30 April 2022

No Lump Of Coal In Their De-Feet Socks

Senator Joe Manchin may be doing more than anyone in the United States to perpetuate an obsolete industry:  coal mining and energy.

That's not surprising given that he represents West Virginia, the second-leading coal-producing state in the US.  

What's also not surprising is that in 2008, when the League of American Bicyclists issued its first reports of states' bicycle-friendliness, the Mountain State ranked dead last.  In 2019, when LAB released its last pre-pandemic report, West Virginia had moved up to 34th.

Now it's 28th, right in the middle of the pack.  The LAB rates each state in five areas:  Infrastructure & Funding, Education & Encouragement, Traffic Laws & Practices, Policies & Programs and Education & Planning.  In the first and last categories, WV got a B- and C+, respectively, and a C in each of the other categories.  One area in which the state seriously lags behind others is in the percentage of commuters who bike to work:  It's about half the national average and, at 47th, near the bottom of the list.

Massachusetts was named the most bike-friendly state.  My home state, New York, ranks 13th and, being New York, it ranks very well in most areas but very poorly in others.  In Infrastructure & Funding and Education & Encouragement, the Empire State got an A-.  In Policies & Programs and Evaluation & Planning, it earned a B+. But on Traffic Laws & Practices, it rates an F+. (As an educator, I have to ask:  What's the difference between a D-, which I've given once or twice as a grade, and an F+, which I don't think I've ever given.)  I am not surprised, really:  If the rest of the state is anything like the NYC Metro area, I can say that the state is doing the things policy makers think they're supposed to do to promote cycling:  starting education programs, building lanes and such.  But the laws and, more important, law enforcement, have not kept pace:  We are one of 11 states without a safe-passing law and we don't have the "Idaho Stop," or any version of it. 

Also, I have to say that for all that's been spent on bike lanes, the folks who conceive, plan, design and build them seem to have no better an idea than their counterparts of 50 years ago had about what makes for a good bike lane:  It has to be useful, free of hazards and planned so that it's actually safer than riding in traffic.  None that I've ridden are structured in a way that a cyclist can cross an intersection without having to worry about being struck by a turning motorist.

On the whole, the LAB's rankings don't surprise me much:  After the Bay State, Oregon and Washington rank second and third, respectively. All of the states ranked from 30th to 50th, with the exception of New Hampshire (34th) are south of the Potomac or west of the Mississippi.  

Which state ranks last?  Wyoming, the nation's leading coal producer. 

29 April 2022

How A Bobby On A Bike Wrote The World's First Speeding Ticket

I've been pulled over for speeding--on my bicycle.  

I don't know how fast I was riding, but the speed limit was 25 or 30 mph, if I recall correctly:  It was a long time ago and, I confess, I was under the influence of something that was illegal everywhere in the US at the time.

(One good thing about getting older is that the statute of limitations runs out.)

Anyway, it was late at night and I think the cop who pulled me over didn't have anything else to do.  I said something like, "Sorry, officer, I didn't realize there was a speed limit for bicycles."  I don't know whether he didn't catch my sarcasm or realized that if I actually committed an offense, it wasn't worth his, or the department's, time to pursue.  He lectured me for a couple of minutes and asked where I was going. "Home," and I told him where in the town--Highland Park, New Jersey--it was without giving an exact address.  "Just be careful, and slow down," he admonished.  "OK.  Have a good evening, sir."

If he didn't ticket me because he thought it wasn't worth the effort, he may well have realized he couldn't charge me.  In some places, bicycles are classified as "vehicles" and are subject to the same traffic regulations; in other places, they aren't.  I'm not sure of what the laws were, or how they were interpreted, in that town or state 40-some-odd years ago.  

A constable in the Kent village of Paddock Wood faced a similar dilemma on 28 January 1896.  Huffing and puffing, he caught up to a speeding scofflaw named Walter Arnold.

His response to the bobby:  "Have you thought about asking your superiors for an upgrade, sir?"  The cop was on his department-issue bicycle, but Arnold wasn't talking about a lighter or even motorized bike. "I could provide him with a very good deal on a Benz motor, finest German engineering..."

Turns out, Arnold was one of the first car dealers in England, and the local supplier of Benz vehicles.  The terms "automobile" weren't yet in use; the conveyances were more commonly referred to as "horseless carriages."   That would be important in Arnold's case.

The officer, whose name is lost to history, was not amused.  He wrote Arnold a citation for four "informations" (counts): using a "locomotive without a horse," having fewer than three persons "in charge of the same," speeding and not having his name and address on the vehicle.

Walter Arnold's "hot rod."

Those offences were against regulations written for horse-drawn carriages.  Arnold's barrister made exactly that point in his client's defense and told the judge that if the carriage were to be considered a "locomotive" (a term for any sort of vehicle powered by an outside source) and if Arnold were to be so charged, he should be levied only a nominal fines for "using a carriage without a locomotive horse" and even smaller fines for the other charges.  Arnold paid them without protest; the publicity the case generated paid for his penalties many times over.

Ironically, one of the constable's pretexts for stopping Arnold--not having a man with a red flag in front of the carriage--was not mentioned during the hearing.  That regulation, however, was subsequently dropped.  As Miriam Bibby wryly notes, it "presumably left the labour exchange staff scratching their heads over what to do with a skill that clearly wan't that transferrable."  

Now to the question some of you may have been asking:  How fast was Walter Arnold driving?  Are you ready for this: 8 mph.  And what was the speed limit for horse-drawn carriages:  2 mph.

Reading all of that, I don't feel so bad about how much I've slowed down in my transition from that young male bike rider whom a Highland Park cop pulled over for speeding to a female midlife cyclist.  Of course, I'm defining "midlife" as elastically (Is that a word?") as Walter Arnold's vehicle could be defined as a "carriage."


28 April 2022

What Do We Know? We Just Ride Bikes!

I am going to rant.  You have been forewarned.

Nothing angers me more than someone in a position of authority who schedules a meeting or gives you a few minutes to "state your case" when they've already made up their mind. Someone who is deemed an "experts," has a fancy title and is given unilateral decision-making power seems to be particularly prone to such behavior.  

What bothers me about such a person is not that they make the wrong decisions or simply ones that I disagree with.  Rather, it's their pretense of considering what  you have to say, when, deep down, they have no interest in learning anything more than they already know and are convinced that they can't learn it from you--a mere prole or rube, in their eyes.

I've seen many such people in the academic world. Because they have advanced degrees to go with their fancy titles, they know more or better than you, or so they think.  They're even worse after they've taken a workshop or seminar on something like race or gender identity or discrimination:  They are absolutely convinced that they already know what they need to know and would never consider hearing from somene who has actually experienced what those workshops and seminars supposedly taught them.

There is, of course, a parallel in the world of urban and transportation planning, especially when it comes to bicycling.  The planners may not have ridden bikes since they were kids--or, possibly worse, they ride on a path in a park while on vacation and think of themselves as "bike riders."  They plan and develop bike lanes that go from nowhere to nowhere and have turns, stops and signals that actually endanger cyclists more than riding in a traffic lane ever would.  And they hold hearings in which they invite representatives of bike advocacy groups to "get input" about the "bicycle infrastructure" they want to build.

I thought about my experiences in the academic world and bicycle and transportation advocacy when I came across an article about the Reno's pilot program that seeks to make "infrastructure improvements"  for bicycles, scooters and other "micromobility solutions." In a typically clueless statement, the Nevada city's assistant director of public works, Kerri Koski, said "We'll take and collect the data that we get, we'll analyze that and take a look at what makes the most sense."

Truckee Meadows Bicycle Alliance President Ky Plakson said that while area cyclists may welcome whatever the city ultimately does, they were not apprised of the study or the pilot program.  "We're told at the last minute that something's happened; we're brought into the conversation after the decision has been made," he said.  That sounds unfortunately familiar.  And he echoed something I said before, and after, any number of "bicycle infrastructure" projects were initiated--including the bike lane that lines the street where I live:  "If you're going to build a bike path, talk to people who ride bikes."

Do they teach that in graduate programs for urban planning?

27 April 2022

I Hope Good Things Grow In This Garden

A thing might be good.  Another thing might also be good.  Putting them together, though, is not always a good thing.

An example is chocolate chips in bagels.  It seemed to be everywhere about twenty years ago.  Thankfully, they seem to have disappeared, at least in this part of the world. Unfortunately, ridiculous pizza toppings like peanut butter, bologna, honey, barbecued chicken, pineapple and--yikes!--chocolate chips have not.  Now, I love fresh pineapple and barbecued chicken as much as anybody does, but they don't belong on pizza.  Roast chicken is OK, but I guess I'm an old-school New York pizza purist:  I prefer to eat my pizza uncluttered.  

(I will admit, though, that in Toulouse, France, I enjoyed a pizza made with locally-produced goat cheese and ham.  It is, to this day, the best pizza I've eaten outside of Italy or New York.)

So, when I heard the term "bicycle garden," I was skeptical.  Bicycles are wonderful. (Why else do I write the blog?)  So are gardens.  The only way, however,  I've ever conncected the two was to ride one to the other.  

Of course, "garden" in this context doesn't mean a park full of flowers and trees where people picnic or a plot for growing corn and tomatoes.  Rather, it refers to any sort of place where someone or something is grown or developed:  Think of the "garten" in "kindergarten."

The "garden" proposed in Antioch, a San Francisco Bay-area community, would look something like this:

or this:

The city council voted in favor of building it in Prewett Family Park.  If that location doesn't work out, they also voted in favor Gerrytown Park as an alternative.  Prewett, however, is favored for its proximity to schools:  the "garden" will be a place where young people will develop bike-riding skills and learn the rules of the road. 

The idea sounds like a good one, as long as kids are being trained for "real world" riding, i.e., on streets and roads, and not just on bike lanes that go from nowhere to nowhere and may not be any safer than the streets.

26 April 2022

After Work, Under A Cherry Blossom Canopy

Yesterday’s commute from work was a bit different from the usual.  For one thing, instead of my “beater,” I took Tosca, my fixed-gear Mercian, as I had little to carry and had left a change of clothes (a skirt, blouse and pair of low-heel pumps) in the office last week.

I left them yesterday.  So I rode home in a pair of bike knickers and a long-sleeved top, on Tosca.  Although the wind was a bit nippy, the spring afternoon called me to ride. My reward:

A canopy of cherry blossoms along the river, late in the afternoon, early in the Spring.  What more can I ask for an after-work ride?

25 April 2022

The Only Good Thing Is The Kickstand

When I worked in bike shops, I'd tell prospective customers that the price of bicycles, like the price of many other things, is subject to the law of diminishing returns.  In other words, spending $250 instead of $200 would bring more significant improvement than than spending $800 instead of $700.

But, I would emphasize, it was necessary to spend a minimum baseline amount of money to get a bike that is reliable and pleasant to ride.  Customers would, of course, ask the inevitable question:  What's the minimum amount I have to spend in order to get a good bike?

British former pro racing cyclist James Lowsley Williams tried to answer the qustion.  He decided to tackle a 200 km (about 125 miles)  along England's southwestern coast from Barnstable to Bath.  I cycled in the area many years ago and, even as young as I was, I was surprised at how arduous some of the climbs were.  Williams called them "horrific," so I don't feel so bad about whatever difficulty I had.

When embarking upon that ride, he wanted "to say that you can have fun on a cheap bike" and that "you can still have epic rides."  

Perhaps such a thing is possible.  If it is, it's fair to ask, "How cheap?"

Well, Williams embarked on the trip on a Eurobike that sells for 30 GBP (about 38 USD) on Amazon.  His first impressions were "not good."  He missed his own "superbike," but he tried to keep an open mind.

There are some deficiencies, however, that no amount of mental flexibility can overcome.  "As soon as this bike goes uphill, it wants to go backwards."  When he stood, he "kept hitting the gears" and 'it chucks me into a high gear and I have to start again."    The only good thing about the bike, he says, is "the kickstand."

24 April 2022

What's On A Rider's Mind?

 I am posting today's image for the benefit for any non-cyclist who might be riding.

If you are such a reader, you might have wondered what's on a cyclist's mind near the end of a long, hot, arduous ride.

I am here to tell, or rather, show you:

23 April 2022

After Tom...

So you have that bike someone in your family brought bike from an overseas tour of duty. Or you have a Bike Boom era ten-speed you still ride--or want to pass on or simply don't want to give up.  Maybe you're holding on (and still riding) that beatiful machine from your racing days or the one that took you across a state or continent, and you want to keep it going for everyday riding or eroica-type events.

Sometimes you can replace old parts with modern ones.  They may not have the style of the stuff the bike came with, but they--especially derailleurs--might work better.  Other times, though, new parts simply won't fit or just won't look right on the old bike.

So what do you do?

These days, you can peruse eBay and other sites.  The Internet is also useful for learning about swap meets and the like.  But one often-overlooked source is the old "family" bike shops that have been in the same location for decades.  Folks in bike costumes with four-digit price tags astride bikes with five-figure tabs might turn up their noses (which, I admit, are often better turned-out than mine!) at such places.  But they often have freewheels, for example, or chainrings in bolt-circle diameters no longer made--or small parts for Mafac or Weinmann caliper--or Bendix or New Departure coaster--brakes.  

And, of course, such shops are called "family" shops because families are not only their owners, but their customer base.  The world-champion racer, globe-spanning tourer and the lifelong everyday cyclist almost invariably started riding as children, whether alone to school, with friends at a local dirt track or family at the park.  Those mom-and-pop proprietors and their employees don't get nearly enough recognition for the role they play in initiating the young into cycling and nurturing a cycling culture.

Tom Anderson, the retiring owner of The Bicycle Rack in Muskegon, Michgian.  (Photo by Cory Morse for MLive.

Tom Anderson of Muskegon, Michigan is such a proprietor.  For 46 years, he's catered to "the mom and pop, the bread and butter of bicycling"  in the western Michigan community.  At one time, the showroom of his shop, The Bicycle Rack, brimmed with 150 or more bikes of all kinds, from kids' trikes to high-end racers.  But like too many other small shops, he hasn't been able to re-stock bikes--or even parts--as the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted production and supply chains.  

So now the lifelong Muskegon resident--who helped to spearhead the 12-mile Lakeshore Bike Trail on Lake Muskegon--is closing his shop and retiring. He considered selling his business, he said, but the next owner would have faced the same struggles that have confronted him.  Truth is, nobody knows when the bike business--or anything else--will "go back to normal," whatever that will mean.

When folks like Tom close up their shops, it doesn't mean only that there's one less place to buy or fix a bike.  Shop owners like him build relationships with people in their communities.  Even if they don't grow up to be dedicated cyclists, they fondly remember folks like him and his willingness to help. Oh, and where else--besides eBay--are you going to find that original lever for your 1950's English three-speed or French-threaded freewheel--without paying eBay prices?

And how can you not miss someone who says of his life's work, "I loved every minute of it"?

22 April 2022

A Ride Before Earth Day

 Today is Earth Day.

This day was first designated in 1970, a year after the Santa Barbara oil spill.  I remember growing up with a great awareness of the environmental movement.  Because of that and the Jacques Cousteau television series that aired at the time, for a time I wanted to become a marine ecologist. They also watered, if you'll pardon the metaphor, the seed that had already been planted for my cycling enthusiasm.

I remembered that yesterday, during a late-afternoon ride.  I had no particular destination:  I zigzagged along Queens and Brooklyn streets, past bridges and brownstones, parks and pre-schools, international neighborhoods and industrial colonies. And this:

It's hard to believe, but this was once the most fertile oyster bed in the world.  Lenape natives literally picked them up from the banks and roasted them with the corn, beans and squash they grew nearby.  Now a sign admonishes visitors not to eat anything from that water, or even to enter it.  Every year for as long as I've been paying attention, the Environmental Agency has rated Newtown Creek, which separates the metal fabricators, cement plants and truck depots of Maspeth, Queens from East Williamsburg, Brooklyn, as one of the most polluted bodies of water in the United States.  Sometimes it takes the "top" spot. 

Cycling has helped me to appreciate the beauty of landscapes, natural and manmade.  It also reminds me of. not only the need to preserve such places, but to use what we've built wisely and resposibly.

21 April 2022

Death At An Intersection Of Choices

A few years ago, I taught a "capstone" course, required of graduating students, about the Bronx.  It seemed to make sense, as the college is located in the borough--in the heart of the poorest U.S. Congressional District, in the South Bronx--and most students live there.  As much as I tried to make it interesting and relevant, students were less than unenthusiastic:  They saw the course as one more thing standing between them and graduation.

If they've forgotten me, the projects they did (or didn't do), the class itself and the college, I hope they remember one lesson that, I believe, the course reinforced: Everything they lived with, good and bad, in the Bronx was the result of decisions made by human beings.  Sometimes their motives were nefarious, but at other times they were simply misguided.

Fahrad Manjoo makes that point today in a New York Times editorial, "Bike Riding In America Should Not Be This Dangerous."  In his essay, he briefly recounts how urban and transportation has prioritized the "speedy movement of vehicles over the safety of everyone else on our streets.  He doesn't get much into specifics--whole books have been written about that--but that governing principle took hold well before the high priest of auto-centricity, Robert Moses, started his work.

Manjoo's editorial was motivated by the death of 13-year-old Andre Retana at a Mountain View, California intersection that is an "asphalt-and-concrete love letter to cars."  On two corners stand gas stations; America's Tire occupies a third and the fourth is taken up with a BMW dealership.  "To keep traffic humming along," he writes, "motorists on all of its corners are allowed to turn right on red lights."

The intersectio of El Camino Real and Grant Road, Montain View, CA. The "ghost" bike commemorates Andre Retana, who died here.  Photo by Mark Da

As I have pointed out in other posts, such an arrangement endangers cyclists--when they follow the traffic signals as motorists are required to do.  A cyclist at the corner of an intersection is vulnerable to a right-turning vehicle, especially a truck--or an SUV (which I call "trucks for people who don't know how to drive them")--makes a turn. 

To be fair, most truck drivers, especially the long-distance variety, courteous and conscientious.  On the other hand, their vehicles are particurly hazardous for two reasons.  One is that because their vehicles are so large, they sometimes veer into pedestrian and cyclists' paths, or even onto sidewalks, especially on narrow streets in dense urban areas. The other is sight lines, or lack thereof: Drivers sit so far away from everything else on the street that they simply can't see someone crossing a street.

Those factors, and the right to turn right on red, contributed to Andre Retana's death.  The truck driver came to a complete stop at the instruction.  Andre pulled up alongside him.  In an unfortunate twist, he fell off his bike in the crosswalk near the front of the truck--at the very moment the driver, who didn't see him, decided it was safe turn.

The driver didn't realize he'd struck the boy until bystanders flagged him down. Andre suffered severe injuries and died a short time later in the hospital.

Manjoo points out that the intersection, not surprisingly, doesn't have a "box" or safe area where cyclists and pedestrians can wait, and neither of the streets leading to it--El Camino Real and Grant Road--has a protected bike lanes.  But, as much as I respect him for pointing out the dangers-by-design, he seems to share the same misguided thinking behind too many schemes to make cycling safer:  That more bike lanes and other "infrastructure" will do the job and that planning future roads with built-in bike lanes will help.

As I've pointed out in other posts, too many bike lanes are poorly conceived, planned and constructed:  They go from nowhere to nowhere and actually put cyclists in more danger.  Staggered signals, which Manjoo also recommends, could also help.   Moreover, he says that while transitioning from gasoline- to renewable energy-powered vehicles will help for health and environmental reasons, we really need to find ways to get people out of SUVs and into smaller cars.  And, while he doesn't say as much, it could also help to re-design trucks with better sight lines.

But, as I've pointed out in other posts, other changes, like legalizing some form of the "Idaho Stop," are also needed.  Most of all, though, I believe--as Manjoo seems to--that the way transportation is conceived has to change.   Not only are new street and vehicle designs and regulations needed, things like the tax structure, have to change.  Most people don't realize just how much driving is subsidized--yes, in the US to the point that the worst car choices and driving habits are rewarded.

None of the needed changes will bring back Andre Retana.  But they might prevent future tragedies like his--and make cities and societies more livable.  Such changes can only come about by choice--just as all of the mistakes that led to a 13-year-old boy's death were.




20 April 2022

To Their Own Hues, And Others

Earlier today, I wrote a post about something people might not associate with Spring:  a survivor pedaling among the wreckage of Mariupol.

To me, this season is about the living beings who make it through winter--whether it's a season of cold, snow and darkness or the death and destruction of war (another kind of darkness) as well as the new life that rises, whether from the ashes or a well-tended garden.

Because I've encountered the latter on afternoon rides, I am more fortunate than the cyclist in my earlier post.  It's funny, though, how Dee-Lilah (my custom Mercian Vincitore Special), Vera (my Miss Mercian), La-Vande (my custom King of Mercia) and Tosca (my Mercian fixie) always seem to find reflections of themselves.

Or, at least they, in their differing shades of purple, are drawn like moths to the flame of color.

Even if it isn't their own.


Cyclist: A Survivor In Mariupol

Yesterday I wrote about the world's first acid trip, which Dr. Albert Hofmann took, if unwittingly, on his bike ride home.

If you've ever been on an "acid trip," you know that it can include visions heavenly or hellish.  The latter could describe what this cyclist--who, I assume, was not under the influence of LSD or any other substance--exprienced:

Photo by Alexander Ermochencko, for Reuters

Reports I've read and heard say that Mariupol, a port city in Ukraine, has been "wiped off the face of the earth," or words to that effect.  I have no reason to doubt such reports:  The reports and accompanying images show steel stick-figures, the skeletons of destroyed buildings and rubble everywhere.  And though there is death and destruction everywhere, thankfully, many have survived.  Their lives, like the ride of that cyclist, will go on.

19 April 2022

A Trip On Bicycle Day

Today is Bicycle Day.  Tomorrow is Weed Day.

About the latter, there are many stories about its origin--why, specifically, the 20th of April is associated with marijuana.  The most plausible-sounding one involves a group of teenagers in Marin County, California (the birthplace of mountain biking) who met at 4:20 in the afternoon to partake.  They chose that time, according to lore, because their schools' extracurricular activities ended by that time and as Dave Reddix, one of the group, recalled, "We got tired of the Friday night football scene with all of the jocks."  Because they met at that time, "420" became their code for weed.  Later, Reddix worked as a Grateful Dead roadie and the term went viral, so to speak.

On the other hand, the story of how today became Bicycle Day is more closely documented.  On this date in 1943, Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann ingested a small amount of a compound derived from ergot fungus.  Feeling disoriented, he rode his bicycle home.  Along the way, he experienced the beautiful and terrible effects of that compound, lysergic acid diethymalide.  So,. in more ways than one, Dr. Hoffmann took the world's first acid trip.

So, in honor of Dr. Hofmann on Bicycle Day, I am posting a video of the song that, in its own way, is "a real trip":

Hofmann lived another 65 years after his "trip," to the age of 102.  It must have been the bicycling!

(Tell me what a latter-day hippie living in California had in mind when he called his book about bicycle touring "Bike Tripping.")

18 April 2022

The Calico Chronicles

If you've been reading this blog for the past few years, you know I love Marlee.  Sometimes, though, she exasperates me:  There are some things I simply can't get her to do.  I mean, I know she doesn't have opposable thumbs and, well, she's a cat. But still...

I just hope that if she reads this, she doesn't think that I wish she were Marilyn.  She's writing a memoir, "Calico Cycles," about her trip around the US.  So far she's traveled over 10,000 miles in 32 states since last May and has seen a lot--from the basket of a bicycle.

Now, in case Marlee thinks I'm judging her for not writing, I'll remind her of what I've said before:  Writing skills are not a sign of intelligence or any kind of worth.  (Why do you think Socrates never wrote?) But, you know, Marlee babe, I tried taking you on rides and almost lost you.  

You do have an excuse:  I didn't start training you early enough.  Marilyn's human, Caleb Werntz, started when she was two months old.  You, Marlee, were six months old when you came into my life, and you were born on the street, so perhaps it was too late, or you had (and possibly still have) PTSD from your previous life.

Anyway, Werntz, who hails from Portland (where else?) "got her a harness and leash and put her in the front basket" and took her for her first "training ride" nine years ago.  He says that she's slept through most of the journey (Is something a journey if you sleep through it?) but she was nonetheless able to "write" her diary, which he's "translating."  

(That might be the hardest part of all:  Translating is never easy.  I know: I've done it, mostly badly.)

It sounds a bit like a role-reversed "Travels With Charley," although I don't know whether Marilyn is "in search of America, as Steinbeck was--or, for that matter, whether she's read Steinbeck.

Caleb has begun a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds so he can raise money to "promote and distribute" copies of the travel diary.  I can forgive Marlee for not knowing how to do that:  I've never taught her to use the Internet!


17 April 2022

Bunnies On Bikes And Cycling Chicks

Happy Easter!

I know that today is also in the middle of Ramadan and is the third day of Passover.  But I'm going with Easter, not because I was raised Catholic.  Rather, Easter is just a good excuse to post cute and silly images of cycling chicks (who aren't me) and bunnies on bikes.


This might've been Picasso's Easter card:

And this, because cyclists are "good eggs":


16 April 2022

Assaulted For "Not Riding In The Lane"

A decade ago, a driver nearly hit me when she made a careless turn. (I think she was distracted.)  I yelled a few things they don't teach immigrants in English classes and flashed a one-fingered peace sign. She rolled down her window and lectured me on how I "should be riding on the bike lane."  Never mind that the lane was on another street and wouldn't have taken me where I was going.

To this day, too many drivers and  seem beholden to the same notion.  I was once stopped by a cop when I turned out of a bike lane onto a side street.  Said cop claimed that I went through a light--which I wasn't--and that I "should stay in the lane."  Never mind that I turned off the lane to go where I needed to go and that, in any event, even if I had gone through the light when there was no cross-traffic--or ahead of a driver who would turn right when the light turned green--I (and the driver) would be safer than if I'd strictly followed the signal.  When I pointed that out, the cop said, "I ride a bicycle, too," in a tone of reminded me of people who tell me about a gay brother, sister or friend before doing or saying something to hurt me.

If bicyclists could ride only in bike lanes, we couldn't go anywhere--unless, of course, the lane goes right to the doors of our homes, schools, workplaces or favorite stores, cafes, museums or anyplace else we go.

Erin Riediger understands as much.  The Manitoba-based architect and host of Plain Bicycle Podcast veered from the bike lane into the traffic lane so she could turn onto a side street.  A man walked in front of her bike, struck her and said, "The bike lane is over there."

Fortunately, she wasn't hurt, at least not physically.  She posted a series of Tweets about the incident and most of the responses were sympathetic.  However, as almost invariably happens on Twitter, trolls clambered from under their rocks.  One upbraided her for "wasting her time" with those posts (If she was "wasting her time," wha does that say about the troll?), she should have "called the cops"--which she did.  Others posted stuff that nobody should be subjected to.  

Still other twits (what I call trolls on Twitter) lectured her about how she should have handled the incident or stayed in the bike lane.  Then there were the ones who used the occasion to rant about how cyclists should have licenses, insurance, etc.--which many, if not most, of us have--never mind that those things have nothing to do with the real issue at hand:  someone--a woman--was assaulted--by a man--when she rode her bike.

A woman was assaulted by a man as she rode her bicycle. She was within the law; he wasn't.  Those are the facts of this case; they have nothing to do with licenses, insurance or anything else that's bothering trolls with too much time on their hands.

15 April 2022

Happy Ramadan, Passover, Good Friday—And Jackie Robinson Day

 Today I am invoking the Howard Cosell Rule. Today’s post, therefore, will not relate to my rides or bikes, and may not be connected to much else in the cycling world.  But what I’m about to mention is just too important to ignore. 

The athlete I’m about to mention has something in common with Simone Biles, Colin Kaepernick, Billie Jean King, Muhammad Ali and “Major Taylor.  Like them, he was a pioneer, not only in his sport, but in the struggle to be recognized and understood as full-fledged human beings.  In other words, they (have) had as much impact away from the field, court or track as they had on it.

On this date 75 years ago, a second baseman took his position at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field.  At 28 years old, he was older than most rookies. But that wasn’t because he was a “late bloomer.” Rather, his debut in Major League Baseball was delayed by his World War II military service, where he experienced the very thing that kept him from playing for the Dodgers earlier than he did.

When he was drafted into the Army, he applied for Officers’ Candidate School, for which he was qualified.  His application was delayed for several months.  When he was finally accepted, he led soldiers who, like him, were racially segregated from other soldiers as they fought for the freedom of people in faraway countries.

What this man had in common with the other athletes I mentioned, with the exception of Billie Jean King, is that he was Black.  So, upon returning to the United States, he played a year for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues and another for the Montréal Royals, the Brooklyn Dodgers’ top minor-league team.

When Jackie Robinson took to the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers on 15 April 1947, he was the first known Black major-league player* since Moses Fleetwood Walker in 1884.  Robinson’s debut also came half a century after “Major” Taylor, the record-setting cyclist, became the first Black world champion in any sport. 

Consider this:  When Robinson played his first game as a Dodger, the United States armed forces had yet to integrate.  Yes, you read that right:  Black soldiers could still be sent to fight for freedoms they couldn’t enjoy themselves.  And, a year later, Strom Thurmond would run for President on a platform of “Segregation Forever!”

All right, this post does relate to cycling in at least one way:  In spite of his accomplishments on and off the field, Jackie Robinson, like Taylor before him, had to endure insults, indignities and even death threats. And, in a sort of parallel, Robinson had to go to other leagues, as Taylor had to go to other countries , for professional opportunities commensurate with their talents and work ethic.

So, if Jackie Robinson doesn’t deserve a mention on this or any other forum, I don’t know who does.

*—For all of the respect I have for Jackie Robinson, I am willing to entertain the notion that he wasn’t the first Black major league player since Walker.  It’s entirely possible that some Black player who “passed” as White—including, it’s been rumored, Babe Ruth—could have played in the major leagues.  

14 April 2022

What Did Dee-Lilah See When She Woke?

 Yesterday I roused Dee-Lilah, my custom Mercian Vincitore Special, from her long winter’s nap. 

For a few weeks, the season hasn’t been able to make up its mind: The weather has gone from February to May and back, and from clear skies to downpours faster than you can say “spin.”  As a result, streets and roads have been sprinkled or coated with the remnants of change-of-season storms:  sand, road salt, fallen branches and other kinds of debris. That’s why I let my “queen” extend her rest.

She experienced some of the changes I’ve described during our ride to Point Lookout.  When we began, the sky was as blue as, well, the sea, depending on where you are.  And the air was warm enough that a few minutes into our ride, I thought I might’ve over-dressed.

About half an hour later, though, I felt the temperature about 10 degrees (Celsius) as I pedaled into a seaborne wind on the Cross-Bay Bridge.  That is typical at this time of year because, even if the air is 10 or 20 degrees Celsius (50 or 68 F), the ocean is still only about 5C (40F).

Those differences, playing off or fighting (depending on your point of view) each other made for this view from the bridge.

The water in the foreground is Jamaica Bay.  The gray haze behind the buildings on Rockaway Beach could have been fog—or the ocean.  Just as the day could have been late winter or early spring.

13 April 2022

Riding From The Tooth Fairy To Ukrainian Children

 What did I do with my money from the tooth fairy?

I still have my wisdom teeth, but they don’t seem to help with memory.  For all I know, I never got money from the tooth fairy.

But Carina and Ariana Dinu did.  And they’re donating it to a charity bike ride—to benefit Ukrainian children.

Their ride was dedicated Iryna Filkina, a Ukrainian mother who was shot to death while she rode her bike home from work.  Carina and Ariana collectively rode 53 miles:  a mile for each year Iryna had lived before she was murdered.

Yes, you read that right.  Ten-year-old Ariana and seven-year-old Carina (Can you come up with better names?) gave their tooth fairy money to Ukrainian children.  That was “seed money,” if you will:  It was the first donation to the Go Fund Me page they started.

Actually, their ride wasn’t organized for the purpose:  They rode as part of the Ignite Women’s Bike Event.  And their fund-raising didn’t start with Ignite: a week earlier, they’d pedaled 45 miles in El Tour de Mesa.  By then, they’d collected about $1000, mostly from friends and family. El Tour has not only grown the amount of money they raised but expanded their donor bases.

What was I doing at seven or ten years old? I can remember some of it, but not what I did with my tooth fairy money, if I got any.  But said fairy, I am sure, would be proud of Ariana and Carina Dinu.

12 April 2022

Going Nowhere, Unsafely

What's the easiest way to anger urban drivers?  Take a lane out of "their" street or roadway and turn it into a bike lane.

Here's something that will leave them more enraged (I can't blame them):  When we, cyclists, don't use the lane designated for us.

We eschew those pieces of "bicycle infrastructure" our cities and counties "provide" for us, not because we're ingrates.  Rather, we avoid them because they're unsafe or impractical.  As I've said in other posts, paint does not infrastructure make:  Simply painting lines on asphalt does nothing to improve the safety of motorists driving at 30MPH (a typical urban speed limit)  or cyclists pedaling at half that velocity.  And too many bike lanes simply go from nowhere to nowhere.

Both of those flaws, it seems, came together this winter, Chicago's Department of Transportation constructed a "protected" bike lane on the city's West Side, along Jackson Boulevard between Central Avenue and Austin Boulevard.  The lane is only ten blocks long (which, if those blocks are anything like those here in New York, means that the lane is only half a mile long).  The worst thing about it, for both motorists and cyclists, is that it took a lane in each direction from a busy if narrow thoroughfare that connects the northern part of Columbus Park with Oak Park, an adjacent suburb.

The Jackson Boulevard Bike Lane. Photo by Colin Boyle, Block Club Chicago

In doing so, the Chicago DOT made an often-congested route even more crowded.  One problem is that drivers often use Jackson to reach the Central Avenue onramp for the Eisenhower Expressway.  Drivers making a right turn on Central get backed up behind drivers going east on Jackson because they can't make the turn on a red light.

Things are even worse during rush hour, school dismissals and when the 126 bus makes one of its four stops along the route.  The result is "total chaos and confusion," according to Salone.  It might be a reason why "I have yet to see one bike there."  City and school buses may be picking up and discharging passengers in the lane, and having to cross an entrance to a freeway is, for me, a reason to avoid a lane or street. (That is one reason why, when cycling back from Point Lookout or the Rockaways, I detour off Cross Bay Boulevard a block or two after crossing the North Channel (a.k.a. Joseph Addabo Memorial) Bridge:  I want to avoid the Belt Parkway entrance and exit ramps.)

The result, according to resident Mildred Salone, is "total chaos and confusion."  That might be a reason why she has "yet to see one bike there."  An equally important reason was voiced by someone else, who called Jackson Boulevard a "bike lane to nowhere."  

That title was bestowed upon it by Oboi Reed, who founded Equicity, a mobility justice organization that seeks, among other things, to start a bicycling culture in the area.  "When the bike lanes drop out of nowhere, people are turned off," he explained.  "People have to feel ownership and excitement."  

He says that in addition to the lane's faulty planning and design, people were alienated because they see the bike lanes as vectors of gentrification.  The Jackson Boulevard neighborhood is full of longtime residents, some of whom live in multi-generational homes, and most of whom are black and working-class.  They cyclists they see are mainly younger and whiter than they are, and don't share their roots in the neighborhood.

So, it seems to me, Chicago's Jackson Boulevard bike lane encapsulates all of the faults of "bicycle infrastructure" in the U.S.:  It was poorly planned and designed, with little or no regard for whom it would serve or the neighborhood through which it was built.  The result is something that makes motorists and cyclists equally unhappy.  Unfortunately, unless planners and policy-makers pay more attention to cyclists as well as other people who might be affected, we will see more unsafe bike lanes to nowhere.