30 September 2021

I Admire His Ingenuity, But There Are Better Uses For Bikes

In earlier posts, I've written about homeless people I often encounter on rides, especially during my commutes to and from work.  I've seen them in the places one expects to find them:  in doorways and vestibules,  under train trestles and under overpasses of one kind or another, inside any kind of structure abandoned temporarily or for years or decades. I saw one man sleeping on the ramp, partially enclosed, that gave cyclists and pedestrians access between the Bronx and Randall's Island before the connector opened.  Some unhoused people even sleep, or at least recline, on sidewalks that see little or no foot traffic after business hours, covering themselves with blankets, rags, cardboard boxes or almost anything else that provides a layer, however thin, between them and the night.  When that doesn't prove to be enough--or sometimes when it does--they curl up into a fetal position as if they were trying to re-create their mothers' wombs, their first (and perhaps only real) home.

And some have bicycles.  I would guess they were "rescued" from dumpsters, trash left for curbside pickup or other places and repairs, just enough to keep the bike operable, salvaged from those same sources.  Some folks use their bikes as their "shelter", or at least part of it.

Apparently, one unhoused man in Los Angeles' Koreatown took the idea of using a bicycle as "shelter" further than anyone I've witnessed or heard about.  He built a wall of bicycles between himself and the traffic of 4th Street.

Of course, not everyone appreciates the man's creative ingenuity.  He is just one of many people living in a sidewalk homeless encampment on 4th.  Since not many businesses or residents would allow such people to use their toilets or showers, sanitation is a problem.  So is access to the local businesses, including a dental office.  "I have a few who have left our practice," complains Dr. Charisma Lasan, whose office is across the street from the encampment.  "They actually came and turned around and just went home" upon seeing the encampment, she explained.

While I can understand her and other business owners'--and residents'--concerns, I also know that simply chasing or detaining them won't solve the problem.  If any of the encampments' residents are like the man who built the bicycle walls, they have talents and skills--some of which may have been developed or honed on the street--that can help them to do more than merely survive.  Of course, that would mean ensuring they receive whatever they need, whether education, mental health services, medical care or other thing--including, of course, a place to live.

Oh, and as much as I appreciate the man's inventiveness, I would rather see the bikes used for transportation or recreation.  I don't think they were ever intended as shelter!


29 September 2021

From Keds To Pajamas To...Bicycles

 "They shall beat their swords into ploughshares " comes from the book of Isaiah.  It's been used as a metaphor for a transition from one industry or economy or another.  The real transition, of course, is in the way resources are in the types of resources, and the ways they are, used.  

An example was 5 Pointz, an old water meter factory converted to artists' studios in Long Island City, just four kilometers from my apartment. Its owner also held a competition every year to decide which artists would grace its exterior with mural art.  It actually became a tourist attraction; people would ride the 7 train from Manhattan just to see the building as the train made its turn from Court House Square to Queensboro Plaza.

Sometimes I fall into the cynicism that tells me if I like something enough, it won't last.  In this case, that jadedess was justified:  The owner sold the property, tore down the factory and build just what this city--and the world--needs:  two luxury condominium towers, which kept the name "5 Pointz."

But some property-use conversions are more welcome.  I am thinking of what David and Louise Stone have done in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.  Their Bicycle Recycle shop, like other similar programs, "rescues" used bikes and either refurbishes them or strips them for parts to repair other bikes.  Some of those bikes are sold; others are donated.  And some of the the bikes and parts are used to train volunteers who work with them.  Their work, they say, is motivated by their knowledge that bicycles can change lives.

What might be most unusual about them--aside from the fact that they started Bicycle Recycle when they were of a certain age--is their location.  Yes, it's was a factory. What it made, and what distinguished it, seems about as incongruous for a bicycle-related enterprise as anything can be.

The name says it all:  The Pajama Factory.  Today it houses other businesses and artists' studios, in addition to Bicycle Recycle.  But it wasn't any old pajama factory: It was the largest of its kind, where, starting in 1934,  the Weldon Pajama Company  produced more of the garments than any other facility in the world. (Was Williamsport ever described as a "sleepy" town? Sorry, I couldn't resist that one!)  

The complex, however, dates to half a decade before the first sleepwear was made in it.  The Lycoming Rubber Company, a subsidiary of the US Rubber Company, built it between 1883 and 1919 as a place to manufacture their tennis, gym and yachting shoes--and their most famous product, Keds sneakers--in addition to other rubber goods.

From Keds to pajamas to recycled bikes--that's certainly an interesting trajectory.  And the Stones sound like interesting people.

28 September 2021

Driver Rolls Coal, Cyclists Treated Like Invasive Species

A recent incident has cyclists "arguing that consequence-free way to kill someone in Texas is to do it with a car."  

So wrote Dug Begley in yesterday's Houston ChronicleHe was referring to the inaction of law enforcement officials against a 16-year-old who "rolled coal"--accelerated and passed a group of cyclists in order to blow black exhaust on them--then whipped around and plowed into another group of riders, injuring six of them.

The driver stopped and talked to police, but it's clear that his actions were intended to at least intimidate, and at worst to maim or kill, cyclists.  He cannot plausibly claim he "didn't see them," as Begley describes the road as "ramrod straight" and the weather was sunny, with scarcely a cloud anywhere, on Saturday morning when he struck.

Cyclists on the Bluebonnet Express Ride in 2012, near the site where a young man plowed into a group of cyclists on Saturday.  Photo by Patric Schneider

While other jurisdictions are starting to take incidents against cyclists more seriously, BikeHouston executive director Joe Cutrufo says that cyclists in his area are "treated like an invasive species" when, in fact, we "have every right to use the roads."

I hope that Waller County police and prosecutors acknowledge as much, and to treat the driver as someone who committed assault with a deadly weapon.

27 September 2021

What Would The Wright Brothers Have Done?

Photo by Cornelius Frolik

Two New York City boroughs, the Bronx and Queens, had similar histories and patterns of development, at least until the 1970s.  During that decade, fires ravaged parts of the Bronx, and others areas of the borough were gutted by de-industrialization and disinvestment, both by the city and private entities.  Still, the Bronx has more buildings and districts considered historically significant—some with landmark designation—than Queens has.  In fact, there are more Art Deco buildings in the Bronx than anywhere else in the United States except Miami.

One  reason why the Bronx has more historically significant buildings is, ironically, that the devastation of the 1970s discouraged developers from coming into the Bronx—and, as they are wont to do, tear buildings down.  On the other hand, during that time, Queens had a Borough President—Donald Manes—who never met a developer he didn’t like and had absolutely no interest in historic preservation.

I mention all of this because whenever a building is suggested for preservation, there is a debate about what, exactly, makes a structure historically significant and to what lengths should a city, county or other entity go to preserve it.

Specifically, both questions are being debated about 1005 West Third Street in Dayton, Ohio.  The city government wants to tear down the building because its internal structures have deteriorated after decades of disuse and neglect.  “It could collapse tonight, it could stand for another three years—nobody knows,” says Don Zimmer, Dayton’s nuisance abatement program supervisor.  

The Dayton Landmarks Commission has, however, denied the city’s request to tear it down.  They, along with Preservation Dayton, argue that at least  the building’s exterior could be preserved, which might entice a would-be investor.

So why are they debating about this particular building?  It’s not because the edifice was home to Gem City Ice Cream Co., as significant as that might be to some people in the area.  Rather, it has to do with GCICC’s predecessor:  a bike shop.

Specifically, it was home to the Wright Brothers’ first bicycle shop.  Yes, those Wright Brothers—who based much of their first successful aircraft’s design on their bicycles.

One wonders what they would do about the building.

26 September 2021

Who's Directing The Ride?

 As I've mentioned in earlier posts, I've ridden tandems only a couple of times in my life.  I can't, therefore, claim to understand the relationships between members of a tandem-riding "couple," some of whom are indeed married or otherwise enjoined.

Somehow I imagine that in at least some tandem-riding couples, one member serves as the navigator.  In some ensembles, the "captain"--the rider in front--is directing the ride and the person in back is mainly supplying muscle power, while other pairings include a "stoker"--the person in the rear--who navigates.

I got to thinking about those relationships when I came across this:

25 September 2021

Can A Bicycle Make Your Life 15 Percent Better?

Almost nobody would dispute that receiving a bicycle will improve an impoverished person's lot in life.  But  by how much?

Dave Schweidenback, founder and CEO of Pedals for Progress, has an answer:  "Every one of those bikes represents a minimum 15 percent increase of income for the individual who gets it."

He was referring specifically to the bikes the Green Mountain Returned Peace Corps volunteers are collecting for Pedals for Progress, who is sending them to Guatemala and other developing countries.  But his claim is probably valid in reference to bikes donated to just about anyone, anywhere, whose income-earning (and, in many cases, educational) opportunities are constricted by a lack of transportation.  I would imagine that receiving a bicycle would enable not only people going to regular jobs in stores, factories, offices or other sites, but also folks who weave, sew, cook, bake, carve, paint or practice other crafts--many of whom are women-- and sell their wares.  They could use bicycles to bring their work, say, to a marketplace or to deliver to people's homes.

Dave Schweidenback, founder and CEO of Pedals for Progress, with the 150,000th bike collected.

Speaking of which:  The Vermont-based Peace Corps group is  collecting, in addition to bicycles, used sewing machines.  I would imagine that while a bicycle might increase someone's income by 15 percent, it--or a sewing machine-- might allow someone else in an impoverished area to work in the first place.

24 September 2021

He Says We're Charity Cases

When laws or policies are enacted so that members of "minority" groups can love and marry whomever their hearts desire, get jobs commensurate with their education and skills, and live in communities they can afford--and where their children will enjoy the same opportunities as their majority-culture peers--some folks whine that we're getting "special privileges."

This phenomenon is, sadly, hardly unique to the US.  It persists in other places, though the "minority" group in question might be different.  And the fear and resentment echoed in that complaint might be expressed in different language or other ways.

An example Patrick Lefevere's answer when presented with the idea of starting a women's cycling team in the manner of Movistar, FDJ or Trek-Segafredo.  The Decuninick-Quickstep team boss, widely regarded as the most succesful cycling team manager in history, hails from Belgium, arguably the most cycling-intense country in the world.  So, if anyone seemed a likely candidate to launch a top-tier women's team, he would be the one.

So how did he respond?  "I'm not the OMCW"--a Belgian welfare organization.

To be fair, he claimed he doesn't have "the experience, time, money or desire" for such an undertaking.  Perhaps his pockets aren't as deep (or it's more expensive to start a team)  and the time commitment in running a team is greater, than we suspected. Also, he's 66 years old, so he may want to spend whatever time he has on other pursuits--or his grandkids.  

But his experience?  While female racers differ from their male counterparts, I think someone like him can spot talent and train people.

Belgian Team Liv member celebrates her victory ahead of Elisa Longo Borghini in La Vuelta Stage 4 (Getty Images)

Again, in the interests of fairness, I should point out that he doesn't know how to convince someone with the requisite talent and skills to become a professional cyclist--a pursuit that, at times, has more in common with the life of a monk or nun than a rock star.  And, he claims that there's a chasm between the level of Belgian female cyclists and their peers in neighboring Netherlands, which has turned out champions like Marianne Vos.

Now, if he'd stuck to his claims about talent levels or what he was able and willing, or not, to commit to a women's team, he at least would have had some credibility.  But to liken such an undertaking to a welfare organization is to say, in essence, that we're charity cases.  We aren't, any more than the US Women's Soccer team is.  

23 September 2021

Disrupting Mass Transit--With A Citibike

For me, it was the kind of story that I couldn't believe when I first heard it, three nights ago.  But once it "sank in," I wasn't surprised.

After all, bikes from share programs have ended up in exotic faraway places, at the bottoms of rivers and canals or in "chop shops."  Theft and vandalism killed the bike share program in Rome and nearly did so in other cities.

But the way a Citibike in my home town met its demise--and disrupted transit service in my neighborhood--took aggression against public bike programs to a new level.

At the Steinway Street station--which is the second-closest subway stop to my apartment--someone tossed one of the blue share bikes onto the tracks.

It just happened that two trains, traveling in opposite directions, entered the station.  Whether or not it was the vandal's intention, the bike landed in just the right spot for both trains to hit it, or parts of it.    

Here's the result:

Was the vandal's intention to "blow up" Citibike--or the subway system?   

22 September 2021

Vision Of A Ride At The Autumn Equinox

Today the Autumnal Equinox comes to the Northern Hemisphere.  For those of you on the other side of the line, the Spring Equinox is getting sprung on you.

While I envy those of you who are about to enjoy more daylight every day, I also look forward to riding through crisp autumn air and into vibrant sunsets.  And, as much as I love the city, I hope to leave it for a weekend or two now that there are fewer travel restrictions.

Here is a vision of something I'd like to see on a ride:

It's in Vicksburg, Michigan, but I know there are red barns, weathering and weathered, closer to the Big Apple.   

21 September 2021

Driver Accused Of Causing Cyclist To Crash

Just about any person, place, thing or state of being can be a tool or a weapon.  Included in the latter category are advanced age and the knowledge and wisdom it brings--for some people, anyway.  Among the "things" are the pharmaceuticals and the automobile and its many safety and convenience features.

Age, pharmaceuticals, the automobile and one of its features in particular came together to endanger the life of a cyclist in Gerry, an Erie County, New York town near the Pennsylvania border.

Dale Reynolds of Meadville, Pennsylvania was driving along Route 60 when he flashed his high beams at a cyclist traveling in the opposite directions.  High beams, of course, can be useful in dire situations, when the weather is brutish and visibility is poor. But those same lights are too often used to bully and otherwise intimidate cyclists, pedestrians and other drivers.

According to New York State police, Reynolds showed "multiple signs" of drug impairment, which resulted in his arrest.  Oh, and he's 82 years old.  I'm not saying that there should be a cut-off age for driving.  But I think there should be more frequent and stringent testing of senior citizens' reaction times and other cognitive abilities if they are to be allowed to continue driving.  You have to wonder, not only about Reynolds' reflexes, or his judgment:  He ought to know, at this late date, not to drive while impaired.

The failed sobriety tests resulted in his arrest for impaired driving--and causing the cyclist at whom he flashed his high beams to crash.  Gerry EMS workers took the cyclist to a local hospital as a precaution,  while Reynolds was taken to the State Police Barracks in Jamestown, where he was processed, charged, released and scheduled to appear in Gerry Court later this month.

While there are cyclists who ride carelessly and flout laws, my four decades-plus of cycling have shown me that drivers are too often not held to account for endangering, deliberately or not, cyclists.  While I am not hoping for a long prison sentence for an 82-year-old man, I am hoping that Reynolds gets whatever help and treatment he needs and, if necessary, his driving privileges restricted or revoked.

20 September 2021

He’s 78 And Rides A Bike—But Doesn’t Have “Stamina”

 The folks at Fox News want to have it both ways.

On one hand, Faux News contributor Rachel Campos Duffy accused President Joe Biden of being “too old” and not having the “physical or mental stamina” for his job.  The evidence?  He went for a bike ride in his home state of Delaware while “crises” raged in his country and the world.

What’s even more ludicrous is that she compared Biden’s actions to those of his predecessor, Donald Trump, claiming he “worked those long, long hours” and had “impromptu hour-long pressers with the media.”

Ok, so Joe went for a bike ride.  Donnie spent lots of time golfing—or simply hanging out on his golf courses.  Now tell me:  Which activity requires more stamina?

Also, look at all of the time T-rump spent on Twitter. How much stamina does that require ?

Oh, and Biden works out five days a week and his medical records show no major health problems. El Cheeto Grande, on the other hand, is said to have nudged his doctor into falsifying his health reports.

As for being “too old:” Biden is keeping up his bike rides and workouts at age 79.  When he took office, he was six years older than the Orange One was when he entered the White House.

I think Ms. Campos-Duffy’s real beef—and that of others in the right-wing media—is that Biden hasn’t held a “presser” since taking office. Trump’s press conferences, on the other hand, were mainly opportunities for self- promotion, or for bullying and belittling anyone who didn’t further his agenda, which begins and ends with himself.

That Biden can be the most powerful and famous person in the world not make it all about him shows me that he has some kind of stamina:  the kind one needs to have self-discipline.  Maybe the bike riding has something to do with it .

19 September 2021

If You're Gonna Steal...Don't Learn From These Guys

Normally, bike theft is not a laughing matter.  But I am relaying this story as a "Sunday funny" because of the thief's ineptitude.

In New Hampshire, a couple of guys cased out a bike shop.  At least, that much can be surmised as they bypassed the cheap bikes and took three with a combined retail value of $16,000.  

In the wee hours of morning, before the shop opened, the perps backed a van into the shop's front door.  They tossed two of the bikes into the back of the van and the other on the roof.

But they forgot to shut the rear door of the van.  And the bike on the roof fell off as they drove away.

Bob Beal, the shop's owner, said it took a year to get those bikes and will probably take at least another to replace them.  But, as the crooks' bungling was recorded, and the fire department later responded to a call for a burning van--which the thieves abandoned and apparently torched--I suspect the criminals will be caught sooner rather than later. 

I would imagine that Mr. Beal will be compensated for his losses.  But I am sure he and his customers would rather have those bikes.

18 September 2021

Note To North Country: Don't Repeat NYC Bike Policy Mistake

Yesterday I wrote about an example of bicycle infrastructure and policy crafted, so it seems, by non-cyclists.  The new Brooklyn Bridge bike lane seems to combine every bad decision made by this city's planners when it comes to cycling.  What's worse, or at least as bad, as the lane itself is that motorized bicycles and scooters are allowed to share it with completely human-powered bikes.

Photo by Jay Petrequin for 

Now the folks in Warren County--part of my home state's "North Country"--are contemplating that same policy mistake on a popular bike lane.  The Warren County Bikeway winds its way through the woods from the village of Lake George through the city of Glens Falls, and connects cyclists with Adirondack Park and other parts of the North Country.  The county administrators are debating whether to allow electric bikes on the lane.

Now, I am not against electric bikes in principle:  They keep people on two wheels after their bodies have been decimated by injuries, disease or simply old age.  And, they are quieter and less polluting--at least in their normal state--than the motorized bikes--which, in my opinion, are just scaled-down motorcycles-- commonly used by delivery workers. 

E-bikes differ from their motorized counterparts in several ways.  First, of course, is their power source.  But more to the point, the motor in an e-bike is not made to power the bike by itself.  Rather, it's there to augment the rider's leg juice on a hill, against the wind or simply when the rider tires out.  

Within the category of e-bikes, there are three basic types: 

Type 1 is designed to assist the rider in getting the bike to speeds up to 20 MPH.  At higher speeds, the motor cuts off until the bike slows down.

Type 2 is like Type 1, with a throttle added.  This feature can be used to cross an intersection, make a right turn or in any other situation in which quick acceleration is helpful.

Type 3 is the same as Type 2, but with the ability to reach 28 MPH.

If the bike lane is wide enough and secluded from traffic, I have no problem with Type 1, or even Type 2.  The problem is that the latter is often modified into a Type 3, and Type 3s are made to go even faster.  Also, Type 3 riders tend to ride more than they pedal. 

I think making clear distinctions about what is and isn't allowed, and enforcing such regulations, would make it safe and practical for Type 1 and even Type 2 riders to share a lane with those of us who ride completely human-powered bikes.  Such an arrangement would make particular sense on the Warren County bike lane, as many riders are vacationers who bring their bikes on RVs or trailers to Lake George or some other North Country destination.  And many of those arriving in RVs are retirees who might not otherwise cycle if there wasn't a "boost."

17 September 2021

This Bridge Should Be Seen And Not Crossed

Photo by Jake Offenhartz, for the Gothamist

 The new Brooklyn Bridge bike lane opened on Tuesday. However, I probably won’t be using it any time soon.

The old joke about compromises is that they make no-one happy.  The thing about jokes is, of course, that they convey truths.  Such is the case for the new lane.

Mayor de Blasio was opposed to any lane on the bridge.  Advocates wanted a single lane in each direction.  The new lane is two-way, on the Manhattan-bound part of the bridge.  While it is separated from traffic by concrete barriers connected with chicken wire, cyclists who’ve used it report feeling nervous about traffic so close by.

What would concern me more , though, is some of the traffic allowed in the lane: motorized bikes and scooters, including those making deliveries for Doordash and other services. Anyone who’s used the Queensborough/59th Street Bridge lane can recount all-too-close encounters with them.  Well, the new Brooklyn Bridge lane is even narrower: six feet for two-wheeled traffic in both directions.

Such claustrophobic conditions pose another hazard:  If a cyclist has a flat or other issues, there is no room to pull over, let alone fix the problem.

So, while cyclists will no longer have to dodge selfie-taking and otherwise bike-oblivious pedestrians on the wooden upper deck, I don’t see how the new lane makes cycling safer, let alone more pleasurable, on the Brooklyn Bridge.  For now, I will stick to my tried-and-true New York wisdom that the Brooklyn Bridge should be seen and not crossed!

16 September 2021

A Monument Befitting A Giant

 Yesterday I mentioned a monument to a pioneer of his sport and the struggle for civil rights.  Today I came across a story about a new monument to Robinson’s sporting and historical grandfather, if you will.

As readers of this blog—and those with even a cursory knowledge of cycling history—know, Marshall Walter “Major” Taylor was not only the first Black World Champion cyclist; he was also the first African-American champion in any sport. 

(George Dixon, the African Canadian who won the bantamweight boxing title in 1892, was the first Black champion of any sport. Interestingly, Taylor first won his title in Montréal.)

While Major Taylor is most often associated with Worcester, Massachusetts, where he lived much of his adult life, and New York, Paris and other places where he achieved his victories, he was born and raised In Indianapolis—where, I suspect, few people have been aware of him.

Until now, that is.  As part of the city’s bicentennial celebration, its Arts Council commissioned a “Bicentennial Legends” mural series. (If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I love murals!) The latest is a five-story homage to Major Taylor.

His great-granddaughter Karen Brown Donovan attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony last week, along with 1984 Olympic sprint medalist Nelson Vails, pro cyclists Justin Williams and Rashaan Bahati, and mural artist Shawn Michael Warren.

15 September 2021

Jackie In The Jersey Theater

Today I took a ride into New Jersey for the first time, I think, since the pandemic began.  I know, that sounds odd, considering how often I’ve pedaled to Connecticut. But I finally got up the courage to board the ferry—which, much to my surprise, was nearly empty—to Jersey City.

I’d forgotten just how odd and interesting parts of the city are.  In Journal Square stands this monument to one of the icons, not only of sports, but also of racial equality and human rights:

Jackie Robinson is one athlete I wish I could have seen in his prime.  What I learned from looking at this sculpture, though, is the emotions he tried not to show, and the ones that he couldn’t help but to reveal.

Sporting events at their best are theater, or at least dramatic. So, perhaps, it’s not surprising to see this theatre across Kennedy Boulevard:

It’s long fascinated me that during the 1920s, when movies first reached mass audiences and studios built towering, cavernous shrines to them, Art Deco and a fascination for all things Egyptian defined the visual style of the time just as jazz was its soundtrack.  Looking at buildings like the Loew’s Jersey, though, shows me how congruent those things were: the lines and shapes of Art Deco building details and Egyptian carvings mirror each other as much as they echo the tempo changes of the era’s best music.

So a theater stands across from a monument to a man who played out one of this country’s real-life dramas.  To his right, across Pavonia Avenue, stands another former movie theater:

Like many other former cinematic cathedrals, it’s become a house of worship. That makes sense, as the interior dimensions of those old movie houses closely resemble theaters.  And when you come down to it, a mass or service is a kind of theatrical performance—just like a ball game or bike race.

And I got to see the theater of the street from my bike.

14 September 2021

After A Century—Airbags For Cyclists?

The first US-made automobiles with airbags were introduced in the mid-1970s.  The pneumatic restraints became common about two decades later and mandatory in 1998. However, the innovation is just over a century old: In 1919, Harold Round and Arthur Parrott of Birmingham, England filed a patent, which was approved the following year, in the United States.

(Interestingly, the airbag’s inventors were dentists. If they’d marketed their device, it would’ve made a fun ad slogan:  The Round Parrott takes the bite out of crashes!)

It took another three decades, however, for someone to patent a version for use in automobiles. John W. Hetrick, an industrial engineer, came up with the idea of a bag that would inflate on bumper impact after working on Navy torpedoes. Unfortunately, he became one of many who didn’t profit from his work:  No auto company wanted to finance it, and his patent expired just before Ford installed it on a few experimental cars.

That leads me to wonder whether the product I’m about to describe had a similar fate. Evoc Sports of Germany has just introduced its Commute Air Pro 18.  

It’s a set of football-style shoulder pads designed to inflate within 0.02 seconds after an impact is detected. They are intended to protect a cyclist’s neck, shoulders, chest and collarbone—the last of which is the site of frequent and painful injuries. The sensor is activated by an electronic magnetic buckle on the waistband. It can be unbuckled so that the rider can bend over (say, to pick up his or her bike) without deploying the airbags. The bags themselves are re-usable but, after they are inflated, the CO2 cartridge will need replacement.

The device is contained in a backpack that has enough room for a laptop and more. When it reaches the market next year, it’s expected to go for 900 Euros (about $1065 at current rates). I hope that a.) the price comes down, b.) it’s as effective at preventing injuries as it’s claimed to be and c.) its inventor benefits more from it than John Hetrick did from automotive air bags.

13 September 2021

By Another Name

Photo by Charlie Kaijo, from the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazzette

We’ve all heard Juliet’s plea to Romeo: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

There are entire academic sub-disciplines based on a negation of that premise.  So, what I am about to describe is ironic to me, as someone who’s been in the academic world.

When I worked in bike shops, I was classified, and described myself, as an assembler or mechanic.  The same can be said for others who did that work.  The other bike shop employees in shops—usually the larger ones—were salespeople and managers.  In smaller shops, though, employees (and, sometimes, the proprietor) wore multiple hats. Nearly all of us learned on the job:  Little, if any, formal training was available.

That last facet of the industry is changing.  Organizations like the United Bicycle Institute hold training programs and camps.  And community colleges—most recently Northwest Arkansas Community College—have launched programs to prepare students for the bike industry.

What has brought about this development?  Well, I think that one reason is that bicycles are increasingly included in transportation and infrastructure planning.  No one can argue any longer that adult cycling is a passing fad or a recreational activity for the privileged.

I believe there’s another another reason why academic institutions are seeing that the bicycle is not just a way to get around campus or an option to fill a Physical Education requirement—and that preparing students for a career in the industry is a worthy endeavor.  You see, now colleges like Northwest Arkansas and Minnesota State College Southeast are training bicycle technicians.

Now, in a way I can understand the name change: There is more technology, not only in design, but also in making, assembling and repairing new bikes and components than there was when I worked in shops.

I have to wonder, though:  Would the trajectory of my life have been different if I’d been a bicycle technician?

12 September 2021

Whose Orders Would I Have Followed?

Years ago, someone tried to convince me to join a rowing team--what we call "crew" in the States.

Up to that time, I'd rowed maybe a couple of times in my life.  She didn't see that as a disqualifier.  If anything, she said, my other athletic pursuits, including cycling, would help. "People don't realize how important the legs are in rowing," she said.

She had a point.  She'd spent a lot of time with the rowing team:  She was its coxswain.

And, as  inexperienced as I was with oars, I'd spent more time with them than she'd spent on a bicycle:  She'd never learned how to ride. 

Oh, perhaps I should mention that we were dating.

I politely declined.

Our relationship didn't last much longer.

What if I had followed her "suggestion"--or she had learned how to ride?

From Stockphoto


11 September 2021

Twenty Years Later

If you don't remember where you were and what you were doing on this date twenty years ago, you either were in solitary confinement or of the generation after the children I would've had, had I been so inclined.

Perhaps the unluckiest people in the history of this city were the ones who went to work and didn't make it home.  In addition to firefighters, police officers and other first responders, and the folks who worked in and around the World Trade Center towers, they included messengers and others who made deliveries on bicycles. 

Photo by Jin Lee, from the 9/11 Memorial website

Their bikes were among those attached to a rack found mostly intact on Vesey Street.  The moment of the attack--8:46 am--would have been a busy time for them, as many office workers were arriving and those already at their desks were ready for, say, a bagel and a cup of coffee. The rack and bikes were largely shielded from debris by 5 World Trade Center, which remained partly intact after 1 WTC was struck.

A year after the attacks, only one bicycle had been retrieved.  The others, and the rack, are among the displays in the 9/11 Memorial Museum.

During the past week, the remains of two people who perished that day were finally identified.  More than a thousand victims' remains have yet to be identified.  Among them may be the messengers and delivery workers who pedaled those bicycles through the canyons walled with glass, steel and concrete and floored with asphalt.  Sadly, those folks, who brought everything from documents to donuts, might never be identified, as some of them may well have been alone in this city, in this country, on one of its most terrifying days.

10 September 2021

She Deserves A Smoother Road

Tomorrow will mark 20 years since the deadliest terror attack on US soil.  During the commemorations, there will be much talk of "heroes."  And that awful day produced many, some of whom didn't survive the day. 

I will say more about them tomorrow. (Don't worry:  The post will relate to bicycling as well as that terrible event.)  Today, though, I want talk about another hero who had yet to be born on that day. 

Jyoti Kumari, self-portrait


Jyoti Kumari bought a purple bicycle for the equivalent of $20.  Unlike other 15-year-olds, however, she didn't pedal it to school or work.  Instead, she used it to bring her father home.

To say that was no small feat was an understatement.  Mohan Paswan was a big man, carrying a big bag.  A migrant worker had been injured on a job near New Delhi, about 1200 kilometers (700 miles) from his family's home. Compounding the difficulty of that situation was the lockdowns, then some of the world's strictest, that had been imposed on India.  So, even if he could've worked, there was no work for him.  He was stranded, broke, just as India and the world were plunging into the abyss of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Home, for him and Ms. Kumari, was a village near the Nepalese border.  Their journey would take them along a route where people younger and healthier than Mohan died in the brutal heat, or were run down by trucks or trains.  And there would be few places where he and Jyoti could find food or water.

Still, Kumari managed to bring her father home.  She pedaled all the way back, with her father riding in back.  Along the way, some locals jeered or castigated her for pedaling while her father sat.  But others offered help, including the use of their cell phones so she could let her mother know she and her father were on their way.

After they arrived, she garnered a lot of media attention, from the likes of people and outlets far bigger and more famous than yours truly.  The Prime Minister gave her the National Children's Award, which included a medal and about $1300.  There were offers and promises of jobs, scholarships and other kinds of help.  And Onkar Singh, the chairman of the Cycling Federation of India, invited her to a tryout for the national team, which could mean a trip to the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

Singh's offer still stands. Kumari, however, is more anxious to finish her studies (understandable, especially given that she comes from a lower-caste family).  To do that, she would need to catch up on academic work she missed while helping to care for her father.  She has been taking some lessons from a local teacher, but her village's school remains closed.  

And some of the offers and promises of help were not fulfilled.  So, while her family were able to build a bigger house with water and toilet connections and sustain themselves for a while, some of the money was used to pay off debts.  Now "the funds are drying up," explains Mukesh Kumari Paswan, Kumari's brother-in-law.  He was an X-ray technician but, like everyone else in his family, is out of work. "We don't know what to do now," he says.

As if the family weren't facing enough difficulties, her mother isn't well and minor physical activity leaves her out of breath.  Worst of all, in May--one year after Kumari brought her father home--he died of cardiac arrest.  

Whether or not Jyoti Kumari takes up Onkar Singh on his offer, one can only hope that the road ahead is less difficult for her and her family isn't as difficult as it's been.  Any teenage girl who can pedal her father home through the conditions she endured certainly deserves better!

09 September 2021


Just what we need...more rain!

A week after Ida dumped more on us than we normally get in a month, the "remnants" of some other storm--I've stopped keeping track of the names--washed up our way.  It doesn't look nearly as bad as Ida, but I think many of us feel about rain the way we felt about smoke, loud noises or plane crashes in the days after 9/11.

The weather reports say the rain might stop later this afternoon or tonight. If it does, I'll go for a ride, even if it's only a short local trip.  I might go even if it doesn't rain as heavily as it is now:  Barely any wind has blown, so far.

Oh, well.  As long as we don't experience floods again, I won't complain--not too much, anyway! 

08 September 2021

125 Years After Major Taylor, She’s A Milestone

 The Tour Cycliste Féminin International de l’Ardèche has become one of the premier women’s bike races. Since its first edition in 2003, èlite cyclists and teams have used its long climbs in the Alpes Maritimes and high-octane sprints in the Rhône and Ardèche valleys as late-season preparation for the World Championships, held in late September.  The race has also served as a window to up-and-coming riders and teams.

That is why it’s significant that Ayesha McGowan is making her debut in this year’s edition of the race, which begins today.  For years, she has ridden for teams of the Liv brand in the US.  On 1 August, she was promoted to Liv’s top-tier racing team, which competes internationally.

Understandably, for McGowan, “there will be tears of joy” because “the hard work is now paying off.” Last year, Cyclingnews  named her to its Power List of the 50 Most Influential People in cycling.

She was named to that list for, not only her cycling accomplishments, but also her advocacy for more diversity in the sport’s brands, organizations, teams, events and media.  If I were her, I might be crying other kinds of tears for having the need to call for more inclusion, a century and a quarter after Major Taylor won the World Championship and was acknowledged (if at times grudgingly or even with hostility) as the world’s greatest cyclist.

07 September 2021

I Rode Under This "Canopy"

 On Saturday, I did my 140 km ride to the Greenwich Commons, in Connecticut, and bike.  It was the first time I'd done the ride in nearly a month.  I decided on that ride because, well, it's become a favorite and clear skies, brisk breeze and high temperature of 24 C (about 75F) belied the hideous conditions that prevailed a couple of days earlier, when Ida breached my apartment.  

As lovely as the day was, I wondered what I'd find in Ida's wake.  There wasn't as much water as I'd expected but, not surprisingly, I encountered a few downed trees, including this one on the path through Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx:

Where others would see an obstacle that would detour or turn them back, I saw a canopy.  The "arc" was just barely high enough for me to ride through, bent down with my hands gripping the bottom of my Nitto 177 bars. But I made it through, slowing down only slightly.

I encountered a few large fallen branches along the back streets of Rye and Port Chester, and Glenville Street, which winds through woodlands and along the edge of the gentry's estates in Connecticut.  But at least I could easily ride around those, even if it wasn't as (ego-) gratifying as riding under the "canopy" in Pelham Bay Park.  

06 September 2021

A Memorial On The Labor Day Tour

Every year from 1940 until 1942 and 1947 until 2019, the Tour of Sommerville--"the Kentucky Derby of cycling"--was held on Memorial Day.  That day, on the fourth Monday of May, is called "the unofficial beginning of Summer in the United States.

For many, today--Labor Day--is the unofficial end of the season.  The following day, most people have returned to work. (Grim but interesting fact:  Mohammed Atta, the "mastermind" of 9/11, chose that date because it fell on the Tuesday following Labor Day, when he figured almost everybody would be on their jobs--and thus provide more potential victims.)  So, I suppose it's appropriate that the Tour of Somerville, after being cancelled altogether last year, was re-scheduled to this date.  

Near the race course stands a monument to Furman Kugler, who won the event's first two editions.  Encased in Plexiglas is a photo of him next to the bike he rode--a Shelby Classic.  Interestingly, it bears more semblance to a track than a criterium bike of its time, with its wooden rims and fixed gear.  According to Tom Avenia, it was de rigeur at the time.  I'd take his word on that:  He rode in several editions of the Tour--on a fixed gear, during the 1950s and early 1960s.

Perhaps more to the point, neither Kugler nor Carl Anderson, who won in 1942, would return when the Tour resumed:  Both lost their lives while fighting in World War II.

Perhaps the monument to Kugler would be more fitting on Memorial Day.  But at least it's there, and the Tour is running again this year.

05 September 2021

I Don't Think Elton John Had Him In Mind

This video reminded me of something I might've seen on a Saturday morning cartoon:

A man identified only as Wang--a common surname in his native Taiwan--purchased a small  jet engine designed for a radio-controlled airplane.  Then a university professor helped him in mounting it on his bicycle.

He took it for a ride in the city of Tainan, where he reportedly achieved a top speed of 133 KPH (82 MPH). Attached to his bike was a small bottle to hold rocket fuel.  But there was only enough to run the engine for 30 seconds.

I don't know what Wang was trying to achieve, but if it was a contract from a racing team or a commercial endorsement, he must have been disappointed when he answered the knock at his door:  Local police informed him that his ride violated multiple road and traffic regulations. The cost of his ride, therefore, won't be limited to the 330,000 yuan (11,900 USD) he spent to build his contraption.