28 February 2022

How Should The Cycling Community Respond To The Ukraine Invasion?

 In response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the United States and several other countries (including, ironically, the then-new enemy of the US, the Ayatollah Khomieni-led Iran) boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics, which were held in Moscow.

Some  hailed the boycott as a strong statement of principle.  Others thought they unfairly penalized athletes, particularly those in sports for which the Games are the most prominent stage—and the end-point of athletes’ careers, especially in sports as diverse as gymnastics, wrestling and, yes, bicycle racing (at least for countries like the US that didn’t have professional racing circuits).

That last point makes an article in Velo News all the more interesting and relevant. “Where does the line end and begin between sports and politics?” Andrew Hood wonders.

Specifically, he relates that question to Putain’s, I mean Puto’s, I mean Putain’s, invasion of Ukraine.  Very astutely, he points out that while the Union Cyclisme Internationale’s  condemnation is laudable, it actually won’t do much to pressure the Russian sports establishment or government, let alone Putin himself.

While there are a number of world-class Russian cyclists—in particular, sprinters—there aren’t any major UCI-sanctioned road races—which, let’s face it, are the most-followed events in the sport—in Russia.  Moreover, there aren’t any major bike brands with a sizable market outside the country.

In brief, a full-on boycott by the UCI or any other cycling body will do more to hurt individual Russian racers, just as the 1980 Olympic boycott penalized individual athletes—and, arguably, accomplished nothing beyond a retaliatory boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

27 February 2022

Is This What They Mean By "Going Green?"

 In my half-century of dedicated cycling, I've noticed that, when it comes to food, there are two extreme types of cyclists.  One fuels up on pepperoni pizza washed down with Coke or Pepsi and eats steaks or cheeseburgers and ice cream after the ride.  The other wants the packaging to be as organic as the food in it.

Most cyclists, of course, fall somewhere in between. I admit that I eat and drink stuff that isn't found on most training tables, but I cringe at Twinkies, Jell-O and the like.  I eat less meat in all forms than I did in my youth--and I not only eat more vegetables, but more of them are fresh rather than processed.

Like many other Americans, during the past decade or so, I have discovered the joys of one vegetable in particular:

26 February 2022

On The Bridge Too Far

 Bells clang.  Lights flash.  A gate drops.

You have to stop for: a.) a railroad crossing or b.) a drawbridge.

I admit that on more than one occasion, upon hearing the bells, my legs pumped out a momentary burst of speed that would have impressed a Russian sprinter. OK, I'm exaggerating---only slightly! 😉 But I did manage to cross tracks before trains plowed through, or bridges before they opened.

It's been a while since I pulled such stunts.  These days, I envision the fate of a cyclist in this video:


He hung onto the North Palm Beach, Florida span as it opened.  According to a news report, the witness who took the video saw the cyclist on the bridge as it began to lift and, believing the cyclist would ride down, started to take the video.

When the witnessed noticed the cyclist was in trouble, he stopped taking the video and "rushed to help him down  off the bridge," according to police.

The bike was damaged but the cyclist suffered only "pain and discomfort" in his left shoulder from holding himself up on the bridge and a slight burn in his right inner bicep from sliding on the railing. 

He declined EMS help at the scene but went to the hospital on his own.  

The bridge tender claims she didn't see anyone crossing the bridge.

25 February 2022

The Weather Outside Is Ice-ful

This morning, anything that can fall from the sky has been falling.

All right, that was a terrible description to use on Day 2 or 3 (depending on what you consider “zero hour”) of Putain’s, I mean Putin’s, invasion.  Actually, it would be a frightening description any day, given my proximity to an airport.  So let me be more specific:  Anything that can naturally fall from the Earth’s atmosphere—snow, rain, sleet and freezing rain is falling. That combination, according to my, shall we say, layperson’s understanding of meteorology, can happen only in the conditions we have now: the air is saturated and the temperature is yo-yoing a degree or two above and below the freezing point.

The weather is indeed frightful.  But some of the resulting scenes are, if not delightful, at least interesting. 

24 February 2022

Paint Is Not Infrastructure

 I don't know whether Robert "Bicycle Bob" Silverman, about whom I wrote yesterday, uttered the title of this post.  It's not hard to imagine that he did--le peinture n'est pas une infrastructure--when he was campaigning for the safe, practical lanes Montreal's cyclists enjoy.

Someone who did say that--in English--was a fellow identified only as "John" in Hertfordshire.  He documented a "near miss" in which a driver squeezed him over to the curb.  

"John" blames, in part the driver:  "Whilst this was telegraphed right from the point when the van signals to turn right, there was a weary inevitability of at least one of the drivers not being able to see beyond the end of their bonnet and creating an easily preventable situation"  

While the carelessness or cluelessness of drivers is not news to cyclists in the UK or US, "John" also blames what an editor of road.cc sarcastically calls "a great piece of cycle superhighway."  His all-too-close encounter, he says, "demonstrates that poor cycle infrastructure, in this case a narrow lane that disappears just when you need it, can cause more problems than it solves."

He said what I've said--and, what I don't doubt "Bicycle Bob" said:  Poorly-conceived, -constructed and -maintained bicycle infrastructure is not only less convenient, but more dangerous, for cyclists and motorists alike, than no infrastructure at all.  I have seen too many examples of that here in New York, but too many planners persist in believing that simply painting a few lines on a street will lead to a safer co-existence, or at least a truce, between cyclists and motorists.

23 February 2022

Robert Silverman: A Prophet Of Bicycle-Friendly Cities

 A few years ago, I spent an extremely pleasant long weekend in MontrĂ©al . What's not to like about a beautiful, diverse  city with good food and art where French is spoken?  

What made all of that even better?  Cycling.  La ville aux cent clochers is, simply, one of the best cities for cycling I've encountered.  The bike lanes aren't just lines of paint in a street:  They're physically separated from the rest of the traffic (although a couple I rode seemed a bit narrow for two-way bicycle traffic) and there seems to be more respect, or at least a better detente , between cyclists and drivers than I've seen in any US locale.

Moreover, the lanes I encountered weren't just paths that suddenly began in one place and just as suddenly ended somewhere else, far from any place else.  (Perhaps if I'd spent more time in the city, I might have found such useless paths.) Instead, there are at least a couple of lanes on which you can cross the city, and other lanes are actually useful in getting to and from anywhere you might be or want or need to go. You can even ride a lane to the Jacques Cartier Bridge or other crossings to or from the city, which is on an island.

What I didn't realize was that much of that pleasant, stress-free riding was a result, directly or indirectly, of "Bicycle Bob" Silverman.  

In 1975, he co-founded Le Monde Ă  Bicyclette, or Citizens on Bicycles.  His choice of the French name was important because he knew that if he were to realize his dream of starting a "velorution " to break the "auto-cracy," he would need to reach beyond his mainly-anglophone circle.  Also, he said, the main cycling organization in his province--la FĂ©dĂ©ration quebecoise de cylotourisme , now known as VĂ©lo-QuĂ©bec, was focused mainly on recreational cycling. 

In the previous paragraph, you might've noticed that Silverman had a penchant for appropriating the rhetoric of political upheval.  That was no accident:  He identified as a Trotskyite and, in his twenties, lived in Cuba, where he met Che Guevara, before he was deported for distributing anti-Soviet literature.  After that, he lived and worked on an Israeli kibutz before 
"bouncing around Europe" and falling in love with cycling while riding in France (of course!). 

His vocabulary also reflected his flair for the dramatic. Le Monde Ă  Bicyclette staged "die-ins" to protest cyclist deaths--which have since decreased significantly--in the city and province.  Silverman and his organization argued that the reason was not, as some claimed, that cyclists were careless or they shouldn't have been cycling in the city in the first place.  Rather, he argued that there were too many cars and that their number wouldn't stop growing as long as the city's and province's infrastructure is built around moving them rather than on human interactions and sustainable transportation--and that the bicycle is as viable a mode of transport as any other.

He also led other kinds of demonstrations, like the time he dressed up as Moses* and pretended to part the waters of the St. Lawrence River to lead cyclists across. (Hmm...Maybe this is why he was called a "prophet" of the bicycle-friendly, sustainable city.) Another time, he rolled out a carpet on Boulevard Maisonneuve to press for the group's demand for an east-west cycle route (which now exists) across the city.   In yet another action--which got Silverman three days in prison--he and a group of fellow cyclists painted clandestine cycle lanes in the dark of night.

Save for his time in Cuba, Israel and Europe, and the past few years in the Laurentians, Bob Silverman was a lifelong Montreal resident born and raised in the city.  His work was therefore not only abstract ideas about sustainability (before that became a widely-used term) or even cycling itself; it was his way of trying to achieve the kind of city he wanted.  That, according to Michael Fish, the architect who founded Save MontrĂ©al at around the same time Silverman and his friends started Le Monde Ă  Bicyclette. "Nothing since the multiple achievements of Robert Silverman  for the rights of cyclists has so affected positively the environment of the region, at almost no public cost," he explained.

He and others want to memorialize Robert Silverman, who passed away at age 87 on Sunday.

Whatever the city does, the next time you ride there (or if you ever get to ride there), thank him.

*—I tried to find a photo of “Bicycle Bob” in Old Testament prophet mode. To this day, my mental image of Moses is Charlton Heston:  a result, most likely, of seeing “The Ten Commandments “ every year, on the night before Easter, during my childhood.


22 February 2022

What Leads A Charge Away From Red Bull? Greenbacks.

 This year's Winter Olympics have just ended.  I have to admit that I didn't pay as much attention to them as I've paid to Olympiads past, though I haven't been living under a big enough rock to not know about the saga of Kamila Valieva.  Whether or not she intentionally took a banned substance, the way her teammates and coach and the Russian sports establishment have treated her is child abuse, pure and simple.  That the International Olympic Committee did nothing to prevent her situation from snowballing--and, if they do anything, they're more likely to discipline her than her team, coaches or the relevant Russian organizations--confirms something that I've long known:  The IOC is, purely and simply, one of the most corrupt organizations in the world. Even if Valieva's tale of woe hadn't unfolded as it did, the fact that this year's games were awarded to Beijing is, for all sorts of reasons, evidence of how avaricious the IOC is.

(As Harry Shearer reminds us, the Olympics are a movement, and we need one--every day!)

As bad as the IOC is, it has at least one other rival for unscrupulousness in the sports world:  the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI). (I'd also put FIFA in the same league, if you will.)  The travesty of Lance Armstrong's carrer is, alone, evidence of that.  UCI officials seem to react to doping in one of two ways:  They look the other way until they can't (that's how they acted in the L.A. farce) or they talk about how they're going to do whatever they keep riders from using banned substances and severely discipline those who did, while making some deal or another that sends the exact opposite message.

Red Bull, to my knowledge, isn't banned by any major sports organization.  I've never drunk it myself, but from what I've heard, it gives one of the quickest, most intense, legal bursts of energy.  That is probably the reason why it's so often associated, whether through sponsorship or in other ways, with high-intensity sporting events.

Evie Richards at the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in Alberstadt, 2021

Such was the case with the Mountain Bike World Cup, the sport's premier UCI event.  Sponsors are selected by the UCI, as they are at other events under the organization's umbrella.  Red Bull is sponsoring this year's edition, as it's sponsored the past ten.  I can't help but to see some UCI official winking while making the deal.

Well, this will be the last time for Red Bull.  For next year's event,  Discovery Sports will be the sponsor.  They're part of the Discovery broadcast network, which broadcasts a wide variety of sporting events.  I don't fault their work, but, given UCI's history, it's hard not to think that the money involved swayed them--and will give the UCI even less incentive than it (or the IOC or FIFA) to act on its stated commitment to fight doping and other forms of corruption in the sporting events they sanction.

21 February 2022

He Didn’t Wear Lycra

 Here in the United States, today is Presidents’ Day.

When I was a kid (really, I was!), two separate holidays were celebrated:  the 12th for Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday and the 22nd for George Washington.  That meant two days off from school unless, of course, the holiday fell on a weekend.  In the 1970s, those fetes were eliminated in favor of a Monday holiday in February.

The resulting long weekend gave stores (and, now, Internet retailers) a day to mark down prices on stuff they couldn’t sell for Christmas or other holidays—and customers an excuse to shop.

As I wrote a few years ago, during the 1890s-early 1900s Bike Boom, Washington’s Birthday was Bicycle Day. Bicycle makers debuted new models in splashy shows, and with sales, in much the same way the day would become the occasion to introduce new car models. 

From what I’ve read, that day was chosen because, at this time of year, people sense that Spring was around the corner—and, in the warmer parts of the country, it had all but arrived.  In those balmier locales (and some less temperate), the day also began the riding or racing season.

Our current President, Joe Biden, has been spotted riding with his wife, Jill, on more than one occasion.  His predecessor who shall not be named did everything he could to denigrate bicycles and cyclists.  But Obama, Clinton and both Bushes were at least occasional cyclists. So was Jimmy Carter, until recently.

I don’t think Ronald Reagan ever mounted two wheels while he was in office, though he was known to ride in his younger days.  And another president I shouldn’t name—let’s call him Tricky Dick—is probably the last person in the world I would expect to see on a bike. (Peter Sagal quipped that in San Clemente, he was seen surfing in his dress shoes.  So it’s not surprising to see him cycling in, shall we say, non-cycling attire.

From The Bicycle Story

20 February 2022

Is That All They Want?

One thing I notice while cycling is that signs and billboards don't always convey the intended messages

I saw an example last week, as I crossed the Northern Boulevard Bridge into Flushing:

Is this billboard telling us that if Morgan & Morgan wins your case, all they want is for you to pay?  I mean, I could understand if they feel that way: I've felt the same way about jobs I've done.  

Or should they reverse the order of "Only" and "Pay?" Somehow I think that would entice more would-be clients:  If the lawyer doesn't win, you don't pay.

One would think that in a firm of lawyers, at least one of them would have thought about how they phrase their pitches. 

19 February 2022

Where No App Has Gone Before

One of the most difficult things I had to do when I taught freshman English classes was to define plagiarism. 

The standard working definition is taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own.  Of course, if such a definition were ever codified as law, just about everyone would be guilty.  After all, so many things most of us say in the course of a day come from Shakespeare, the Bible or other works of literature--or are simply familiar utterances from famous or anonymous folks. As often as not, people aren't aware of the source of whatever they've said, even as they acknowledge that "there is nothing new under the sun."

So I have to wonder how the world would be different if some patent or intellectual-property attorney had too much time on his or her hands in Waterloo, Wisconsin in 1975.  Would Dick Burke and Bevil Hogg have been sued for naming their new bicycle company Trek?

I mean, even if they weren't "Trekkies," I'm sure they would've known about the iconic space-travel series.  Then again, I don't know how Gene Roddenberry would have heard about a couple of latter-day hippies building bikes in the Midwest as the '70's North American Bike Boom was losing steam--or how inclined he would have been to sic lawyers on them.  Somehow, I think the folks at Paramount Television Studios, which purchased Desilu, the original producers of Star Trek, would have been even less likely to know what a couple of dudes in "flyover country" were up to.

What if he'd built bikes?

From what I've read, the company's founders claimed that their choice of name had nothing to do with Captain Kirk's vehicle.  Ironically, Hogg wanted to name the company Kestrel--which would become the name of another bike maker that, a decade later, would pioneer the carbon fiber and fork design on which Trek would still later base their carbon-fiber offerings.

So, I didn't know whether to laugh, cry or cringe when I learned that Trek challenged Jchon Perkins' registration of his trademark name--Prize Trek--for a mobile game app.  Players "participate in a scavenger hunt and win valuable cash (sic) and prizes sponsored by local businesses" according to an Associated Press article.  It is, the article claimed, "a powerful marketing tool that can provide small businesses with free advertising for life."

In 2018, when Perkins applied to register "Prize Trek" with the US Patent and Trademark Office, Trek Bicycle filed an opposition, claiming Perkins' trademark could too easily be confused with theirs.  The following year, the USPTO overruled Trek's opposition and granted Perkins his trademark.

Last year, he sued Trek Bicycles, claiming their opposition had delayed the app's development and market entry.  On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Janet Neff ordered the case dismissed. So Perkins has his trademark, but the app doesn't seem to be available to the public just yet. 

Whatever comes of the app, this story is quite the Trek, I mean, journey.

18 February 2022

Is This A Victory For Social Justice—Or A Defeat For Public Safety?

 Last year, I wrote about the debate over the helmet law in King County, which includes Seattle.   The arguments, as I recounted, have been presented as either public-safety or social-justice issues.

On one side, those who wanted to keep the regulation posited the same reasons proponents of similar mandates in other jurisdictions assert: Helmets prevent, or greatly reduce the chances of life-altering or -ending head injuries. This argument is made even more forcefully to require helmets for children, as many locales do. King County has been one of the few jurisdictions to require them for cyclists of all ages.

While opponents don’t deny the value in promoting safety for all, they point to the uneven enforcement of the law. While proponents—who include medical experts as well as some policy-makers and cyclists—cite statistics indicating that “helmets save lives, full stop,” in the words of one researcher, opponents point to equally-persuasive statistics showing that Native Americans (of whom the Seattle area has one of the largest communities in the U.S.), African-Americans and immigrants are disproportionately stopped, ticketed and even arrested because they weren’t wearing helmets.

Notice how I worded the last part of the previous sentence. Too often, critics charge, the helmet law is used as a pretext for stopping non-white, poor, homeless and visibly non-gender-conforming cyclists. Such cyclists are, as often as not, using their bikes as their primary or sole means of transportation.  Or they may be using them to make deliveries or to, in other ways, work. Such riders often ride bikes that were given to them, salvaged or acquired through barter or for little money. This, they may simply not have the funds to purchase a helmet.

Well, opponents seem to have taken the day.  Yesterday, the King County Board of Health voted to repeal the law, which had been on the books since 1993.  This repeal will take effect 30 days after the vote.

While I wear a helmet and encourage others to do the same, I am ambivalent about mandates. One reason is unequal enforcement I’ve described.  Also, as some have noted, attitudes and social norms about helmet-wearing have changed during the past three decades. Thus, some say, all-age helmet requirements probably don’t encourage helmet use: The cycling haven of Portland, Oregon, which has never had an all-ages requirement, has a level of helmet-wearing similar to that of King County.

The repeal, however, does not mean that all cyclists in King County can ride bareheaded:  Seventeen municipalities (which do not include Seattle) have their own helmet codes, which won’t be affected by the repeal.  So, I suspect, the fight is not over.

17 February 2022

A Cyclist In Kay-Cee

I have spent about three hours in Kansas City.  That was a long time ago, in a layover on a flight from New York to San  Francisco.  Outside the airport’s windows, prairie and sky stretched in every direction. (“They built an airport and forgot to build the city,” I thought.) So  I may not have been in the city proper, for all I know and am thus unqualified to say anything about it, including the cycling.

That is why I found Ryan Mott’s Twitter account interesting.  He started cycling three years ago, gave up his car a year after that and started bringing his daughters to school in the cargo hold of his e-bike last Fall.

His feeds include footage from his helmet camera and recounts some of the perils and joys of being an everyday city cyclist—including being cut off by drivers who turn without warning and passing those same motorists en route to his daughters’ school. It could thus be a valuable resource to present to urban planners and administrators in our efforts to persuade them that bicycles and cyclists are integral in transportation and sustainability planning.

16 February 2022

Money And Memories, Transportation And Treasure

 Last month, I wrote about a British judge who did something few in the criminal-justice or law-enforcement systems do:  He took bike theft seriously.  That magistrate, in sentencing thieves, said the monetary value of each the defendants stole is as great as a typical car.

That perception, however incomplete, at least helped the judge understand that stealing those bikes was as serious an offense as other kinds of theft that are, usually, more severely punished.

There are, however, other reasons why bike theft should be as high a priority as other kinds of pilferage. One, which I mentioned in last month’s post, is that our bicycles are, for some of us, an important or primary means of transportation, just as autos are for some other people. And, of course, many of us also ride for recreation and fitness, which are as important as anything else to our individual and collective well-being.

And a broken heart is as deleterious to our overall health as any number of conditions mentioned in the DSM or medical journals. That is what some people suffer with the loss of a bike. Sure, a pair of wheels with a frame and pedals is replaceable—in a material sense, anyway. I could, in the same sense, replace a blanket I own. Monetarily, it’s probably not worth much. But in another sense, it’s priceless, at least to me: My grandmother started, and my mother finished, it.

For some people, a bike can have a similar value, which is often called, dismissively (especially if the one holding the value is female), “sentimental.”

I would bet that many of the bikes on eBay once held “sentimental “ value for someone: The seller’s parent or someone else may have ridden it across a campus, city or country before it was hung in a garage or barn.  Or it may have been passed down from a parent to a child.

The latter was the story behind a bicycle stolen from a woman in Millvale, Pennsylvania. She has spent “countless hours” restoring the “priceless family heirloom” to which she attached a baby carrier.

The suspect 

Fortunately for her, she has been reunited with her very practical treasure. Police, however, are looking for the man suspected of taking the bike.  They found him with the bicycle and, upon questioning, he claimed he owned the bike “forever.”

Of course, no one can make such a claim. But nobody could have come closer to having the right to make it—at least in reference to her “family heirloom”—than its rightful owner.

15 February 2022

Is “Bulled” Worse Than “Doored?”

The October before last, I suffered the worst nightmare of anyone who cycles in traffic:  I was “doored.”

I ended up with 30 stitches and a lot of aches and pains. Still, it could have been worse.

At least, I imagine getting “bulled” could be even more painful.  And the driver who doored me didn’t run from the scene! 

14 February 2022

Beach Walkers, Sheep Dogs, Marc Anthony And The Prince

Mornings fill with one commitment or another.  So, for me, it's a good thing the days are getting longer: On an afternoon ride, I can look forward to more hours of daylight. I don't avoid riding in the dark altogether, but I really prefer to ride in daylight, especially in heavily-trafficked or unfamiliar areas.

On Friday, I started another 120 km Point Lookout ride after midday--at 1:45 pm, to be exact.  That meant my last hour or so of riding was in darkness.  But I was treated to some light and vivid or stark, depending on your point of view, colors by the sea.

The public beach and playground area of Point Lookout are closed to repair erosion and prevent more of the same.  But I ventured on to a nearby side-street where, surprisingly, the gate was open to an area normally restricted to residents.  A couple of people--one a man walking an English Sheepdog, another an elderly woman--passed me on their way out.  Both greeted me warmly and didn't seem to care (or know) that I don't live in the area.  

I think people who are out walking the beach on a chilly, windy day have respect for anyone else who's doing the same.

On Saturday, I got on, La-Viande, my King of Mercia, with no particular destination in mind.  I found myself wandering along the North Shore from the Malcolm X Promenade (Flushing Bay Marina) to Fort Totten, where I took a turn down to Cunningham Park and Nassau County, where I pedaled down to Hewlett (part of the Five Towns and up through the town of Hempstead, which contains more contrasts in wealth and poverty, and residential grandeur and squalor, than any place in the area besides New York City itself.

As I saw the blue sky tinge with orange, I started toward home--or so I thought.  Instead, I found myself wandering through suburban developments that gave way to the SUNY-Old Westbury campus and long lanes lined with mansions and horse farms.  I saw a sign announcing that I'd entered Brookville--which, it turns out, is home to Marc Anthony and Prince Felix of Luxembourg.

I didn't take any photos on my Saturday ride because my battery had less power than I thought and I wanted to save it for an emergency that, thankfully, didn't happen.  But I had forgotten, until that ride, how such a rural setting could be found only 50 kilometers from my apartment!

And I ended my day with that ride--and the day before with a ride to an "exclusive" beach.  

12 February 2022

Bike Across "Bago

Eight years ago, the Winter Olympics were held in Sochi--which has a climate more like that of the coastal Carolinas or Georgia than what one might associate with Russia.  And this year's games are in Beijing, which receives little, if any, snow in any given year.

You almost have to wonder whether or not some winter sports will continue, what with climate change.  I mean, if glaciers are melting in polar regions and the world's highest mountain ranges, how long will folks in places l wonder how long people in the more temperate regions will be able to enjoy skiing, skating, ice fishing and the like.

Some folks in Wisconsin say as much. They worry that shorter, warmer winters could result in less snow and thinner ice covers on the area's lakes.  But they also seem intent on enjoying as much as they can for as long as they can, and adapting wherever necessary.

Case in point:  Bob Dohr and Keith Uhlig, participants in "Bike Across 'Bago," an "informal, mostly-annual" event organized through Fox Cities Cycling Association. Actually, as Uhlig writes, "organized isn't quite the right word."  On its Facebook page, the FCCA tells cyclists that the safest route across the lake has been scouted and marked.  (Ice on any lake is never completely safe. But the folks who mark the route ensure that it's as safe as it can be.) 

Photo by Bob Dohr, for USA Today Network-Wisconsin

So what is it like?  Keith writes that the scene on Lake Winnebago was "otherworldly."  He "couldn't tell where the ice ended and the sky began."  It warps your perspective because "there is no color out there." But "like an excellent black and white movie, the grays take on a beautiful nuance of their own, and you begin to revel in that weird desolation."

From what he says, it seems that slipping and falling is an all-but-inevitable part of the ride. But there is the inevitable "feeling of victory" when "the dark line of a distant shore appears." 

I've never biked on ice, but I hope that, for their sake (and, perhaps, mine--some day!) that the winter doesn't completely disappear!


11 February 2022

What Are They Really Trying To Stop?

Is it really a public-safety issue?

Nithya Raman thinks not.  She joined three fellow Los Angeles City Council members in voting against a motion to draft a law that would prohibit the repair or sale of bicycles on city sidewalks.  

But ten other councilmembers, including mayoral candidate Joe Buscaino, out-voted them.  One of their reasons, they claim, is that the folks who fix or sell bikes create hazards by blocking the sidewalks.  While that is a legitimate concern, Raman thinks it's not the real reason for the motion.  After all, as she points out, there is already an ordinance against unnecessary obstruction of sidewalks.

Those "no" voters also don't believe another stated reason for the motion, voiced by Busciano:  It would be a way of combating bike theft.

That claim is specious at best and simply dishonest bigoted at worst.  

While some of the bikes might well be stolen, that is usually impossible to prove because, for one thing, many thefts go unreported.  Perhaps more important, most stolen bikes are never seen or heard from again by their owners or anyone else.  Part of the reason for that is that bikes are often end up in "chop shops."  But another, and possibly more important reason, is that most law enforcement agencies simply don't take bike theft seriously.

I think the real reason anyone is calling for a law against repairing or selling bikes on sidewalks is that many who engage in such activities are un-housed*--and people of color.  The bikes are usually fixed and sold where those people live--under bridge and highway underpasses, for example.  One of those denizens, Denise Johnson, points out that many of those bikes--like the ones her husband assembles and she sells--are built and fixed from salvaged bikes and parts.  

Denise Johnson, with bike frame and parts her husband will assemble.  Photo by Genaro Molina, for the Los Angeles Times. 

She might've echoed what Pete White, the executive director of Los Angeles Community Action Network, said about the proposed ban.  He believes it's "a facial attempt to declutter 'targeted sidewalks' but whose real goal is to banish homeless people from their community."  In other words, it's a version of the now-discredited "broken windows" philosophy of crime-fighting.  

The most obvious explanation for the motion is political:  It's hard not to think that Buscaimo is using it to score points in his mayoral campaign.  The cynic in me says that it's another way for the police to avoid actually dealing with bike theft as the serious crime it is. (The monetary value of some bikes alone should merit attention; more important is that, for many owners, our bikes are as important as cars and other vehicles are to their owners.)  Also,  I can't help but to think that it's a way for law-enforcement to go after the "low-hanging fruit" of cyclists and un-housed people:  It's easier to demand proof that someone  owns the bike on which they're fixing a flat, or to chase people who sleep in bus shelters, than it is to go after a motor-scooter or car driver who runs red lights or hedge funds that operate "dark stores." 

*--Herein, I will no longer refer to people who live on streets or in other public places as "homeless."  The bridge, highway and trestle underpasses, bus shelters and other places where they sleep and keep their stuff are, in essence, their homes.  It can thus be argued that many such people have formed communities of one kind or another.

10 February 2022

Great Chain Robbery

 Just after Hurricane Katrina, I talked with Bill Laine, the now-retired owner of New Orleans-based Wallingford Bikes.  

Katrina devastated the city, prompting an unprecedented total evacuation. Some folks defied the order and took advantage of the desolation by looting homes, stores and warehouses.

Bill explained that his business was spared because, he thought, thieves probably were looking for bikes but found saddles (The biggest part of their trade was in Brooks), bags and other parts and accessories.

These days, thieves know better. COVID-19 pandemic-induced shortages have affected bike parts as well as complete bikes.  One result has been a spike in bike thefts as well as burglaries and robberies of bike shops. 

Some seemingly-professional thieves in Germany have moved up the food chain, if you will. As a truck driver took a break at a rest stop, a well-organized gang released sleeping gas into the vehicle’s cab and raided the trailer filled with Shimano parts destined for BFI, the Czech Republic’s largest bike producer.

One particularly disturbing aspect of this crime, as a BFI spokesperson explained, is that it seemed to be intricately pre-planned to the point that “in all likelihood, the truck had been followed from the time it was loaded.” Also alarming is that the thieves knew what they were looking for: They left nine boxes of low-end parts but took the more expensive components.

This story reminds me of something I reported when I was writing for local Queens and Brooklyn newspapers:  Car thieves were turning their attention away from luxury vehicles in affluent neighborhoods to good, solid everyday cars like the Toyota Camry in middle- and working-class neighborhoods.  Those cars were targeted because they proved more lucrative when sold to “chop shops” for parts.

09 February 2022

A Guide Against The Wind

Yesterday afternoon I had some time.  There were things that had to be done, but as long as they got done when they needed to be done, it wouldn't matter when I started working on them.  I guess that's a definition of having, if not free, then flexible time.

Since you're reading this blog, you know what I did.  Of course.  This time, though, an hour or two in early-to-mid-afternoon stretched into, well, very late afternoon. That may have had to do with having the wind at my back and mild (at least in comparison to the past week or so) temperatures as I pedaled down through Queens to Rockaway Beach.  

Of course, when I'm riding with the wind, I know that I'll have to pedal against it to get home.  But I was feeling so good that I just wanted to keep on going.  Which I did---to Point Lookout.  

I hadn't planned to go swimming.  Still, it was a bit of a surprise to see the beach closed, even if it was for work to ensure that the beach is still there in the future.  

So I hung out for a bit by the bocce court.  In contrast to the boardwalks of the Rockaways, Atlantic Beach and Long Beach, where I saw more people than I expected, I had the court and playground all to myself.

By the court, there are stones commemorating family messages and with messages of hope.  I couldn't help but to notice the juxtaposition of these stones:

The one on the left reads, "Mangia bene, Ridi spesso, Ama molto"--Eat well, laugh often, love much. Will those things lead to, or result from, the top-notch lawn care in the slate on the right.  

Even though I was pedaling along a route I've ridden many times before, I felt as if I were being guided to, or through, something--the wind that had grown stiffer, perhaps--along the Rockaway Boardwalk.

As I photographed sun rays coruscating through clouds, I chanted some lines from the Sardinian writer Salvatore Quasimodo:  



Maybe that should be engraved in one of those stones by the bocce court on Point Lookout.

08 February 2022

Ride Noir?

I ride in the rain, sometimes.  The cold, too.  But rain and cold together is a no-go for me, unless a ride starts off without one or both but they converge somewhere along the way.

Most of yesterday moved through cycles of rain and freezing rain.  I had a class and other commitments, so I didn’t mind.  Fortunately, the rain stopped near the end of the day and the temperature seemed to rise a bit. So I decided to take a short ride.

Mist rising from the river to the bridge made Astoria Park feel a bit like the setting for a noir film.  So I wasn’t surprised to see a film or television crew. (I didn’t ask; they looked focused on task.) 

I’m curious to see how they use those vistas—and whether they took a shot of a latter-day Weegee on a Mercian fixie!

07 February 2022

Winter Vista On A Sunday Afternoon Ride

Yesterday the temperature rose into the balmy (at least for those of you in places like North Dakota) 20's, or around -5C.  So I went for an afternoon ride which, among other things, zigzagged the border between Brooklyn and Queens.

The border between the US and Canada has a Peace Garden.  Probably the closest thing our interborough boundary has is Highland Park, with the Ridgewood Reservoir as its centerpiece.

Somehow it feels even more like a reflection of deep winter than all of the displays or any day-after-snowstorm vista in this city.

I usually see at least a couple of cyclists there. Yesterday I was riding solo, though I saw a fair number of people walking their dogs, or with each other. Some looked happy to be there, but others eyed me, and other strollers, with suspicion, as if we'd intruded on their own private Idaho, if you will.

I can't say I blame them.  I know I've referred to Highland Park as our local Montmartre for its location on the highest point in the area and the views it offers.  Of course, it doesn't have the onion-domed cathedral (my favorite building in Paris) and I reckon that fewer people visit the park in a year than visit one of the most iconic places in the City of Light in a year.

It's kind of ironic that in writing about it on this blog, I'm more likely to tip off someone in Belleville or Berlin than the folks in Bensonhurst or Belle Harbor about a place where I go for a quick ride and the cheapest form of therapy (along with  a cuddle from Marlee) I know about.