30 June 2023

Riding Under Smoke From Canada and France

About two kilometers into my ride today, I had this view of the Manhattan skyline:

Everywhere I rode, the sort of heavy gray haze you normally see before a summer thunderstorm enveloped the sky.  But there is no rain in the weather forecast until, perhaps, late tonight.  

As I rode, however, I convinced myself that it "wasn't as bad" as what we had earlier this month:  those blood-orange skies you saw in news images of this city.  I asked myself, "How bad could it be?" if I could see this so clearly:

at Schenectady and East New York Avenues in Crown Heights.  The mural depicts a the three main communities in the neighborhood:  Hasidim, Blacks (Caribbean and American) and hipsters/gentrifiers. 

I rode happily with such a belief or in such ignorance, depending on your point of view, to the Canarsie Pier where, not surprisingly, I saw about half as many people fishing, picnicking or simply hanging out as Tone would normally encounter at this time of year.

Still, "It isn't so bad," I told myself.

Then, as I pedaled away from the pier and was trying to decide whether to continue along the shore, west to Coney Island or east to Howard Beach, or to ride north in a more direct route home, I started to think, "something's not right."

I stopped at a Key Food supermarket for a bottle of water.  When I stepped back outside and mounted Tosca, my Mercian fixed gear (which was doing better than I was!), I felt my eyes stinging, even though I'd worn my wraparound glasses.  It occurred to me that whatever got to my eyes had to be in the air and smaller than a mosquito, gnat or other insect.

I splashed some water into my eyes and on my face and waited a couple of minutes.  Another block of riding, and the stinging returned.  I heard, from a radio of a passing car, that the health authorities declared the air quality "unhealthy."  I didn't think it would "pass" like an afternoon thundershower, so I pedaled a couple of more blocks to the Rockaway Parkway station of the L train.

During the ride, I thought about the young man a police officer shot in Nanterre, just west of Paris.  Not surprisingly, people protested, sometimes violently, in the City of Light and other French cities.  In places like Nanterre, groups of people seemingly as disparate an the ones depicted in the mural I saw.  I won't say there's more or less unity in one city or country than in another, but there always needs to be more.

If there was any good news in my taking the train home, it might be this: For about half of my ride, I was the only white person--and the only person with a bicycle.  No one seemed to care except a little girl with whom we exchanged wide eyes and funny faces.  Her mother smiled on my way out:  She looked tired and, I think, was happy that someone relieved her, for a few moments, from having to keep her kid occupied.  I guess taking the train home wasn't such a bad thing for somebody!

29 June 2023

The Wildfires, Again!

During the early days of the pandemic, bicycling was one of the few activities in which one could engage wearing a mask. 

Ironically, now that the authorities have declared an end to the COVID-19 emergency (although they still recommend vaccinations and the other precautions we had been taking), it may now be necessary to wear a mask while riding, running or engaging in any other outdoor activity.

The reason?  Smoke from wildfires in northern Quebec and Ontario. (Another irony:  South Park had the right idea--blame Canada!)  As I rode to Flushing Meadow-Corona Park late this afternoon, an orange haze tinged the sky--several hours before sunset.  The weather forecast promises more of the same for tomorrow, and possibly beyond.

28 June 2023

How They Covered The Revolution

On this night in 1969, New York City sweltered.  And, not surprisingly, tempers flared and a fight erupted. Then things exploded—and burned over the next few days.

You probably know that I’m talking about the Stonewall Revolution.  Some historians or other scholars might quibble with my use of the terminology, but I think it’s as much of a revolution as other conflicts that are so labeled because it, and they, changed the world.  

For one thing, I might not be who I am—or I might not be here at all.  And you wouldn’t be reading this blog.  What would you do?😉

Anyway, to give you an idea of what has changed, I am posting a New York Daily News article from 6 July 1969, three days after the uprising simmered down.  While it certainly wouldn’t be published today, and I doubt that even Fox News would broadcast commentary as demeaning today, it was far from the most derogatory commentary of its time—the Village Voice’s coverage arguably trafficked in more stereotypes and caricatures. (Also remember that Lisker probably didn’t write the headline.)

Homo Nest Raided, Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad

The New York Daily News, July 6, 1969

She sat there with her legs crossed, the lashes of her mascara-coated eyes beating like the wings of a hummingbird. She was angry. She was so upset she hadn't bothered to shave. A day old stubble was beginning to push through the pancake makeup. She was a he. A queen of Christopher Street.

Last weekend the queens had turned commandos and stood bra strap to bra strap against an invasion of the helmeted Tactical Patrol Force. The elite police squad had shut down one of their private gay clubs, the Stonewall Inn at 57 Christopher St., in the heart of a three-block homosexual community in Greenwich Village. Queen Power reared its bleached blonde head in revolt. New York City experienced its first homosexual riot. "We may have lost the battle, sweets, but the war is far from over," lisped an unofficial lady-in-waiting from the court of the Queens.

"We've had all we can take from the Gestapo," the spokesman, or spokeswoman, continued. "We're putting our foot down once and for all." The foot wore a spiked heel. According to reports, the Stonewall Inn, a two-story structure with a sand painted brick and opaque glass facade, was a mecca for the homosexual element in the village who wanted nothing but a private little place where they could congregate, drink, dance and do whatever little girls do when they get together.

The thick glass shut out the outside world of the street. Inside, the Stonewall bathed in wild, bright psychedelic lights, while the patrons writhed to the sounds of a juke box on a square dance floor surrounded by booths and tables. The bar did a good business and the waiters, or waitresses, were always kept busy, as they snaked their way around the dancing customers to the booths and tables. For nearly two years, peace and tranquility reigned supreme for the Alice in Wonderland clientele.

The Raid Last Friday

Last Friday the privacy of the Stonewall was invaded by police from the First Division. It was a raid. They had a warrant. After two years, police said they had been informed that liquor was being served on the premises. Since the Stonewall was without a license, the place was being closed. It was the law.

All hell broke loose when the police entered the Stonewall. The girls instinctively reached for each other. Others stood frozen, locked in an embrace of fear.

Only a handful of police were on hand for the initial landing in the homosexual beachhead. They ushered the patrons out onto Christopher Street, just off Sheridan Square. A crowd had formed in front of the Stonewall and the customers were greeted with cheers of encouragement from the gallery.

The whole proceeding took on the aura of a homosexual Academy Awards Night. The Queens pranced out to the street blowing kisses and waving to the crowd. A beauty of a specimen named Stella wailed uncontrollably while being led to the sidewalk in front of the Stonewall by a cop. She later confessed that she didn't protest the manhandling by the officer, it was just that her hair was in curlers and she was afraid her new beau might be in the crowd and spot her. She didn't want him to see her this way, she wept.

Queen Power

The crowd began to get out of hand, eye witnesses said. Then, without warning, Queen Power exploded with all the fury of a gay atomic bomb. Queens, princesses and ladies-in-waiting began hurling anything they could get their polished, manicured fingernails on. Bobby pins, compacts, curlers, lipstick tubes and other femme fatale missiles were flying in the direction of the cops. The war was on. The lilies of the valley had become carnivorous jungle plants.

Urged on by cries of "C'mon girls, lets go get'em," the defenders of Stonewall launched an attack. The cops called for assistance. To the rescue came the Tactical Patrol Force.

Flushed with the excitement of battle, a fellow called Gloria pranced around like Wonder Woman, while several Florence Nightingales administered first aid to the fallen warriors. There were some assorted scratches and bruises, but nothing serious was suffered by the honeys turned Madwoman of Chaillot.

Official reports listed four injured policemen with 13 arrests. The War of the Roses lasted about 2 hours from about midnight to 2 a.m. There was a return bout Wednesday night.

Two veterans recently recalled the battle and issued a warning to the cops. "If they close up all the gay joints in this area, there is going to be all out war."

Bruce and Nan

Both said they were refugees from Indiana and had come to New York where they could live together happily ever after. They were in their early 20's. They preferred to be called by their married names, Bruce and Nan.

"I don't like your paper," Nan lisped matter-of-factly. "It's anti-fag and pro-cop."

"I'll bet you didn't see what they did to the Stonewall. Did the pigs tell you that they smashed everything in sight? Did you ask them why they stole money out of the cash register and then smashed it with a sledge hammer? Did you ask them why it took them two years to discover that the Stonewall didn't have a liquor license."

Bruce nodded in agreement and reached over for Nan's trembling hands.

"Calm down, doll," he said. "Your face is getting all flushed."

Nan wiped her face with a tissue.

"This would have to happen right before the wedding. The reception was going to be held at the Stonewall, too," Nan said, tossing her ashen-tinted hair over her shoulder.

"What wedding?," the bystander asked.

Nan frowned with a how-could-anybody-be-so-stupid look. "Eric and Jack's wedding, of course. They're finally tieing the knot. I thought they'd never get together."

Meet Shirley

"We'll have to find another place, that's all there is to it," Bruce sighed. "But every time we start a place, the cops break it up sooner or later."

"They let us operate just as long as the payoff is regular," Nan said bitterly. "I believe they closed up the Stonewall because there was some trouble with the payoff to the cops. I think that's the real reason. It's a shame. It was such a lovely place. We never bothered anybody. Why couldn't they leave us alone?"

Shirley Evans, a neighbor with two children, agrees that the Stonewall was not a rowdy place and the persons who frequented the club were never troublesome. She lives at 45 Christopher St.

"Up until the night of the police raid there was never any trouble there," she said. "The homosexuals minded their own business and never bothered a soul. There were never any fights or hollering, or anything like that. They just wanted to be left alone. I don't know what they did inside, but that's their business. I was never in there myself. It was just awful when the police came. It was like a swarm of hornets attacking a bunch of butterflies."

A reporter visited the now closed Stonewall and it indeed looked like a cyclone had struck the premisses.

Police said there were over 200 people in the Stonewall when they entered with a warrant. The crowd outside was estimated at 500 to 1,000. According to police, the Stonewall had been under observation for some time. Being a private club, plain clothesmen were refused entrance to the inside when they periodically tried to check the place. "They had the tightest security in the Village," a First Division officer said, "We could never get near the place without a warrant."

Police Talk

The men of the First Division were unable to find any humor in the situation, despite the comical overtones of the raid.

"They were throwing more than lace hankies," one inspector said. "I was almost decapitated by a slab of thick glass. It was thrown like a discus and just missed my throat by inches. The beer can didn't miss, though, "it hit me right above the temple."

Police also believe the club was operated by Mafia connected owners. The police did confiscate the Stonewall's cash register as proceeds from an illegal operation. The receipts were counted and are on file at the division headquarters. The warrant was served and the establishment closed on the grounds it was an illegal membership club with no license, and no license to serve liquor.

The police are sure of one thing. They haven't heard the last from the Girls of Christopher Street.

27 June 2023

Can We “Share” Lanes?


Should cars be allowed in a bike lane?

You may be forgiven for thinking that I am asking the question sarcastically—or hating me for asking it.

There are planners who are answering that question in the affirmative. They argue that such arrangements already exist in the Netherlands and a few small communities in the US.  And “shared” roadways—really, streets or roads with lines and stylized bicycle images painted on them—are, in effect, what the planners are proposing—in one city, anyway.

To most geographers and demographers, Kalamazoo, Michigan is a medium-sized city. I’ve never been there, but from what I’m reading, it has disproportionate amounts of motor vehicle traffic, in part because it’s home to Western Michigan University and Kalamazoo College. But, being about 230 kilometers (145 miles) from Detroit or Chicago, it doesn’t share those cities’ transportation systems and is therefore, like so many other American communities, auto-centric.

When I say “auto-centric,” I am not talking only about the lack of mass transportation or the distances between places.  I am also referring to the difference in drivers’ attitudes. As I have described in other posts, motorists in countries like the Netherlands and France are more conscious and respectful of cyclists.  

If my experiences here are indicative of anything, drivers don’t “calm” or slow down when see cyclists in “their” shared lane.  But proponents claim that is what will result if a stretch of Winchell Avenue is divided into one 12-foot wide traffic lane and an “edge” lane where cyclists and pedestrians will have “priority.”

Ken Collard, a civil engineer and former city manager, called the proposal  “stupid.” Other residents, cyclists and motorists alike, are calling it names that I could print here but, because I am a proper (ha, ha) trans lady, I won’t.

24 June 2023

Why An E-Bike Shop Burned

 Fires know no boundaries.

People on Madison Street, in New York's Chinatown, know that all too well.  Earlier this week, a fire in an e-bike shop spread from its first-floor location to the apartments above it.  As a result, two people are dead and several others remain in the hospital.

The fire is practically an exhibit with all of the problems associated with e-bikes, specifically the lithium-ion batteries that power them and some of the shops that sell and service them.

The shop where the fire broke out had been cited earlier for violations of the city's still-weak regulations regarding e-bikes and their batteries.  A previous citation (which levied a $1600 fine) resulted from the wiring and storage of batteries.  I can understand that shop owners are trying to optimize their limited space, but in that shop, like others, stored batteries in a space in a front shed without ample room or protection from the elements.  Also, according to reports, that shop and others (as well as individual e-bike owners) often use extension chords when charging batteries, or try to charge several at once on a power strip.

Also, I suspect that the electrical wiring and outlets in that shop and building were old.  When new, they probably wouldn't have been strong enough for charging lithium-ion batteries, but after decades of use, they're fire hazards.

There's another shop just like it--on the first floor of building, with apartments above it--across the street from the one that burned. I wonder how well the people in those apartments are sleeping.

(I don't mean to make light of this tragedy.  But I realize that this is the second day in a row I've written about e-bikes.  In my next posts, I'll go back to writing about good old pedal bikes.) 

23 June 2023

When Is It A Motorcycle?

The other day, during a ride in Queens and Brooklyn, I detoured to the Ridgewood Reservoir.  Because the loop around it is flat, I can ride around it a few time and add a few kilometers/miles to my ride without trying.  (I recently learned that the loop is 1.2 miles, or about .7 kilometers:  longer than I thought it is!) I was enjoying myself on a sunny, breezy afternoon when I made the turn near the Brooklyn side.  There, two young men on ebikes without pedal assists whipped around the curve.  One of them popped a wheelie and veered to his left-my right.  I had almost no room to maneuver:  I was well near the right edge of the lane and, even if I could have cut in front of him without colliding, I almost surely would have hit, or been hit by, the other guy on eBike, a cyclist riding in the opposite direction, or a group of people walking with a dog.

The guys on eBikes were going as fast, it seemed, as the car traffic on the nearby Jackie Robinson Parkway. Lately, I've wondered whether those bikes seem faster because I'm getting older and slower.  But that experience--and a couple of reports that have come my way--show me that those machines are indeed getting faster and because prohibitions against them on bike and pedestrian lanes and speed limits are never enforced (if indeed they exist), too many riders seem to feel no compunction about endangering other people.

Folks like David Rennie in Park City,Utah are having similar experiences to mine on bike lanes and hiking trails. In a letter to the Park Record,  he says that allowing such bikes on trails is "an accident waiting to happen" and can "see no reason why throttle-controlled e-bikes should not be treated exactly the same as a petrol-driven bike, and subject to the same licensing and use rules."

From Electric Bike Action

In another Park Record letter to the editor, Mike Miller echoed his concerns and concluded that throttle-driven bikes without pedal assists are really "motorcycles" and should be treated as such.

22 June 2023

Voices Of My Rides

In "Sounds of Silence," Paul Simon wrote, "the words of the prophets are written the on the subway walls."

I've been riding daily and haven't been on the subway.  But I have seen, if not the words of the prophets, then at least expressions of the zeitgeist, if from different points of view.

During my Saturday ride to Point Lookout, I chanced upon this in Lido Beach:

I don't think I've seen such a large US flag anywhere else, let alone in front of a suburban house.  When I stopped to take the photo, I talked to a man walking his dog.  He said the house is "outsize for this neighborhood" and that he's seen "the flag more than the people who live there."  I quipped that I've lived in apartments smaller than that flag.

Not only is its size overwhelming:  It's placed so that in whichever direction you walk, ride or drive, you can't not see it.

As I've said in earlier posts, ostentatious displays of outsized flags--often seen on the back of "coal rollers"--seem less like expressions of patriotism and more like acts of aggression.

In contrast, during yesterday afternoon's ride down the waterfront, from my Astoria apartment to Red Hook, I saw something more inclusive on one of the last ungentrified blocks of Long Island City.

The author of that bit of graffiti, I suspect, also gave us this:

That person is not the enemy of the flag-flaunters and coal-rollers--and would surely know that I'm not, either. 

20 June 2023

Leaving Waterloo

Sheldon Brown dubbed the quarter-century or so following World War II as the "Dark Ages" of US Cycling. Few adults cycled and nearly all of them were clustered around a few cities.  So, perhaps not surprisingly, high-quality cycling gear was difficult to come by, as nearly all American bicycle manufacturing consisted of bikes for kids.  Those tiny number of shops and mail-order companies that offered high-end parts and bikes, as often as not, ordered them for their customers from Europe or a few companies in the US.

As for the bikes:  Some frame builders, like Dick Power of Queens, New York (who, interestingly, sponsored and mentored female riders) and George Olemenchuk of Detroit, turned out some well-crafted machines that rode well. But they made small numbers of frames that rarely, if ever, were ridden by cyclists beyond their immediate environs.  Quite possibly the only nationally-availabe, US-made, world-class (Did I use enough modifying phrases?) bike was Schwinn's aptly-named Paramount. But you couldn't buy one of the showroom floor--unless, of course, your local Schwinn dealer stocked one (and if they did, the probably stocked only one) and it happened to be the right size for you.

1971 Schwinn Paramount

Then came the 1970s "Bike Boom."  High-quality racing and touring bikes from England, France, Italy and Japan appeared even in small-town bike shops.  Some might debate that they had ride qualities that the Paramount lacked, but few argued that the workmanship of those imported bikes was better. But they--especially the Japanese bikes--offered much better value for the money, as the Paramount's price doubled within three years.

More to the point, though, the newly-available bikes made Paramounts, as nice as the were, seem stodgy.  And, according to people in the industry, the Paramount's production facilities and methods were dated.  Moreover, by the end of the decade, a number of American custom frame builders like Albert Eisentraut and Bruce Gordon were turning out bikes that rivaled those of their overseas counterparts.

So, in 1980 Paramount production moved to a new facility in Waterloo, Wisconsin.  (Not long after, much of Schwinn's other production shifted from Chicago to Mississippi.) These changes occurred around the same time Schwinn ownership and management shifted to a new generation. But the company failed to keep up with changes in the industry--they were late to the mountain bike and very late to the BMX game--and declared bankruptcy for the first time in 1991.

In the wake of those developments, two members of that new management generation--Richard Schwinn and Marc Muller--took over the Paramount facility and started a company familiar to a generation of American bike enthusiasts:  Waterford.  It focused on building, essentially, updated custom versions of the Paramount:  hand-crafted lugged frames from Reynolds, Tange or other high-quality alloy steel tubing.  Later, they added another line of bikes--Gunnar--with TIG-welded steel frames that weren't available in custom sizes or colors.

A late-model Waterford

Last month, Schwinn and Muller announced that Waterford/Gunnar was closing up shop.  The reason, they said is that they and several other key employees are retiring. They fulfilled their remaining orders and sold the building.  This Saturday, the 24th, there will be a "farewell" ride beginning at the factory, where there will be an "open house."  On that day, an online auction will begin.  Running until 10 July, there won't be many frames or forks available for sale.  But it might be a good source for current or aspiring builders or manufacturers or a collector with "an interest in something from the legendary Waterford factory," according to the company.

19 June 2023

Riding To Emancipation

 On this date in 1865–two months after the end of the US Civil War and two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation, Union and US Army Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas to announce the end of slavery.

So why did it take so long to release Black people from bondage in Texas?  Well, Texas was the frontier—at least for the Confederacy.  In those days before the Internet, electronic media, telephones or even, in many areas, telegraphs, news traveled slowly.  (That is why. until Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first presidential victory, presidents were inaugurated in March even though they were elected the previous November.) I suspect, however, that Emancipation would have come slowly to Texas even if communication were faster because slavery was a major reason why it seceded from Mexico, became a Republic, was annexed to the United States and seceded from it. And it had, by far, the largest number and area of plantations. In addition, historians estimate that 80 percent of Texas cattle ranches relied on slave labor.

Thirteen years after Juneteenth, Marshall Walter “Major” Taylor was born to parents who descended from slaves. His status as the first African American to become a champion in any sport did not shield him from attempts to continue slavery by other means, not only in the South.  But his dominance as a sprinter and fearlessness and dignity as a human being makes him as much an icon of emancipation as anybody.  This has to be one of the best uses of his images I’ve seen.

Black girls do indeed bike—and so emancipate themselves, at least from some stereotypes.

18 June 2023

Hitching A Ride

 I have a confession: In my youth, I grabbed onto cars, buses and trucks while pedaling Manhattan streets. 

So, I can’t be too judgmental of 31 similarly jejune cyclists who took similar rides in Italy.  I’m even a bit sympathetic toward them: They hitched themselves while climbing the Stelvio Pass.

Going up Stelvio ain’t easy. I know:  I did it—on a bike laden with full panniers and a handlebar bag.

But they were disciplined for their rides. On the other hand, I sometimes got tips for mine.

By now, you’ve figured out that those riders in Italy were in a race. I wasn’t-except, perhaps against some lawyer’s, business owner’s or other professional’s deadline.  You might say that I was aiding and abetting another kind of race:  the Rat Race.

The riders in Italy, on the other hand, were in one of the most prominent contests for young racers:  the Under-23 Giro d’Italia, which ends today—a couple of days after the seasons and, possibly, careers of those riders.

I have to admit: when I heard there was “cheating in a bike race,” I was surprised and a bit relieved that it didn’t have to do with drugs.

17 June 2023

Bike Patrols Return to Tiffin


In 2010, US cities had recently begun, or would begin, bicycle patrols. That year, Tiffin, an Ohio city near Toledo, paused theirs. I cannot find a reason why, but Officer Cadin Emshoff may have hinted at one. A patrol person on a bike is more approachable to community members on sunny days.  But when it rains, not so much. On rainy days, he doesn’t ride. ‘“Done it once, not so fun, don’t think I’ll be doing it any time soon,” he explained.

Ironically, inclement weather is one reason why the bike patrol—which started in 1998–is re-starting. Recent storms have closed roads—to motor vehicles.  Bicycles can, however, navigate many of those obstacles.

The usual reasons also are part of program’s revival: crowd control at events like the Fourth of July parade, access to parks, paths and other places inaccessible to cars and the aforementioned community relations.

In another irony, Emshoff is one of the two officers who will patrol on two wheels. Chris Perry will be the other. Their mounts will be the same two bikes that compromised the patrol’s fleet twenty-five years ago. Pauly acknowledged that the bikes are “old” but “we have babied those suckers.” 

14 June 2023

Bike Parking on a Small, Picturesque Street”

Some people complain that spouses, kids and other loved ones were “never home” because of their busy schedules.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck.  Jobs and schools went virtual.  Within weeks, those same people were going crazy because those same spouses, kids and other loved ones were “always home.”

I think those families might include residents on a “small picturesque” street in North London.  Some have taken to Twitter and a local newspaper to complain about “unsightly and unnecessary” bike hangars that are “always empty.”

Then—you guessed it—someone ranted and railed against cyclists using those bike parking pods.

That led someone to quip, “I expect the residents of the small, picturesque street all to have small, picturesque cars that are wholly in keeping with the urban environment as it was originally built.”

To which yet another wag proposed making the bike parking docks more aesthetically compatible with the small, picturesque cars on the small, picturesque street.

12 June 2023

They Make Us Less Human

 Recently, Melissa Harris-Perry recalled cracking open a watermelon and, finding it un-ripe, left it for her chicken to nibble. She watched them from her porch, her hair wrapped in a scarf.  “I was probably somebody’s stereotype of a Black woman,” she quipped.

Had she sported the kind of hairdo Jennifer Aniston wore during her first few years on “Friends” or a designer suit, someone would have accused her of trying to be White.

Likewise, I have been accused of “overdoing “ it when I simply dressed as a woman my age might and condemned for fitting the same people’s stereotype of a trans woman even, if I say so myself, I have done no such thing since the first couple of years of my gender affirmation process.

So, I had a sense of deja vu when I read about an Australian study in which 30 percent of respondents said they saw cyclists as “less human” when they wore helmets, reflective vests or other safety gear

Photo by Robert Peri

Why does this matter? If the history of racism, sexism, homo- or trans-phobia showsl us anything, people are more likely to behave more aggressively toward those they regard as not-quite-human, or less human than themselves. 

In other words, it’s easier to rationalize violence against someone when the victim can be reduced to a stereotype, or de-humanized in some other way.

The findings of the Australian study, however, show (even if it wasn’t the intent of the researchers) that cyclists are in a Catch-22 situation.  If we wear safety gear, we’re less human and violence or simply carelessness against us is justifiable or, at least, excusable. But if we aren’t wearing helmets and day-glo vests (or even if we are), we are blamed even if the driver downed a whole bottle of vodka and drove at double the speed limit.

11 June 2023

Obedience Training

 Call me a curmudgeon or a misanthrope. But I think that if dogs could read, they’d be more likely to follow this sign’s directive 

than their human walking them would.

10 June 2023

What Did Your First Bike Cost?

 Someone, I forget who, told me, “The really rich never pay for anything.”

I guess Harry and Meghan, even though they stepped away from some of the Royal life’s trappings (which really trapped some!), qualify. Their son just got a new bike for his birthday and neither his mum nor his dad had to shell out shillings, dole out dollars or proffer their platinum (or whatever level of credit card accrues to Royals).

You see, a shop in their current hometown—Montecito, California—gave the bike, gratis.  This act of generosity came to light when the shop publicized the “thank you” note the couple (or one of their assistants) sent.

Such a move, of course,’ garners publicity. Most of it was positive, but some believe that the shop should have donated the bike to a kid needier than lil’ Archie.

Call me wishy-washy,‘but I can sympathize with both sides.  Businesses gift celebrities everything from bagels to ‘Benzes and gardenias to gala gowns. The publicity usually pays off and, I imagine, enables some creators and entrepreneurs to give their wares to those less fortunate. Still, if someone has to choose between giving to the rich or the poor, I would rather that the gift goes to someone who might not have it otherwise.

Then again, I can understand why—alert from being in their hometown—why the shop would give a bike to a royal tyke: It’s called Mad Dogs & Englishmen.

09 June 2023

Easy Choices In The Big Easy

 People go to New Orleans to do things they can’t, or wouldn’t, do at home.

So it makes sense that tomorrow, at 5pm, the World Naked Bike Ride will take place in the Crescent City.

Now, being the sort of rider I am, one of the first questions I ask before alighting is:  What should I wear?

Nola.com has answered that question: Sunscreen. Glitter. Tiaras and top hats. Feathers. Slogans painted on your body. Band-aids. Cowboy boots and hats,  The beautiful Crown Royal sac. Even bikini bottoms and bikinis are allowed. Oh, and let us not forget Pride symbols. Just don’t think you’re being “ironic” if you show up in a Brooks Brothers suit or dress! 

07 June 2023

I Didn’t Listen

 During the pandemic, I have steadfastly followed the directives and advice from health authorities.  I’ve kept my vaccinations up to date and still practice social distancing as much as I can.

Today, however, I didn’t follow the advice of those who know better: I went for a bike ride.

Granted, it wasn’t a long or strenuous ride:  about 50 kilometers, by my reckoning, along waterfronts, back streets and industrial areas of Queens and Brooklyn.  It was flat but a fairly brisk wind blew—and I was riding my fixed gear.

The health authorities have advised against “strenuous” outdoor activity.  I don’t think my ride qualifies, although some authorities might disagree.

The reason for that bit of advice have to do with fires in Canada. And the wind here, and in much of eastern North America, has been blowing from the north.  As a result, this city is thick with smoke.

I don’t recall a fog so thick that it rendered the Manhattan skyline as barely-visible from Long Island City or Greenpoint as it is today.

Even the sun is no match for the ashen shroud in the sky.

Seeing a boat emerge from the enfumed vista made me wonder whether Charon was ferrying people from one realm to another.

Of course, today’s scene might be nothing more than this.

06 June 2023

They Stormed The Beaches—With Bikes

 Today is D-Day.

On this date in 1944, Allied forces landed on the beaches of Normandy, France. This daring operation is cited as the door that opened to liberating France and, ultimately, western Europe from Nazi occupation.

The Allies included, among others, American, British and Canadian soldiers, sailors and airmen.  Don’t ever forget the Canadians:  Military strategists and historians have long praised their tenacity and steadfastness.

Like other troops, the Canadians had their weapons: guns, explosives, bayonets—and bicycles.

About 1000 “paratrooper” bikes accompanied Canadian forces on D-Day. Most were left behind when the soldiers were deployed to other fields, sent home or died. Locals picked them up and used them up. Therefore, the one in the photo—in the collection of the Juno Beach Centre, the Canadian museum near the landing beach—is one of the few that survive.

It was issued to Sherbrooke, Quebec Marius Aubé, who served with the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps. He befriended a local farm family and when he departed, he gave the bike to Christian Costil, the family’s 14-year-old son.  He used it on the farm and, later, on his rounds as a meter reader. from which he retired in 1985.

The bike also kindled a lifelong friendship that included letters which were donated, along with the bike, to the museum after Costil died in November 2020.

Even without such a back-story, that bike is interesting. For one thing, Birmingham Small Arms—BSA—made it.  As their name suggests, they also supplied the British and Canadian forces with firearms.

As you can see from the photo, there are two large wing nuts in the middle of the frame. This allowed the bike to fold, and the trooper to hold it close as he disembarked from a ship, marched—or parachuted. For the latter maneuver, a soldiers would lower the bikes so it hit the ground before he did. That would cushion the impact somewhat and the soldier simply had to straighten the wheel and tighten the wing nuts before pedaling away.

05 June 2023

“They’ve Gone Soft!” Who Would Know Better?

Photo by Zac Williams 

I forget what we were discussing. But I remember what a student said: “My father always talks about walking barefoot three miles in the snow every day to go to school.”

A pause.   “He was in Jamaica!”  She wasn’t talking about the neighborhood in Queens.

There’s always some member of the older generation (as if I can talk about them in the third person!) who insists that they had to be smarter, braver and tougher in the good ol’ days.  Such a person laments how the “younger generation” had “gone soft.”

That criticism has been leveled at the peloton in the just-ended 2023 Giro d’Italia.

What are the bases for such an assessment?

One is that of 176 riders who started, 125 finished.  That is indeed a higher rate of attrition than befalls most races, whether the local Category Four criterium or a Grand Tour like the Giro. But the riders who started three weeks ago included current and former champions, and the “quitters,” as they were called, included the rider who was wearing the race leader’s maglia rosa.

So what, exactly, caused 51 riders to—if you are to believe the critics—melt like a cake in the worst song in the history of pop music. (I can forgive Donna Summer for her disco stuff, but not for giving new life to that song!)

Well, for one thing, there was the weather which, even the haters would concede, was some of the worst in Giro history.  The rain, sleet and all of the other meteorological delights caused crashes that took out a number of riders, including 2020 winner Tao Geoghegan Hart. 

Then there was something that’s sneaking up on much of the rest of the world: a rebound COVID-19. When Belgian Remco Evenepoel, a favorite to win and Aleksandr Vladivostok, a strong contender for a podium spot, were forced to withdraw because of positive tests, they were accused of “faking” or being unable or unwilling to suffer.

As Ryan Mallon points out, cycling differs from other sports in that there is little incentive for a rider to “fake”or “dive.” Players can get themselves or their teams free kicks, foul shots or power plays by rolling on the pitch, court or rink to exaggerate the effect of an opponent’s hit.  On the other hand, if riders crash, fall or are otherwise interrupted, they are rewarded with a longer, tougher chase to keep up—if indeed they still can—with the rest of the pack.

If there is an irony in everything I’ve just mentioned, here it is:  Some of those who are saying that the riders who had to leave the Giro were “faking” or had “gone soft” are professionals who raced during the ‘90’s and early 2000s. You know: the era of PDM, Festina, Lance, Marco Pantani and a few others who, as Jacques Anquetil would say, didn’t win races on salad and mineral water.

Maybe they have a right to call today’s riders “soft”:  After all, those old heroes had to have really high pain thresholds to withstand all of those needles!

03 June 2023

The ‘Bike Man’ in Washington

 Earl Blumenauer has done, possibly, more than any other politician to encourage cycling in the United States. Representing a district around Portland, Oregon (where else?) since 1996, he is responsible for, among other things, the bike lane on Pennsylvania Avenue—the location of the White House.

His wins include gaining tax benefits for bicycles commuters. On the other hand, a bill that would have provided subsidies for eBikes was yanked from the Inflation Reduction Act at the last minute.

In his interview with David Zipper, Blumenauer revealed that the loss (which he regards as temporary)of the eBike subsidies was a result of lobbyists.  

What we in the cycling community often forget is that the largest companies in the bicycle industry are minnows next to the whales and sharks of other industries.  Some of those corporations, particularly in the energy, automotive and tech industries, provide financial and other support to alternative-energy sources and electric cars.  Of course those corporations are acting in self-interest or, more precisely, their stockholders’ demands.  

Perhaps they see the current boom in bikes and eBikes in the same way as the ‘70’s Bike Boom.  But, as Blumenauer points out that “Boom” was really just a fad that petered out in part because no meaningful policies came from it.

Perhaps one day soon investors in alternative energy and electric cars will see that those enterprises are related to bicycles and eBikes—and Representative Blumenauer will once again be vindicated.

02 June 2023

A Midlife Ride In Adolescence

 Thirteen years ago today, I wrote my first of (to date) 4195 posts on this blog.

It occurs to me now that this blog—Midlife Cycling—is in, or entering (depending on your point of view) its adolescence.  Whether that will affect its hormonal activity, I don’t know.

Speaking of hormonal activity:  I began this blog as I was starting to ride again after my longest layoff from it.  Those months off my bike were a condition of my recovery from my gender-reassignment surgery.

Also, as I have mentioned in earlier posts, this blog started as a spinoff, if you will, from my first blog:  Transwoman Times. I mentioned some of the last pre-surgery and first post-surgery rides, as well as much else in my life, on that blog.

So how has this blog changed?  I guess it has to do with how I have changed:  When I started this blog, I was still figuring out what my life, let alone my riding, would be like after, not only surgery, but years of therapy and treatments, not to mention the people who came, went and remained.

Whether this is the first post you’re reading on this blog, or you’ve been reading since my first post, I am grateful you are—and hope you will remain—with me on this journey.