31 July 2022

A Rock Ring? It Sounds Heavy!

As I've mentioned, I worked on and off in bike shops from the mid-1970s until the mid-1990s.  In one of those shops, I came across a bottom bracket lock ring  tool from Hozan.  Like other tools the Japanese company manufactured at the time, it looked sturdy and functional, if not as refined as its Campagnolo or even Park Tool counterparts.  

But it wasn't the finish or design that I remember.  Rather, it was the package.

It's easy to dismiss "Rock" as a simple typo.  But there are still Americans who mock the Japanese for their difficulty in pronouncing the "L" sound which, as I understand, doesn't exist in Japanese.  So I wondered whether the importer or whoever packaged the wrench was upset that some "Rittre Reague" kids from the Land of the Rising Son beat his son's baseball team in a tournament. 

30 July 2022

For Once, Don't Listen To The Talking Heads!

Six years ago, Paris drained its Canal Saint-Martin to clean it, as the city does every fifteen years or so. Although the canal now bisects fashionable streets with chic cafes and shops, it was once bisected a rather gritty working-class area.  But, perhaps to no-one's surprise, the most commonly-found objects found in every canal-draining were wine bottles.

And the second-most common?  Bicycles.  The only difference is that in the most recent cleaning, many of the bikes came from Velib, the City of Light's share program.

Bicycle uncovered during most recent draining of the Canal Saint-Martin.  Photo by Yoan Valat for EPA.

The company that ran Rome's bike-share program abruptly ended its contract because so many of the bikes ended up in the Tiber.  Not exactly what Remus and Romulus had in mind, is it?

Amsterdam has had to resort to "fietsen vissen"--bicycle fishing--because bikes were piled so high in the city's canals that they scraped the flat-bottomed boats.  At one time, freelance scavengers picked them up on poles and sold them for scrap.  In the 1960's, the city's water agency assumed responsibility for the "harvest."  Now a corps of municipal workers trawl for the submerged bikes on boats equipped with cranes attached to hydraulic claw grapples.  The bikes are hauled  to scrapyards for recycling where, according to urban legend, they become beer cans. (Think about that the next time you grab a Heineken or Amstel!)

The phenomenon of bikes "sleeping with the fishes" (I grew up in a Mafia neighborhood. Gotta problem widdat?)  isn't limited to European cities.  In Tokyo, officials decided to drain a large pond in the middle of Inokashira Park to rid it of a non-native species of fish that was causing environmental damage. Their work uncovered another species that wasn't native to the pond:  bicycles.  And, in February 2019, a Citibike appeared--covered with barnacles and blisters--appeared overnight in an Upper West Side docking station. A Hudson River conservancy group expert estimated that evidence--including "oysters on the handlebars" (Upper West Siders pay good money for such things!)--indicated that the machine met its fate in the Hudson the pervious August, or possibly June.

Jody Rosen has just written an article on this phenomenon for the Guardian. It speculates on some of the reasons why so many bikes end up in waterways.  Some are dumped when by fleeing criminals--who are as likely as not to have stolen the bike they're drowning.  Others are tossed or accidentally ridden into the water by drunken revelers.  (Could recycling be contributing, if unintentionally, to bikes ending up in Amsterdam's canals?)  And there are a few instances of folks who "ended it all" by riding into murky waters, as one woman did after handcuffing herself to her machine.

But, as Rosen points out, a bicycle--especially one whose owner is unknown or a corporate entity--is an easy target for people taking out their frustrations.  I suspect that at least a few share bikes were tossed into canals, rivers, lakes and other bodies of water by folks--more than likely, young--who feel lost, alienated, abandoned or simply ignored by their societies, cultures or institutions that control their lives, and over which they feel they have no control.

As a lifelong cyclist, I cannot imagine myself tossing a bike that did nothing wrong to me into the water.  And, as an environmentally-conscious person, I cannot condone throwing anything into a body of water that its native species can't eat.  But, as we've seen, these days, where there are bikes, there are e-bikes.  That, unfortunately, includes waterways, where e-bikes and mopeds are even more of a hazard because of the rare metals and chemicals used in batteries and other components.  

So, if you have a bike, e-bike, moped or scooter you want to get rid of, sell it or donate it. But please don't follow the advice of a Talking Heads song!

29 July 2022

A "Karen" Or Just A Jersey City Politican?

Over the years, I have cycled through Jersey City many times. On other occasions, I've also ridden there for some purpose, like work or a show, concert or other event.

But I've never ridden to Jersey City "just because."  I have long felt that it is one of the most bike-unfriendly places in the New York Metropolitan Area.  For one thing, the few bike lanes are even less practical and safe than even the worst ones I've seen in New York City.  One begins near Journal Square and winds up Bergen Avenue, one of the city's major north-south thoroughfares, before ending abruptly.  Along the way, it goes from being a two-way to a one-way lane.  

In most of New York City, if the bike lane is as useless or impractical as the one I've described, I'll just take regular streets. As I've ridden them for decades, I am familiar with traffic patterns and drivers' habits.  Plus, even in the oldest and most remote sections of the city, the streets are usually wide enough to give me at least some room to maneuver through traffic or parked cars.

The option I've described is less available in Jersey City.  The streets are narrower and, I believe, even more congested, as people depend more on motor vehicles, than in my hometown.  

While I don't think the drivers are necessarily more hostile toward cyclists than they are anyplace else.  Rather, I suspect that they are less bike-conscious as, for one thing, there are fewer cyclists and less of a bike culture than there is in some New York City neighborhoods or other locales in the Tri-State Area. Also, being a place where people drive more than they do in the Big Apple, drivers are still imbued with the old attitude that drivers have the primary right to the road: Pedestrians and cyclists are supposed to defer to them. If someone struck by a driver while walking or pedaling, someone is likely to ask what that cyclist or pedestrian was doing on that street.

But not even the least bike-conscious or bike-friendly person is ready to excuse what Amy De Gise did last Tuesday.  Around 8 am, she was driving through an intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard--at first glance, over the speed limit--when she struck cyclist Andrew Black with her Nissan Rouge.

She had the green light.  Black said he thought he had it. Whether he inadvertently or deliberately rode against the light, just about everyone agrees that what she did--or, more precisely, didn't do--next was inexcusable.

Nearly two years ago, a driver "doored" me near the Belmont race track.  To her credit, the driver stayed with me as a passerby--an African American man who was probably around my age--ran to the nearby drugstore, picked up bandages and disinfectants--and treated me until the ambulance arrived.  (I wish I could find out who that man was: I definitely owe him!)  And she cooperated with law enforcement, which made it easy for me to deal with her insurer  (Geico) in paying for the resulting costs. 

Ms. De Gise did not extend similar courtesies to Mr. Black.  She didn't slow down, let alone stop, to check up on him.   Fortunately, he wasn't seriously injured:  He got up and continued riding.  Still, everyone who's commented on the situation agrees that even if he rode through a red light, there was no excuse for what Ms. De Gise what any interpretation of the law would describe as "leaving the scene of an accident."

Amy De Gise strikes Andrew Black at 1:01 of this video.

The cynic in me has two views of her.  One is that she is a common-variety "Karen."  The other, though, is that she was acting out of another kind of entitlement:  She is a council member in a city and state long known for political corruption.  Moreover, she is the daughter of a powerful local politician:  longtime Hudson County Executive Tom De Gise.

Contrast her response to the situation to that of passerby.  According to the Jersey Journal, after his shoes were knocked off his feet and his mangled bicycle skidded to the curb, he gathered himself enough to stand, put on one shoe and hobble to the sidewalk where, 

One woman brought him his other shoe.  People from a corner preschool set down a cooler so he could sit.  Cellphones were whipped out and a small group of people gathered around him to see how he was.  Several vehicles stopped, at least momentarily, and bystanders peered up the block to see what the SUV was doing.

Those folks should be, at the very least, commended.  I am sure everyone agrees with that.  I know that everyone, from public officials to everyday citizens, who have commented on the situation also agree with this:  Amy De Gise must resign.  Until she does, the driver who doored me will have taken more responsibility for what she did than Ms. De Gise has for her action and inaction.

28 July 2022

A Chain Of Neglect

Police barricade tapes are bright yellow.  Construction-site cones are orange.  The bollards used to separate bike lanes from the street are finished in similar hues, or white.

Those color choices are not just fashion statements:  They are made for visibility.  It's pretty difficult for most people to claim they didn't see those tapes, cones or bollards.  

On the other hand, you don't have to be color-blind to miss chains--which are almost always dull gray-- drawn across roadways or bike lanes.  This is especially true in low-light conditions, such as night, the beginning or end of day, inclement weather, and under aqueducts, railroad trestles and highway overpasses. 

Such  chains are used to temporarily block off streets or paths for events like street fairs or for construction.  Unfortunately, cities and other jurisdictions that place them often forget to remove them when the event is done or construction work is finished.  Worse, an unsuspecting cyclist or scooter-rider who is paying attention to other road hazards can easily miss them.

The chain that entangled a cyclist--and his bike after the crash. Photo sent by reader of Bike Portland. 

That is what happened to one unfortunate cyclist in Portland, Oregon.  He was riding along North Holladay Street when he passed under the Interstate-5 overpass when he was suddenly entangled in a chain and thrown over his handlebars. He suffered significant injuries to his arm and both wrists.  He also incurred a minor impact to his head that, probably, could have been worse had he not been wearing his helmet.  

The street where he had his mishap, while not as popular for cycling as another nearby street, is nonetheless part of a designated bicycle route. The intersection is adjacent to the Oregon Convention Center. So, according to Bike Portland editor Jonathan Maus, the chain may have been installed to cordon off the street for an event. But, as he points out, that event was long over by the time the unlucky cyclist crashed.

I think that the neglect that led to the cyclist's injuries may have been a result of the auto-centric mentality of city planners.  A chain, debris or some other obstruction--like a sewer grate with wide slats that parallel the curb or divider-- might be mere inconveniences to cars, trucks or buses, but can snag bike tires--or cyclists themselves

I hope that cyclist has a swift and thorough recovery--and, as Maus recommends, city or other government agencies in charge of roadways, bike lanes and other infrastructure pay more attention to seemingly-small details--and basic maintenance.

27 July 2022


Yesterday and the day before, I continued my recent pattern of riding early to beat the heat.  There wasn't quite as much heat yesterday, though, so I rode a bit longer than I'd been riding during the past week.

Once again, I zigged and zagged through Queens and Brooklyn, albeit through different neighborhoods, along different streets.  If you grew up in the same Brooklyn neighborhoods where I spent my childhood, you think of the borough as a working-class enclave full of brick rowhouses and tenements inhabited by families of your ethnic group.  If you lived in some of the neighborhoods in which I rode yesterday, it was a much tougher place.  But if your acquaintance with the "Borough of Churches" or "Borough of Homes" is more recent--or if you are simply younger, whiter or more affluent--your image of Brooklyn could include brownstones or self-consciously trendy cafes where the tatooed, the bearded, the pink-haired and the Doc Maartens-wearing spend $40 to wash down a slice of advocado toast with a craft cocktail.

But another, older Brooklyn sometimes makes a surprise appearance. I hadn't ridden or walked by the intersection of Bushwick Avenue and Kossuth Place in a while and I'd all but forgotten about the church that graces it:

In a borough of brick and brownstone--and, increasingly, glass and steel-- only a few wooden buildings of any kind remain.  They were more common before Brooklyn became part of New York City and much of the borough beyond the waterfront was still rural.  At that time, the Dutch influence was still strong--hence the Reformed church.

It will be interesting to see what the building looks like when it's restored.  I love "survivor" buildings:  the ones that remain after everything else around it has been destroyed and replaced.  They look different, but not out-of-place because survivors are never out of place. At least that's what I tell myself:  I might be slower than I was, but I am still cycling and have no plans to stop.

26 July 2022

The Tour de France Femmes

The Tour de France Femmes started the other day. Some news reports claimed the race was the first of its kind.  Others said the "only" previous women's Tour de France was the one held from 1984 through 1989.  While it is the best-known version of the women's tour, it's hardly the only one:  In 1955, French journalist and race director staged the original Tour de France Feminin.  In spite of his efforts, the five-day race, which 41 female cyclists finished, would be a one-off event:  Other members of the press treated it as a joke and some photographers stalked the women to their dormitories.  And, in spite of the fact that the race was organized and staged by a journalist, there was little press coverage and, thus, financial support. 

For a time, it seemed that the 1980s event--and the excitement surrounding the 1984 and 1988 Olympic races--would show that women's cycling had become a sport with its own identity and audience, somewhat like women's tennis.  During that time, however, men's cycling, like other sports, shifted from local network coverage sponsored by mom-and-pop businesses to the more lucrative cable and satellite networks with corporate mega-sponsors like Nike and Coca-Cola.  Decision-makers at those companies and networks--and Tour organizers--seemed to think that women's racing wasn't worth those resources.  

After the Tour severed its connection to the Tour Feminin, the latter continued, under different names, into the 1990s.  But without that Tour imprimatur, the media and corporate sponsors hardly noticed it at all. Thus, coverage was practically non-existent and almost no one who wasn't a dedicated fan knew that the races were running.

But all of those versions of the Tour Feminin had yet another fatal flaw:  They were "curtain-raisers" (or, as some would say, "appetizers") for the men's ride.  During the 1980s editions, the women rode the same routes, mostly, as the men, but finished before the men started.  So, while the women's race originally benefited from its Tour association, it didn't develop its own identity as, say, the Women's football World Cup or women's tennis has.  

This year's Tour Feminin began after the men's race ended.  Could it be the arrangement that allows the women's race to, not only survive, but to become a major sporting event in its own right?

25 July 2022

A Ride In The Basin

Yesterday, as predicted, was the hottest day of the year--so far.  Therefore, as I've been doing, I took a morning ride fueled by coffee and a bagel with a piece of Saint Nectaire cheese.

My ride skirted the waterfront, from my neighborhood down to Erie Basin, the old cluster of ship docks in Red Hook that's now a park.  

I still can't get over an irony I've pointed out in other posts:  People, including relatives of mine, did hard physical work on this waterfront where I ride for fun and fitness.  Such laborers rarely, if ever, did anything that involves physical exertion during their off-hours:  They were too tired for such things.

 What would they make of my pedaling my fixed-gear bike up and down the docks--or that there are now cycling and pedestrian paths along the waterfront?

To them, wheels were for hoisting and moving objects larger than themselves--or for transporting themselves to and from places where they used those wheels, and other tools.  Those wheels were not attached to vehicles propelled by people in late middle age who were on the waterfront for exercise and the views.

The views?  I suppose that some of those workers--including one of my uncles--had some sort of artistic talent and inclination.  Still, I doubt that he, or they, were looking at the docks, boats, machinery and water for their lines and colors.

I am certainly not rich. And I have experienced bigotry.  But I am privileged--to ride where people once worked very hard, or anyplace.

24 July 2022

I'll Be Back, Really!

It's a human thing. You'll never understand.

Marlee may not know that today's weather is predicted to be even hotter than the past five, with a high temperature around 38C (100F). But, surely, she doesn't understand why I would go out--for a ride, or any other reason--when she cuddles up and falls asleep on me.  She knows that I'll be gone--for how long, she may not know.  I promised her that today's ride, like those I've taken on each of the past few days, won't be more than a couple of hours.  Still, she's doing everything she can to keep me from going.

I think that, deep down, she knows that her efforts might delay me for a few moments but won't stop me.  I belive that she also knows I'll be back.  Still, she insists on using her superpowers--her cuddliness and that she's ridiculously cute--to persuade me.

Cats may not have a sense of guilt. But I think they know that humans have it--especially if we come from certain religious or ethnic traditions, including the ones in which I was raised.

Don't go!

I'll be back! (No, I didn't say it in my Arnold Schwarznegger* accent!) 

*--Just as there isn't one "French" or "Italian" accent, there isn't just one "German" inflection on English.  The Governator, however, has an accent all his own!

23 July 2022

Fate And Mirth In The Morning

Yesterday:  Another early-morning ride.  Today:  Yet another, after I publish this post!

About yesterday's ride:  It turned into a pleasant ramble between Queens and Brooklyn, including a couple of what I've come to think of as New York Unicorns:  working-class neighborhoods where people live in houses, some of which were passed on through a couple of generations--or that still have those generations living in them.

I am talking about the corners of Ridgewood, Queens and the parts of Greenpoint near the Kosciuszko Bridge that haven't been colonized by hipsters and trust-fund kids.  One nice thing about them is that you don't encounter a lot of traffic on the streets.  In fact, I saw fewer motor vehicles throughout my ride than I'd anticipated.  There were a few spots where I had to navigate around traffic bottlenecks.  In all of them, crews of workers from the city's Department of Transportation or Con Ed were tearing off layers of pavement and excavating the layers of rock that underlie them.  I said "hi" to someone who appeared to be the foreman of one of those crews.

"Hot day for a bike ride?"

"Hot day for the work you guys do."

He demurred, "We're used to it.  I tell the guys to drink lots of water and Gatorade."

For a moment, I wondered where they went when they had to pee. Then I realized that on a day like yesterday, they probably didn't have to go, just as I haven't had to take "potty stops" during my recent rides: Whatever I've drunk, whether on my longer rides or short morning jaunts, was sucked up by the sun and wind against my skin.

'Take care,' the foreman advised.

'Tell your guys to be careful."  I pointed to the pit they were digging.  "My exes are down there!"

He guffawed. "Have a great day."  

"You too!"

Perhaps that somewhat-morbid joke was inspired by what I saw as I crossed the Kosciuszko Bridge.  (I probably won't ever learn to speak Polish, but I can write that name without using spell-check!):

From morbid joke to morbid thought:  The fate of all of us is, of course, can be seen in the foreground of that image.  The journey, for some, includes what's in the background.

OK, now that I've given you my deeeep thought for today (to the extent that I'm capable of such a thing), it's time for me to ride.   I want to get home before the temperature gets anywhere near the forecast high  of 36C (96F).

22 July 2022

Taste In Destinations

Yesterday morning I kept with my riding plan for this heat wave, which is expected to continue at least until Sunday.  Once again, I set out after quick breakfast--coffee and two English muffins pan-toasted with olive oil, fresh-ground black pepper and rosemary--early.  

(I like butter as much as anyone does.  But I feel that olive oil is more elegant.  Maybe it has to do with my Italian heritage.)

My trip took me to Fort Totten and back, via the Malcolm X Promenade and some zigging and zagging through northeastern Queens residential streets.  All told, I did about 40 km (25 miles) round-trip before 10 am.  And, yes, I did get my fresh Greek yogurt from Kesso's:  Their hours coincided with mine.

At Fort Totten, I could see how hot an humid the day would be--and, in spite of the clear skies at that moment, I could tell, from the haze on Long Island Sound,  that the storm forecast for the afternoon would indeed drop lots of water very quickly and hard:  the thunder almost seemed to be an echo of the rain pounding against the sidewalks.

I felt confident, though, that I would get to my place before the storm.  Maybe it had something to do with riding Tosca, my Mercian fixed gear: I couldn't coast; I had no choice but to pedal.  It felt really good.


Somehow I think she knew that house was officer's quarters when Fort Totten was still an active military base. (A small section, fenced off, is still used for Army Reserve exercises, and the Fire Department trains in another part.)  My bikes have such good taste in their destinations!

21 July 2022

A New-School Beat On An Old Ride

 You might be reading this post a bit earlier than you normally see my posts.  I'm headed out for an early ride.  I set out early yesterday, but today I wanted to get out even earlier.  

While our heat wave isn't quite as severe (yet!:  It just started) as the ones in Europe or the Western US, the weather is definitely hot.  The good news, for us, is that we are better prepared than the Europeans simply because, during most summers, we experience at least one multiday stretch of high temperatures around 33-37C (91-98.6F).  And we haven't been afflicted with the droughts that have parched the western regions.

So, yesterday I decided that as long as we're scorched, I will get out as soon as possible after waking up (which means:  after a cup of coffee and a "light bite") and get back by about 11 am.

Yesterday morning's ride was pretty random, except for one thing:  After zigging and zagging through various Queens neighborhoods, the Flushing Meadow-Corona Park paths and the Malcolm X Promenade (a.k.a. World's Fair Marina), I made my way to Kesso's to get enough of one of my favorite foods--the Greek yogurt they make on site--to take me through the next few days.

Alas, the man in charge wasn't in.  Sometimes I think he's one of those people for whom owning a business really means setting his own hours.  But, to be fair, I know he sells his yogurt and tzatziki to stores and restaurant and, since Gus retired, I think Spyros has become a one-man operation. 

Anyway, that was the only disappointment.  My ride, however, revealed a pleasant surprise.  I have pedaled around Flushing Meadow-Corona Park many times, but had never before seen this:

Turns out, the sculpture of LL Cool J has been there since January and will remain until November.  

I like the way his face is depicted. And, as one of the founders of "new school" hip-hop, it makes sense that his visage is perched on top of a  replica of a "boom box."  But that old-school (at least to us, in 2022) way of playing recorded music is not there merely as a token to represent his status as one of the genre's--and a generation's--definitive artists.  It actually works--by solar power.  It's programmed only to run from noon until 5 pm, however, and because of the heat, I hadn't planned to stay that long.  But I plan to return one day after the heat breaks, just so I can hear some of his work in a way I've never heard it before.

Maybe I'll discover something else new on another familiar ride. Whatever it is, I doubt it will have a beat like the ones LL Cool J--who grew up in Queens--makes! 

20 July 2022

A Message From Exotic Poetry

Maybe it has to do with the Supreme Court being up to no good.  Lately, it seems, I am seeing political and social messages everywhere.

I've passed this place many times.  It's just off Woodhaven Boulevard:  Cyndi Lauper's old stomping grounds.  The neighborhood has long been mainly blue-collar.  Some relatives of mine lived in and around it, among other Italian-Americans and children and grandchildren of Irish and German immigrants.  Some of those families remain, but many Indian, Pakistani and Central Americans have moved into the neighborhood--as well as some young LGBTQ people, no doubt because it's still relatively affordable.

Knowing all of that, I didn't think "ROE" meant the place serves caviar. Even if it does, I don't think I'd order it.  When I do stop there--which I intend to do on some near-future ride--I'll probably order something like the chicken, rice and beans dish listed on their blackboard.  Or perhaps I'll just have something to drink.

I can't believe I've passed that place so many times, usually on rides to the Rockaways and Point Lookout, where I rode yesterday.  Usually, it's closed when I ride by:  I suspect that it doesn't open until suppertime, or close to it.  Perhaps I'll catch it on my way back, or take a different ride that takes me in that direction.

After all, how can I resist a place called "Exotic Poetry?" Maybe I'll read some of my stuff, or attempt to launch a stand-up career.  (You think a transgender cyclist in, ahem, late middle age can't make people laugh--without even trying?)  One thing, I promise, though:  I won't do karaoke, even if it includes the letters "R," "O" and "E!"

19 July 2022

Is Fuji Going Bananas?

 When I first became a dedicated cyclist—when bands like Led Zeppelin ruled the airwaves—Fuji bicycles were garnering praise in the cycling world and even among people who still thought of Schwinn as “the Cadillac of bicycles.” (Yes, I knew people who used that phrase.)  Fuji bikes didn’t have a lot of bells and whistles, but they were very well thought-out -finished.  They offered a balanced ride and their SunTour derailleurs shifted better than any others available at the time.

(Oh, and I always loved that green finish offered on the S10-S!)

For about a quarter-century, Fuji kept its reputation for sensible, highly rideable bikes with impeccable quality control.  But, in the mid-to-late ‘90’s, they s lost their way.  They seemed to make half-hearted attempts to keep up with other trends in the industry and didn’t keep up with another:  They were one of the last Japanese companies to move their manufacturing to Taiwan.  While that seemed to be a good thing at first—most people, myself included, saw Japanese products as superior—it meant that their lower-end bikes were considerably more expensive than others. When Fuji finally made its move to Taiwan, it didn’t have the relationships with that country’s manufacturers that other companies enjoyed.  Thus, both quality and availability suffered for nearly a decade.  Both recovered about 15 years ago, and Fuji regained its old reputation for bikes that were, if not groundbreaking, then at least well-made and sensible and offered a pleasing ride.

About the latter:  I have to wonder whether Fuji is giving up on that with one of its latest Eurobike exhibit.  In recent years, the Jari model became more or less what a 1970s S10-S would be if it were a 2020s gravel bike:  sensible and well-put together for a pleasing ride. But it also features something that, to my knowledge, no other bike maker has thought of:

I guess there are riders who wish they could reach into their frame’s top tube and pull out a Power Bar.

I wonder whether anybody will try to carry granola or GORP in it.  Or a banana.

18 July 2022

The Glass Ceiling

 The other day, French President Emanuel Macron talked about something that happened in a velodrome.  The thing is, that velodrome hasn't stood in about 60 years, and the event wasn't a bike race.


Six-day race at the Velodrome d;Hiver,  Photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson

Eighty years earlier--on 16 and 17 July 1942--French police rounded up thousands of Parisian Jews (at that time, Paris was said to have the fourth-largest Jewish community in the world) in "Veldeev"--slang for le Velodrome d'hiver.  


The track racing venue, which also hosted other sporting events, was so named because it was covered with a glass ceiling, which allowed races and other events to be held during the winter (hiver) and made the velodrome the first with that capability.  That glass ceiling (as a feminist, those words trouble me, even when they aren't a metaphor!) was painted dark blue to make it less visible to bomber navigators.  

"The glass ceiling" has become a metaphor for the ways in which women are not allowed to reach their potential in various professions and careers.  For Parisian Jews, however, it became a literal trap:  It kept the heat of one of Paris' hottest summers in a space where there wasn't enough room for them to lie down, let alone move around.  Not surprisingly, many suffered from heat exhaustion and other illnesses; it is not known how many perished there.  What is known is that 13,152--some really more dead than alive---were herded into buses that took them to the trains that delivered them to death camps, mainly Auschwitz.  Only 400 captives survived.

I first learned of "Veldeev," like so much else, by accident:  I heard someone mention it during my first European bike tour.  I went in search of it only to find out that such a search was like a quest to see the prison that stood on la Place de la Bastille.  

After the war, the Velodrome's was used less. Its condition deteriorated to the point that when the last six-day race was held there, in November 1958, the glass ceiling leaked and electrical cables hung from loops. (Jacques Anquetil, the first five-time winner of the Tour de France, participated in that race along with other top riders of that time.)  Those conditions may have contributed to a fire that destroyed part of the building, which led to it being razed the following year.

Although there is a plaque commemorating the Velodrome and "Rafle"(roundup), few people seem to remember much, if anything, about them.  The few who still can recall that terrible time were very young when they were detained--or witnessed the arrest of their friends and neighbors.  One of them is Jeannine Bouhana (nee Sebanne), who received letters from her friend, Rachel Polakiewicz. How those letters reached Mademoiselle Sebanne is not exactly known:  Anyone's best guess is that Rachel tossed those letters out the Velodrome and someone picked them up.

Hearing Jeannine talk about that time, and reading Rachel's letters, it's hard not to be struck by a couple of terrible ironies.  One is, of course, that in a velodrome--a place where motion is celebrated,--people were confined.  Another, related, is that in a place where athletes made or heightened their reputations, thousands of everyday people, in essence, had their lives taken away from them. Finally,  events the "Vel" hosted its  most celebrated events during the winter, while its most infamous episode unfolded during a heat wave.

Motion and confinement, celebration and defamation, life and death:  all of them, under a glass ceiling.


17 July 2022

Like A Champion

 (Snark alert)

Why is road bike racing not more popular?

I don't blame Lance Armstrong being stripped of his titles or the sport's other doping scandals. I blame Miguel Indurain.

As much as I respect him as a cyclist, he had to be one of the least charismatic athletic champions of my lifetime.  When he won a stage or a race, it was just another good day at the office, and he went home to rest up--so he could win again.  He didn't celebrate, boast or even "talk up" his achievements.  In other words, he was the antithesis of, say, Muhammad Ali or Reggie Jackson or Brandi Chastain.

When he was on the podium, Miguel Indurain--who turned 58 yesterday-- should have been more like this guy:

16 July 2022

If You Live In Chicago And Need A Bike...

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that I like to give "shout-outs" to individuals and organizations who provide bikes, helmets and related items to people in need.

Now a city--Chicago--is undertaking such an initiative.

A new program called Bike Chicago will distribute 500 new bikes and provide "maintainece and safety equipment" this summer.  The program, under the auspices of the Chicago Department of Transportation, plans to provide 5000 bicycles, along with maintainence and safety equipment, by 2026.

The program is part of Mayor Lori Lightfoot's "Chicago Recovery Program" which aims "to increase affordable and climate-friendly mobility options."  In a statement, Mayor Lightfoot said, "Every resident of our city deserves equitable access to safe, reliable and affordable clean transportation options."

To apply for a bicycle and related accessories and service, a peron must:
  • be a Chicago resident and at least 14 years old
  • have a household income 100% or less of the Median Area Income for Chicago (e.g., $104,000 for a family of four)
  • not already own a bicycle, and
  • live in an area that faces high mobility hardship.
Those under 18 must have a parent or guardian present when picking up a bike and equipment.

15 July 2022

My Tour Continues

 Yesterday I wrote about the penultimate multiday tour I've taken.  It was the ride that, more than any other, changed my life. 

Near the end of that tour, I climbed le Col du Galibier (a couple of days after pedaling up l'Alpe d'Huez) and descended into the valley, where I checked into a small hotel in St. Jean de Maurienne.  The town is next to the Italian border and, though you may not have heard of it, you surely have seen the thing for which the town is best known:  Opinel knives.  (Yes, they are still made there and in nearby Chambery, a small city that just oozes with Savoyard charm.) After checking into the hotel, I walked into the town square in search of something to eat.  That is when I saw a woman, who was not distinctive in any way, crossing a street.  She was probably on her way home from work.  For whatever reasons, I saw in the way she occupied space and time, the way I was meant to live. 

After writing the post, I couldn't stop thinking about that day, and more to the point, what has changed since then, for me and the world.

For one thing, when I returned, my then-partner surprised me by meeting me at JFK Airport.  As tears trickled down my cheeks, she embraced me.  I held her--actually, I held on:  To this day, I see that hug as the single most desperate act of my life.  I knew that my life would not continue, at least not for very long, as it had.

Even if I hadn't seen that woman in St. Jean de Maurienne, I would have, eventually, undergone the process of affirming my gender identity.  But, I believe, some things--including the September 11 attacks a few weeks later--accelerated the timeline.  I was home that but my partner was in her office near Rockefeller Center.  Subway and bus service was suspended, so she and thousands of other people had to leave Manhattan on foot.  I met her on the Brooklyn side of the Manhattan Bridge.  All I could think about was how easily she--and any one of the people crossing that bridge--and I--could have been incinerated or crushed in those towers.

Undergoing my affirmation process, which began, gradually, with visits to counselors and therapists a few months later, changed my cycling.  Aging would have done it, but taking hormones probably sped up the process.  I still like to ride aggressively and show off, sometimes, but I now realize that I now ride more for my mental health than to show off any kind of physical prowess.

Oh, and I no longer have the bike or clothes I rode during my 2001 tour.  The Voodoo Wazoo, built for cyclocross, was actually a good bike for the ride I took.  But eventually I found myself wanting to change everything in my life, and I sold it--ironically, to pay the air fare for my next trip to France.  And those clothes--do they scream '' 90s mountain biker," or what?  I was indeed still doing some offroad riding, and still owned a proper mountain bike (a Bontrager Race Lite with Rock Shox Judy forks) but I eventually sold that bike and stuck mainly to road riding because I was starting to notice that I didn't heal as quickly from wounds and injuries as I did when I was younger and--OK, this will show how much gender stereotypes still shaped my thinking--I felt that I could be more dignified, ladylike if you will, on a road or city bike.

Now, I don't expect to return to mountain biking because, really, I prefer to stick to a couple of kind of riding.  Also, mountain bikes seem to "age" more quickly than other kinds of bikes. On the other hand, I can ride one of my Mercians just as easily today as I did (or could have, in the case of my newer ones) five or ten years ago, and barring crashes or inability on my part, I should be able to ride them--while replacing only the parts that normally wear out, like chains and tires-- for years to come.

In other words, I expect my tour to continue--precisely because it changed the day I rode up the Col du Galibier. 

14 July 2022

L'Alpe, Le Col—And A Secret

Today is Bastille Day.

So, why have I posted a photo of a tide rolling in?

No, I am not making a hackneyed metaphor for the mobs that stormed the prison that became a symbol of monarchial tyranny and class stratification.  Nor am I making an equally tired cliche about the cycles of history.

I took that photo on Bastille Day, almost.  Actually, it's from a couple of days after, just ahead of a Tour de France stage--in the French Alps.

That scene is of something to which I've alluded in other posts.  I took the photo as I pedaled above clouds. To this day, I can't say whether I felt more elation over rising above the clouds or reaching the top of the mountain, which I did a bit later.

Now I am going to reveal one of my dim, dark secrets:

Yes, that's what I looked like on 17 July 2001, a bit more than a year before I started my gender affirmation process. (I am squinting because, at high altitudes, the sun is more intense.) Not only was my world different; so was the world.  For one thing, I asked some random stranger to take that photo:  In the days before i-phones, it was more difficult to take "selfies" without special equipment.  Also, 2001 was the last year of the franc and lira:  On my next trip to France, three years later,  I'd be paying in euros.  And less than two months after I rode to the top of l'Alpe d'Huez, ahead of the Tour peloton, the terrible events of 11 September would change so much else.

A couple of days after that climb, I would ascend to another iconic Tour climb:  the col du Galibier.  I described that climb, and how it--or, more precisely, descending from it and crossing the valley--led me to, among other things, becoming the midlife cyclist who authors this blog. (See this and this.)

So, on this Bastille Day--as the Tour de France climbs and descends through its second day in the Alps--I am writing in part to celebrate the country which I feel almost as much kinship as my own and ascending some of its most difficult climbs.  But I now realize that I am paying homage to the person--known as Nicholas, Nick or Nicky-- who brought me to the part of the journey I've recounted in this blog.  I hope I am honoring him in the way he deserves.

Oh, and today is the anniversary of the day I gave up his name and assumed mine, two years after I ascended those mountains.  I remember feeling, on that day--Bastille Day--that I felt more free, that I had climbed another mountain.

Whether they finish first, last or somewhere in between, the riders in today's Tour stage will always have that.  Just ask Phillipa York, nee Robert Millar.

Note:  I apologize for the poor quality of the images.  I'm still learning how to use my iPhone to take pictures of old pictures!