31 August 2022

Clothes Make The…

I know…You’re looking at this because you like her bike and her, um, attire.

And that’s the reason why I posted it.  Really!

Carbo Loading As I Never Imagined

 I know that supermarket offerings are becoming more eclectic, even exotic.  But, during a stop on my ride home from work, I never expected to see anything like this:

Persian French baguettes?  I’ve never been to Tehran, but I imagine there are French bakeries there, making their own versions of baguettes, croissants, palmier and such.

It’s always great to have choices when carb-loading, whether in Qom or Queens.

She's Recovering, And I'm Glad

One way I know an artist is really good is that I look at, listen to or read their work even if it's in a genre I don't particularly like.  One example is Hank Williams.  I don't categorically dislike country music, but I can't say I'm a fan of it generally.  I do, however, own CDs of Hank's work because he had an expressive voice and did work that, to me, is clearly art.

Musically, I would also put Amy Grant in the same category.  I'm definitely not a fan of Christian rock, but I appreciate her skill as a songwriter and singer.  

That is not the only reason, though, that I am happy that she has, seemingly, recovered so quickly and well from her recent bike crash--and is scaling back her touring and recording schedule.  As someone who has had two crashes (in half a century of dedicated cycling) that landed me in emergency rooms--both within four months, two years ago--I wish anyone who's been sideswiped, doored or otherwise swept into a crash or other mishap that resulted in injury.

I know that some Christians will say she's "gone secular" and that others categorically reject anything with a message of religion, or even belief.  I do, however, appreciate her skills as a songwriter and vocalist.  

As a cyclist, though, I am glad she is doing well--and hope that her accident doesn't deter her from getting back on her bike.


30 August 2022

As A Cyclist, He Likes It. As A Driver, Not So Much.

An article about a bike lane in Reno, Nevada invoked, however briefly, a suprisingly-rarely heard perspective.

As if I weren't enough of a minority (ya know, being transgender and all), I am in an even smaller community, at least here in the US:  a cyclist who doesn't drive.

There are a fair number of us here in New York City--at least in neighborhoods like mine, which are in or close to the central districts of Manhattan and the Queens and Brooklyn waterfronts.  I suspect that there are more than a few of us in other relatively compact cities like Boston and Philadelphia and cities full of young, educated residents like Portland and San Francisco.  But in most of the rest of the United States, nearly all cyclists are also drivers.

About the new bike lane, Reno resident Michael Leonard said, "As a car driver maybe I'm not as in favor but as a cyclist I like it."  The lane in question winds from Midtown to the University area and is intended for people traveling by bicycle and scooter through the downtown area.  

As a driver, Leonard probably has one of the same objections drivers often have:  a traffic lane was taken from them, effectively making a one-way street for drivers, in order to physically separate them from cyclists and scooter riders.  Also, others--mostly business owners like Jory Mack, whose family has operated Palace Jewelry and Loan at the same location since 1958--have complained about significant losses of customers along with the parking spaces.  

Although I am not a driver, I can understand their points of view, though I suspect Mack has misplaced some blame on the city's casino owners.  Now, it's been a long time since I've been to Reno or any casino, so perhaps the demographics of casino clientele have changed:  Are cyclists clamoring to throw away their hard-earned money?  Thus, I have to wonder whether or why casino owners would advocate for bike lanes.

Whatever the answer to that may be, I understand their complaints.  For one thing, Reno, like most US cities away from the coasts, is auto-centric. (At least it was when I last saw it.)  Also, I suspect that the customers of businesses like Mack's--ironically, like those of casinos--tend not to get around by bicycle or scooter.   

But there is one facet of the lane that endangers both cyclists and motorists, if not equally:  the traffic signal for cyclists.  Apparently, it's not very conspicuous.  "A couple of times I didn't notice it and I pulled out and cars were turning," Leonard explained.  "I had to quickly stay out of their way."

I have ridden on lanes where there was a relatively easy-to-see signal. Sometimes it's not synchronized to allow cyclists to cross through an intersection ahead of turning cars--or trucks or buses.  Worst of all are the ones on lanes where cyclists ride in the opposite direction from motorized traffic: If cyclists and scooter-riders get the "go" signal at the same time as drivers, it's all too easy for a left-turning driver to hit us. 

So...While I applaud cities like Reno for trying to make cycling safer--or, at least doing what they think will make cycling safer--they need to be more cognizant of the actual conditions both cyclists and drivers face. 

29 August 2022

Holding The Rain At Bay

 Yesterday I used one of my superpowers.

You see, mid-life transgenders who write bike blogs (yes, all whom you know!) have special secret powers that no one else has.

Those powers are so rare and so secret that you are learning about one of them only because you’re reading this blog.

Yesterday I managed to pedal under an opaque ceiling of clouds all the way to Point Lookout and most of the way back without encountering any rain.  I made sure of that.

Really, I did.  How?  I twitched my nose. See…there was a benefit to that fight I got into when I was thirteen years old after all! I confess, though, that I perfected my technique by watching all of those Bewitched episodes in my youth.

(Now I’m going to make a confession.  While growing up, I simply couldn’t stop watching Samantha, the series’ main character or Agent 99 on Get Smart.  When pressed, I told peers, parents and others that I had a crush on those characters. That was kinda sorta true.  Truth was, I wanted to be them when I grew up.)

Once again, I chose the Point Lookout ride by the wind, which blew out of the south and east. That meant the 60 or so kilometers to Point Lookout took about 45 minutes longer than the same distance back.

But I kept the rain at bay.  Really, I did.  OK, I had some help from this device:

28 August 2022

You Never Forget

Once you learn, you never forget how to ride a bike.

Is the same true for running a country?

Some would argue that no one ever learns how to do it in the first place--or that by the time you've learned how to do it, it's too late.

I'll stick to bike riding, thank you! 

27 August 2022

The Firefighters Got It Right, But The Reporter Didn't

Bike mishaps leave their riders in all sorts of predicaments.  Some, unfortunately, are tragic:  I have recounted a few on this blog. Others leave their riders in various states of incapacitation for varying periods of time.  The crash and "dooring" incident I suffered two years ago, within four months of each other, fall into that category:  Injuries and shock kept me off my bikes for a while.

Some predicaments are less dire--at least, if there is timely intervention.  So it was for a four-year-old boy in Madison, Wisconsin.  Firefighters found him with his foot entangled in spokes, which they cut.  The boy is fine but, of course, the bike wasn't rideable.  Kudos to the firefighters bought the necessary parts and fixed the kid's machine.

Now, you might have noticed something about the way I worded this post.  It has to do with the news account, which was obviously written by someone who isn't a cyclist.  The boy's foot was "caught in the spokes of one of his bicycle tires," according to the report.  After freeing the boy, the firefighters bought him " a new rim" and installed it.

I don't mean to nit-pick, but there is no such thing as the spokes of a bicycle tire.  The tire, usually made of some rubber compound, is the shoe, if you will, to the foot of a rim:  the round metal (or carbon fiber) part of a wheel that is attached to the hub (at the center of a wheel) by spokes.  The article got that right:  the spokes on that bike were, as they are on most bikes, wires.

The article noted, however, that the firefighters "bought a new rim" and "installed it for him."  Now, unless one of those firefighters is a wheelbuilder, he or she wouldn't have installed a rim:  It would have to be laced to the hub with spokes.  My guess is that the firefighters--bless their hearts--bought a whole wheel, with or without a tire, and installed it for him.  Most people, whatever their level of bike mechanic skills, can do that.

Anyway, I congratulate and thank the firefighters of Engine Company Number 10 in Madison, Wisconsin for what they did for that boy--whether or not a reporter got it right. 

26 August 2022

It Wasn't About His Bike--Or Him

A guy in my neighborhood rides an old Raleigh three-speed--based on its graphics, I'd guess that it's from the 1960s--to the stores, the laundromat and, I imagine, anyplace else he has to be.  

I know nothing about the man:  He talks to no one.  I'd guess that he is a bit older than I am.  Perhaps he's retired, whether or not by choice. There's a good chance he's living alone, or with a roommate in a similar circumstance.  Is he widowed or divorced--or did he never marry?  Did his kids move away, or did he never have any?  Does he live in an apartment he moved into when the city still had rent control, or is he in other housing circumstances, for better or worse?

I see him--a gaunt, Ichabod Crane-like figure in aviator glasses--pedaling, at a fairly brisk clip, all over the neighborhood on that bike, with a dropped handlebar turned upside down. (The drops are closer to the saddle than the grip area of the original upright bars, which allows for a more upright riding position.)  Most of the other parts seem to be original, including the wheels (with a Sturmey Archer three-speed hub on the rear), but I don't think the tires have matched in the last thirty years or so.

Once, I was about to take a picture of that bike but the man appeared, obviously not pleased.  Though I'm something of a voyeur, I respected the man's wish for privacy or whatever.  So all you have is my description, however thin, of him and his bike.

An article I read reminded me of that man and his bike. The subject of the story was not as anonymous as the man in my neighborhood because, well, he couldn't be:  He was a high-ranking executive in a large regional bank.  All of his colleagues and subordinates knew that he pedaled to his office every day, in all conditions, including an ice storm that seemed to  expanded the Wollman Rink to include the rest of Central Park.  On another occasion, someone jokingly asked him whether he'd ridden his bike through that day's snowstorm.  In all sincerity, he replied, "Yes.  Do you want to borrow it?"

Robert G. Wilmers, the CEO of M&T Bank, got a flat on his way to work. By the time he was ready to ride home, someone had fixed it for him. He did, however, suffer a fate of too many New York cyclists:  One night, he came out of his office building to find the bike's frame, sans parts, chained up where he'd left it that morning.

Robert G. Wilmers' bike on display in Seneca One Tower, Buffalo, New York. 

Given that last anecdote, it's understandable that his old black Ross was what some would describe as a "Frankenbike."  The tires almost never matched and the parts where not always what one might expect to find on such a bike.  He seemed not to care, though:  For him, his bike, equipped with a front basket, was transportation, nothing more, nothing less, never mind that it seemed to clash, if you will, with the well-tailored suits he wore.

He continued to ride almost to the end of his life at age 83, five years ago.  Now his bike is on display in the lobby of Seneca One, the Buffalo, New York tower where M & T has a significant presence.  The bank was founded and is still headquartered in "The Queen City" and, although Wilmers lived in worked in New York City, people who knew him say he would have approved of not only the bike's new location, but the occasion for its installation:  About 175 volunteers from M&T and other Seneca tenants have assembled 50 youth bikes that will be given to children to help them get to school and simply enjoy riding.  

In other words, they're helping the kids ride the way Wilmers did.  For him, for them and for the man in my neighborhood, it's not about the bike--or themselves.

25 August 2022

On Salman Rushdie And "Rolling Coal"

Once again, I am going to invoke the Howard Cosell rule. 

Two weeks ago, Salman Rushdie was attacked while giving a talk in Chautaqua, New York.  I actually wrote a reflection about it on another site, under a nom de plume I've been using.  I didn't mention it on this blog, until now, not because I couldn't relate it to anything else I've been writing here--if you've been following this blog, you know that I can relate almost anything to cycling and my life.  Rather, thinking about his attack was even more difficult than some of the other non-cycling events I've described.

For one thing, he is one of the world's best-known writers.  While my written words probably won't ever have the influence of his, I feel that the attack on him was an attack on me.  No one who is not doing harm to others deserves to have their freedom of expression--whether in the form of a creative work like a novel, the articulation of an idea or simply the way that person moves about in the world--inhibited, disrupted or ceased.  

But, perhaps more importantly, that attack reaffirmed for me that such attacks are not perpetrated by "others."  The young man who stabbed him was born and raised in the US nearly a decade after the Ayatollah Khomieni issued the fatwa calling for Rushdie's assassination.  In other words, although he was radicalized during a visit with his father in Lebanon four years ago, he is as much a domestic terrorist as those who stormed the Capitol on 6 January 2021, threatened to kill anyone who certify the election or impeach Donald Trump, plotted to kidnap and execute Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer--and who have murdered abortion providers.  

Oh, and I would put anyone who tries to negate the self-agency, let alone equality, of women and LGBTQIA people, in the same category.  Yes, I include the Supreme Court justices who voted to strike down Roe v Wade.  I am not a legal scholar, gender theorist or theologian, so please forgive me if I fail to understand the difference, in kind or in degree, of denying a novelist the right to use his language and creative powers, or a woman to do as she sees fit with her body, as they see fit.  

Call me paranoid or alarmist if you like, but I don't think it's a very long or particularly slippery slope from telling a woman or girl that she can't terminate a pregnancy to telling someone like me that I couldn't  access, not only medical procedures that have helped my body reflect my gender identity, but also the therapy, counseling and other support that have helped me not only to recover from the pain and trauma of living an inauthentic life, but also to use, and even treasure, the lessons and moments of joy I experienced along the way.

Or, for that matter, if a government can mandate--or radicalized mobs, whether they are based in Kansas or Kandahar, can intimidate--women and girls away from bodily autonomy, how far is it, really, from a ruler who doesn't allow women or girls to travel without male chaperones, or to ride a bicycle or drive a car at all? Does it really matter whether the ones who legislate or intimidate people from freely moving about in the way they choose, whether to get to work or school or for pleasure, have been elected to their offices, ascended to their thrones by birthright or take over the public space and discourse through aggressive displays of symbols like flags or by "rolling coal" with their SUVs and pickup trucks on steroids that take up the entire width of a roadway, including its shoulder?

Now, some of you think might be that I've stretched things a bit by comparing the attack on Salman Rushdie or the Supreme Court striking down Roe v Wade to the intimidation or harassment of cyclists.  But for me, at least, they are all personal and come from the same impulses: those of people who simply can't face a world that's changing.

24 August 2022

Blame The Bicycle

For the half-century or so that I've been a dedicated cyclist, every few years, new life has been breathed into a long-discredited claim.  The only difference was that back in the day, the oxygen for the myth came from word of mouth, print media and, less often, radio and television.  These days, like almost every other false rumor, it's spread through the "air" of the online world, specifically social media.

What is that claim? Cycling causes male infertility.  Fortunately, every time it's echoed, someone who knows way more than whoever started or resurrected the story shoots it down.  To my knowledge, no study confirming a link between a man's cycling and his inability to produce progeny has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Lancet or any other peer-reviewed journal.

Interestingly, such a connection is not the most ludicrous one ever made with cycling.  As I've mentioned in an early post, the pseudo-phenomenon of "bicycle face" was reported (in women, of course) during the "bike boom" of the 1890's.  Around that time, bicycling was also blamed for a decline in marriage because "the young men go off on their wheels and leave the young ladies to themselves."

In that vein, another columnist wondered "What does Juliet care for a sofa built for two when Romeo has his tandem?" in blaming bicycles for a decline in furniture sales.  If IKEA had known that, would they have sold bicycles, if only briefly?

(IKEA ceased selling the bikes because some of the belt drives--which substituted for chains--snapped, resulting in rider injuries.  The company said they couldn't find a way to remedy the problem and recalled all of the bikes sold in the US.)

It seems that cycling was linked to an increase in appendicitis. The doctor who made the connection noticed only a coincidental rise in the disease and cycling.  He didn't offer a cause-and-effect explanation, so I am guessing that he, with all of his training, missed something that I--who haven't taken a science class since Donna Summer did her version of MacArthur Park (as if we needed a cover of that song!)--understand:  Correlation does not equal causation.

Oh, and cycling has also been implicated in--are you ready for this?--women smoking.  Of course, that claim was made in England, decades before the US Surgeon General's warning on the dangers of smoking.  We've all seen that famous image of 1920s Tour de France riders taking a smoke break:  at the time, it was commonly believed that puffing on Gauloises or Gitanes (or Marlboros) "opened up the lungs."  Also, at the time of the "cycling causes women to smoke" claim was made, in much of "polite" society, "proper" and "Christian" ladies didn't drink, show their ankles, swear--or smoke or ride bikes.  

(The last dedicated cyclist whom I saw smoking was a guy I met when I was working at American Youth Hostels. Any time we were about to climb a hill, he stopped to smoke.  He claimed that it made the ride up easier.  And it seemed that when we stopped at a deli or cafe, he'd order its most unhealthy sandwich or dish and wash it down with the drink containing the most sugar.)

Of course, given what I've said about blaming women smoking on cycling, it's no surprise that cycling has been blamed for mental illnesses and moral decay--"the erosion of the Christian family," as an example.

Do you know of any other personal or societal maladies that have been blamed on bicycling?

23 August 2022

A Bicycle: A Memory Of His Father

Thomas Avenia is often credited, along with a few other people, with keeping the flame of adult cycling alive during its "Dark Ages."  He is also credited, again with a few others, of stoking that flame into the Bike Boom that began in the late 1960s.  Among other things, he--who rode in the six-day races and the Tour of Somerville--was one of the first importers of Campagnolo components, Frejus bicycles and other high-end gear from Europe.

He had a shop in an Italian enclave of East Harlem, New York until the 1980s, when he moved to Stony Point, just south of Bear Mountain in New York state.  I passed that shop a few times and stopped to hear his stories of racing, his old shop, his wife who died half a century earlier and his thoughts about politics and history.  

He lived well into his 90s.  After he died, his grandchildren took over his shop and moved it again--to Haverstraw, a town a few miles down the Hudson River.  One thing I recall about that shop was its "shrine" to Tom, which included the Frejus track bike--with a Mafac front brake--he rode.  To my knowledge, the grandkids didn't ride it:  For one thing they, like most young riders of the time, were mountain bike enthusiasts.  But I think they understood what that bike meant to their grandfather--and people like me, who understand that he is one reason why we have anything that resembles a bicycle culture in some parts of the United States.

Since then, I've wondered how many bicycles have been preserved as momentos, monuments or shrines to their owners.  While Tom's grandkids didn't ride his bike mainly because they rode mountain bikes, I can't help but to think that they saw his Frejus as a kind of relic to be treated with reverence.  When an avid cyclist or collector leaves a bike or a collection behind, what does it mean to whoever receives it?

For a 15-year-old boy in Rochester, Minnesota, the orange-and-black Scott Spark SC 900 bike was not only fun to ride; it was a way he re-connected with his father, who rode and passed it on to him.  Karl Vielhaber passed away on the 13th from a brain tumor that was diagnosed less than a year earlier.  He, his wife Jennifer and kids moved to Rochester from Wisconsin to be closer to the Mayo Clinic.

Last week, she went into their garage, only to discover that the bike was gone.  That meant, not only that the bike was stolen, but that someone had entered the family's property uninvited.

Still, Jennifer insists that if the bike is returned, she will not press charges. Send information to: findkarlsbike@gmail.com.)   She wants, not only the machine itself, but the memories--which include his joy in riding it--it represents for her and her kid. 

22 August 2022

Looking For A Part, Finding A Memory

 Really, I wasn't looking for this:

Really!  I'd forgotten about it until I came across it on eBay.  I typed "SunTour 25"--I was looking for a 25 tooth SunTour freewheel cog--into the search bar and well, waddaya no, this image came up.

Seeing it again made me woozy with deja vu, as Kurt Vonnegut liked to say.  If I recall correctly, that Bicycle Guide was published in 1985, when Americans (some, anyway) started to pay attention to bike racing. The year before, in Los Angeles, Olympic cyclists from the United States took home more medals than any other country--or, probably, than in all of the Olympiads since 1912.  Those medals included golds by Alexi Grewal in the road race, Mark Gorski in the track sprint and Steve Hegg in the individual pursuit. 

Women's cycling events were included for the first time, and American female riders didn't disappoint. Connie Carpenter won the gold in the road race.  But the silver medalist--who was no less a rider than Connie--got the most attention.  Rebecca Twigg's image, captured by Annie Liebowitz and other high-profile photographers, would be splashed, not only on cycling and sports publications, but in Vanity Fair and other fashion magazines.

Therein lay both the bait and the poison, if you will. The first edition of the women's Tour de France ran in 1984. It lasted a few years before succumbing to, among other things, a lack of sponsorships.  Sometimes I think the organizers of Tour and other women's racers were trying to appeal to men, who were (and are) the vast majority of cycling fans.  So, while some fans got a "sugar high," if you will, from looking at Rebecca and other female cyclists in tights or shorts, the "buzz" wore off when those fans--again, mainly male--wanted to see "real" cycling, as they still think of the NBA, and not the WNBA, as "real" basketball.  

The lesson, perhaps, is this:  Sex sells.  But it doesn't guarantee repeat customers.  

OK, I'll stop moralizing.  I admit that I enjoyed the poster as much as anyone did (I mean, why not?), and not only because I was living as a presumably heterosexual male because I think almost no one (including myself) could conceive of a "man who wanted to be a woman" (which, at the time, was the accepted definition of a transgender) who was attracted to women, let alone bisexual.  For that matter, it was difficult to square being a male cyclist with such feelings, which is one reason why, early in my gender-affirmation process, I thought briefly about giving up cycling.

Of course, I'm glad I didn't. (What would you do with 10 minutes of your day if you didn't have this blog to read?) Becoming a different sort of cyclist from the one I was in 1985 was all but inevitable, if for no other reason than aging.  It has allowed me to savor the memories of rides I did, of mountains I climbed and cities and countrysides I crossed, as I find new ones, even on familiar rides.

Oh, and I have to admit, I grin conspiratorially to myself when I remember how I liked that poster.

I just hope that one day Rebecca Twigg will make new memories for herself on a bicycle.  She hasn't ridden in years and, from what I understand, is still homeless. That's just not fair, for anyone, but especially someone who gave the pleasure and thrills to those of us who saw her race--and people like me who were fortunate enough to meet her, however briefly.

And, I admit, I wonder what Carol Addy--the woman in the poster--is doing these days.

21 August 2022

Explaining This Blog's Title

Some of you may wonder just how long I'm going to continue calling this blog "Midlife Cycling."

As I've said in other posts, as long as I don't know when I'm going to die, I consider myself to be in the middle of my life.

This T-shirt offers another explanation of this blog's title:


20 August 2022

A Ride Of Ripples

 High, wispy cirrus clouds.  The ocean barely waving, let alone tiding.  A breeze against my face on the way out and my back on the way home.




Everything felt like a ripple today.  It may have had to do with doing another Point Lookout ride.  I made that choice, in part, because of the direction of that breeze, as gentle as it was.  Had I gone to Connecticut, Westchester, Alpine or Nyack, I would have been pedaling against the wind on my way home.  Also, yesterday was warmer than it had been earlier in the week, and I started to ride later in the morning than I'd planned.  If the warmest part of the day was going to be warmer than the past few days, I wanted to ride by the ocean rather than inland.


So, when I say that the ride was a ripple, I'm not complaining.  Rather, I felt rather privileged, as if I could see the brush strokes of those ripples in the sky and on the water, as I felt them against my skin.  Also, it's a treat to ride any of my bikes--in this case, Dee-Lilah, my Mercian Vincitore Special, lived up to her name.


Our ride ended, not with the rain, but a ripple.  All right, T.S. Eliot didn't end " The Hollow Men" that way.  I'm not sure that he could have, any more than I could have written his poem. I am happy to write my own poems--and take my rides, whether they begin or end with ripples, or anything else.

19 August 2022

What Will It Take To Stop Her?

What do you call someone who

  • has 9 unpaid parking tickets
  • argued her way out of getting her car towed over unpaid parking tickets
  • didn't pay a $3000 veterinary bill until a collection agency came calling
  • lives in housing designated for families with incomes a third of what she, as a single woman, makes
  • oh, and strikes a cyclist with her SUV and, after he and his bike tumble over her hood and onto the street, drives away--and doesn't report the incident for six hours?
Answer:  a Jersey City Council member.  At least, for now.

This isn't some grim joke among cynical New York-area political reporters.  This is the story of Amy De Gise, daughter of Hudson County Executive Tom De Gise, one of northern New Jersey's most powerful politicians.

As I reported in an earlier post, she didn't even slow down, let alone stop, to see whether the cyclist, Andrew Black, was OK.  Rather, she hid in her cozy lair until the other night, when nearly everyone at a Jersey City Council meeting called for her resignation.  To date, she hasn't so much as apologized to Black, let alone offer to reimburse him for whatever the crash may have cost him. (Thankfully, he suffered only minor injuries although his bike was trashed.) And her father is, in essence, telling people to stop "picking on" his daughter.

Her case has been moved to a neighboring county, Essex (which includes Newark) out of fears that she won't get a "fair" trial.  So far, it seems that the only people, inside or outside Jersey City or Hudson County, who don't think she should resign are her father and a few other local politicians.  That isn't surprising when you consider that Jersey City's corruption has long stood out in a state noted for its political corruption--and that Ms. De Gise is, at least for now, the heir apparent to her father, who is retiring.

The Roman poet Juvenal could have had someone like Amy DeGise in mind when he wrote, "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?"--Who will guard the guardians?

18 August 2022

A Model For Bike Policy?

 For years, a rumor or urban legend--what's the difference between them?--said that bicycles were illegal in the People's Republic of Korea (PRK), a.k.a. North Korea.  Given the country's reputation as one of the most totalarian states, and the fact that almost no one in the West could be sure of what was happening in the country, the story seemed plausible.

Turns out, bicycles weren't officially banned.  But they were frowned upon as a primitive means of transport for a country whose leader saw it as a modern socialist utopia--until 1992.  That year,  cycling gained official acceptance, though the country's leader, Kim Jong-Il, officially banned it women because he thought the sight of a woman striking a "seductive" pose on the saddle would corrupt public morals.

Now, I must say that it still surprises me that anyone  has ever found  me "seductive," "sexy" or even cute in any position, whether as the woman in, ahem, late middle age that I am now or the dude I once was.  And, to my knowledge, the only ways in which I've ever "corrupted" anyone was to have them read essays, poems or books that provoke "subversive" thinking--or to have those people write what they were really thinking or feeling at that moment.

Anyway, for someone who thought he was turning his country into a socialist paradise--which, one presumes, is for the benefit of common people and not based on religious orthodoxy--Kim Jong-Il's attitudes, at least when it came to women and bicycles, weren't much different from those of the leaders of Saudi Arabia or other extreme theocracies.  His son, King Jong-Un, from what I understand, hasn't been enforcing that ban, in part because in a country where few people have cars and mass transportation isn't widely available, especially in rural areas, much of what's grown in that country--by women--would never get to market if women couldn't port it on bikes.

Kim Jong-Un has been pictured on amusement park rides and horses, but not on bicycles.  But, ironically, his non-enforcement of the ban on women riding bikes isn't the only thing that makes his country's capital city, Pyongyang, 'bicycle friendly."  Bicycles are not just socially acceptable; they dominate the streets as they did in Chinese cities a generation ago, for the same reason:  There are few cars.

Interestingly, while some cite bicycles outnumbering people in Dutch and Danish cities as reasons why cycling and cyclists are respected to a greater degree than they are in the US, bicycles aren't fetishized, the fact that they are a, if not the, major means of transportation in Pyongang and other PRK cities is the reason why they are status symbols, in more or less the same way as cars in other places.  Japanese-made bicycles are the most-after (Hmm...Perhaps I should have saved my Miyatas just in case I ever take a trip there!), followed by locally-made bikes that are rumored to be made by prisoners.  Chinese-made bikes are at the bottom of the heap, just as they were in the US about a generation ago.

Could it be that UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps was looking to the PRK rather than the Netherlands, Denmark or France in proposing a new bike-related policy?

No, he's not looking to get more cars off the road or women on bikes, or to build more bike lanes.  Rather, he wants to adopt one of the PRK's more controversial policies:  registration plates, like those on automobiles, prominently displayed on the front of every bike.  

Oh, but he's looking to go even further than King Jon pere ou fils:  He wants to require insurance and impose speed limits for bicycles.  Moreover, he wants to impose a system of penalty points similar to the ones for motorists who violate the speed limit or other regulations. 

Now, to be fair, he's not the first British public official to propose such regulations.  But I think more citizens, whether they favor or oppose such rules, are paying attention because of the increasing numbers of people who are cycling for fun or to get to work, school or the store.

Whatever happens, it is ironic that an official of a Western country that is often seen as "liberal" would take one of the world's most illiberal states as its model for policies related to a form of transportation and recreation that can do more than almost anything else to liberate women--and men and children.

17 August 2022

Riding By A Canvas

The past few days have showcased, for me, some of the ways I choose my rides, especially familiar ones.

On Saturday, I pedaled to Connecticut because the conditions seemed perfect: a not-too-warm day with not-too-high humidity and a moderate breeze that I pedaled into on my way up--which meant, of course, that it blew at my back on my way home.

On Sunday, I felt really good and not in need of "recovery" from the previous day's ride. Still, I wanted to do something slightly less challenging, but still fairly long.  So I pedaled out to Point Lookout.

I also rode to PL yesterday, into a stronger wind than I'd experienced during my two previous rides.  Also, I was starting a bit later than on my weekend rides, and I knew I could ride at a reasonable pace and still get home well before the end of the day.  But the other day, Monday, I did a shorter ride, in part because I had to do a few other things.  But, also, I wanted to explore some nearby nooks and crannies I don't often see, their proximity to my apartment notwithstanding.

One of those enclaves is part of what we half-jokingly call "Astoria's San Francisco."  The streets in that area, north of Astoria Boulevard and west of 21st Street, are indeed hills, though not as steep as, say, Lombard Street.  They are also, like so many San Fran streets, narrow.

Another thing that makes that part of Astoria interesting is the mix of buildings.  Most are residential. Some are landmarked, including mansions which, as I understand, are still owned or even lived in by descendants of the families who built them.  But, a block or two away from such edifices, one can find a seemingly-typical New York bodega that was once a cafe which, as rumor has it, served as the major Mafia gathering place in the area.  Also in proximity to the grand old buildings, which ranging from the stately to almost derangedly rococo, are some old storefronts and warehouses that serve as canvases for local talent.

Through the decades, I've cycled for fun and health, physical and mental.  I've toured cities and countryside, in the United States and other nations.  I also raced, albeit briefly. And, of course, I have commuted to work and school on my bike. Sometimes I think that one of the things that keeps me riding are the sensory surprises and stimulations I encounter along the way.

16 August 2022

In 1962, It Was Superior

It was the "dark before the dawn" in what Sheldon Brown called "the Dark Ages of American Cycling."  Or it was the "dark before the dawn" of the North American Bike Boom that began, depending on whom you ask, around 1969.

I am talking about 1962: 60 years ago. At the end of Bob Seger’s "Night Moves," the reminiscing narrator is "humming a song" from that year: the Ronette's "Be My Baby,” according to Seger. 

That year, Algeria won its independence--at least, in name--from France as Jamaica did from England.  A certain English band was playing at the Star-Club in Hamburg, West (yes, it was West) Germany. And--what I am about to reveal might cause some of you to never read this blog again--my favorite baseball team, the New York Mets, made their lovably, comically inept debut. (Their manager, Casey Stengel, lamented, "Can't anybody here play this game?")

And, although there were a custom builders who made frames for the small but enthusiastic cycling communities of New York, Boston, Detroit, Chicago and a few other American locales, the name most Americans associated with quality bicycles was Schwinn.

Their company's top model, the Paramount, was built by hand in a separate area from the other bikes.  I have heard, from more than one source, that Schwinn actually lost money on Paramounts.  That sounds plausible:  Similar British, French and other European bikes with Reynolds tubing and Campagnolo components cost less (1962 Paramount price:  $175.00), mainly because the labor was less expensive.  Supposedly, Schwinn continued to build Paramounts because they were the official bike of the U.S. Olympic team and Arnold Schwinn saw equipping the riders who represented his country as an act of patriotism.  It also helped to support Schwinn's reputation as the only American bike-maker of that time with even a pretense of quality.

In 1962, Schwinn's second-line bike was the Superior.  Its frame was similar to the model of the same name Schwinn introduced in 1976:  chrome-molybdenum tubing filet-brazed without lugs into smooth joints and forged rear dropouts.  Both bikes also had Weinmann centerpull brakes (the cool engraved version on the 1962 bike) and rims with Schwinn-approved large-flange hubs made in France, probably by Normandy.

Oh, and I love the stem and handlebars--made for Schwinn by Gerry Burgess (GB) of England.  I can't get over that "lugged" sleeve on the handlebar:



Beyond those features, though, the 1960s and 1970s versions were very different. While both had Huret rear dropouts, the older version was equipped with the Huret Allvit derailleur:  standard touring gear of that time.  

The later Superiors came with Schwinn-branded Shimano or SunTour rear derailleurs--with, interestingly, Huret front derailleurs and shifters.  While the Shimano and SunTour mechanisms shifted much better almost any condition, they seemed to have an almost unfair advantage on the 1970s bike, a ten-speed with the Nervar crankset that used the Specialites TA Pro Vis 5/Stronglight 49D bolt pattern and a wide-range rear freewheel.  On the other hand, the Allvit had to wrap up the yards and yards (OK, that's just a slight exaggeration) of chain necessitated by this:

The 1962 Superior certainly had 15 speeds--exotic for that time.  To achieve it, Schwinn used something I've seen maybe a couple of times in all of my years of cycling and working in bike shops:  a triple (with three chainrings)  Ashtabula (one-piece) crankset. Made from solid forged steel, it probably weighed as much as the frame!

To be fair, there weren't as many cotterless cranks, or triples,  available as there are now.  Schwinn used three-piece cottered cranks only on their early Paramounts.  Even the heaviest cottered cranks were lighter than any Ashtabula cranks, and some companies like Chater Lea, Stronglight and Duprat made cranks with pencil-thin arms.  But, once Stronglight and Campagnolo came out with durable alloy cotterless cranksets, cottered cranks disappeared from high-end road bikes (though they would continue to be used on the track until around 1960).  

Still, even in light of what I've just mentioned, that Ashtabula crank seems so incongruous with the rest of the bike.  But, for most Americans in 1962, the Superior would have seemed as other-worldly as a spaceship.

By the way:  the Superior cost $132 in 1962.  That model was made for only another year and, interestingly, the price dropped to $126.50.  From 1964 until 1970, the Super Sport--basically, a ten-speed version of the Superior--was Schwinn's #2 bike behind the Paramount.  In 1971, the Sports Tourer would knock the Super Sport to #3 and become the new Superior in 1976.

15 August 2022

How A Perfect Weekend Of Riding Began

 Yesterday I spun to Point Lookout on La-Vande, my Mercian Vincitore Special.  The day before--Saturday--I pedaled her "sister" LaVande--my Mercian King of Mercia--to Greenwich, Connecticut.  The riding was wonderful: For one thing, the weather was perfect:  dry air, clear skies and high temperatures of 27-28C (81 to 83F).  But I got my best photos from the "appetizer" ride I did Friday evening on Tosca, my Mercian fixed-gear.

On an all-but-perfect summer evening, the waterfront promenades of Williamsburg were full of picnickers, dog-walkers, families and people simply hanging out and enjoying the weather and light.  But somehow the spaces didn't seem so crowded.  Perhaps it had something to do with the nearly-clear skies, the expanse of river and the kind of sunset the cynic in me associated only with postcard images: