31 May 2022

The Unofficial Beginning

 Here in the US, the Memorial Day weekend is often seen as the “unofficial beginning of summer.” The weather, and my rides, certainly lived up to that billing.

First, as an aside, I’ll tell you how the holiday came to be the “unofficial beginning of summer.  One interesting fact about Memorial Day is that the date on which it’s observed has nothing to do with any battle, the birth of any historic figure or any other historical or mythical event.  When the holiday was first designated, it was called Decoration Day (when I was a child, some people still referred to it that way) because people—some of them newly-freed slaves—decorated the graves of Union soldiers who died fighting the Civil War.  In those days, there wasn’t a flowers.com or even very many florists.  So, people had to pick flowers from their gardens or the woods.  And, as the holiday was commemorated only in the northern US, late May was chosen because that’s when flowers are in full bloom in this part of the world.

Anyway, about my rides: They are both trips I've taken many times before. On Saturday, I pedaled up to Greenwich, Connecticut via the Pelham Bay Park trail and back roads and streets in Mamaroneck, Rye and Greenwich.  The weather was all but perfect:  warm, but not too, with a breeze that seemed to ripple the wisps of clouds in the blue, sunny sky. Yesterday, I rode to Point Lookout on a warmer day, though the temperature dropped a good bit after I crossed the Veterans' Memorial Bridge (how appropriate!) to the Rockaways.

I felt great after both rides. That, to me, is another sign that summer is, if not here, at least close:  I am in better shape.  But, apart from the roads and views, the rides offered one interesting contrast.  My ride to Connecticut reminded me of the ones I took in the early days of the pandemic:  I saw hardly a car or SUV, let alone a truck, along the way.  I glanced out to the main roads and didn't see much more traffic, and when I passed over the highways (the Cross Bronx Expressway, Hutchinson River Parkway and New York State Thruway), I saw even less traffic than I normally see on a Sunday morning or afternoon.  On the other hand, not surprisingly, I saw a lot of vehicular traffic on the roads leading to the beaches and foot traffic along the boardwalks and pedestrian paths.

Today is, in more ways than one, the day after--the  beginning of summer, for one thing.

30 May 2022

A Ride To Remember Them

Today is Memorial Day in the United States.

To some, things are returning to "normal" because parades, and other gatherings large and small--including retail store promotions-- will be held in person for the first time in three years.

For others, though, things will never be "normal," whatever that meant, again. Or, for them, there is a new definition of "normal."

Such people include the loved ones of those who died as a result of COVID--or this nation's nonstop wars.  Such folks include Chris Kolenda, a retired U.S. Army Colonel.  

Today, he will take a 100-mile Memorial Day Honor Ride.  It will be followed by a barbeque and auction event at the Milwaukee County War Memorial Center.  He plans to use the ride, barbecue and auction to raise awareness for another, longer, ride he plans to start in late September.

That will take him across half of the nation to Arlington National Cemetery,  just outside Washington, DC.  That destination is not surprising, but, unless you know the motivation for his ride, its starting point is.  

He's using his planned trip to raise money for the Saber Six Foundation, which he created to help the families and descendants of the unit he commanded in Afghanistan.  The Foundation also supports a Rotary Club scholarship endowment for disadvantaged youths who aspire to public service.

During one particularly horrific tour in 2007, the West Point graduate lost six of the men under his command.  One of them, Private First Class Chris Pfeiffer, hailed from Spalding, Nebraska--the starting point of Kolenda's planned tour.

From there, his route will take him to the gravesites of the five other soldiers who lost their lives:

    Carroll, Iowa--Sergeant Adrian Hike 

    Ellwood, Illinois--Specialist Jacob Lowell

    Hall, Indiana--Staff Sergeant Ryan Fritsche

    Minersville, Pennsylvania--Captain David Boris

    Arlington National Cemetery--Major Tom Bostick.

"They all died following my orders, doing things I asked them to do, being in a place I asked them to be," Kolenda said.  "They deserve to have their stories told and they deserve to have their sacrifices remembered."

The first sentence of his statement should be on the gravestone of anyone who has led soldiers, sailors or other uniformed fighters who died under his or her command.  Alter it slightly--I died following orders, doing what I was asked to do in a place where I was asked to be--and you have an epitaph for anyone who's died in battle.

Photos of Chris Kolenda by Jovanny Hernandez, for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

28 May 2022

He Rides To Work. Why Don't More Cyclists Follow Him?

We've all heard some variant of the question, "If a tree falls in a forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound?"

Here is anothe variation:  If a bicycle valet service opens in a city and nobody hears about it....

How do you finish that question?  All right, it won't quite follow the rhetorical pattern of the "tree falls in a forest" query.  But it's pertinent nontheless.

Here goes, "Will anybody use it?"

That is what the folks from the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and The Chase Center might be asking themselves. From the moment the venue--which hosts Golden State Warriors games, among other events--a bicycle valet parking service has been available.  

Now, the Chase Center isn't the only such venue or institution to offer such a service.  The valets aren't even the only ones who will take your helmet with your bike.  They might not even be the only such service not to require an admission ticket to the venue in order to use it, like the services I've used in places like the Metropolitan Museum.  

What makes the Chase Center's bicycle valet service unique, to this date, is that it was designed as part of the Center when it was built.   Yes, there is an entrance built into the spherical structure of the arena specifically for the designated bicycle valet area.  

Better yet, the service can park as many bicycles--300--as many venues can park cars in their garages or lots.

In such a bicycle-conscious city as San Francisco, and in a densely-trafficked neighborhood like the one where the Center is located, one might expect a bicycle valet service to be a "build it and they will come" facility and service.  Sadly, though, such is not the case.  According to an investigation by the SF Gate, usage has topped out at around 100 bikes per Warriors game or other event.

While neither the SF Gate report nor team nor venue officials offered an explanation as to why the service is under-used, I have to wonder how many people know it's available.  Whatever the reason, I hope that the folks who run the Center don't decide to turn the space into, oh, I don't know, another gift shop.

There's nothing like a celebrity endorsement to boost a product or service's popularity. So, perhaps, this video or Warriors star Klay Thompson riding his bike to work--a playoff game--might entice more cyclists to park at Chase Center:

27 May 2022

One Person's Junk Is Another Person's Jump

I've taken more than a few rides that included the Concrete Plant Park.  I love that what could have been a remnant--a ruin, really--of the industrial past could be turned into a visually interesting recreational space.

The Concrete Plant Park could have become a dump, or worse. Such a fate has befallen too many other sites of closed factories and schools or abandoned residential and office buildings.  Instead, it's a place where folks like me ride, run or walk, or take their kids just to get them out of their crowded apartments.

Now I've heard of something that's perhaps just as innovative:  Using stuff that's been dumped to make a bike park.  That's what some folks in Colorado have done.  The result, aptly named Junk Yard Bike Park, is set to open on Monday, Memorial Day, thanks to Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center in Colorado Springs, near the entrance to Browns Canyon National Monument.  

The idea for the park came to RMOC owner Brandon Slate not long after he and his business partner, Ryan Coulter, after they inherited the Arkansas River site in 2016.  They started riding their mountain bikes among--and, in some cases, on--the junk when they realized the potential for creating "a bike park that will not only fill a local need but also draw people to RMOC to take advantage of the outpost's other features, such as its microbrewery, food truck and riverside setting."  

The site, they say, will include bike lines for cyclists of various skill levels,  a pump track and access to singletrack with mellow downhill sections and more technical drops.

Oh, and if you really want to have fun, you can drop from an old school bus or jump over a rusted classic car.  You can't do that in Concrete Plant Park, or any other salvaged post-industrial site I know of.

26 May 2022

Who--Or What--Is To Blame?

Be forewarned:  Part of today's post will be a continuation of yesterday's rant, in which I lamented the terror and seeming inevitability of the mass shootings in a Texas school and Buffalo supermarket.

Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised that politicians and media pundits are blaming everything but guns.  I'm not talking about the "decay of moral values" or other talking points of the political and religious right.  Instead, I'm talking about flat-out lies spread by folks whose careers and reputations never could withstand the truth.

Paul Gosar, the Republican Congressional Representative from Arizona, is an example of who I mean. I must say, he has managed to concoct a non-reality not even the strongest drugs could induce and twist logic and reason in ways a pretzel-maker would envy.

To wit:  He tweeted that the shooter--18-year-old Salvador Ramos, born and raised in Texas--was a "transsexual leftist illegal alien."  Gosar's source for that bit of intelligence?  A social network called 4Chan, to which folks of his ilk are drawn like flies to, well, the stuff flies are drawn to.  That's bad enough, but I would really like to know where he got his thinking skills.  He followed up his out-and-out falsehood with this pearl of wisdom:  "Sandy Hook proved the need to enhance K-12 security."  OK. That's not too debatable. But then he made a leap into the (il)logical abyss:  "Congress armed Ukraine instead."

Now, as much as I sympathise with the people of Ukraine, I wonder about Congressional members' motives in voting to send even more weapons than President Biden demanded.  But talk about a false equivalency!  I mean, how can he link sending help to Ukraine with school safety, or a school shooting that happened nearly a decade ago?

Compounding the problem is that other voices in the media will amplify such nonsense--or other verbal bilge-- in the same way he was a loudspeaker for Trump's beloved "low-information voters."  Fox News, in following with a hallowed tradition, shifted the blame to parents.  

I have to hand it to the folks at Faux, I mean Fox:  They accomplished something I didn't think possible.  The excerable (even by their standards) Laura Ingraham interviewed someone even more vile than herself:  Andrew Pollack.  That I can unfavorably compare a man who lost his daughter in the Parkland shooting to a Fox host is really saying something. He, who has previously argued "guns didn't kill my daughter, Democratic principles did," in reference to the Texas shooting, declared, "It's the parents."

How he came to that conclusion took a turn of logic that rivals what brought Gosar to his blaming the shooting on helping Ukraine.  "It's your responsibility where you're sending your children to school," he explained.  "You need to check where your kids go to school."  He suggested that parents should take their kids "out of public school" and put them in "a private school, because a lot of these private schools, they take security way more serious."

Where to begin with that assessment?  Well, for one thing, private schools are not an option for most families. Most kids go to whatever public school is zoned for wherever they live and they (or, more precisely, their parents) have little or no choice in the matter.  Also, even if private school is an option, it might not meet some kids' needs.  And, finally, what does he mean by "security?"  Metal detectors?  Armed teachers?

Oh, and there are the usual diatribes about education and mental health treatment.  I would agree:  If someone were to ask me for an example of an oxymoron, I might say, "American mental health care system."  But that fixing that won't stop mass gun violence all by itself any more than better school security or any other action could.

Here's what I wonder: How the fuck did someone who couldn't even drink beer legally get his hands on a military-grade assault weapon?  Would Ingraham ask such a question?  Could--or would--Pollack or Gosar answer it?

So why am I taking up another post on a cycling blog with a discussion of a school shooting and its aftermath?  Well, what Gosar and his ilk do in these situation--blame everything but guns--reminds me of the ways law enforcement and some members of the public react, too often, when a driver maims or kills a cyclist.  Never mind that he or she was driving at double the speed limit, was distracted by a mobile device or impaired by drugs, alcohol or some other substance--or was simply driving agressively or carelessly.  The cyclist, especially if he or she is killed, is blamed.


25 May 2022

Riding Without Running Away

 The other day, I enjoyed a nearly perfect ride to Connecticut and back.  An overnight rain broke the weekend’s heat wave and I pedaled, with a brisk wind against my face on my way up and at my back on the ride back, under a clear sky accented by light cirrus brushstrokes.

When I’m enjoying such a trip, such a day, I never realize how lucky I am and, however ephemeral that privilege may be, it’s still more than so many other people have —and how much more orderly yet joyful my world can be—even if only for a few hours—than what lies not far beyond.

Yesterday I learned, from my friend Lillian—who is recovering from a back injury and wants to ride with me again—that a mutual friend, Glenda, had passed away around four in the morning.  That wasn’t much of a surprise, as her lung cancer was overtaking her doctors ‘ ability to treat it and her body’s ability to resist.  

She also told me that Edwin, for whom we sometimes ran errands, did other things beyond his computer skills and simply provided company, passed on Thursday.  That, of course, solved the mystery of why we hadn’t heard from him though, of course, that was neither a relief nor a consolation.

Oh, and there was another mass shooting in a school. The cynic in me is not surprised:  In a country whose mantra is, “Children are the future,” we haven’t made it more difficult to get assault weapons or easier to get mental health care, educational services or stable housing and employment since, in an eerily similar incident almost a decade ago, 28 kids and two teachers were murdered in a Connecticut school. Or since, more than a decade before that, a dozen students and two teachers were slaughtered in a Colorado high school.  Or after any number of attacks during those years.

That I can say “any number” of such incidents is a sad commentary on the situation in this country.  So is the supermarket shooting in Buffalo a week and a half ago. Again, my cynicism kicks in:  That horror doesn’t surprise me because if nothing changed after white kids were gunned down, I’m anticipating even less after a tragedy in which the victims were Black and, mostly, elderly.

So why am I invoking the Howard Cosell rule and ranting about such things on my cycling blog?  Well, it seems almost frivolous to talk about anything else.  For another, I wanted to express my understanding of my good fortune, though I am trying to avoid a lapse into guilt. Finally, though, I trust that you, dear readers, and cyclists in general, have a good sense of justice.  

24 May 2022

Comments Accidentally Deleted

Hello, everyone!

Sometimes, in the course of Spring Cleaning, I unintentionally toss out the wheat with the chaff, so to speak.

So it went when I cleared out some “spam” comments.  In the process, I accidentally deleted a bunch of good comments. 

If yours was one of them, I apologize.  Mea culpa. (That’s Latin for “My bad!”)

Love Triangle Ends In Death For Gravel Racing Star

 The world of professional cycling has seen its share of tragedies and scandals.  Until recently, they didn't seem to involve gravel racing.  Perhaps the sport hasn't been around long enough (though, I think, people were gravel riding and gravel racing long before the sport got its name or bikes were built specially for it) to attract bad actors.  Or it may just have to do with the fact that most gravel racers are young and aren't steeped in the "this is how it's done" or "everybody does it" mentality that seems to affect people, not only in the more established areas of bike racing, but in any other long-standing institution.

But now gravel racing seems to have been thrown into its first scandal--and tragedy. And it involves someone named Armstrong who lives in Austin, Texas.

No, I'm not talking about Lance.  Nor am I referring to anything that involves illicit substances.  Rather, I am about to relate a story that involves something we don't often hear about in professional cycling:  a love triangle.  And the Armstrong in question is named Kaitlin and, to my knowledge, not related to Lance.

She lived with alleycat rider-turned-gravel racer Colin Strickland.  Both are in their mid-30s.  Their relationship took a "hiatus" for a couple of months last fall.  During that time, according to reports, he dated Anna Moriah "Mo" Wilson, ten years his junior and considered one of the up-and-coming stars of the gravel racing circuit.  After Armstrong and Strickland reconciled, he continued to stay in touch with Wilson, which did not make Armstrong happy, to say the least.

Wilson was scheduled to race in the capital city of the Lone Star State on the 11th of this month.  She arriveed the day before and stayed with a friend.  Someone called police after hearing shots in the apartment, where Wilson was found, fatally shot.  The only item missing from the apartment was her bicycle. And, according to an anonymous source, Armstrong talked about killing Wilson . 

Anna Moriah "Mo" Wilson, from Dartmouth College Athletics

The day after Wilson's body was found, Armstrong was brought into the police station for questioning, where a detective said things "don't look good" for her.  Not long afterward, Armstrong deleted her social media accounts and simply vanished.  Now local police and the U.S. Marshals are following leads in the hope of finding her.

Say what you will about Strickland seeing Wilson. I will, however, criticize him for this:  Last December and January, he bought two guns, a Springfield Armory and a Sig Sauer, and gave the Sig Sauer to Armstrong.  Now, I'm not keen on firearms, but I understand that Texas has a different culture and set of laws about them than what we have in New York.  Still, I have to wonder what he was thinking.  Why a gun for each of them?

Those guns were recovered when police searched their apartment. On the 17th, police tested the Sig Sauer and compared the shell casings to ones found near Wilson's body.  

The detective is right in more ways than one:  things don't "look good" for Kristin Armstrong.  And the world of gravel racing is without one of its brightest lights in Anna Moriah Wilson.

23 May 2022

Early Spring....To Early Summer?

 Over the weekend, I put in fewer miles (kilometers) than I'd planned.  But I got more Vitamin D.

So how are they related?

Friday was like much of this Snpring, to date:  cloudy and chilly.  I went for a late-afternoo ride and in Bensonhurst, near my old stomping grounds, was "stomped" by a sudden, violent storm.  I don't mind riding in the rain, but I draw the line when I can't see to the next block.  The rain--and, I believe, some hail--came down in a cascade that rivals anything you'll see on this side of Niagara.  

Some time during the wee hours of morning, the sky cleared--and the temperature climbed, it seeemed, even faster than the rain fell.  By mid-afternoon, the temperature reached 33C (92F) in Katonah.  I'd swallowed the contents of my water bottle and bought another in the town--and another in Morris Bronx, Bronx, even though I was less than 45 minutes' ride from home.  

Yesterday was just as hot, and the sun just as intense, as it had been on Saturday.  But I'd stayed close to bodies of water:  the East River, Jamaica Bay and the ocean.   Of course, plenty of other people, on foot or bikes or scooters, did the same.  While riding along the shore wasn't quite as sweaty as Saturday's ride, I still felt the effects of the heat and sun because, I realized, I hadn't acclimated to either.  

Not my leg, but close enough.

In a "normal" year, the temperature and sun's intensity increase gradually, so my body--especially my skin--has a chance to adjust.  But literally overnight, from Friday to Saturday, the season changed directly from early-spring to early-summer, or so it seemed.  The past weekend reminds me of rhe time, a few years ago, I "bonked" on routine ride: Cold gray air had turned incandescent within a day and burnished my flesh with the hue of a heritage tomato.

At least I didn't burn quite as badly this weekend: I remembered to use sunscreen.  Even so, I could feel the effect of the sun and heat:  I was tired, more tired than I would normally be after riding at this time of year.

But I probably took in as much Vitamin D durng my rides as I got from the cheese I ate afterward.  I enjoyed both.

21 May 2022

The Giro From Hell--In More Ways Than One

No-one was surprised when Ewan Caleb withdrew from the Giro d'Italia the other day.  This year's edition of the Giro was his fifth.  The Australian Lotto-Soudal rider has finished none of them, preferring to attempt wins or strong finishes in sprint stages--his specialty--before reaching the mountain stages.  Also, he and his team feel that this is a good strategy, as it gives him more time to recuperate before the Tour de France, which starts early in July.

But perhaps the strangest withdrawal from the Giro came the day before. Biniam Girmay made history when he emerged victorious in Stage 10, making him the first Black African to win a stage--or wear the overall race leader's jersey (the Giro's Maglia Rosa)--in one of the Grand Tours.  Folks like me had high hopes for him but a seemingly-unlikely mishap, wholly unrelated to riding, forced him out of the race.  

He was celebrating his win on the podium when he leaned over to pick up a bottle of prosecco from a magnum.  At that exact moment, the cork launched itself from the bottle, striking Girmay in his left eye, causing damage to its anterior chamber.  

Biniam Girmay

Given how often professional athletes celebrate major victories with the bubbly-fueled reveries, I am surprised (though relieved) that such incidents are not more common. Girmay was injured through no fault of his own, but I imagine many athletes who don't know how to properly open a bottle of sparking wine or who are intoxicated with the stuf (or simply euphoria), have just missed suffering an injury like Biniay's.

Race officials have announced that in upcoming celebrations, the bottles will be opened before the riders touch them.  I can only hope that Biniay's carrer and life aren't upended by his mishap.

Ewan Caleb, on the other hand, is looking ahead to the Tour de France. But he might not have been talking about his own woes when he referred to this year's Italian Grand Tour as "the Giro from Hell."

20 May 2022

A New Hazard In The COVID-19 Bike Boom

The good and bad news about the pandemic....

That does seem like an odd phrase, doesn't it?  Well, in the two years-plus since COVID-19 hijacked the world,  there was at least one positive development, at least related to cycling:  more of us are doing it.  I have at least a little bit of hope every time someone mounts a saddle and pedals.  I have a little more when someone rides again.  Of course, that has made bikes, parts and accessories difficult to find--and far more expensive than they were.  

The bad news?  More riders has meant more riders being injured and killed.  The pandemic has derailed "Vision Zero" initiatives here in New York and in other cities:  The goal of no more pedestrian and cyclist fatalities, toward which cities were trending, however slowly, seems even further out of reach than it was when those initiatives started.

Most of the attention has been on cyclists who were struck by motorists.  They, of course, accounted for the vast majority of casualties.  But an increasing number of us have fallen victim to an even-more disturbing trend.

Oscar Gaytan is one of them.  The award-winning nurse from the Duarte area of Los Angeles attended a Dodger game Monday night.  He was, apparently, riding to an LA Metro station Monday night when someone pulled him off his bike and pushed him to the ground. He was found early Tuesday morning, dead, from head injuries.

Police have declared they are conducting a homicide investigation and are seeking a man between 30 and 40 years old who fled on foot.  Duarte community members have organized a GoFundMe page to help his family pay for funeral services.

I have been hearing and reading about an increasing number of such incidents--or ones in which a cyclist is knocked down while riding.  The assaults are, of course, serious.  But, in addition to injuring riders, they also have the potential to put us in even greater danger, especially if we're attacked on a street or a streetside bike lane, from traffic.  I became all-too-aware of that danger a year and a half ago, when a driver flung her door into my side and sent me sprawling into the street, where another driver stopped inches from running over me.

So, while it's important to look at ways to eliminate fatal encounters between cyclists and motorists, it's also important to treat seemingly-random assaults as what they are.  It's hard not to think that Oscar Gaytan's death was a hate crime because of his ethnicity.  But I think that even if he were whiter than I am, he could've been the victim of another kind of hate: the kind some feel against us for taking "their" streets and parking spaces when bike lanes or built, or who simply for what they believe we, as cyclists, represent.  

19 May 2022

Parking Patrols In Philadelphia

 Yesterday fit almost anybody’s definition of a perfect Spring day: warm (but not too), sunny, with enough wind to toss the hair hanging below my helmet.  I decided to take a ride I hadn’t taken in a while:  across the George Washington Bridge and down the Palisades.

To get to the Bridge, I followed another route I hadn’t pedaled in a while:  up the Park Avenue bike lane that runs alongside the Metro North tracks in the Bronx.

At least, I tried to.  At 170th Street, construction work closed off the path for part of a block.  That meant veering into the single lane of traffic, which consisted mainly of delivery and car service vehicles, all driven by folks tense and angry.  

After that detour, the lane was clear for about half a block—until I encountered a few vehicles parked in the lane.  Another detour, about 50 meters of clear lane, more parked cars.  Rinse and repeat for a couple more blocks until East Tremont Avenue, where an ambulance and fire department truck screamed through the intersection.  Two of the drivers by whom I’d been zigging and zagging shot through just before the emergency vehicles. The ones who couldn’t make it through—who were beside and behind me—honked their horns and cursed in a couple of languages I understand, and a couple I don’t.

Finally, I gave up on that lane and turned left on Tremont, which took me to University Heights and the old aqueduct, commonly known as the “High Bridge” into Upper Manhattan, not far from the GWB.

I thought about writing to or calling the city Department of Transportation but realized that my email probably wouldn’t be opened, or my call answered, unless I sent photos—and I hadn’t taken any.  But, coincidentally, I came across this story from Philadelphia:  The city’s Parking Authority is adding bike patrols specifically to monitor drivers who park illegally in bike lanes.

“Just look around. Parked all the time, makes the bike lanes pretty useless,” said cyclist Nic Reynard.  He explained—as I saw on yesterday’s ride—that having to move out of a blocked lane can be even more dangerous than riding without a bike lane because “I don’t know what the car next to me is going to do.”

The new patrols, therefore, are just one step in making cities safer for cyclists—and pedestrians and drivers. Streets themselves need to be more amenable to everyone, and greater awareness of cyclists and cycling must be fostered in drivers. And law enforcement officials need to take incidents of motorists maiming or killing cyclists—which, with increasing frequency, are deliberate acts—seriously.

18 May 2022

Fixie-ing A Ron Kit

 Every once in a while, I'll see another cyclist astride a Mercian.  About as often, I'll encounter somoene riding a Bob Jackson, Ron Cooper, Hetchins or Holdsworth.  While a significant part of those builders' work made its way to the United States, the segment of the cycling world who rides any high-end bike is actually very small. And each of those builders probably made fewer frames in a year than Raleigh or other manufacturers produced in a day.

It never occured to me, however, that one less-known (among cycling enthusisasts, let alone the general public) marque would be even rarer, at least here in the US, simply because I hadn't seen it here--until yesterday.  And I encountered it in a way I hadn't expected--but, upon reflection, makes perfect sense.

For three decades, Ron Kitching's catalogue was a kind of Whole Earth Catalogue for British cyclists.  He was the chief UK importer of well-known manufacturers like Cinelli and Specialites TA, and he introduced English riders to Shimano and SunTour.  The latter reflected part of his philosophy of offering products that offered high quality and good value for the money.  That ethos was also reflected in parts and accessories he imported, mainly from France and Italy and rebranded as "Milremo." 

Unless you've spent time perusing his catalogues, you might not realize (or might have forgotten) that he also sold high quality frames under his own name. The best of them were constructed, like most high-end British frames of the time, of Reynolds 531 tubing  by builders such as Arthur Metcalf and Wes Mason.  In fact, for a time, frames were sold under the "MKM" marque, with the middle initial representing the "silent" partner of Kiching between those of the builders.

I've seen, probably, a couple of MKM frames, as at least one mail-order company (Bike Warehouse, which became Bike Nashbar, comes to mind) offered them. But until yesterday, I hadn't seen one with Ron Kitching's name on it.

Finding it at all was surprising enough. But to see it only a kilometer from my apartmet--on 41st Street in Astoria--was even less anticipated. 

Should I have been surprised that it's in its current state?

It looks like it was intended as a long-distance race or audax bike, given its geometry--a race bike in its time, but more like an all-arounder today--and the lack of rack or fender eyelets on the dropouts.  So it makes sense as a single-speed or fixed-gear bike for the city:  It's probably responsive and maneuvarable, given its geometry and Reynolds 531 double-butted tubing and forks.

Yes, it's made in England.

Given how rare Ron Kitching bikes are in the US, I surmise that someone brought it with them in a move from England.  I'm also guessing that whoever brought it here gave or sold it to whoever is riding it now--who may or may not have any idea of the history behind it.  

17 May 2022

Reuniting "Scumbag Currency" With Its Rightful Owners

It was once common knowledge among New York City cyclists that if their bikes were stolen, the first place to look--and their best chance of getting them back--was on St. Mark's Place.  At night, there was an open-air market of pilfered bicycles of just about every kind.

I don't know whether St. Mark's is still the Grand Bazaar of stolen bikes, but from what I'm hearing, the business of stolen bikes still operates in a remarkably covert fashion.  I'm guessing the folks who steal and the ones who sell--who are often, though not always, the same people--know that losing anything without a motor and fewer than four wheels isn't high on the list of law enforcement priorities, whether because police the police don't have the resources or just don't care.  Also, with Craigslist and other online sites, it's a lot easier to sell the fruits of one's illicit labor.  Worse yet, some newer sites, like OfferUp, seem all but tailor-made for criminals.

One would think that with the proliferation of surveillance cameras, would-be crooks would be more reluctant to practice their dark arts.  But, the electronic devices only seem to embolden some perps.  Do they think they're going to become YouTube stars or something?

It seems that the situation is not unique to my hometown.  What's changed, though, is that in Denver metro area and other places, victims or their allies are taking matters into their own hands.  As an example, in nearby Fort Collins, cycling activist Dan Porter (who runs the website Your Group Ride) has "repossessed" two stolen bikes--including an $8000 machine he found leaning against a camper.  He admits "it was a crazy thing to do" but getting the bike to its rightful owner was worth the effort and risk.

Her sentiments were echoed by a woman in the area who prefers anonymnity.  She sets up aliases so she can perform "stings" on would-be sellers of bikes she finds on OfferUp and Facebook Marketplace.   While some might question her and Porter's methods--especially their bypassing of the police, she offers this rationale:  "At least if someone has their property back, I feel half of justice has been served." 

She also has an explanation of one factor that fuels the illegal yet overt business:  "The nice high-end bikes have become the 'scumbag currency' of town."

16 May 2022

Cycling In The Mist

Was I in London?

Or San Francisco?

Actually, I rode along the south shore of Queens and Brooklyn yesterday.  From Rockaway Beach to Fort Tilden, the fog was so thick that in some places I could see only three or four bicycle lengths ahead of me.

Still, more people strolled, cycled and scootered (Is that a verb?) along the boardwalks than I'd expected.  It was Sunday, after all, and fairly warm, with a brisk breeze from the southeast.

Perhaps even hardened cycnics were taken by the hazy romantic atmosphere.  You could be alone and feel it.  The odd thing is that I felt as if the dreaminess was making me pedal faster.  Perhaps there was less resistance--to feelings internal as well as things external.  Of course, I had to make myself slow down in a few places.  Nothing like running someone down, or being run down, to ruin the mood, right?


The fog started to clear, at least on land, after I started pedaling from Breezy Point to the bridge to Brooklyn.  But it lingered in the horizon, out to sea, which made for some oddly serene light.

There are some folks who will do whatever they do, whatever the weather.  I rather admire them.

The day will be lost to the mists of time.  But not what I, or anyone else, felt or remember.


15 May 2022

All Dressed Up With Nowhere To Ride

Most schools and workplaces have dress codes.  So do some societies and countries.  Then there are the unwritten rules about what you should or shouldn't wear.  Bike clubs and sometimes even informal groups of riders have them.  Rarely, if ever, is someone barred from a ride that isn't a sanctioned race for not wearing the "proper" attire.  But sometimes the body language and facial expressions of other riders tell you all you need to know:


14 May 2022

In Any Language: Blame The Bike!

You're riding in a race or event, or with your club or a friend or two.  The hill climb feels more arduous than usual, the wind stiffer than what the weather forecasters promised or that straightaway longer than you remember from the last time you rode it.  You take a bite of your energy bar, gulp down some water (or Gatorade).  They don't help.  Nothing does.  You feel that instead of the scenery, the weather or anything else about the ride itself, everyone is noticing that you're struggling to keep up.

Someone asks, "Are you OK?"  Or maybe they don't have to ask.  Their gaze, their facial expression tells you they know.  Do you deny that anything is wrong?  Or do you say, "I didn't sleep last night," "I'm  not feeling quite right" or offer some other excuse that implies you're normally a stronger, faster rider than the one they're seeing.

Perhaps you blame the bike.

That's what Colombian Fernando Gaviria did after finishing second in a high-RPM sprint in the fifth stage of the Giro d'Italia.  

He bounced his front wheel as he crossed the finish line. Then he got off the bike and pounded the saddle with his fist. He unleashed an exclamation they probably didn't teach you in Italian 101:  "Che bici di merda!"  Translation:  What a shitty bike!

Gaviria and Arnaud Demare at the end of the sprint. (Image from Sprint Cycling Agency)

He couldn't get into specifics about the problem, he said, because he'd "get told off." But a video suggested a shifting problem:  As he spun his pedals faster and faster, his chain seemed stuck on the 14-tooth cog.  For a sprint finish, he would have wanted to change to a higher gear.

Perhaps his complaint is legitimate.  But I must admit that it would be funny to see an overweight chain-smoking desk jockey blame his $12,000 rig when he couldn't get up a bridge ramp without seeing stars. 


13 May 2022

I Hope 5 Hermanos Will Band Together And Recover

 Sometimes I and other longtime cyclists blame e-bikes, motorized bikes and scooters for "ruining" or "wrecking" cycling.  They have all but taken over some bike lanes in my city, New York, where some of those lanes are just barely wide enough to accomodate two cyclists approaching each other from opposite directions.  And the majority of those e-bikes and motorized bikes are ridden by delivery workers racing to meet ten- or fifteen-minute delivery windows guaranteed by restaurant delivery apps.

Now, an e-bike is to blame for destroying actual bicycles. Well, sort of.  On Monday afternoon, an employee at 5 Hermanos bike shop--less than a mile from my apartment--plugged an e-bike's lithium-ion battery for charging.  That employee and others, as shop owner Jorge Molina Carranza explained, understand how dangerous those batteries can be and therefore don't leave them to charge overnight.  

His and employees' precautions, however, weren't enough to prevent what happened next.  "It was very sudden, like firecrackers," Molina Carranza explained.  "When that battery exploded, all the other batteries started to explode as well."

The result was a two-alarm fireball that destroyed his and his employees' work.  All of the inventory--which included regular pedal bikes, mainly used, as well as parts and accessories (The shop seemed to make much, if not most, of its money from repairs.) burned.  "I lost everything," Molina Carranza said. 

5 Hermanos, after the fire.  Photo by Kerry Burke. (Somehow I didn't feel right about photographing it myelf. )

 Although it wasn't my regular shop, I would sometimes stop at 5 Hermanos for a tube, cable or some other small item, or simply to say, "Hola, como estas?"  The folks in the shop, including Jorge, were friendly and seemed not to mind my gringo accent.

Anyway, I hope he and his employees recover and prosper.  If they re-open the shop, I wonder how they'll deal with e-bikes.  Their mishap is not the first I've heard about batteries catching fire or exploding even as people take proper precautions while charging them.

12 May 2022

Sometimes It Takes A Ukrainian To Do What An American Won't

Not many people have to look for reasons to support Ukraine in their battle against Puto's, I mean Putin's, invasion.  Even so, I will offer one more.  

A Ukranian prosecutor has done something law enforcement officials and the justice system in the US rarely, if ever, do.  Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova has filed to indict someone for killing a cyclist.

Of course, the circumstances are a bit different from the all-too-typical DUI hit-and-run or the MAGAt in a pickup truck who plows into an organized bike ride. So far, the victim in this case has been identified only as a 62-year-old Ukranian civilian who was riding his bike home in the Sumy region of the country when Russian militants shot him in February, shortly after Putain's, I mean Putin's, invasion begin.

Veneditkova announced her action Wednesday on social media websites.  Her indictment of one of those soldiers--identified as Vadim Shishimarin--is the first of a soldier for killing a civilian during the conflict.  If convicted, he could face 10 to 15 years or life, depending on the charge. 

A cyclist in Debaltseve, Ukraine, 20 February 2015. Photo by Vadim Ghirda for AP.

It's terrible that someone riding his bike didn't make it home because soldiers shot him.  I feel bad for his loved ones, whoever they are.  But it's good to know that a prosecutor is actually trying to bring his killers to account--even if she's charging one of them for a war crime (at least, as I understand the definition of that term) rather than a crime against a cyclist.  

11 May 2022

A Spring Afternoon Reverie

Yesterday marked the last time until mid-August that the sun set before 20h ( 8pm).  Still, I had plenty of time to get in a Point Lookout ride--120 kilometers (75 miles):  I took a couple of detours in Long Beach and near Forest Park-- and get home before dark. even though I didn't start until about 14h (2 pm). During my last mile, along 31st Avenue in Astoria, I was literally pedaling into the sunset. Oh, an I had the wind at my back, as I did on my way back.  That, and the colorful sky, felt like a reward for pedaling into a brisk wind all the way out.  

In short, it was a perfect Spring afternoon ride.  Also, an interesting one, even though I've taken it many times before.  You see, when I started, hardly a cloud veiled the bright blue sky.  The temperature, around 20C (68F) seemed to be on the rise, though the wind, of course, made it feel cooler.  I rode through this seeming diorama of an idyllic spring afternoon until I crossed the Addobo Bridge from Howard Beach to Beach Channel.

Beach Channel, or BC, as its residents and fans like to call it, includes part of the Gateway National Recreation Area. It occupies an isthmus washed by Jamaica Bay.  And I mean washed--Superstorm Sandy really dumped its fury there.  Most of the damaged areas have been repaired or rebuilt, and the residential parts look something like a cross between Sea Bright, a Jersey shore locale where I did a lot of riding during my high school years, and a New England fishing village.  In other words, it's easy to forget you're still in New York City--and many residents rarely seem to, rarely, if ever, going to Manhattan or even Brooklyn or other parts of Queens. 

And the weather, along with that in the Rockaways, often differs dramatically from that on the other side of the Addobo Bridge.  At this time of year, you can feel the temperature drop a few degrees as you cross the bridge, and even further when you cross the Veterans' Memorial Bridge into the Rockaways.  Now, the water temperature is about 10C (50F) in both the bay and Atlantic Ocean.  The wind blowing off those bodies of water--which I rode into on my way out and blew me back home--can also change the skies:

As much as I love a sunny day, I also love the light that seemed to fill with the sea.  As thick as those clouds are, they posed absolutely no threat of rain.  If you've spent a lot of time in a coastal area, you've probably a similar veil of clouds rippling across the face of the sun and sky, especially early and in the middle of Spring.

All of it, while riding, opens my senses.  That alone makes such a ride a treat, almost a guilty pleasure!