries.

13 June 2021

Does Size Matter?

As I've mentioned in earlier posts, I've ridden tandems only twice in my life.  I wouldn't mind riding one again, especially if it's a high-quality machine.

Or one like this:

After all, Jan Heine claims that larger-diameter wheels don't make you go faster! 

12 June 2021

Bilenky Diplomacy

Boris Johnson has been called the "British Trump."

The moniker is accurate in some ways:  As Prime Minister, he has encouraged and implemented a kind of right-wing nationalism that appeals to English people who feel they've been left behind, and condescended to, by globalists, even if his ideologies and policies have pushed them further behind and favors the wealthy.

There are differences, though, between him and El Cheeto Grande.  While Johnson is an outsized media presence, he never could match Trump's narcisisstic ubiquity (or is it ubiquitous narcissism?).  And Johnson has not only encouraged, but participates in, something Trump discourages and has mocked others for.

I am talking, of course, about cycling.  When he was Mayor of London, he was often seen pedaling along that city's streets.  And, in January, he was criticized for traveling a few miles from 10 Downing Street for a bike ride while the rest of his country was under lockdown.

As it turns out, his cycling gives him common ground with the current US President, Joe Biden.  (I also suspect that they have more in common than they, or most people, realize.)  So, when Biden went to the G7 Summit meeting in Cornwall, England, he wanted to present the Prime Minister with a gift of--you guessed it--a bicycle.

So the State Department sent an urgent message to Stephen Bilenky in Philadelphia. He builds about 75 bikes a year, and most customers wait anywhere from six to eighteeen months for their orders.  The message exhorted him to build a bike in two weeks.

Oh, and State stipulated that the bike should have as many US-made components as possible--and cost less than $1500.  A typical Bilenky costs around $4500.

Mr. Bilenky rose to the challenge.  "It was a crazy 10 days," he said, but they got it done.  The frame, made from Columbus steel, is painted blue with red and white decorations to evoke the Union Jack--which adorns the frame, along with the Stars and Stripes and signatures of both men.

As for the components, the hubs, cranks and headset come from White Industries of California.  Also from the Golden State is the Selle Anatomica saddle.  Other parts, while not made stateside, came from US-based companies.  They include the SRAM derailleurs and levers, and Velocity  rims.

However Biden's and Johnson's relationship develops, it looks like our President is at least setting the wheels in motion (sorry, couldn't resist) toward something saner than we saw from Mango Mussolini.

(Photos by Daniel Kilkelly, from Painted Dog Media)

11 June 2021


Last week, this blog marked one milestone:  11 years.

Today's post is another:  Number 3500.

When I started this blog, I had no idea of how long, or how many posts, it would run.  I knew only that I wanted to call it "Midlife Cycling" for all of its life.  As a wise person once told me, as long as you don't know when your life will end, you're in the middle of it.  I'd say the same for this blog, or any other endeavor:  You can't define a mid-point without knowing the end-point.

Luang Prbang, 22 July 2018

When I first posted, I had just started riding again after recovering from my gender-affirmation surgery.  Since then, my life--and the cycling scene--has changed in all kinds of ways.  I can recall when chances were that I knew any cyclist I encountered during my ride; now I see all kinds of new faces--and bodies--and, of course, bikes--whether I'm spinning down my street or rolling along a suburban or country road, whether a county or an ocean away from my home.

Once again, I thank all of you, whether you've followed this blog from its beginnings, or you've found it for the first time in a Google search about Shimano DX or cycling in New York or France.

10 June 2021

In Michigan: A Ride To Reconnect And Remember

 In many places, COVID-19 restrictions are loosening or being abolished altogether.  This has resulted in a number of “firsts “:  People are going places and doing things they haven’t seen or done in more than a year.  Last night, I had my first sit-down dinner in a restaurant since the pandemic began.  A friend treated me for helping her to buy, and fix, her bike.

Speaking of which: Club and other group rides are reconvening. For most cyclists, such rides are a time of joy, or at least relief.

They and other “firsts” can, however, be tinged with sadness and grief.  A favorite cafe may have closed or a chef or server might be gone. So might some riding buddies.

Photo by Trace Christensen, from the Battle Creek Enquirer 

Such was the case for a group of Michigan cyclists who rode together on Tuesday evening.  As they embarked from Mike’s Team Active Bikes in Battle Creek, owner Mike Wood, who rode with them, reminded everyone of five riders who were not with them.

From left: Melissa Ann Fevig Hughes, Suzanne Sippel, Debbie Bradley, Tony Nelson and Larry Paulik

On that day five years earlier, Debbie Bradley, Suzanne Joan Sippel, Lorenz John (Larry) Pauli’s, Fred Anton (Tony) Nelson and Melissa Ann Fevig Hughes were mowed down by an impaired driver in a pickup truck.  Four other cyclists who accompanied them survived the experience, but are still dealing with the physical and emotional trauma that resulted.

As with many other “firsts,” Tuesday’s ride in Battle Creek was a time to reconnect—and reflect.

09 June 2021

Rust Belt Reverse Robin Hood

It’s  bad enough when a bike shop is robbed.  I feel for the owners and employees who are trying to make a living while providing valuable services.

A robbery is all the more galling when its target is a non-profit shop committed to making bicycles to everyone who can ride.  It’s worse still when such a shoo is located in an area where the need is great.

The scenario described in the previous paragraph took place on Sunday night, around 9:30. A surveillance video shows someone smashing a cash register in the parking lot.  According to reports, the amount of cash the perp took was not great, but it surely matters to a shop like Toledo Bikes.  

So did the bike he took from the showroom floor—and another bike taken yesterday morning by someone who entered through the door broken by whoever filched the first bike.

A man has been arrested in relation to yesterday‘s theft. Police haven’t yet confirmed whether he, or someone else, is responsible for the first robbery.

A local glass repair company, no doubt cognizant of Toledo Bikes’ value to the community (and its probably-minuscule budget) has offered to replace the broken glass door.

08 June 2021

Cycles And Carrots In Cuba

 Although bicycle commuting and transportation is on the rise here in the USA, the bicycle is still commonly associated with pleasure, fitness, recreation and sport. That, I believe, is why cyclists incur resentment and antagonism from drivers:  Most Americans drive because their communities and lifestyles all but require it.  Even in my hometown of New York City, there are “transportation deserts,” defined as places more than a 15-minute walk from a subway or bus station. Truth be told, many of us who ride to work, school or wherever have other options.

In other parts of the world, the situation is different:  People pedal because they don’t have other options.  In fact, many associate bicycles with poverty and hard times. Irina Echarry describes this in her article published in today’s Havana Times.

She also draws a very interesting connection: whenever the economy takes a turn for the worse in Cuba, “two things flourish: fields and bikes.”  People “turn to planting their own crops so they don’t die of hunger,” she explains, and “turn to bikes so they can keep moving.”

When she draws that comparison between planting a vegetable garden and riding a bike, she is saying that both are means to self-sufficiency,  and even survival.

07 June 2021

A Win For Us

Some of us follow competitive sports because they’re exciting.  Others—I include myself—are interested in the stories of the athletes.

Photo by Will Matthews

Ian Boswell is one such athlete.  

On Saturday, he stormed to victory in the Unbound Gravel 200 race in Kansas.  It wasn’t a triumph only for him; it was also a win for his nephew, and the community of which he is a part.

Which is to say it’s also a win for me.  You see the nephew is transgender, and a sweatband showing our community’s flag was clearly visible on when Boswell raised his arms as he crossed the finish line.

“If I can bring awareness or support, it honestly means more to me than winning any race,” he said of his achievement.

He definitely sounds like a champion to me!

06 June 2021

If It Fits, Grab It!

Recently, I helped a friend buy a bike.

She's about my age, give or take a couple of years, but hasn't had a bike since she was a teenager.  Seeing other people (including yours truly) astride two wheels "made me think:  what fun!  what a great way to get around!"

The search wasn't easy, though.  Of course, I had to think about what kind of bike would ease her back into riding and fit her well.

I think one of those goals was accomplished with a folding bike. Whether we met the other goal, though, is debatable:  It's not a Brompton or other high-end folder, so I'm not sure it fits anybody well.

But, as you surely know, the pandemic has induced a bicycle shortage even more acute, I think, than the ones that marked the 1970s Bike Boom.  So people like my friend are taking whatever they can get:

05 June 2021

This May Have Been An Accident

Oh, no!

That was my reaction upon hearing that a former NBA player died as a result of a bicycle accident in Utah.

The news made me cringe on two levels.  First of all, I thought immediately of Shawn Bradley, of whom I wrote in March.  As he pedaled along a road near his St. George home, a driver struck him from behind and left him paralyzed, with a traumatic spinal cord injury.  I was glad to hear he wasn't the former NBA player I heard about yesterday, though I don't envy his situation.  

I wasn't happy, though, to learn of Mark Eaton's death from "an apparent bicycle accident" in Silver Creek.  At first, I thought  of Henry Grabar's Slate article reminding readers that what happened to Bradley--and incidents like it--are not  "accidents," as they're often (mis)reported.  According to the report I read, Eaton--who, like Bradley, played 12 NBA seasons and was best known as a shot-blocker--was found unconscious in the middle of a road near his home.  Emergency medical personnel treated him and rushed him to a hospital, where he couldn't be saved.

Mark Eaton in 1985

The Utah Office of the Medical Examiner will try to determine the cause of death.  There were no witnesses to whatever happened to Eaton , according to the Sheriff's Office, but authorities believe "no vehicle was involved."

If indeed "no vehicle was involved," it may well be that whatever befell Eaton was an accident. That, of course, doesn't make it any less terrible, any more than his status as a former NBA player makes his passing more tragic.  One can only hope that whatever happened to him, he went with as little pain and suffering as possible, and with the memory of a good ride.

04 June 2021

70 With 46

 Yesterday was World Bicycle Day.

The day after, a woman turned 70 and celebrated with a bike ride.

No, I am not that woman.  First of all, I haven't reached that milestone yet. (I might tell you when I do.) Second, she rode with her husband.

So who is the mystery woman?

She is none other than Jill Biden, wife of the current President.  They returned to Delaware, their home state, and pedaled down the 5.2 mile Cape Henlopen State Park trail, near their beach house.

Of course, it's pretty difficult for a President and First Lady to go unnoticed on a bike ride.  Other cyclists shouted good wishes and sang "Happy Birthday."  A reporter asked Jill whether she was enjoying her birthday.  She responded with an enthusiastic "Yes."

If this image of Joe (a.k.a. #46) and Jill cycling doesn't show just how different they are from their most recent predecessors, I don't know what does!