31 March 2022

Discounts—And Free Housing

 Listen to the news, and you’ll hear employers recount their woes in recruiting workers.  Some are offering incentives, such as cash bonuses  and flexible schedules.

And housing.  At least one employer—a bike shop owner—is offering his next mechanic free use of a house he owns.

Some might think that having some of the world’s most breathtaking scenery as a backdrop to one’s riding—and anything else in one’s life—might be reason enough to take a job at Cycles of Life in Leadville, Colorado.  And, of course, there are the added perks of industry discounts and the opportunity to blend passion and profession.

Turns out, those last two bonuses don’t carry as much currency as they once did.  Cycles of Life proprietor Brian Feddema placed a classified ad for a head mechanic/service manager nearly a month ago in Bicycle Retailer And Industry News (BRAIN).  He is offering free use of the 500 square foot house, within walking distance of the shop, in addition to pay of $20-25 hour and spring and fall performance bonuses, partly in the hope of casting a wider net.  “There is no one currently residing here in Leadville with the knowledge, skill set and drive we need,” he explained.

He once had a mechanic who stayed for seven years until “he moved away with his girlfriend.”  But, he said, mechanics typically stay for a couple of years because “most don’t consider it a profession.”

Jenny Kallista, president  of the Professional Bicycle Mechanics’ Association, said this is the first time she’s heard of an offer like Feddema’s. Ron Sutphin, the United Bicycle Institute president, “can only recall one recruitment offer that included housing.” That one, he said, “was some time ago, in Hawaii,” where the notoriously-expensive housing market is rivaled (at least in the US) only by San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles and perhaps a few other cities.

In addition to the reasons Feddema articulated, I can think of another why he’s offering free housing.  It has to do with another “perk” he can’t offer:  Bike mechanics and shop service managers can’t do their work remotely.

30 March 2022

Helping Refugees Settle In--And Get Around

Putain's, I mean Puto's, I mean Putin's invasion of Ukraine has sent a tide of refugees across Europe.  It won't be long, I think, before the waves reach American shores.

Traditionally, refugees, like other arrivals from faraway lands, land in large cities like New York, San Francisco and Chicago that may already have communities of the new arrivals' compatriots.  But more recently, people who've fled wars and other disasters, manmade and otherwise, have been resettled, at least for the time being, in smaller communities away from the major metropoli. One major reason is housing costs, especially for families.  But, I think it might be easier for some folks, especially if they come from small towns or rural areas, to find their way in such communities.

Also, in a smaller city or town, people are more likely to come into contact with new arrivals.  While there might be resistance at first, it might also be easier for longtime residents and emigres to get to know each other--and be willing to help them.

So I was happy, but not surprised, to learn that folks in Owensboro, Kentucky have been collecting, repairing and distributing gently-used bikes to their new neighbors.  

Holly Johnson, a Physical Education teacher in Apollo High School, is also a member of Bicycle Owensboro.  Her organization solicited the donated bikes, and Be Real Sports Cycling & Fitness repaired them.  Owensboro Health donated helmets, lights and locks that will be distributed with the bikes.

Johnson said that recipients will get a safety demonstration, along with information about the Greenbelt and other places to ride in town, with their bikes.  Also, they will fit their bikes and helmets and be sure "they know how the gears on each bike work, and that they understand the local bike signage," she pledged.

Larry Myles, owner of Be Real Sports Cycling & Fitness and a member of Bicycle Owensboro, with a bicycle that will be given to a refugee student.  Photo by Alan Warren, for the Messenger-Inquirer.

She hopes that the bikes will help the students and their families in their everyday lives.  Some of those bikes will be used by more than one person in the family.  So, while the bikes are being distributed as spring break is about to begin, she hopes to do a second round of donations "for younger kids" before the summer.

She understands that the bikes not only provide a means of transportation and recreation, but are also a way for new arrivals to get to know their new surroundings.  That's why, whenever I go to a place where I've never been before, one of the first things I want to do is take a bike ride.

29 March 2022

Not The "Right" Setup

If you buy a new bicycle with hand-operated brakes in the United States, it will most likely be set up so that the left lever operates the front brake, and the rear is activated by the right lever.  That setup is that is mandated by the Consumer Products Safety Commission.  My own bikes are set up that way because, even though I am a "minority" in some senses, in another, very important area, I'm very much in the majority: I'm right-handed. (Please don't infer anything about my politics, or any other preference of mine, from that!)

So, I suppose, was whoever made that CPSC regulation.  It makes perfect sense if you're right-handed, because the rear brake is inherently less powerful, in part because of its longer cable, than the front.  Therefore, it takes more hand force to achieve a given level of braking force, or even to modulate, the brake.  

I might also assume that Carol Penkert is right-handed.  She is suing Costco Wholesaler and San Diego e-bike company Phantom because, she says, her machine was set up in violation of CPSC mandates.  But she isn't merely playing a "gotcha!" game.  Rather, she claims, the setup caused her to flip over the handlebars when she hit the brakes.  As a result, she lost her right eye and suffered a number of facial fractures.

She wasn't aware of the setup until the mechanic servicing the damaged bike spotted it.  The suit alleges that Phantom knowingly shipped, and Costco knowingly sold, her the bike, which she bought fully assembled,  without any warning that it had an irregular setup.  

28 March 2022

A True World Tour?

The Paris-Roubaix race is often called "L'enfer du Nord":  the Hell of the North. This "classic," a long one-day road race, is held early in the Spring and has run through all kinds of weather, from snowstorms to heat waves.  It also includes mud and some of the roughest cobblestone roads in Europe.  Many riders who excelled in other kinds of races avoided Paris-Roubaix, or didn't fare well in it:  Bernard Hinault, arguably the most dominant racer not named Eddy Mercx (and, like Mercx, a five-time Tour de France winner) entered P-R only once.  He won, but vowed never to ride it again, in part because the tendinitis that afflicted his knees was aggravated by the vibration of the cobblestones and the weather

If P-R is the "Hell" of the North, Belgium's Ghent-Wevelgem might be its Purgatory.  The annual race winds through Flandrian towns anc countryside and includes those notorious those notorious  Belgian cobblestones that challenge the best dental work as well as other parts of riders' bodies.

The Paris-Roubaix and Ghent-Wevelgem are, like other classics including  Milan-San Remo,  considered Tour-level (elite) races.  For decades, they were dominated by riders from  northern and western European countries like Belgium, France and Italy.  Since the fall of the Soviet Union, riders from former Bloc countries have made their mark, as they have in the Grand Tours (Tour de France, Giro d'Italia, Vuelta a Espana).  So have cyclists from the Americas, mainly the US, Canada, Mexico and Colombia.

For a long time, observers believed that the first non-European or American riders to establish a presence in the European racing circuit would come from Japan, which has long had a strong tradition of cycling.  Also, China looked ready to become a cycling powerhouse because they have done so in other sports and it, like Japan, has a long tradition of cycling.

Perhaps they, or some other Asian country, will infiltrate the ranks of Tour-level riders.  But, perhaps not surprisingly, the latest cyclist to interrupt the European hegemony has come from a place that, however quietly, has been turning out other world-class athletes.

Yesterday, Biniam Girmay defeated favorites Christophe Laporte of France and Belgian Dries van Gestel in the latest edition of Ghent-Wevelgem.  The 21-year-old hails from Eritrea, an East African country across the Red Sea from Yemen.  He rode with a mastery and discipline that belied his youth:  Although he mastered the cobblestones, he left enough in the tank for a perfect sprint finish.

Biniam Girmay (l) celebrates his victory.  Photo by Kurt Desplenter, for Agence France- Presse.

Perhaps this is a sign that the World Championship will one day live up to its name--in cycling as well as other sports.  

27 March 2022

What's That About Smaller Wheels?

Jan Heine insists that larger-diameter wheels with narrower tires don't roll faster than smaller-diameter with wider tires.

These guys aren't listening--or don't care about speed.

I must say, though, that I'm glad I don't have to build wheels like those:  I hear spokes are in short supply, even in conventional sizes! 

Somehow I imagine those guys weren't thinking about supply chain issues

26 March 2022

¿Por Qué El Avetruz Cruzó La Calle?

Every once in a while, an animal crosses my path while riding.  Usually, the creature is a cat or dog who darts away when I get within a few feet.  When I've ridden in Florida, little green lizards played "chicken" with me as I rode along the paths and sidewalks. In Cambodia, macaques sat guard on the side of the road as I pedaled between the temples of Siem Reap. And in Laos, an elephant stopped and stared at me and the couple with whom I rode in and around Luang Pr'bang.

Only once did I have a too-close encounter with an animal:  On the return leg of a ride to Point Lookout, a cat (black, no less!) charged into my path and glanced off my front wheel--something I've never experienced before or since.  I tumbled into the rear of a parked car and ended up with bruises and a couple of days' worth of pain, but no serious injury. 

At least I was more fortunate than a woman in Argentina.  As she pedaled into a Buenos Aires intersection, an ostrich--yes, you read that right--charged into her.  

Now, since I have never encountered an ostrich that wasn't caged,  I had no idea that they could run so fast:  They can attain speeds of 70KPH (44MPH).  One thing I know is that an ostrich is bigger than, say, a sparrow.  So the force of that earthbound avian's impact knocked that woman, I am sure, harder than the cat who ran into my front wheel in Ozone Park.

So, perhaps not surprisingly, she got hurt worse than I did:  The bird, after hobbling, toppling over and continuing on its way, left the woman with a broken wrist and a large cut on her head.

Argentine authorities haven't said what charges, if any will be leveled against the bird.  For one thing, the Argentine speed limit is 40KPH (25MPH) in residential areas and 60KPH (37MPH) in urban areas.  A review of videos could reveal whether the ostrich--which seems to have escaped from someone's home--was doing its "personal best."  Oh, and I have to wonder what Argentinian law says about leaving the scene of an accident.

25 March 2022

Is The Idaho Stop A Racial Justice Issue?

In previous posts, I have advocated "Idaho Stop," which allows cyclists to roll through stop signs at empty intersections and to treat stoplights as "stop" signs.  As the name indicates, it was first codified into law in The Gem State--in 1982. Despite proof that it does more than almost anything else to promote cycling safety--after all, an intersection is the most dangerous place for a cyclist--it's been slow to spread to other jurisdictions. 

Now, Colorado might be ready to join them.  A few cities and towns within the Centennial State have already legalized it, or modified versions of it.  But a bill that would allow the "Idaho Stop" statewide is about to go to Governor Jared Polis' desk, having passed both the state's House and Senate.  A spokesman for the Governor did not say whether or not he'll sign it.

Massimo Alpian hopes he does.  A lifelong cyclist, he surely understands how such a law will help to make cycling safer by reducing the risk of, say, being clipped by a right-turning vehicle in front of him.  But the also believes the "Idaho stop" could be a racial justice issue.

Photo by Hart Van Denberg, from CPR News

Years ago, he recalls, he was riding blazing down a road near Boulder.  Three cyclists in front of him shot through a "Stop" sign.  He followed, "right around the same speed," he says.  Then "I was pulled over and ticketed," he recounts.

Now, some might say that as officers in such situations are wont to do, they went after the "low hanging fruit," i.e., the last cyclist in a line.  But Alpian, all of these years later, still wonder whether something else was at play.  You see, he is the son of immigrants from Latin America and the Middle East.  The three cyclists in front of him were Caucasian.  

I get the impression that his diplomacy skills are better than mine.  He says he was "confused" as to why he was targeted. "If I was doing something blatantly egregious, sure, I'd feel bad that maybe I was breaking the law or putting other folks at risk."  But what he did would have been perfectly legal under an "Idaho Stop" regulation and, law or no law, put nobody at risk.  So, it's hard to blame him for harboring any thought that he was stopped because of his brown skin.

That, he says, is one reason why he wants Governor Polis to sign the bill into law.

I wonder whether the cops who stopped him went on to become Senators from Texas and Tennessee.

24 March 2022

Lighting A New Way Forward?

 How would you like a lamp that gives off as much light as five 100-watt bulbs but weighs less than two?

Yes, for your bike.

Well, BYB Tech is promising with their Focus One light.  What's more, the Italian start-up says you'll be able to regulate the amount of light and how often it flashes from a small button on the device, or from a remote handlebar control.

Those aren't the only promises or claims BYB Tech is making.  While they don't claim to be the lightest bike light of all, they say that the Focus One is the "world's smallest 5000 lumens light" and that it will allow cyclists to be "seen like a car."

Of course, like almost any new technology, it isn't cheap to buy--or produce.  To address the latter, BYB Tech has opened a Kickstarter campaign that will help them, well, kickstart production. If you want to buy one now, making a donation to the campaign will reduce your price for a unit.

23 March 2022

Tell Me: Who's Impeding Progress In D.C.?

Senate Judiciary Committee hearings can be all kinds of fun to listen to.  Sometimes you get to hear good uses of the Socratic method.  Other times, though--like yesterday--they're a unique spectacle because they bring a brilliant mind or a bold spirit in contact with the damndest asses this country has to offer.

To wit, I would have found Marsha Blackburn's lecturing of Ketanji Brown Jackson hilarious if the esteemed judge didn't have to endure the vapidity of the most ignorant member of Congress on this side of Louie Gohmert.  Ms.Blackburn completely butchered a speech Judge Brown-Jackson gave a few years ago.  Of course, almost any time a member of the Evangelfacist wing of the Republican Party utters the term "critical race theory," it never takes more than four of five more words to show that a) they don't know what it is and b.) they are making an issue out of something that isn't.  (I know a number of teachers at every level of education and have some familiarity with what they teach.  Not one of them has ever taught "critical race theory," and only one--who taught a graduate seminar--even mentioned it.)  

If she is the ditziest member of Congress, then Ted Cruz might be the most gratuitiously mean--and most sactimoniously dishonest.  That is, when he sticks to the topic at hand.  Thankfully, he didn't.  Instead of asking actual questions about the judge's  history or judicial philosophy, Cruz gave a speech or went on a rant, depending on your point of view.  But what really got me was when he said, "Supreme Court confirmations weren't always controversial" and gave the example of Bushrod Washington (George's nephew), whose confirmation took only one day. Surely he must have known about the nominee's relationship to our First President, the fact that he was a slaveowner, and that there were far fewer members of  Congress two centuries ago.  Oh, and has it occurred to him that Supreme Court confirmations are controversial, in part, because of folks like him.

I guess I shouldn't be so hard on them. After all, they found ways to express their racism without actually coming out and saying that Brown-Jackson is unqualified to be a Supreme Court judge because she's black--or, at least, because  the way she's black isn't like Clarence Thomas or Candace Owens.

I mention the proceedings for one very good reason:  They provide a contrast to something else that went on in Washington, DC.  What I'm about to mention actually served a purpose and may well have helped to accomplish something useful.  And the person responsible for it is one of my new heroes.

Zachary Petrizzo may not have brought the so-called "People's Convoy" to a standstill all by himself.  However, he did manage to slow down and frustrate the truckers who tried to do what their Canadian counterparts did in their country's capital:  tie it up to express their frustration with COVID rules.  While the haulers north of the border brought their city to a standstill to the point that citizens had difficulty getting to and from school, work and other everyday activities, the ones in the good ol' U S of A have been hobbled by breakdowns, permit denials and D.C. commuters whom the truckers believe are members of antifa.  And a lone bicyclist who did what even John Forester, the late author of "Effective Cycling" couldn't have done better.

You see, Mr. Petrizzo did exactly what any cyclist should do in his situation.  There was no bike lane or even a sidewalk, so he had to ride on the road.  And, he understood that "riding as far to the right as possible"--which most motorists believe cyclists are supposed to do--can get you "doored" or put you in other kinds of harm's way.  

What I especially love about what Mr. Petrizzo did, however, has nothing to do with whether or not he was giving a clinic on safe cycling.  When the road widened into multiple lanes, a driver pulled up alongside him and yelled, "JHey, what are you doing?  You've got a bunch of trucks behind you."

Petrizzo's response: "What's that?  I didn't hear you?  What did you say?"

"You've got a bunch of trucks behind you," the driver repeated.

Petrizzo cupped his hand to his ear.  "Can't hear you, sorry, it's too loud," he yelled as truck horns blared away.

His responses would have been just as appropriate if the estimable Ketanji Brown Jackson used them on two grandstanding politicians who, instead of interviewing her, lectured and tried to browbeat her 

22 March 2022

What's Worse: Paint Or Police Passing?

 If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that I don't give a blanket endorsement to roadside bicycle lanes.  Too many, at least in the US, are poorly-conceived, constructed and maintained.  The worst sort of lanes are the ones that serve no pratical purpose-- the ones I call lanes from nowhere to nowhere--because they do nothing to encourage cycling as a practical alternative to driving for commuting, errands and other purpose-driven trips.  And the most dangerous ones are the ones that separate motor traffic from cyclists by nothing more than a line on the pavement.  As I've said on more than one occasion, "paint is not infrastructure."

Studies have shown that painted cycle lanes do nothing to reduce injuries and "advisory lanes"--one which motorists are allowed to enter--are worse than no lane at all:  they increase the odds of injury by 30 percent.

The only news, for me, in those studies is the number:  I know, from experience, that a painted is as much a margin of safety for cyclists as a swath of fishnet scotch-taped at the nose bridge offers against COVID-19 or any other contagious virus.  And too often, motorists use "advisory" and even painted "bike-only" lanes to pass or double-park; the latter is often done by drivers of delivery trucks. 

To be fair, drivers, until recently, have been inculcated with the notion that they are the "kings of the road":  that motor vehicles take priority over cyclists and pedestrians.  If they haven't cycled during their adult lives, it's hard for them to un-learn such an attitude.  Also, some lanes, especially the "advisory" ones, aren't marked in ways that motorists can easily see, especially if they are driving large vehicles.

But some of the worst offenders, in my experience, are police officers in their "cruisers."  I can't begin to tell you how many times I've seen them parked in the middle of lanes while munching on donuts and sipping coffee.  And I've had a couple of close encounters with constabulary cars that weren't responding to an emergency call.  At least, I don't think they were:  their lights weren't flashing and their sirens weren't blaring.

Some have debated whether what was captured in that image was indeed a "close call" with a police car. However, Andrew Frogley on the Road.cc blog, who didn't think it was such a "close call," nonetheless agreed that one blogger had a legitimate question:  "What's worse?  The painted cycle lane or the close pass?"

Geoff Hickman had, I believe, the best answer:  "One enables the other."

21 March 2022

Spring Back?

 The Spring Equinox came yesterday.  It certainly felt that way when I set out on Zebbie, my 1984 King of Mercia, for Point Lookout.  I chose to ride her, in part, because she has full fenders and yesterday’s rain turned some residual road salt and sand into nasty muck.

Anyway, my ride started under clear skies with a temperature of about 15C (60F) with a breeze blowing toward me.  If not perfect, conditions were nice and certainly felt like the first day of Spring. 

But I think I entered some sort of time machine as I pedaled down the Broad Channel bike lane and across the Veterans’ Memorial Bridge to the Rockaways. Clouds gathered and blanketed the sky, though they brought no threat of rain.  The breeze stiffened into a real, full-on March wind.  And the temperature dropped, or so it seemed, to a level that would have been right a few weeks ago.

The boardwalks of the Rockaways, Atlantic Beach and Long Beach hosted more cyclists and strollers, including families, than I’ve seen in a while.  They, no doubt, wanted to take in the light and air, but were bundled in parkas and scarves.

The reason for the seeming reversal of the seasons is the ocean: At this time of year, the water temperature is still only about 4 or 5C (38-40F). And the wind blew from those waters to the boardwalks, streets and land.

On the ride back, I felt the air grow warmer, gradually, as I pedaled away from the ocean..This morning, though, it seems that a touch of winter has returned—if only for a little while,

20 March 2022

Power--Or Peril?

Do you hope the kid who rode the bike wasn't hurt--or wonder how powerful a rider he or she will be all grown up?

I mean, if a toddler could ride hard or fast enough to knock that thing--a surveillance camera, I think--imagine him or her in the peloton at age 27.

Just hope that kid was wearing a helmet.

The bike doesn't look any the worse for the crash, though!


19 March 2022

St. Patrick's Day Sandwich

I had a St. Patrick's Day sandwich.

No, I'm not talking about corned beef and cabbage.  Rather, two fabulous cycling days sandwiched St. Pat's holiday, which featured rain, drizzle and more rain.  Wednesday was sunny and clear, if a bit nippy, but yesterday was more like a day in the middle of May:  sunny, with a slight breeze and temperatures that reached 22C (72F).

So, yesterday, I took advantage of the weather--and the extra hour of daylight at the end of the afternoon, thanks to Daylight Savings Time--and pedaled up to Greenwich, Connecticut and back.  

Of course, being so early in the Spring (or not officially Spring, if you look at the calendar), some plant life isn't quite ready to express the weather.  I didn't mind, though:  the tree in that photo is still beautiful, I believe, in a New England sort of way.  

I must say, though, it's odd to see bare trees as folks strolled along the common in T-shirts, tank tops, shorts or light, flowy skirts.  Then again, I was wearing my lightweight knee-length "knickers" and a long-sleeved T-shirt--and fingerless gloves.

On Wednesday afternoon, after riding to the World Trade Center and taking the PATH train to Journal Square, Jersey City, I pedaled along Kennedy Boulevard down to Bayonne, where a park entrance enticed me to take a detour. 

That park, the Richard A. Rutkowski Park, which includes the Hackensack Riverwalk, abuts Newark Bay, which forms part of the boundary between New Jersey and Staten Island.  Now, this park isn't Big Sur or Acadia, but it has its own charm.  For one thing, it's nicely landscaped and the paths are well-constructed.  For another, it has something of the aesthetic of a post-industrial park like the Cement Plant Park in the Bronx but the waterfront in Rutkowski is still active:  Ships come and go, and the docks and factories still hum with activity.  Somehow all of that makes the sensation of riding by the water all the more calming, especially late in the day, at least for me.

From there, I pedaled down to the Bayonne Bridge for the first time in a few years.  It had been closed so that the span could be reconfigured to allow larger ships to pass.  I am happy to report that the reconstruction includes a bike and pedestrian lane that's better than the old one.  For one thing, it's wider and better-maintained.  For another, it is on the east side of the span, which offers better views than the old one on the west side. Best of all, it lets you off at Trantor Place, where directions to the Ferry (to Manhattan), Stadium and Snug Harbor Cultural Center are clearly marked.  

My only criticism of the new lane is that it's a bit difficult to access from the Bayonne (New Jersey) side.  The entrance ramp rises from Kennedy Boulevard between 7th and 6th Streets.  It's set back and not clearly marked, and because Kennedy is interrupted by a highway entrance and takes a turn on the other side of it, it's easy to lose your way. (If you continue to go straight, you'll end up on a different street altogether.

From the bridge, I rode Richmond Terrace, which winds along the North Shore of the Island and passes Snug Harbor.  The main problem with the Terrace, for cycling, is that it's narrow and almost everyone drives well over the speed limit.  There's been talk of constructing a cycle lane alongside it, or on parallel roads, to allow a safe cycle route from the Bridge to the Ferry.  

So my St. Patrick's Day "sandwich" included enough riding, I think, to burn off the calories I consumed on the day itself--all of them from Irish (or Irish-American) delicacies!

18 March 2022

Bikes Not Going Their Way


For the past two years, you may have had difficulty in buying a bike—the one you want, anyway. If you managed to find your machine of choice, you probably had to pay more for it than you would have in 2019.

You may have had a similar experience in procuring parts to repair, refurbish or update your favorite ride—or even if you were looking for accessories like water bottle cages or a pair or riding glasses or gloves.

The reason for the situation I’ve described is the COVID-19 pandemic. It disrupted supply chains and even closed production facilities at the very moment when folks took up cycling as a way to avoid buses and trains or to get exercise or mental cleansing in a way that allows for social distancing.

But at least you could get something you could ride, whether or not it was your first choice, as long as you were willing to pay and could wait. 

The folks in Russia aren’t so lucky. (Ok, the Ukrainians have it worse, but bear with me!) The way things are going, they won’t be able to get bikes, parts, accessories, apparel—or much of anything—at all.

A number of bicycle and bike-related companies have suspended their operations in the country. The list includes SRAM, Trek, Specialized, Tern and Quality Bicycle Products (QBP). Also, leading bicycle tire manufacturers Continental, Michelin, Pirelli and Bridgestone have joined their ranks.  

Those companies, no doubt, were motivated by the difficulty of doing business in Russia due to banking sanctions and that some shipping companies, including Fed Ex and UPS, have stopped delivering to the country.  But one representative also says “there’s a social aspect too” in the companies’ actions.

17 March 2022

A Joycean Parade of Cyclists

 Today is, of course, St. Patrick’s Day.

Since I am not Irish (at least, not to my knowledge!), I will not tell you whether or how to celebrate this day.  I will say, however, that so much of what we’ll see today is what I’ll call Celtic Kitsch. (Confession:  I was in college before I knew that the “C” at the beginning of “Celtic” is pronounced like a “k.”  Until then, I’d been pronouncing the word as “sell-tick,” like the basketball team in Boston.) The truth is, few can agree on what is “authentically” Irish. Although schools teach the Gaelic language, nearly everyone speaks (beautifully) the language of their colonizers.  And, apart from Roman Catholicism with a strong monastic tradition—which the young are largely abandoning—we actually know little about pre-Anglo Irish culture and history.

James Joyce understood as much.  Although all of his writing is set in his native country—which he lived away from for most of his adult life—he is not part of a “Celtic revival.” Instead, he used Ireland—Dublin, mainly—as a lens through which he could explore how people move through life, and how it moves through them—and, perhaps most important, our minds re-assemble it all, whether in images or language—or simply deal live with it as the chaos it is.  

Some have said that Joyce’s works—specifically Dubliners and Ulysses—are therefore to literature what Picasso’s Cubist paintings are to art.  Others have called him the first “cinematic” writer.  I agree with both, and would add that his narrative style is like a bicycle ride:  Whenever I take a ride, even one I’ve done hundreds of times, I see not only people and things I haven’t seen before, but a building, a city block, a tree or a seashore from an angle or in a different kind of light (or darkness) from what I saw on that same ride on a different day.

Martina Devlin, Darina Gallagher and Donna Cooney seem to understand as much.  On Sunday, they participated in a Dublin St. Patrick’s Day parade that includes a procession of 100 cyclists dressed in Ulysses-themed Edwardian clothes. They took spectators on a journey through places in the book.

Martina Devlin, Darina Gallagher and Donna Cooney (Photo by Norma Burke)

Cooney, the artistic director of the Dublin Cycling Campaign (now there’s a job I wouldn’t mind having!) said this year’s bicycle procession and St.Patrick’s Day parade are particularly special because February was the 100-year anniversary of Ulysses’ publication.  But the essence of the event might have been best summed up by Devlin, a writer whose speech included an excerpt from the novel and began with this:  “One of the landmark days in my life was when I learned how to ride a bike.”

“I felt as if I were on the road to somewhere.”

As were the cyclists and marchers in the Dublin parade, 100 years after Ulysses came into the world.

16 March 2022

Agonizingly Rewarding

I've cycled in the Green Mountains, Adirondacks, Catskills, Sierra Nevada, Pyrenees, Alpes Maritimes and the Alps of France, Italy and Switzerland.  I've also done some challenging climbs in places like the Greek island of Milos, where the road up the mountain, I think, was first built long, long before I was born and simply paved over.  

I don't know whether that climb was tough (but rewarding) because of the less-advanced state of engineering at the time it was first carved out, the hot weather or my age.  But it felt nearly as arduous, at times, as one stretch of the Col de Portillon, on the Spanish border.  I climbed it--and was both terrified and exhilarated by the views from the guardrail-less virages--on a bike loaded with full panniers.  I don't know whether that stretch--about a kilometer of a 10 kilometer climb --was steeper than the most vertical stretches of the Alpe d'Huez or Col d'Agnel (a.k.a. Colle d'Agnello: It's on the Italian-French border) but I remember a group of people applauding me when I made it to the top. 

Well, there is one climb that claims to put those, and all others, to shame.  Every year, the Mount Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb takes cyclists to the top of the highest peak in the Northeastern United States. The route can lay claim to one of the world's steepest climbs:  The average grade is 12 percent; extended sections rise at 18 percent and for one part near the end, cyclists have to pump their way up a 22 percent climb.  

When bumper stickers proclaim, "This car climbed Mount Washington," you know it has to be quite ride for cyclists. (The road is closed to auto traffic on the day of the ride.)  What makes the ascent all the more laborious is the weather, some of the most severe and changeable in the world. For years, the race was held in September, but cold, wind, rain and snow caused organizers to move it to August--where there is still a chance of starting off in typically summer-like conditions but pedaling through cold, wind and freezing rain before reaching the top.

At the start of the 2017 ride. Photo by Joe Viger

Mark Greenleaf would know.  He plans to participate for the 35th time when this year's edition is held on 20 August.  

In 1983, he was living in Providence, Rhode Island when, one day, he grabbed the mail before going out to dinner with friends.  Among that day's delivery was a copy of Bicycling! magazine, in which he noticed an article about the ride.  "After a couple of beers, we dared each other to do it," he said of his friends at that fateful dinner.  The following year, he did it for the first time.

After each climb--which he completed--he always felt it was "agonizingly rewarding."  I could say the same for the climbs I've made.

15 March 2022

An Early Sign?

Under a canopy of wizened limbs

They rise from catacombs of winter horizons

Fit For An Emperor Or Empress’

 Beware the ides of March.

Those words are, of course, Shakespeare’s:  A soothsayer emerges from a crowd to warn Julius Caesar in the Bard’s eponymous play.

In much of the Northern Hemisphere, Spring is about to arrive.  It is a time of change:  Many of us look forward to longer periods of daylight and, yes, warmer weather.  But it’s also a time other changes, some of which are already underway. 

Anyway, I typed “ides of March bicycle” into a Google search window just to see what would come up.

This Ides of March bicycle chain bracelet is fit for an emperor or empress*—or, at least, the King of the Mountains.

*—What is a gender-neutral term for emperor or empress?  

Who but I—or a transgender or non-binary historian—would ask such a question?

14 March 2022

A Messenger For Equality

March is Women's History Month.  As I've mentioned in other posts, the bicycle--as Susan B. Anthony herself said--has played an important role in liberating women. It led to a revolution in the way we dress--freeing women from corsets, hoopskirts and bustles--which, in turn, gave us more independence and mobility, not only into the physical places where we could go, but also in what we could do for paid work (or whether or not we could do paid work at all!) as well as in our free time.

It also took us on our path toward something that, in the US, only men were allowed to do from 1776 until 1920--and a right given only to white men until 1865. I am talking, of course, about voting.  Almost nobody would dispute that when women were able to partake of the other liberties I've described, it made it possible for even the most conservative men to realize that we have the powers of discernment derived from life experience that give us at least the same ability to decide what is best for our selves, families, communities and nation as the other 49 percent of the population.  

What can't be overlooked, however, are the mundane tasks women performed as part of the project of achieving the right to vote.  Here is a bike messenger--in bloomers, one of the sartorial innovations wrought by women on bicycles--at work for the National Women's Party headquarters:

From the National Women's History Museum

Okay, I'll admit that today's post is, at least in part, an excuse to post that image!  She looks about as happy as anyone I've seen in doing her work.  And well she should have been.

13 March 2022

Sunday funnies, funny bicycle images, folding bicycles

 I have ridden several folding bikes but have owned two. One was  a Dahon Vitesse 5 on which I commuted for about a year and a half. The other was a 1970s Chiorda I found in the trash on a Jackson Heights curbside. I rode the bike a couple of times before I gave it to a local mechanic who gave it to his girlfriend.

Neither of those bikes bore any resemblance to this one:

12 March 2022

The Future of Bike Parking in Your Neighborhood?


In October, I wrote about a bicycle parking locker the Brooklyn startup Oonee installed by Grand Central Station.

Now, the company’s founder, Shabazz Stuart (cool name, isn’t it?) is taking his idea “on tour,” if you will.  Yesterday, the parking pod was brought to Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, where it will remain for a month.  Following that, it will go across town to the Lower East Side and Union Square before crossing the bridge in June to Stuart’s home borough of Brooklyn, where it will spend a 29-day “residency” on Vanderbilt Avenue—near Barclays Centre, Atlantic Terminal and the Brooklyn Academy of Music.  Finally, it will trek up to my home borough—Queens—and my neighborhood, Astoria. At each location, the city’s Department of Transportation will grant access to a spot on the curb for 29 days.

The mini pod is free to use but requires an Oonee membership, which allows access by a key fob or mobile app.  

Although its scale, at the moment, is small, Stuart calls it “ powerful step forward.” He notes that this pilot marks “the first time any big city in the United States has had a secure bicycle parking facility on the curb.” He plans to expand his idea to other parts of the city and to cross the Hudson to Jersey City and other parts of the Garden State.

11 March 2022

Pit Stops In The Pelican State

One of my recent posts is titled “Paint Is Not Infrastructure.” Too often, planners and policy-makers act as if painting lines on a road shoulder makes a bike lane, and that bike lanes are the beginning and end of bicycle infrastructure.

At least some folks in Louisiana understand as much and are enlisting business owners.  Bike Baton Rouge and Bike Easy, advocacy organizations in the state’s capital and largest city (New Orleans) are partnering to create a network of emergency pit stops for cyclists in their cities.

The two groups are working to secure sponsorships from ten businesses in each cities.  The money will be used to purchase emergency supplies that will be housed in bundles housed at the sponsors. 

The plan is to form a web of businesses where cyclists who need spare parts, air for their tires or even sunscreen can stop.

This, I believe, could help to ease the anxiety some people feel when they consider commuting or even recreationally.  As an example, I’m often asked, “What if you get a flat?” or “What about the weather?” when people learn that I pedal to work, school or anywhere else.

I also can’t help but to think that at least one business owner will see an opportunity.  If someone riding to work or school stops to pump a tire, get sunscreen or simply to rest at, say, a store, there’s a good chance that cyclist will return to shop.

10 March 2022

An Eagle Lands At A Repair Station

As a transgender woman, it's ironic for me to say that I was once an altar boy--or Boy Scout. Today, they are known as "altar servers" and "Scouts."  But in my time, those positions, if you will, were open only to the young of the male gender.

Anyway, while I enjoyed some aspects of Scouting--which included the opportunity to earn merit badges for bicycling and reading, two things I have always loved to do-- I got distracted, if you will,  and therefore never attained its highest distinction:  Eagle Scout. However, Mason Tiller of Gulf Breeze, Florida recently achieved that milestone.

One requirement for attaining Scouting's highest rank is a community service project.  Tiller came up with something I wish I could've thought of:  building a bicycle repair station.  To do that, of course, he needed to find a spot, the necessary equipment--and funding, which he solicited from local businesses and individuals.

Whatever else one might think of Scouting, I think it's great that the definition of "community project" has expanded and that the role of bicycling doesn't begin and end with earning a merit badge. 

Note:  The article I linked has a paywall.  I wrote as much as I could about Mason Tiller, who deserves recognition for his efforts, as I could glean from searches.

09 March 2022

These Bikes Could Emancipate Them, Too.

Yesterday was International Women's Day.  I'll repeat one of her most famous quotes:  "Let me tell you what I think of bicycling.  I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world."

Now I'll tell you what I think. Bicycling can do more to emancipate people than almost anything I can think of. People who use their feet to spin bike pedals rather than to pump gas pedals can free themselves from the costs--financial, physical and mental-health-wise and environmental--of excessive automobile dependency.

Also, I feel that cycling can change a person's outlook in other ways.  Though there's always that group of cyclists who's obsessed with having the newest and latest gear (I was once one of them!), I find that cyclists are, on the whole, more conscious of how and what they consume and less status-conscious than other people.  And, I like to believe, we are more socially conscious.

At least, we try to be. Like all people, we have our blind spots, individually and as a community.  One of those areas, I believe, is people with disabilities.  Sure, we can volunteer to take blind or deaf people on tandem rides or lead rides for those who have mild- to- moderate cognitive disabilities. (I am using terminology as I understand it.  If you are a professional in those areas, or simply more knowledgable than I am, please feel free to point out any inaccuracies.)  But, on the whole, cycling isn't very accessible to those who have impairments of one kind or another.

Among them are a group of people that, I blush to admit, I very rarely think about:  those who live with dwarfism. (I only recently learned that some consider it derogatory to call such people "dwarves."  Every now and again, a person with dwarfism will try a kid's bike and find it very unsatisfying.  I can't blame them:  Most kids' bikes aren't made to be responsive and, frankly, too often look cartoonish.  

Another, more important, reason why child-sized bikes don't work for adults with dwarfism is that they aren't built like children or scaled-down versions of average-sized adults.  For example, people with disproportionate dwarfism, or achondroplasia, have torsos similar in size to people without the condition, but shorter arms and legs.  So, while a child-sized bike might provide them with the proper seat height, if they ride it, they will be as cramped as if they were stuffed into a car trunk.

Designing a bike for a person with dwarfism is therefore difficult because, "You can't just lop bits off," says Steve Scott of  the Dwarf Sports Association.  That is what his father did for him mainly because there weren't any better alternatives.  His father motivated him to stay in the sport, but too many other people with dwarfism abandon it or never take it up in the first place because of the difficulties in getting bikes to fit, among other things.

Islabike Joni24

So Scott collaborated with Islabikes of the UK.  After several years of work, they've come up with the Joni 20 and 24 for adults and the Cnoc 14 and 16 for kids.  The numbers in each model name refer to the tire size, and the frames are proportionately sized.  The Joni is a 7-speed with a SRAM rear derailleur and trigger shifter; the Cnoc is a single-speed (freewheel) with a fully-enclosed chainguard.  In addition to their specially-designed frames, both bikes also have brake "micro levers" as well as cranks specially made in shorter lengths.

Islabike Cnoc 16

At the moment, the bikes are being sold only in the UK and for delivery in Europe. One hopes that they, or bikes like them, will become more widely available so that people with disproportionate dwarfism, wherever they are, can be liberated as Susan B. Anthony would have women, and all people.

08 March 2022

Stacking Up

 Around 1980, “aerodynamics” became all the rage in bicycling.  Certainly, there are advantages in shaping parts to minimize air drag for some riders, particularly time trialists.  But studies have revealed that, for the most part, the benefits of aerodynamics accrue only to cyclists riding at more than a certain speed—45 KPH, if I remember correctly.

Still, that didn’t stop bike and component manufacturers from making “aerodynamic “ bikes and parts for loaded bike touring or even “aerodynamic” versions—which looked as if they’d wandered into a vise—of Huffy and Columbia ten-speeds sold in department stores. 

Now, it seems there is a trend in the opposite direction. At least one European team is making part of its rolling stock less aerodynamic.

I’m not talking about the bikes.  Rather, a new anti-aerodynamic principle is being applied to the team cars and vans that follow riders during major races.  Typically, these vehicles carry one or two spare bikes and, perhaps, some wheels and other parts.  But, lately, some teams have been stacking five or more bikes atop those cars and vans.

The reason, apparently, is to create a slipstream for the riders ahead of them.  Not only does a taller stack, like a higher wall, blocks more wind.  But, because the vehicle is moving, it pushes air ahead of it—in the direction of the riders.

As far as anyone knows, neither the Union Cycliste Internanationale (UCI) nor any other governing body has a rule against this practice.  If the UCI were to pass such a rule, I have to wonder if it will do as much to deter bad behavior as, oh, their anti-doping rules.