31 January 2022

After A Snowstorm

From Friday night through Saturday, we in New York experienced one of the biggest snowstorms we've had in a while.

Now, if you live in a place like Vermont or Montana or the Alps, you might think it's funny that we'd make such a big deal about 30 centimeters (12 inches) of snow.  But city officials and media are expressing gratitude that the storm--which brought winds of up to 110 kph (70 mph) and a low temperature of -12C (10F)-came our way at the start of the weekend.

Because the temperature has remained well below freezing, the snow hasn't melted.  I have to wonder, then, how snow accumulates in the ways and places it does:

I also can't help but to wonder about vehicles parked on the street.  Are they parked with the knowledge of the approaching storm?  Or do people leave them, go and do wherever and whatever, and the weather just happens to turn:

Does anybody make knobby or studded tires for scooters?

30 January 2022

Really, I Didn't Crash!

 In nearly half a century of cycling, I have had two incidents that sent me to the emergency room.  Both happened in 2020:  I was "doored" in October after suffering a "face plant" in June.  I hope not to endure anything like either of those accidents again (or something worse!).  But if I do--and I'm not seriously hurt--this is how I'll explain it:

29 January 2022

As Kucharik Goes, So Has The World Of Bicycling Gone

Steel to aluminum to carbon.

Hand-built wheels to boutique wheelsets.

Hubs and freewheels to freehubs and cassettes.

Quill stems to threadless; threaded headsets to threadless.

The "baselines" for bikes and components have changed so much in the past couple of decades.  While some of those changes are beneficial to some cyclists, too many simply added cost and complication for others.

Those changes have also brought innovators and investors with deeper pockets than the mom-and-pop operations that dominated cycling until the 1980s.  One way you can see what I mean is to look at the sponsors of riders and teams:  Jerseys in the 1960s and 1970s bore the names of local or regional enterprises like Molteni and the bikes and components were made by companies (or sometimes individuals) that were involved mainly, or solely, in the bike industry.  Now bike and component makers tend to be parts of larger conglomerates, and sponsors include them as well as large companies (like Coca-Cola) that have little or nothing to do with the design or manufacture of bikes or parts.

Like all changes, the ones I've mentioned have brought casualties, if you will.  Some once-revered bike, component and accessory makers no longer fabricate their wares in Europe, Japan or the United States--or might build one or two of their most expensive models in their home country while outsourcing the manufacture of their mass-market goods to low-wage countries.  Still others are no longer in the bike business--or in business at all.  

And then there are smaller (what might be called "niche" in other industries) enterprises that ended when the main or sole proprietor--or even employee--retired, died or simply wouldn't or couldn't change with the rest of the industry.  I think in particular of small-scale frame builders like Ron Cooper and Brian Bayliss who had small but devoted followings.

Another change came with the ones I've mentioned. When I first became a dedicated cyclist, nearly half a century ago, high-mileage cyclists almost always wore wool--year round.  Those black shorts you see on cyclists from the 70s were made from it; so were there jerseys.   That, of course, is why bike kit of that time wasn't as flashy as today's:  Since colors and patterns have to be knit into wool, it's much more difficult (if not impossible) to include some of the intricate (or busy) graphics and loud colors you see on the "billboard" jerseys and matching shorts (or bibs) of today.      

During the North American Bike Boom of the 1970s, some companies got into the business of making bike clothing.  Most are gone now--offhand, I can think of Protogs and Weyless.  And there were the European, mostly Italian, makers. One reason the American apparel makers--aside from one I'll mention--didn't last more than a few years was that many cyclists had an attitude expressed by one shop employee I encountered:  "Buy right, buy Italian."  Also, Weyless (which made some nice components) claimed their wool clothes wouldn't shrink.  Well, shrink they did, and it's said that the warranty claims torpedoed a business that was already sinking as the tide of the Bike Boom receded. 

And, honestly, most of the Italian clothes fit (at least folks like me in those days) better. But one American company, almost entirely unknown save to dedicated cyclists, made wool shorts, jerseys, arm and leg warmers and other apparel that were better-constructed with higher-quality wool.

That company was based, seemingly incongruously, in Southern California.  Well, that location seems incongruous to anyone who doesn't understand wool:  Because it wicks moisture, it helps to keep you cooler.  And it keeps more of its insulating qualities than other materials when wet.  That is why it's been worn by people who live in areas that experience both extreme heat and cold, as well as other kinds of harsh weather.

John Kucharik Jr. has been extolling those virtues for the past 50 years.  He's about to turn 69 and, he says, he promised his wife they would "travel and do some stuff." So, although his company's sales grew during the pandemic, he is about to close the business his father, who died at age 93 in 2008, founded 88 years ago. 

That anyone can keep a business going for that long, with the family's surname, while making products that changed little, if at all, is an achievement.  And he's done it with the same workforce--seven people--for the past thirty years.  That, I think, may be a reason why he's closing up rather than selling out:  They're "my family," he says.  "I tell people:  They don't work for me; I work for them."

It will be sad to lose one of the last companies to make bike apparel from wool, or any other natural material (e.g., cotton and leather in the gloves).  But the cycling world will lose something else:  a place that repairs bike bibs, shorts and other items.  "I don't make money on repairs," Kucharik explains,  "I just do it because I do it.  My dad did it; I did it."  Their repairs include replacing or re-sewing pads and fixing zippers.  "[T]hese guys pay $200, $250, $300 for a bib short. They ride it once and they can't ride it again.  A bike shop doesn't want it back."  He said his shop was averaging about 40 such items--none made by his company--a week.

The closing of Kucharik Bicycle Clothing company also is another change in the bike industry.  Call me a cynic, but the more expensive bike clothes (and other items) become, the less durable they are.  And the bike industry has become more like the fashion industry and others in that it seems more oriented to affluent cyclists who won't ride a jersey, a pair of shorts or bibs--or a bike--for more than a season.



28 January 2022

Barelli: Raising The Bar On The Hill

Throughout my life, I've read various books, poems and other works of literature that brought me into other worlds.  Among them are, of course, Shakespeare's plays and Charlotte Bronte's Villette (which I liked even better than Wuthering Heights). Currently, I'm reading Colson Whitehead's Nickel Boys, which brings me into yet another world I can scarcely imagine.

While it wasn't a work of great literature, in its own way the Palo Alto Bicycle catalogue did something similar for me.  Its pages were filled with images and descriptions of equipment even more exotic--and less affordable--than Campagnolo's.  At that time, I probably could've counted, on one hand, the number of Campy-equipped bikes ridden by people I actually knew.  So, in perusing the pages of PAB, I found myself imagining, not only the components themselves, but the folks who rode (or simply bought) them.

Among those parts were pedals that, to this day, I have not seen in "real life" but recently came across on eBay when I was looking for another part. In the mid-1970s, it seemed that every other cyclist with an engineering background, or simply a lathe, was trying to improve in one way or another in what they were spinning in races or club rides.  Among those folks were Bob Reedy, the folks at East Rochester Tool and Die--and Geoff Chapman.

A member of Cambridge (Town & County) Cycle Club in the UK, Chapman owned an engineering firm in nearby Bar Hill.   He would use a near-anagram of that name, with an Italian touch,  for the brand of his products:  Barelli.

At that time, the North American Bike Boom had crested.  Many of classic British builders were still producing their legendary frames, but the country's bike component industry was in steep decline, in part  because some manufacturers didn't update their designs or factory equipment.  As an example, Williams, which made some of those pencil-thin cottered cranksets found on classic British lightweights, finally produced a cotterless crankset--years after Campagnolo, Stronglight, Specialites TA and other companies introduced theirs.   And Sturmey-Archer, which was all but synonymous with internally-geared hubs, was losing not only because derailleurs had become more popular, but also because the quality of its products was slipping. (SA 3-speed hubs made from about the mid-80s until 2000, when the company went into receivership and was bought by SunRace, are all but unrideable.)  

So it was interesting, to say the least, that someone like Chapman would not only try to improve upon the design of what he was riding, but would also produce something worthy, quality-wise, of a Jack Taylor, Bob Jackson, Mercian, Hetchins or Ron Cooper frame.

Barelli Supreme

Barelli B-10

He seems to have produced two models: the Supreme and B10.  The former looks like an amalgam of platform pedals like the Lyotard Berthet and traditional quill pedals.  The latter took a shoe cleat that fit into the body and was secured with a traditional toe clip and strap.  (Shoe cleats of that time typically had a slot that fit onto the pedal cage.)  The B10, perhaps not surprisingly, seems to have had some following among track riders because it had such a secure hold which some described as "impossible to get out of."

That might be the reason why Barelli didn't share the same fate as Reedy and ERTD, whose designs were used by companies like SunTour. While Reedy and ERTD were really just lighter and more aerodynamic versions of traditional pedals (albeit with sealed bearings and a nicer finishes), Barellis--especially the B10--might have been just too radical.  Or the difficulty of dismounting B10s might have reminded them of the Cinelli M71, often nicknamed the "suicide" pedal.

So, while I'd like to see some Barellis in "real life," and might buy a pair if I were more of a collector (or simply had more money), it's probably a good thing I couldn't afford them when they appeared in the Palo Alto Bicycle catalogue.

27 January 2022

A Symbol Of....?

I don't often talk about my attempts to draw or paint, and I won't now. But I think that some of them, at least, were better than this:

I mean, I could draw a better bicycle--if that's what it's supposed to be--about the time I could pick up a pencil.  I could just see some archaeologist a thousand years from now (if indeed there are still archaeologists and stuff like this for them to find) chancing upon this and wondering whether it was a symbol for a fertility goddess--or a sketch for some sort of device or weapon. Or, perhaps, this future Indiana Jones muses, it might have been an emblem for some secret society.

Now, since it's next to an anthropomorphic shadow-figure, and I'm writing about it in this blog, you know it's supposed to denote the cycling side of a bike-pedestrian lane.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the lane, which winds its way through Maidenhead, a market town about 50 kilometers west of Charing Cross, London, is as bad as the drawing itself.  I'll admit that my perceptions were influenced by that photo:  It looks like cyclists and pedestrians are sharing two meters of space, if that, at that bend.  But some comments confirm my impressions about the lane.

Heck, I probably could do a better job of designing a bike lane--and painting or drawing its markers!


26 January 2022

Entry, Late In The Day

Yesterday, for the first time in a week, we had more than a couple of hours with temperatures above freezing (0C or 32F).  Breezy still, the day refracted hues of sea and sun stretching into, and stretching, the end of the day.

A late afternoon ride along the North Shore meant riding home into the sunset along the Malcolm X pier between Flushing and LaGuardia Airport.  I think of passengers on descending flights and how some of them are coming to this city for the first time--and how the skyline they've seen in countless images is so close, but is still so far away--something as clear yet impenetrable as the window of a plane keeps it all even more distant from them, at least for the time being, than the lattice of tree limbs along the cold gray water.

Do they get to see the skyline as a reflection of the water that channeled all of us--from the Maspeth tribe to Milennial tech workers--into streets where we can get lost, or find ourselves?

25 January 2022

He Understands The Value Of A Bike

Bicycles are extremely valuable pieces of equipment.  Quite often, they are more valuable than the motor cars their owners possess.

That insight comes from William Hart.  That is, Judge William Hart to you—and me.

The Bristol Crown Court magistrate made that observation in sentencing Michael Whatley and Steven Fry to 66 and 4O months, respectively, for charges that include stealing several high-end bikes from Friction Cycles in Bristol.

For that statement alone, I would be willing to sponsor Judge Hart were he willing to abdicate Her Majesty’s justice system and bring his wisdom to this land of anti-vaxers. Of course, it’s difficult to imagine why he’d want to do such a thing—or that he would need sponsorship from me, or anyone else.

I am guessing—or at least hoping—that such a wise and worldly person would understand that the value of bikes to their owners, whether intrinsic or relative to their cars, is more than monetary—especially for folks like yours truly who don’t have a car, or even a driver’s license.  

If nothing else, the Honorable William Hart merits my respect—and, I am sure, that of many readers of this blog—simply for understanding that bike theft should be taken as seriously as other kinds of crimes: something too few of his colleagues, or law enforcement officers, in the United States do.

24 January 2022

My First View, From A Bike

Yesterday I rode Zebbie, my 1984 Mercian King of Mercia, through the brownstones and rowhouses of Queens and Brooklyn.  Such a ride could easily involve a trip across the Kosciuszko Bridge, now that it has one of the better bike-pedestrian lanes in this city.

And so it was yesterday.  Tourists on Citibikes almost always ride across the Brooklyn Bridge for the views.  But no longtime New York resident does that.  Rather, in-the-know Big Apple cyclists opt for the Williamsburg Bridge or, if we simply want a visually interesting ride, the Kosciuszko.

In the spring and summer, the view consists mainly of skyscrapers foregrounded by trees and the factories and warehouses along Newtown Creek.  But the denuded limbs of winter reveal a landscape of differing verticalities. (Does that sound like a geeky phrase or what?)

When I lived in Manhattan and Brooklyn, one of my worst fears was--moving to Queens.  Mind you, I took many good rides, and enjoyed other activities, in "the world's borough."  But my first glimpse of it came from my family's car, en route to visit relatives:

Tell me, how would you feel about a place if the first thing you saw in it was a cemetery?  I'm guessing that I probably saw it for the first time on a winter day like yesterday, with leafless trees screening, but not shielding, the tombstones.  

But I did eventually move to Queens--to Long Island City, not far from where I live now.  Since then, I've visited Calvary Cemetery.  I know that there are tours of some of this city's necropoli, like Greenwood and Woodlawn.  Anyone who has a taste for such things (which I do, sometimes) should also go to Calvary.  Largely before of it, there are--wait for it--more dead than living people in Queens. (Thomas Wolfe once claimed, "Only the dead know Brooklyn."  What would he have said about Queens?)  In fact, more people are buried in Calvary than in any other American cemetery--or than live in Chicago!

Like Greenwood and Woodlawn, Calvary is the final resting place for some famous and infamous people, as well as everyday New Yorkers.  Also in common with them, Calvary began after the 1840s cholera epidemic: At that time, most of Queens and the farther reaches of Brooklyn and the Bronx (the locations of Greenwood and Woodlawn, respectively) were rural. And there wasn't enough room left in Manhattan to bury the victims of that epidemic, so the city mandated that they be interred elsewhere. 

All of those cemeteries have chapels large enough for masses or services.  But Calvary has a full-blown cathedral (not visible in these photos) at least somewhat reminiscent of the Sacre Coeur in Paris.

It's ironic that those same trees I saw yesterday obscure the tombstones in spring and summer.  Could their lush leafage during those seasons be nourished by the "residents" of Calvary?

23 January 2022

It's All On My Head

If you are my age or older, you may have ridden with a "leather hairnet."  Similar to the headgear worn by US football players until the 1950s, they were a lattice of foam-filled straps that might have prevented a scrape or two in a minor crash but probably were useless in a headlong fall or impact with a motor vehicle.

I had one such helmet in my youth. (Yes, believe it or not, I had one of those.) But I never wore it because it was too cumbersome and hot.  I had those same complaints when I first started wearing a hardhat--  a later-version Bell "turtle shell" nearly four decades ago--but have covered my head while riding ever since.

My "hairnet" disappeared into the mists of history. Actually, I think I lost it during a move.  I got to thinking about it when I came across this:

22 January 2022

Why Does One Steal For Three?

 I've been told, by people who have worked in it, that the art business can be as shady as any other.  Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised:  It's a world of secrecy with very little regulation.  And, as with real estate, stocks or anything else that's bought and sold, paintings, sculptures and other created objects sell for, essentially, whatever people are willing to pay for them, which leads to all sorts of unethical behavior.

Still, I have trouble imaging that anyone has ever said, with a straight face, "Psst!  Wanna buy a Monet?"  I don't know whether I'd laugh or call the police if I were to hear that.

That is the reason why I don't understand art theft--or theft of anything but basic necessities, and then only by desperate, destitute people. (Mind you, I don't condone any sort of pilferage:  I simply can better understand the motives of a person who's simply trying to survive or feed his or her family.)  After all, what do you do with Rembrandt's Storm on the Sea of GalileeOr Van Gogh's Poppy Flowers? Or Cezanne's Boy In A Red VestHang them on your wall and invite your friends over for dinner?  I mean, if you were to try to sell those paintings to anyone who recognized them, they'd know that it was fake or stolen.  You can't make it "go stealth" the way you can with, say, a contraband high-end watch.

So it is with unusual bicycles.  Most bike thieves want to sell the bikes or their parts, so they steal stuff that's valuable but common. (That makes even more sense when you realize that for several years running, the most-stolen car was the Toyota Camry.)  I would think that it's more difficult to unload a tandem, especially a high-end one.  And I would expect that a bicycle built for three (which was misidentified as a tandem in the article in which I learned about its theft) would be even trickier to sell, "chop shop" or simply disappear. How many triplet fames have you seen?

The Rumseys.  Courtesy: Salt Lake City Police Department

Fortunately for the Rumsey family of Houston, it didn't take long for their three-seater to be recovered after it was stolen in Salt Lake City.  They commissioned the bike 18 years old, not only so Dave and Merle could pedal with Ford, their 36-year-old son with Down's Syndrome, but also so it could travel with them.  The bike can be disassembled to fit into a suitcase and has therefore accompanied the family on every trip they've taken.

So, as you can imagine, the bike entwines all sorts of memories with its usefulness to the family.  That is the reason why they were so glad it was returned to them.  And perhaps it was a good thing that the bike is unlike almost any other.  The Salt Lake Police didn't say whether they'd caught the thief. If they hadn't, perhaps he realized it would be too difficult to sell or otherwise unload and abandoned it. What would he have done with a Picasso or a Caravaggio?

21 January 2022

What If He'd Stayed?

Yesterday, I wrote about an effort to make Austin, Texas more bike- and pedestrian-friendly. I haven't been there, but if it's anything like the parts of the Lone Star State I've seen, the complaints of its cyclists and pedestrians don't surprise me:  Even Houston, its biggest city (and the fourth-largest in the US) can seem like an expanse of auto-centric suburban sprawl, especially if you're accustomed to a city like mine (New York), Boston, San Francisco or most major European burgs, bourgs or bergs.

Then again, I have to admit I was a little bit surprised that, from what I was reading, bike lanes and sidewalks are so poorly conceived, designed or maintained--or nonexistent outside central parts of the city.  After all, during the past three decades, many young, educated people--the ones who, during the same period, were most likely to become recreational or commuting cyclists--moved to the Lone Star Capital.  And it has a major university, which usually is enough to ensure a significant number of cyclists.

Today I was reminded of another reason why one might expect Austin to be a better place for cyclists.  Now, I know that almost anything that happened more than two years ago seems as distant as the Mesopotamian civilization but, believe it or not, three decades ago isn't so long in, as Doctor King said, the long arc of history.  

Just as there was indeed a time before COVID-19, there was also a time when Lance Armstrong was a kind of "golden boy."  He had just won the World Championship and was seen as an heir apparent to Greg LeMond and the generation of American riders who put their country on the sport's map for the first time in decades.

Well, back then, Lance lived in Austin. Professional cyclists are like other professional athletes in that they aren't "working" only when involved in a race, game or match.  Having been a racer for very brief time in my life, I know that in order to be competitive, you have to pedal for a few hours every day.  It's really as much of a commitment as going to the office, factory, school or wherever you make your living or forge your identity.  In addition, most cyclists, as well as other athletes, spend considerable amounts of time in other kinds of conditioning, such as running or weight-lifting.

Photo by Jeff Wilson for Texas Monthly

But one would think that with all of the cycling Lance--and, most likely, others--were doing, the city would have been more conscious of their needs.  You see, not only was he seen as a "rising star;" he had yet to be tainted by accusations of drug use.  In fact, he may not have been using any banned substances (at least, not in detectable quantities) in those days, before his cancer diagnosis. If you look at pre-illness photos of him and compare them to images of him after he returned to the sport, it's not difficult to believe as much.

Anyway, I couldn't help but to wonder whether Lance, had he retained his status, could have made a difference in hometown's cycle and pedestrian infrastructure.  Maybe he could have.  Then again, maybe he couldn't have:  After all, aside from people who bought Trek bicycles in the US Postal Service Team colors, I'm not sure he influenced much else

Still, it makes me feel old to think there was a time before COVID-19--and when Lance was revered.  

20 January 2022

Mapping What’s Missing


From the City of Austin 

My first time in Paris, so many things impressed me.  Among them were, of course, the food and the architecture—and that an entire street—l’Avenue de la Grande Armeé —was lined with boutiques of every major French bike maker and a couple of étrangers like Raleigh.  

And the city’s Métro system seemed like a fleet of high-tech yachts compared to the only such system—New York’s—I knew at the time. The feature that seemed most other-worldly, though, was the interactive route maps in the major stations like Châtelet-Les Halles.  Three decades before GPS, it was about as high-tech as urban subterranean navigation got: You pointed your finger to the name of a street or landmark and a string of lights marked the route and transfer (correspondance) points.

Now the city of Austin, Texas has something that reminds me of that old Paris map. The city’s Public Works and Transportation Departments have collaborated to create the ATX Walk Bike Roll to solicit ideas for improvements to the Lone Star capital’s bike and pedestrian infrastructure. To that end, they’ve designed an interactive map where residents can drop a “pin” wherever they find, say,  “hilariously narrow “ or non-existent sidewalks or bike lanes that are more like “obstacle courses.”

If we had such a map here in New York, I—or any regular cyclist—alone could fill it.  And to think this city is better than others in the US—including, possibly, Austin—for pedestrians and cyclists!

19 January 2022

Extending The Day, And The Season

 Yesterday I went for a late afternoon ride and noticed that, among other things, late afternoon is stretching later into the day.  I shouldn’t have been surprised:  Almost a month has passed since the Winter Solstice.

Something else I noticed also shouldn’t have surprised me, but did: It seems that Christmas decorations have remained on homes and businesses, and in public places, for longer than in any other year I can recall.  I’m sure it has to do with the fact that nearly two years have passed since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived here.  Some people, like health care workers, are tired in body; many more, I am sure, are fatigued in spirit.  Perhaps putting up those decorations, or simply trying to muster up some cheer, sapped them. 

Or they may simply want to cling to whatever flickerings of joy that are illuminating days that, while lengthening, are still followed by long nights.

I suspect that such is the story of the Toufous family, who gives our neighborhood one of the best and most extravagant holiday displays I’ve ever seen:

They’ve put on a great show for years,  But I think they outdid themselves to honor the memory of a family member.

They, like so many people, have endured so much during the past year.  If they want to leave that display up all year, even if only to make themselves feel better, I’m all for it!

18 January 2022

Food, Fashion And...Bike Lanes?

This post will be a tale of two cities--without the capital letters. 

They have roughly the same population.  One is the capital of its nation; the other is, at least in some senses, in its country.  They could be said to be rivals because they are renowned for many of the same things:  food, fashion, finance, the arts, education and technology.

Now one of those cities is not only wants to emulate something the other has been doing; it plans to do even more of it.

I am talking about urban bike lane networks.  While Copenhagen and Amsterdam are seen, perhaps rightly, as the most bike-friendly capitals in Europe, Paris is leading the way in creating new bike infrastructure.  It plans to have 680 kilometers (423 miles) of bike lanes in the City of Light and its surrounding areas.  

Rental Bikes by the Duomo Cathedral, Milan.  Photo by Alessia Pierdomenico for Bloomberg

Well, in the city's chief rival for food and fashion--Milan--the City Council has approved a plan that will include 750 kilometers (466 miles) of lanes that will connect not only major areas of the immediate city, but also its suburbs and some rural areas.  The goal of the Cambio Biciplan is to make bicycling the "first and easiest" way of getting around Metropolitan Milan.

One of the motivations for this plan is a problem the city is trying to tackle.  Among Italian cities, only Turin has worse air pollution; both have some of the worst air quality in Europe.  The factors contributing to that toxicity are similar in both cities: population density, industrial activity and automobile density.  That pollution intensifies in winter, when temperature inversions trap pollutants in the lower atmosphere, leaving a toxic blanket of smog.  Also, I suspect that each of those cities shares a problem with Denver: the mountains that surround (Turin) or abut (Milan) those cities also trap some of the pollutants. (Denver consistently has some of the worst air quality in the US.)

So, in the near future, bike advocacy groups may well emulate fashion and culinary institutions in seeing their "capitals" as New York, Paris and Milan!

17 January 2022

What Would Dr. King Think Of Cheap Bikes Or Rich Riders?

Last week, I wrote two posts that might indicate a future direction for this blog.  (Don't worry, I'll still write about my rides, bikes and all things related to them!) One post, about a German study, discussed who is becoming a new cyclist, and why.  The other discussed a mechanics' petition calling for repairable bicycles:  Turns out, most of the new cheap bikes, which are usually the ones bought by people with limited funds, have faultily-designed frames made from shoddy materials and are equipped with proprietary parts that break easily or wear out quickly.  

In brief, those new cyclists on nice new bikes bought in Cannondale, Giant, Specialized or Trek showrooms are mainly people with advanced educations who live in fashionable or gentrifying urban areas.  They might be riding to work or school, or simply for exercise and, as often as not, they are signaling that they care about their health and/or the environment. In other words, they are cycling by choice.

On the other hand, folks buying the cheap bikes, if they're not cycling for the first time in decades and therefore don't want to spend a lot of money,  are buying that big-box special in a big box because they can't afford anything else, including a bus or train pass--if indeed there is a bus or train that will get them from wherever they sleep to wherever they work.

One of the sad ironies--following the logic of the German study--is that we see a kind of social, economic, racial and gender segregation that would have astounded or appalled the man who is being commemorated today in the US:  Martin Luther King Jr.

Now, I don't think King would have denounced cycling or cyclists per se:  He was often seen riding, which he probably saw as a way of bringing him closer to some of the people he was trying to help.  And, because he was turning more of his attention to economic justice issues in his last days, I can somehow see him advising bike share organizations on ways to bridge the cultural divides and media representations that cause some people to believe they can't ride because they're not white and don't look good in lycra--or those who harass cyclists because they see us as entitled jerks (the educated riders of the German study) or the scum of the earth (cf. police who are trained to automatically assume that any cyclist in a low-income neighborhood is a criminal).

So...while I wasn't thinking specifically of King, or any activist in particular, when I was writing the posts I've linked in this post, thinking about King today is causing me to realize that my almost half a century of cycling--and nearly two decades of living as a woman--makes it all but impossible not to connect my experiences and even the things I most love (bicycling, reading, writing, food, travel, animals) to questions of justice.   In other words, the work of Martin Luther King Jr is one of the major byways, if you will, of my journey.

16 January 2022

Spinning A Good Ride

When I first got serious about cycling, nearly half a century ago(!), the question was:  Reynolds 531 or Columbus SL?  Sometimes Vitus 971 was included, and within a few years,Tange and Ishiwata (The latter was seriously underrated, in my opinion!) would become part of the discussion.

Later, cyclists argued about whether to ride frames made of aluminum, titanium, carbon fiber--or steel. When serious cyclists said "steel," of course, they didn't mean the gaspipe-grade stuff used on bikes sold in big-box stores:  They were referring to Reynolds, Columbus and Tange (though in new configurations), Dedaccai and other makers.

Today, I am going to settle the question about frame materials, for once and for all.  Or, to be exact, someone more famous (and therefore more of an expert) than me--will give us the answer we've all been waiting for:

By Mike Joos

15 January 2022

It's The Stories That Matter

During the past couple of days, it's been colder (in NYC) than it's been in, probably, a few years. Today is definitely a tomato-soup-and-grilled-cheese-sandwich kind of day. Now, to all of you dear readers in Minnesota and North Dakota, this might be a beach day (on Lake Superior?  the Red River?).  But you have to remember that those of us in the Big Apple, everything is bigger, brighter, dirtier, hotter, colder, and generally more intense, and everybody is tougher, stronger and smarter, than in any other place in the universe.

Of couse, I jested (Is that a real word?), but only somewhat, with my previous sentence.  But like any true New Yorker, that's what I tell myself.  And the tourist bureau wants you to believe stuff like that so you'll tell yourself that you'll never, ever come here--until you do.  And you meet someone like yours truly.  And someone else like me. (Yes, believe it or not, there such people.)  And another.  And another.  Then you go home and tell your friends that everything in New York is bigger, brighter, dirtier, louder, more intense--and more expensive--but, you know, those New Yorkers are rude and gruff but they have hearts of gold.

My late uncle Joe was that kind of person.  He was born and lived in Brooklyn until he was about 60, when he and my aunt moved upstate. He never lost his straight-out-of-Red Hook  (I bawt a boddle uv alluv earl in da staw on toity-toid and toid*) accent--or his sense of humor and generous spirit.  

I am thinking of him now because of a feature article in a local newspaper of a place I've never seen. Uncle Joe was an avid motorcyclist until he couldn't ride anymore.  I don't recall him riding a bicycle but he talked fondly of the one he rode as an adolescent in the 1950s:  a Schwinn Phantom, in black.  He said the bike always "felt right:"  in spite of its weight, "it moved."  And somehow, he said, the gearing felt just right:  "I felt I could pedal into anything!"

Now, perhaps that last exclamation had more to do with his youthful energy than the bike, or anything else--though, I must say, if his bike was anything like the two black Phantoms I've seen, he probably felt like a real badass when he rode it.  I know, I probably would have, too.

Howard F. Gordon of Lower Burrell, Pennsylvania has one of those bikes.  And, I would guess, another, perhaps in another color.  And other bikes from that period, and earlier--over 100 of them!

From what I read in the article and saw in the accompanying photos, all or most of those bikes are of the balloon-tired "cruiser" variety made by Schwinn, Columbia and many other American companies until the 1960s.  He calls his 1951 Monark "the Cadillac of bikes.

Even though he admits he has "too many" bikes, he's always on the lookout for new treasures, at garage and estate sales.  "There are so many bicycles in garages and attics that are worth money," he explains. Whenever he buys a bike, he disassembles it and cleans every part before reassembling and restoring the bike to something like its original condition.

One of his more interesting observations regards the condition of the bikes he finds.  Generally, he says, girls' bikes are in better condition because they were better cared-for. Boys, he observed, usually rode their bikes into the ground.

That observation is part of what keeps him interested in vintage bikes:  the stories, known or imagined, by them.  "Every one of those bikes had a rider who can tell you something about the adventures they took on it," he explains.  "A bike is a kid's first feeling of freedom."  Sometimes kids pedaled their bikes to places their parents never knew they went. (Can you see me and Uncle Joe winking to each other?)  

In case you were wondering, Gordon rides.  "My wife and I go on riding dates," he relates.  "We stop for ice cream.  We enjoy the nice weather.  It's great exercise."

That sounds like a story behind at least one of his bikes! 

*--Translation: I bought a bottle of olive oil in the store on Thirty-third and Third.

Photos by Louis B. Ruediger, for the Tribune-Review

14 January 2022

Egyptian Art Deco Catholic In Jackson Heights

 Jackson Heights is five to six kilometers from my apartment.  I have ridden through it, many times, along various routes.  Still, a ride can lead me to some interesting corner or structure I’d never seen or noticed before.

This is one such building.  At first glance, it doesn’t seem out of place: Like most of what is now in the neighborhood, it was built during the late 1920s:  around the same time as the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings. Also, many palatial movie theatres were constructed during that time, just when movies were becoming the most popular form of popular entertainment.  So it would be easy to take this building for a Loews or RKO cinema, especially when you look up.

Those “movie houses” often combined the line structures and geometric shapes of Art Deco with Egyptian motifs. They sound like an odd pairing until you look at them—and you realize that Howard Carter discovered King Tutankhamen’s tomb in the early 1920s, setting off a fad for all things Egyptian just as Art Deco was becoming the most influential style in architecture and design.

That is why this building doesn’t look out of place in Jackson Heights and would look right in parts of the Bronx or Miami Beach, which were also developed around the same time.

What makes this building so unusual, is this:

I grew up Catholic and have entered all sorts of church buildings and cathedrals here, in Europe and Asia.  I can’t say, however, that I’ve seen any other Catholic Church building—or, for that matter, any other house of worship—that looks quite like this one. 

And to think:  I came across it just because I decided to make a turn, and ride down a street, I hadn’t before.  That is one of the joys of cycling!

13 January 2022

In Philadelphia, You Can Park By A Hydrant If....

Firefighters might be one of the most loved and respected groups of people.  Even they, however, sometimes incur rage for doing their jobs.   As an example, one firefighter told me about the man who showed up at his firehouse, irate.  Turns out, the guy parked next to a hydrant and the firefighters had to damage his car to route the hose and ladder to an inflamed building.

Philadelphia has one of the largest communities of bicycle commuters in the US.  In one part of the city, nearly a fifth of all commuting miles are done by bicycle. Riders in the City of Brotherly love have similar complaints to their peers in other cities.  One is the lack of bike parking spaces:  Especially in central areas, where many work or go to school, cyclists find full racks when the try to park their bikes.

So, you ask, how are those two stories related?

The common thread was woven when three young people met in graduate school for industrial design. Grace Choi, Corey Jameson and Colin Lew formed an alliance called Team Sophon.  Under that moniker, they submitted a proposal to the Rack 'Em Up Bike Parking Competition.  Along with 16 others entries, Team Sophon's ideas were judged by a panel that included members of the city's Office of Transportation, Infrastructure and Sustainability (OTIS), Parking Authority, Fire Department and other agencies.  Five of  those entries were short-listed, and Team Sophon's was ultimately chosen.

Team Sophon's prototype, called "Harbor,"  would include a designated space in front of a hydrant where cyclists would stop and steer their bikes to the racks. That space--painted green--would be segregated by flexible barriers like the ones used to separate bike lanes from streets. Steel bollocks were initially proposed for the purpose, but selection committee members expressed concern that they could be dangerous in a crash.  And the racks, made from thick steel tubing, would sit under a canopy illuminated by solar-powered lights that would be activated when users enter.

Team Sophon's victory comes with a $3500 prize.  To begin, at least two Harbors will be built: one in West Philadelphia and another in the Old City, near a garage owned by the Philadelphia Parking Authority.

Those facilities will at least make some firefighters and cyclists happy.  Motorists, maybe not so much.

12 January 2022

Can't Fix Your Bike? It's An Environmental And Economic Justice Issue

When I first became a dedicated cyclist--nearly half a century ago!--bicycles were touted as environmentally friendly alternatives to gas guzzlers.  At the risk of sounding like someone who pines for "the good old days," I'll say that most adult cyclists of the time were not merely "signaling" their concern for our habitat; they, as often as not, made other choices in line with their values.

Today, while some are "bikewashing" their lifestyles, there are some who are genuinely concerned with such matters as human-enhanced climate change.  So, while they might cycle to work or school (or, at least to the bus or train that takes them there), recycle the bottles, cans and other packaging they use during their lunch breaks and, perhaps, try to buy as local as possible, they could unwittingly be making at least one choice that undermines their other efforts.

To wit:  Their bicycles might be part of the problem.  Now, I don't mean to be pick on such folks.  Most people, especially if they're buying their first bike in decades, aren't familiar with how or where their bikes are made, or anticipate the normal wear and tear--and repairs--that come with regular use.  They also assume that "new is better," which is sometimes, but not always true.

Most mechanics, or anyone who's been cycling for, say, two decades or more, won't necessarily agree that "new is better."  It's true that almost any derailleur made today shifts better than almost any made fifty or forty years ago.  And, depending on your point of view, some other parts today are more efficient, convenient or lighter than their predecessors.  

But one problem is that most of those parts--or the bikes themselves--are not built to last because they're not made to be fixed.  "If I get a Huffy from the '90's, chances are I can actually make repairs to it," says Mac Liman. It will be heavy, but at least "the steel will hold together," she explains, and the result will be a serviceable, if inelegant, piece of basic transportation.

Liman would know:  She's been a mechanic for 19 years, the past  14 at Denver's Bikes Together shop.  Those Huffys were sold mainly in big-box shops like Wal-Mart, which sold out all of its bikes in March 2020.  "We're already starting to get those bikes," Liman lamented, "And we can't fix them."

One problem is the shortage of available parts caused by COVID-19-related manufacturing and supply chain disruptions. But an even bigger issue is simply the poor quality of those bikes:  Their frames crack and they have non-standard parts that can't be replaced at a reasonable price. "I've seen bearing cups that just fall out of hubs, so there's no way you can rebuild them," Liman says.

Her experiences have led her to join a petition calling for bikes to be repairable.  Its earliest supporters were mechanics at non-profit bicycle co-operatives and training programs like Recycle-A-Bicycle.  Cheap bikes from big-box stores are often donated, or brought in for repair, to such shops.  And people who buy bikes from such places are looking for something good and reliable for not very much money.

Now I have to admit that I was once one of those elitist bicycle snobs who snickered when I saw a department-store bike.  But I now understand that people buy such bikes, not because they're stupid, but because they don't know (yet!) why they should--or can't afford--to buy something better.

So, making unrepairabe bikes, like making almost anything else that's disposable, contributes to degrading the very environment some for which some folks are signaling their support by being seen on a bike.  And, as with so many other environmental issues, it's also a matter or social and economic justice, because it affects the working poor even more than those who buy those shiny-new Linuses and Brooklyn bikes.