30 November 2021

She Rides To Work--And Through Labor

 The next time you don't feel like pedaling to work or school because you're tired, have a headache or worried about the weather, think about Julie Anne Genter.

She's a member of New Zealand's Green Party and Parliament--and perhaps not surprisingly, a cycling advocate.  On Sunday, she did something she'd planned on doing:  She gave birth to her second child after arriving at the hospital by bicycle.

The way she got there, however, wasn't quite as she'd anticipated.  Her original plan was for her partner, Peter Nunn, to pedal a cargo bike with her in the front.  But when her contractions started, she realized that she and her hospital bag would add up too much weight. So she "just got out and rode," she explained.

Fortunately for her, the ride to the hospital took only ten minutes. Her daughter, whom she described as "happy and healthy," was born at 3:04 am local time.

The daughter is her second child.  She also pedaled to the hospital for the birth of her first child, which resulted from induced labor.  That same year, New Zealand's Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, gave birth while in office and brought her three-month-old baby to the United Nations assembly hall.

So, if you're trying to decide whether to ride to work, remember that Julie Anne Genter "wasn't planning to cycle in labor," but did.  

29 November 2021

What's The Wright Thing To Do?

 Two months ago, I wrote about a Dayton, Ohio building that once housed a bicycle shop.  Over decades, after the bicycle boom that straddled the 19th and 20th Centuries faded, the building came to serve other purposes, including the headquarters of an ice cream company.  

Now that building is in severe disrepair and, according to one city official, "could fall down at any moment." Moreover, the city's Director of Planning says that if the owners of the bicycle shop come back, "they would not recognize the building," as a new façade was added when the ice cream company moved in and other changes were made.

 Others argue, though, that the city--which has owned the building since 1998--allowed it to deteriorate and therefore should be responsible for repairing it and making it the historic and cultural landmark they believe it should be.

Last Tuesday, the city's zoning appeals board voted to approve the city's request to demolish it. Part of the rationale for the vote is that it's all but impossible to return the building to what it was. Even if such a thing is possible, the pro-demolition people say, the city can't afford it:  De-industrialization and the 2008 financial crisis ravaged the city in ways from which it still has not recovered.

I have never been to Dayton, but from what I've read and heard, it suffered a similar fate to cities like Camden, New Jersey (where I have been) after jobs were lost and people moved to the suburbs.  But, interestingly, Dayton also played a role in two significant historical events.  One of them involved the owners of the bike shop; the other led to the creation of a nation.

In 1995, the parties in a conflict involving the former Yugoslavia negotiated a peace accord that resulted in the founding of Bosnia-Herzegovina. (Say that three times fast!)  The treaty was signed in an Air Force base just outside the city, but the agreement is known by the name of this city.  And the bike shop owners became two of the most famous people in the history of the world.

The settlement I've mentioned is known today as the Dayton Accord.  So, if you ever go to B-H, remember that it's there because of a city in Ohio.  And those bike shop owners...perhaps you've heard of the Wright Brothers.

Yes, the building I mentioned was home to their business.  Almost everyone agrees that they learned the principles (including aerodynamics, via experimentation with riding positions) of creating a vehicle designed for flight from building, assembling and riding bicycles.

Photo by Ty Greenlees for the Dayton Daily News 

Now, I must say that as a cyclist and someone who cares about history, my heart is in the preservationists' camp, even though I understand the pro-demolitionists' arguments. As I am not a structural engineer and have never been to the building site, I am in no position to say whether the edifice can be saved.  I would aver, however,  that struggling cities have used their cultural and historic heritage as keys that opened the door to revitalization.  For two decades or so after World War II, even "the Hub"--Boston--was on the ropes.  Of course, it had many things going for it:  an attractive location, world-class universities, hospitals and museums and diversity in its population, in addition to an historic and cultural heritage few other American cities can rival.  The same can be said for Pittsburgh, which later underwent a renaissance similar to Boston's. 

I realize that Dayton is a smaller city in a different part of the nation, but I should think that embracing its historic and cultural heritage couldn't hurt. I mean, how many other places can claim to be "the birthplace of aviation?"  The Wright Brothers might not recognize the building that housed their bicycle shop, but I think the world recognizes their contribution--which was made possible by their work with bicycles.

28 November 2021

Clothes Make The---Cyclist?

While I disagree with Grant Petersen, the force behind Rivendell Bikes (and, before that, Bridgestone bikes) on matters of bike fit and, sometimes, design, I wholeheartedly agree with him on other things.  Among them is cycling attire:  Reading his blog convinced me that I didn't have to wear team kit--or anything else made of lycra--in order to ride and, more important, enjoy riding.

So I think he would appreciate this:


27 November 2021

Maybe They'll Get It Right...Some Day

I think it was Winston Churchill who said that Americans will do the right thing after they've exhausted all other possibilities.

Sometimes I think he was an optimist, at least when it comes to laws and polices regarding bicycles.  In my own humble (OK, I gotta say that:  I know I'm right because...well, I'm so damn smart and I've been riding for almost half a century!) opinion, no vehicle--whether it has one, two, three, four or more wheels--with a motor should be allowed in any lane designated for pedestrians, pedaled bicycles or any vehicle that doesn't have a motor.

I've presented my wisdom, I mean, opinion to everyone from the folks at Transportation Alternatives (of which I'm a member) to City Hall.  The response is almost always the same: "You're right. But how could it be enforced?"

So, we have to contend with "rocket" scooters, e-bikes with boosters, and hand-throttle e-bikes in bike lanes that are six feet wide--for bike traffic in both directions.  Or, in some places, we and pedestrians are "protected" by wrongheaded regulations.

The new year will begin with such a policy for folks who cross the Golden Gate Bridge.  Starting on 1 January, there will be a one-size-fits-all 15 MPH speed limit in the bike/pedestrian lane.  Currently, bridge-crossers are "advised" to remain within that limit.

Photo by Sherry LaVars, for the Marin Independent Journal

While I understand the concerns of pedestrians (having walked across a number of bridges, including the Triborough/RFK and Queensborough/59th Street, in bike-ped lanes), I can also say that most cyclists who are going more than 15 MPH have a commensurate level of handling skills.  The same cannot be said, I believe, for folks riding e-bikes and motorized bikes and scooters at 25 or 30 MPH.  Plus, a motorized bike (which, as often as not, is really just a scaled-down motorcycle) can inflict more serious injury or damage than a pedaled bicycle at any given speed.

My hope is that Churchill will be proven right and whoever came up with the new Golden Gate Bridge regulation will realize the error of it and come up with something more sensible--like, say, banning anything with a motor from the pedestrian/bike lane. 

26 November 2021

I Wouldn't Be Caught Dead In...

 The '80s brought us "fade" paint jobs.

The '90s--oh, where do I begin?  It was (mostly) a great time for me personally (including as a cyclist), but there was all manner of insanity in the bike world.  As someone who was both a road and off-road (mainly the former) cyclist for most of the decade, I can say I'm unbiased in laying much of the blame on mountain bikes, which brought us bar ends in weird shapes, wheels with spokes that looked like the twist-ties from bags of bread and anything that could be made in a neon color.

This century/millenium has also brought its share of unfortunate trends.  Some of them start off as sensible, even laudable ideas, like bike garments designed to make us more visible to motorists (and, sometimes, each other).  But they end up in absurdity or just sheer tackiness:

I mean, why do you need an emoji to be seen?

25 November 2021

A Fowl Holiday

 The other day, my friend Beverly told me she's going to spend today with her kids and grandkids on Staten Island.  I'm going "with bird in tow," she said.

I asked whether she'd planned to use a tow truck to drag a turkey across the Verrazano Bridge.  "That sounds cruel!" exclaimed.

Plus, it would definitely lead his fellow feathered friends in a fowl mood. (I couldn't resist that one!)

Happy Thanksgiving!

24 November 2021

They See You While You're Shopping

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day--and, unofficially, the beginning of the "holiday season"--here in the US.

Although this time is festive for some, it comes with increased dangers.  Among them are "crimes of opportunity," especially in shopping and touristic areas.  Such incidents include car break-ins, purse snatchings, other kinds of theft and sexual harassment and assault.  As one shopper pointed out, a woman alone in a parking lot is especially vulnerable at this time of year, as darkness arrives earlier in the day.

Knowing that, police departments typically increase their presence in such places at this time of year.  Typically, constables pass by in patrol cars; sometimes cops do their work on foot.  But at least one police department has figured out that sending officers to such areas on bicycle is perhaps the most effective means of fighting and deterring crime.

That is what the Kyle, Texas police department will be doing for the fourth year.  The Austin-area city's department specially trains officers for bike duty.  One benefit, according to officer James Plant, is that "we can get into areas that police cars can't." Moreover, he says, bikes are quiet, which allows officers to "be stealthy" and "sneak up on the criminal."

The real value, he says, of the bike patrols is not so much in busting criminals but in deterring them.  The officers on bikes, he explains, are "an extra set of eyes and ears in the community."

And, it seems, people like the bike patrols.  "We get a lot of thumbs-up," Plant says.

23 November 2021

Black Cyclone Coming

There are a number of athletes I admire for their accomplishments in their sports.  But there is a much smaller number whom I respect equally, or even more, as human beings.  They include Jackie Robinson, Billie Jean King, Muhammad Ali, Colin Kaerpernick, Simone Biles--and Marshall Walter "Major" Taylor.

Some day, I'm sure, a documentary or biopic will be made about Ms. Biles.  Films have already been made from the triumphs and struggles of Robinson and Ali.  Five years ago, "Battle of the Sexes" focused on King's 1973 match--which she won--against Bobby Riggs.  While it was a good film, I think it also helped to reinforce the tendency to think of Ms. King only in terms of that, and not on, not only of the way she dominated her game as Martina Navratilova and Serena Williams would later on, but also of her advocacy for women and LGBTQ folks. 

But, to my knowledge, Major Taylor hasn't received cinematic canonization.  One reason for that may be that there isn't anybody alive who saw him ride or can even remember how he dominated bike racing to the same degree as the other athletes I've mentioned towered over their sports.  Thus, most people who aren't familiar with the history of cycling or African Americans don't realize that he was the first African American champion of any sport half a century before Robinson set foot on a Major League baseball field.

Clement Virgo (l) and "Major" Taylor

It seems that situation is about to change.  Canadian director Clement Virgo, who also helmed feature films "Rude" and "Lie With Me" as well as the six-part miniseries "The Book of Negroes," has been tapped to direct "Black Cyclone."  The title comes from one of the more flattering nicknames given to Taylor. (As a black man in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, he also was called names that I, someone who isn't exactly profanity-adverse, won't repeat.)  John Howard, a three-time Olympic and four-time U.S. Road Champion cyclist (who also set a land speed record that stood for a decade) will serve as a consultant on the project.

Production is set to begin next year.   

22 November 2021

A Signal--Of What?

 Friday afternoon, I pedaled along the North Shore--into the wind most of the way out, with it on the way back.

On my way back, I stopped in Fort Totten.  As its name implies, it was an active military base.  Now one section of it is used for Army Reserve training exercises; the New York Fire Department uses another.  The rest is a park with some great views of Long Island Sound and, on a clear day, the New York skyline.

When I stopped, I chanced upon this:

I got to thinking, ironically, about a long-ago conversation with an Italian olive grower.  The trees take 100 years to bear fruit, he told me.  So, he said, I am not planting a tree for me, for my children, or their grandchildren.  Rather, he is planting for their grandchildren.

A few weeks after that trip--during which I pedaled from Rome to Avignon and took the TGV (still pretty new then) to Paris--I went to  to see my brother in SoCal, with a stop in NoCal.  I took time from doing all of the things that could have gotten me into trouble (yes, even in San Francisco) to see the millenia-old trees on the other side of the bridge.  Later, I would try to write about how it felt to look at living things--olive, sequoia and other trees--that were older than any other living thing I'd seen, and any civilization or race I'd ever read about.  They were, it seemed, almost as old as the earth itself.

Here in NY, the trees aren't quite that old.  But at least a few have been around for a century or more and have weathered all manner of natural cataclysms and human-made traumas.  But this year proved to be too much for some that fell or broke, like the one in the photo.

Somehow it made the mostly-clear sky even more stark and a harbinger of winter.  Or, could it be a signal to some other direction we (or at least I) cannot yet discern?  Was it directing me to some place I haven't seen or imagined?

I'll spare you any comparisons to the green light in the Great Gatsby!

21 November 2021

Good Neighbors Make Good…

 Just as, at my age, I don’t have to be told to slow down, there are many other things no one has to remind me not to do:

From a Reddit thread

20 November 2021

How I Could Have Become One Of The Remembered

Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance. All over the world, people will read the names of trans people who have been murdered during the previous year.  Such observances began on this date in 1999, one year after trans woman Rita Hester was found barely alive in her apartment.  She had been stabbed 20 times and died upon arrival at the hospital.

As brutal as her murder was,  it wasn't unusual for trans or non-binary people.  It seems that haters have a particular penchant for spewing their bile on those of us who don't, in one way or another, conform to the norms of whichever sex we were assigned at birth.  And living as the people we are seems to bring out the lawlessness of too many law enforcement officials.

I could have been one of their victims--and, possibly, one of the names read at the commemorations.  One hot day early in my gender-affirmation process, I was riding my Dahon Vitesse home work.  I didn't like the bike much but its flat-black finish garnered a lot of compliments.  One of them came through the window of a van whose rear windows were blacked out.  "Nice bike," the passenger commented.  I nodded in thanks.

The driver slowed that van down.  I rode past and thought nothing of it until it pulled up alongside me again and the same passenger yelled, "Nice legs, honey."  I was wearing a skirt that day and my legs are often complimented, or at least noticed.  So I thought nothing of it until the guy repeated himself, louder, "Nice legs!"  I paid no mind.  Then the guy bellowed, "Stop!"

Of course, I didn't.  But, as it turned out, it was a situation of "damned if I do, damned if I don't."  Again, the van slowed down, let me pull ahead, then caught up to me.  The passenger side flung open.  "When we say STOP, you STOP!"


"We're cops!"

"Show me your badges."

"Shut up!," the driver yelled.  "Shut up and do what we tell you!"

"But if you're a cop, you have to have reason to stop me."

"What were you doing in the projects?"

"First of all, I wasn't there.  I wasn't anywhere near there." That was true which, I think, pissed off those cops even more. "Just shut up and do what we tell you."

At that moment, I was picturing myself in the back of that van and ending up in the river that night.  So, when the passenger demanded to see my ID, I opened my bag. Fortunately for me, the ID I carried had an old address:  I had moved recently and was waiting for my updated state ID card.  

"Where are you going?"


"Where's that?"

"The address on the card"--which was a few blocks away.

"OK," hissed the driver. "Just remember--when a cop tells you to do something, you do it," the passenger bellowed.

"You can go now," said the driver.

As it was early in my gender affirmation process, I couldn't help but to think those cops--if they were indeed cops--were "curious" about me.  Or perhaps they were looking for a victim "nobody will miss." 

That incident went down not long after I had gone through a process of wondering whether my cycling would survive my gender affirmation process.  I had made up my mind to continue riding, but I have to admit that I wondered about my decision.

Fortunately, there are more transgender or gender non-conforming cyclists than there were back then, in 2005.  Or, at least, more of us are "out."  I've met a few and have made contact with others, including Molly Cameron and the wonderful Coline in Scotland.  And, of course, there is another Scot:   the incomparable Philippa York, nee Robert Millar, the first anglophone rider to win the polka dot jersey (for the best climber) in the Tour de France.

While cycling has become more inclusive--when I first started became a dedicated rider, nearly half a century ago, almost everyone who rode more than a few kilometers was male--we still need to work toward greater inclusion and safety, of, for and in our own selves.  That is our real journey, however and wherever we ride.

19 November 2021

We May Not Be Able To Follow The Dutch, But We Can Get To Where They Are (More Or Less)

A few days ago, Mark Wagenbuur re-posted an early post on his excellent blog, Bicycle Dutch.  In it, he outlines the developments that led to the Netherlands' much-lauded bicycle infrastructure and culture.  

Utrecht city center in 1929...

Perhaps most important, he shows that his country wasn't always the cyclists' paradise one encounters today.  Before World War II, bicycles were the main mode of transportation for many Dutch people.  Photos show streets relatively free of cars and cyclists riding among, but not competing with, trams.  After World War II, however, increasing affluence led people to foresake two wheels for four.  Another photo from 1968 shows a street as clogged with motor traffic as any in an American city (though, it's hard not to notice, the vehicles are smaller).  It was during the 1970s, he says, that the movements that led to today's system of bike lanes and other facilities began.


...and in 1968

Activists and planners of that time also advocated for changes in city planning to encourage motor-free transportation and recreation.  He shows motor vehicle-free central business districts, some in centuries-old areas of cities.  As he points out--in contrast to the arguments of their American counterparts--business owners report increased business because a cyclist or pedestrian is more likely to stop by whereas a driver might pass by if they can't find a parking space.

But his post also points to another parallel with the US that might help to explain why such developments are slower in coming to America. For one, he mentions that in recent years, the amount of cycling in the Netherlands has stabilized--which isn't surprising when you realize that bicycles have outnumbered people for some time. (They do in my apartment, too!)  Those statistics, though, have layers, and if you peel off one of them, you find that cycling has increased in urban areas but decreased in the countryside has decreased.  I don't know what the numbers are for the US, but I suspect that there is a similar situation at work--or that, at any rate, most of the increase in American cycling has come in or near urban areas.

For another, he talks about the resistance to making city centers more auto-friendly. (One of the images is a rendition of a proposed highway that looks alarmingly like the ones in areas like Southern California and other auto-centric areas. Thankfully, it was never built.)  While cycling declined for a couple of decades after World War II, remaining cyclists fought to make their country safer for riding.  Also, making some city centers more auto-friendly meant, not only removing bike lanes or streets that were safe for cycling, but also some beloved buildings, some of them centuries old. When some of those structures were lost, people thought that perhaps the price of "progress" wasn't worth it.

While there is some interest in preserving historic structures in some American cities, on the whole the environment in the US is more amenable to large-scale development.  Some of that has to do with citizens who still see building bigger buildings as "progress," but I suspect that it has at least as much to do with the fact that mega-developers have more influence on politics and the media, at the local as well as the national level, in the US.  

Also, business and commercial districts in some American cities, especially the newer ones in the South and West, are auto-centric by design.  In contrast, the older Dutch (and other European) city centers, with their narrower streets and smaller plazas, were created long before automobiles came along.  So, I would suspect, making them more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly would mean, at least to some degree, returning them to their original state.  Or, at least, making them bicycle- and pedestrian- friendly doesn't require as much of a radical redesign as would be required in most American cities.

Finally, there is the matter of geography.  The Netherlands is a much smaller country, and places are closer together.  So people need less convincing to see that bicycling is a practical way to get to where they need to go--and that riding is simply fun.  If someone lives 100 kilometers away from work, as many Americans do, no bike lane is going to convince them not to drive.  At best, such a commuter might be enticed to ride his or her bike to a train or bus station--if indeed there are safe and secure parking facilities at the station. Or if there is a train or bus line at all.  That is another area in which Dutch and other European people are better-served than Americans.

So, Mark Wagenbuur has done a service by showing that his country wasn't always the cycling Nirvana we see today.  More important, he shows that it was once before a country of cyclists, but planners and ordinary citizens learned from their mistakes in emulating American transportation and city planning.  Perhaps we can learn from our own mistakes and, although we can't go about it in the same way as the Dutch (or Danes or other Europeans), we can make this country more amenable for cyclists and pedestrians.  It's one of the steps we need to take in order to keep from cooking ourselves (and most other life) on this planet!

18 November 2021

A Race You Really Can't Win Without Trying

I'm riding the Lento.

Most things sound better in Italian. (One of the few exceptions is the mushroom, fungo in la bella lingua.)  And if I didn't know any better, I'd sign up for it.

But those of you who know the language--or music terminology--know that "lento" means "slow."  Believe it or not, there's actually an event in which people try to go slowly--something that comes naturally to me at my age!

What's really wild, though, is a barrier the riders were trying to break.  Just as running a mile in four minutes or less seemed impossible until Roger Bannister did it in 1954, one wonders how someone who isn't completely immobile can ride less than a kilometer (about .625 mile) in an hour.  That was the goal of Davide Formolo and Maria Vittoria Sperotto at the Velodromo Rino Mercante del Bassano di Grappa, in the Veneto region.  They were trying to "better" the old mark of 1070 meters set by Bruno Zanoni in the same event two years ago.

Formolo and Speretto shattered that record by riding 918 meters.

Now, if you think you can out-do them simply by stopping for a latte every 30 seconds, think again.  The cyclists in the Lento are every bit as fit as the riders you'd see in any race:  Formolo, in fact, has competed in, and finished, all of the Big Three races and placed as high as ninth in the Vuelta. But they're not trying to showcase their power or speed, as someone trying to break (in the sense we'd normally think of) a distance or speed record.  What the Lento rewards, instead, are skill and patience.  

The rules of the race are that riders must always ride forward at the slowest possible speed without coming to a complete stop, and they must do so on a geared bike without brakes.  

In a way, the event reminds me of something theater and film directors have long said:  People can't play themselves.  Likewise, you can't win an event like the Lento if your normal speed is slow:  You have to be strong, fast and skilled enough to control yourself at the slowest possible speed.    

17 November 2021

A Path For Stolen Bikes

Between 2005 and 2010, a number of European cities, mainly in the north and west, initiated bike-share programs.  Paris and Rome were among them.  Both ran into similar problems, among them vandalism and theft.  In both the City of Light and the Eternal City, bikes ended up at the bottom of bodies of water:  the Canal Saint Martin in Paris and the Tiber in Rome.  Also, a number of bikes went to--and a few were recovered in North Africa and Eastern Europe, particularly Romania.

The fact that so many bikes were not returned led Rome to pull the plug on its program, and for two companies to abandon the city.  The Velib program nearly met the same fate before a Spanish company, Smovengo, took it over and rebranded it as Velib Metropole in 2018.

Over the years, I have heard from friends and acquaintances in France and elsewhere that Romania is a common destination for goods, including everything from watches and designer clothing to priceless artwork, stolen in other parts of Europe. The reasons I've heard and read include everything from the relative poverty of the country to the corruption or inefficacy of police and government officials.  

Whatever the reasons, it seems that high-profile sports teams--including those in cycling--are not immune to the problem.  About a month ago, the Italian national team competed--and won seven medals--in this year's World track championships, held in Roubaix, Belgium (the end-point of the Paris-Roubaix race, a.k.a. "L'enfer du nord.).  The team stayed in a hotel just over the border in Lille, France that was selected specifically for its safety.

Well, we all know that stuff happens even in the safest places and structures.  The team was getting ready for its return home when 22 of its Pinarellos--including four with a distinctive gold--were stolen from a team van.  In total, those bikes were valued at around 400,000 Euros (about 451,790 USD).

Italian team members Simone Consonni, Filippo Ganna, Francesco Lamon and Jonathan Milan on the track bikes that were stolen.


The good news is that police recovered the bikes after they caught some criminals in the act of trying to sell  them.  Searches also turned up--surprise, surprise--other stolen goods, including eight televisions, ten mobile phones and drugs, in addition to 2800 Euros in cash.  

On Monday, team mechanics travelled to Romania to pick up the bikes and bring them back in Italy. 

16 November 2021

A Perfect Storm Of Hate

I am a transgender woman and a cyclist.  That means I belong to two groups of people for whom it means that becoming more visible means having a target pinned on your back.

That's how it seems, anyway.  On some jobs, when I've done anything that draws positive attention--whether it's an excellent review, volunteering for a committee or, sometimes, even outside activities, like my writing--some co-workers, including those of higher rank than mine, become Captain Ahabs to my Moby Dick.  Until that happens, they congratulate themselves for "tolerating" me.  But when I accomplish something through my creativity and hard work, they seem to think that someone like me (or unlike them) isn't supposed to do such things.  

Likewise, as cycling for transportation as well as recreation becomes more mainstream, it stokes whatever hatreds and resentments some folks have toward us--or, at least, whatever notions, however unfounded, they have about us. We are seen as taking something--"their" streets or, perhaps, some notion of what it means to live a meaningful and productive life.  We are also accused of "not paying taxes" when, in fact, as I pointed out to one driver,  we pay more taxes for things we don't use, such as gasoline and highways.  

An unfortunate corollary to the things I've described can be seen in the aftermath of recent protests against the ways police, in too many places, treat Black*, Hispanic and Native American people.  It seems that, like trans and non-binary folks and cyclists, racial and ethnic minorities--especially Blacks and, in some parts of the country, Native Americans--have similarly been targeted for harassment and violence. Unfortunately, it's no surprise when you realize that the Ku Klux Klan became a force in the wake of Reconstruction, and lynchings and other kinds of violence against Black people surged in the years just after World War I, when large numbers of Black soldiers returned home, and during and after the Civil Rights protests of the 1950s and 1960s.

One parallel between what I've experienced, if less intensely, as a cyclist and trans woman and what Blacks too often endure is that we and they are too often targeted for doing or accomplishing things, or being in a place we're "not supposed to." And, being a member of one of the groups I've mentioned can compound the harassment you might experience as a member of one of the other groups.  As an example, one hot day early in my gender-affirmation process (I was on hormones for about two years and had begun living and working as female), a couple of cops pulled me over on some made-up charge while I was riding home. Their interrogation was punctuated by comments like, "I like your bike" and "You have nice legs." 

Elliot Reed also experienced an unfortunate confluence of bigotry while he was out for his morning ride two weeks ago.  The 50-year-old Texan is not only a cyclist in a car-centric, red-meat state; he is also--you guessed it--Black.  

When he stopped at an intersection, 25-year-old Collin Joseph Fries (great name for someone in a red-meat state, isn't it?)  drove up along side him.  "He was just looking at me at the stop sign," Reed recalls.  "He said, 'You need to get out of this neighborhood because you're making a lot of people nervous."  

Then Fries upped the ante:  "You don't live here, and if I catch you, I'm gonna do something to you."

Reed says he tried to get away and  get neighbors to confirm that he indeed lives in the neighborhood.  Then he pulled out his cell phone to record the incident.  At that point, he recalls, Fries got out of his car and used the N-word.  Things went downhill, very quickly, from there. 

Several witnesses have confirmed everything I've described so far, and what I'm about to relate.  Fries chased Reed, caught him and punched him so hard and so often that he lost consciousness. Those same witnesses reported that Fries continued to punch him even after he lost consciousness.

The attack left Reed with cuts requiring numerous stitches on his face, a broken tooth, fractured cheek bone and a burst blood vessel in his eye.

From Black Enterprise

Now, you might expect that, with all of those witnesses giving essentially the same account, Fries would be facing some serious charges.  For the moment, though, he's only been charged with a misdemeanor for aggravated assault.  (Is that a Harris County thing?  If something is "assault" and it's "aggravated," how can it be called a "misdemeanor?")  The District Attorney's office, however, says the investigation is "ongoing" and that it's awaiting medical records of the injuries and other evidence from the investigating officers.

At the very least, I think, Fries should be charged with something more serious related to Reed's injuries--and a hate crime.  For that matter, anyone who is attacked because of his or her identity--yes, I include motorists who did what Fries did or pedestrians who push people off their bicycles because their victims are cyclists--should be so charged, and sentenced.

*  I am using the term "Black" because I want to include immigrants and descendants from the Caribbean and Africa, as well those who were born here. They, too often, experience the same sort of hostility and violence as African Americans.

15 November 2021

When A Death Is A "Failure To Yield"

A Postal Service driver runs over and kills a cyclist.

Five months later, that driver is...charged with a misdemeanor for "failure to yield." And he's gotten a ticket for..."failure to exercise due care."

That "failure to yield" charge "doesn't even suggest that a man died," Christopher Brimer lamented.  "It's more  like, 'Whoopsie, I guess I didn't look."

Ms. Brimer has a right to be angry:  The cyclist who died in the crash on 29 June is her husband, Jeffrey Williamson.  He was riding northbound (uptown to us New Yorkers) on Central Park West.  He had the right of way as he crossed the intersection at West 86th Street when Sergei Alekseev made a right turn with his 2019m Peterbilt truck.  Around 5:40 pm--still broad daylight at that time of year--Alekseev slammed into Williamson.

Jeffrey Williamson (inset) and the scene of his fatal crash.  Photo by Ken Coughlin, from Streetsblog

A civil notice of claim has been filed against the Postal Service, but won't be dealt with until after the criminal case is resolved.  Brimer's lawyer, Steve Vaccaro says that Alekseev should plead guilty.

Even though the charges against him seem almost trivial, they are still exceptionally rare.  Last year, the NYPD wrote 35,257 summonses for failure to yield.  That translates to roughly one per day in each of the city's 77 precincts.  What's even more galling is that such summonses are rare even in fatal crashes:  Streetsblog reported that in 2019, only six drivers--about one out of five-- who killed cyclists got so much as a summons.  The rate for drivers who killed pedestrians, while better, is still too low:  58 percent.

What makes Williamson's death all the more egregious, though, is that Alekseev was driving where trucks aren't permitted.  (I know this because I've cycled on Central Park West many times, before and since the bike lane was designated on it.)  On top of that, the USPS has a reputation of "getting away with murder." It is a behemoth that can summon lots of money and other resources.  I don't know what Brimer's financial situation is, but even if she's a multimillionaire and Vaccaro is one of the best lawyers in the world, she's fighting a lonely battle--against the USPS, and the hidebound culture of the NYPD that could only come up with a charge of "failure to yield" in her husband's death.

13 November 2021

12 November 2021

John Karras R.I.P.

It began as a lark. Nearly half a century later, it had become the world's oldest, largest and longest bike recreational bike ride.

In 1973, a couple of Iowa newspaper guys decided to pedal across their state:  about 700 kilometers from the Missouri to the Mississippi River.  They wrote about their adventures for their newspaper which, as one of the riders jokingly said, allowed them to claim that their adventure was part of their job and therefore get the newspaper to pay for it.

Perhaps more surprising to them, though, was that they went along with their editor's idea of allowing readers to ride with them--something one of the two fellows thought was "stupid."  His disdain turned to anxiety when more than 100 riders showed up at the starting line.

So was the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) born.  The ride has set off every year since except for 2020, owing to the pandemic.  The most edition of the ride included more than 15,000 cyclists.

Perhaps more important, RAGBRAI--which could have disappeared along with the 1970s Bike Boom--helped to spur interest in bike touring and, arguably, led to the construction of a bike lane network that criscrosses the state, as well as bike routes beyond the Hawkeye State's boundaries.  It also helped to raise the State's profile, which people identify with RAGBRAI ("that ride") in much the same way that France is linked to its Tour and Italy to the Giro.

When they founded the ride, Donald Kaul and John Karras were Register columnists.  Kaul passed away from cancer three years ago.  He was 83 years old.  Earlier this week, 91-year-old Karras followed him to that great bike tour in the sky.

I hope to do RAGBRAI.  And I will remember Karras--and Kaul.

John Karras

Disabled Man's Bike Stolen

In yesterday's post, I talked about the importance of bicycles, sometimes modified, for people with disabilities.  Some people, like a man I mentioned, can't get drivers' licenses because of their disabilities, but they can still pedal a two- or three-wheeler.  That can allow disabled folks to get to jobs or classes, or exercise, they might not have otherwise.  Being able to study, make a living and get exercise--or simply enjoy some of the other things normally-abled people take for granted--brings about a sense of independence and some semblance of control over their lives.  

For some disabled people, such as Randy Bowling, simply getting a bike is an accomplishment.  The 50-year-old Hamilton, Ohio resident suffered a traumatic brain injury at age 16.  A few months ago, he spent $157 on a bike he rode four miles, each way, to and from his job at a Wal-Mart.  "It was the first bike I ever bought myself," he said.

Now that bike is gone.  On Saturday night, Bowling rode to the door of a nearby store.  He stepped inside and, less than a minute later, a man rode up on another bike, grabbed Bowling's ride, and took off.  The theft was captured on the store's video camera.

Although he needs the job and says he's prepared to walk to work if he must, Bowling says he doesn't feel angry toward the guy who took his bike.  "I'd rather talk to him and help him get a job," he expains.

11 November 2021

Helping Veterans--And Everyone--With Disabilites

Today is Veterans' Day here in the US.  I don't know what I could say to, or about, veterans that isn't a platitude at best.  What I can say, though, is that I am pro-veteran precisely because I am anti-war. It's a disgrace to see a former service member living under an overpass and, honestly, the kind of health care, physical and mental, that too many veterans get--or don't get.

What I say is especially true of disabled veterans.  Even those whose immediate needs are being met by the Veterans' Administration and other organizations often face other challenges, especially in terms of mobility.  That difficulty in getting around is not just an inconvenience or a destroyer of pleasure; it also deters too many veterans (and other disabled people) from employment, education and the means of obtaining and maintaining health.  

Although Chesterfield, Virginia resident James Howard's paralysis wasn't a result of his service in the 82nd Airborne Division, the retired US Army Ranger understands just how important mobility is. He was given a recumbent bicycle adapted to his needs after his diving accident.  That inspired him to "give back," he says, by advocating for fellow veterans and people with disabilities.  

He has also helped in a more concrete way by launching REACHcycles.  To date, it has provided over 600 adaptable three-wheeled bikes to disabled veterans, children and other folks. Recipients have included a triple amputee as well as a blind child.  Those bikes allow their riders to go to jobs and schools to which they might not otherwise have access. (I am thinking now of a man I knew, now gone, who couldn't get a drivers' license because of his lack of peripheral vision.  He could, however, ride his bike to work.)  They also help, especially the kids, to prevent other health problems:  Disabled people often become obese and develop diabetes and other degenerative conditions as a result of their physical inactivity.  

So, being the pro-veteran person I am, I want to say that the Veterans' Administration and other relevant government entities (and insurance companies) should pay folks like James Howard--and the folks who build and adapt the bikes he provides--for their services.  And, of course, provide them with anything else they need for their physical and mental health.      

10 November 2021

For Her Country, And Everyone’s

 Many cycling events, from local charity rides to races involving world-class riders, have been cancelled or postponed during the pandemic.  The cancelled rides were, mostly, annual events, and one assumes that they will resume once things return to “normal,” whatever that may mean.

On the other hand, Afghanistan’s female cyclists have no such hope.  Nobody really knows what could return that country to what it was three months ago, before the Taliban took power.  Women are losing the rights they regained during the past two decades—including, in effect, the right to ride a bicycle, an effect of the Taliban’s dress codes and prohibition against women venturing outside their homes without a male relative.

For some women, not being allowed to ride a bike means that they have no way to get to their jobs or schools—if indeed they are still allowed to work or study.  For some, though, it spells the end of their lives unless they can get out of the country and have a sponsor or other help waiting for them wherever they land.

Those women include Rukhsar Habibzi. Before she evacuated from Kabul Airport (just before it shut down) she was riding with the Afghan women’s national team and attending dental school.  Oh, and her activism got her a nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize—and threats of gender-based violence.

From Kabul, she was brought to Quatar, then to a US military base in Germany and an immigration center in New Jersey, where she waited for an emergency visa before settling in another state last week. 

She is slated to compete through 2023 for the Twenty24 development team.  Twenty24 owner Nicola Cranmer has set up a GoFundMe page to help Habibzai with rent, food, utilities, clothing, books and tuition. This fundraising effort “is not to fund a cycling team,” Cranmer stresses. Rather, she is trying to help a young woman become “the best athlete, student and leader she can be” after leaving her country “with just her purse.”  As an emergency visa holder, Habibzai gets very little assistance from the government.

She probably has dreams of winning races.  But Habibzai summed up her real goal in training and studying: “I want to showcase the physical and mental strength of an Afghan woman to Afghanistan and the whole world.” That, she believes, will show that “a woman is not weak” and that “success can be achieved by any gender.”

I’d be happy to have someone like her in my country!

09 November 2021

What Do They Carry?

 Every once in a while, I see an article or blogpost about carrying stuff on your bicycle.  They mention the usual things:  racks, panniers, other bike bags, baskets, backpacks, trailers and such.

None of them, though, has ever mentioned anything like this:

08 November 2021

Saving The Colors

Saturday was the last day of Daylight Savings Time.  It would be the last time until Spring I could start not much before noon, take a longish ride and get home before dark.  So I rode to--where else?--Connecticut. 

Connecticut is just a north of my apartment.  It's actually not very far "as the crow flies," but the geography and topography make it impossible to go like a crow.  Why would I want to be a crow anyway?  I wouldn't be able to ride my bike and, well, their diet isn't very appealing.

But I digress.  Connecticut is just far enough north that the Fall foliage is a few days ahead of ours in Astoria.  I figured, correctly, that it would be at or near peak.

In downtown Greenwich, I saw quite a few people out and about.  The day was chilly, but it was illuminated by that perfect autumnal light.  

Given how awful I felt on Thursday, I could hardly believe how wonderful I, and everything around me, felt.  I pedaled into a fairly stiff wind most of the way up.  The flip-side of that, of course, is that the wind blew me into the sunset.

From the Randalls Island Connector it's about another six kilometers to my apartment--just enough for me to enjoy the last flickerings of twilight.  And that night I'd have an extra hour of sleep after a 140 km ride.