30 September 2023

An Emblem of Bicycle History

 Believe or not, bicycle manufacturers were major, or at least significant, employers in the US until World War II.

I’m not talking only about Schwinn.  A few years ago, I wrote about the Shelby Bicycle Company, which took its name from the Ohio community in which it was based.

Another example of such a relationship between a town and a bike-maker is that of Emblem Bicycles and Angola, a New York Stare village 3.3 kilometers (2 miles) from Lake Erie and 50 kilometers (22 miles) from downtown Buffalo.

Unless you are even deeper than I am into pre-War bikes, you probably haven’t heard of Emblem bicycles.  Apparently, they began making bikes during the first Bike Boom in the late 19th Century and continued until the eve of World War II. During the 1910s, Emblwm, like some other bike-makers, began to make motorcycles, which hadn’t evolved into their own category. As a matter of fact, Emblem, like other fabricators of two-wheeled vehicles, were identified—and identified by the public—as a bicycle company even when their production of motorized bikes exceeded that of traditional pedaled bicycles.

So, yesterday, when a fire burned in the historical building that the company called home, local media reports identified it as the “historic Emblem Bicycle building “—even  though Emblem bicycles haven’t been made there, or anywhere, in about 80 years.

Two dozen fire companies fought and contained the blaze.  Fortunately, no one was hurt.

29 September 2023

Drowning In Irony

Perhaps the folks at the World Metrological Organization were playing a joke on us.  At least, someone in that august body has seen or read Hamlet and has a sense of humor or irony the Bard might appreciate.

I mean, why else would they name a hurricane Ophelia—after a character who drowned?

This morning it really looked like someone could be submerged simply by opening a door or window.  I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that the rainfall resembled a cataract.

If that metaphor works for you, the Crescent Street bike lane could have been its Niagara River or River Niger. The water finally receded, but earlier today it looked more like a stream than a path.

28 September 2023

He Thinks He'll Be Out In 30 Days

It's bad enough to be struck or "doored" by a motorist who "didn't see" you even though you were dressed in reflective and fluorescent clothing and had your "blinkies" flashing even though it was midday.

And it's galling that, too often, such motorists get "slapped on the wrist" or incur no penalty at all.  Moreover, the cyclist, especially if he/she/they doesn't survive the "accident" is likely to be blamed, even if, in addition to wearing the bright vetements I described, also donned a helmet and obeyed all traffic laws.

What could be worse?

Perhaps what Jesus Ayala and Jzamir Keys did.

On 14 August, the duo joyrode four stolen cars--in a single day--and struck two cyclists and a car intentionally.

Yes, you read that right.  There is no conjecture about their intentions:  As Ayala drove the vehicles, Keyes filmed their "adventures" from the passenger side.  In the video, they can be heard laughing as Ayala drove into retired police officer Andreas Probst as he cycled down a Las Vegas street.  When Probst bounced off the windshield and onto the side of the road, one of the teens said to the other, "We gotta get outta here."

Yes, they are teens:  Keys is 16 and Ayala has turned 18 since the incident.  That means Ayala could be moved to an adult jail from the juvenile facility where he's been held since his arrest.  Keys fled and was caught a month later.

Ayala predicts, "I'll be out in 30 days, I'll bet you."  His reasoning, he said, is that it was "just a hit-and-run."

Except for a couple of small details.  In addition to injuring the other cyclist, who was not identified, Ayala's antics killed Probst. 

The cynic in me says that law enforcement officials are taking it more seriously than they might have because one of their own died.  But even if that is the case, I hope that it leads to Ayala getting the sort of punishment any driver deserves, but too rarely gets, for striking and killing a cyclist.  He won't have much to laugh about then. 

27 September 2023

Google And Penny Farthings

Google turns 25 years old 

So how does that relate to a bike race in England?

To my knowledge, the world’s most-used search engine has nothing to do with its sponsorship or organization. It may, however be a reason the race was run the other day.

I am talking about the 2023 Penny Farthing Championships.  Penny Farthing, as you may know, was a nickname for the high-wheeled bicycles that were popular before “safety” bicycles—like the ones we ride today—were developed. 

In contrast to today’s bikes, with chain-and-sprocket drives and wheels of equal, or nearly equal diameter, Penny Farthings were propelled by cranks attached directly to the axle of the front wheel, which was much larger than the rear. The proportion of the two wheels reminded English people of two of their coins, hence the name.
So, you may still be asking, what does Google have to do with a style of bicycle that all but disappeared by the mid-1890s?

Well, although I am in, ahem, midlife, I am old enough to remember—and have been an active cyclist—in the days before Google, or the Internet. In the 1980s and 1990s, vintage bikes, parts and accessories were all but impossible to find unless you chanced upon an old shop that was closing.  News of the few swap meets spread through word of mouth or printed notices, as often as not found at local club meetings.  

During that time, younger or newer cyclists were unaware of those beautiful old bikes, bags and clothing in traditional designs and materials.  Some companies that made them went out of business and no one was picking up the torch, so to speak.

Moreover, people who had older bikes and parts gave up on them when they couldn’t find replacements or people who knew how to work on, say, their old Sturney-Archer hubs. So, companies didn’t make or offer replacements or reproductions because “there was no demand.”

But the Internet—especially after the launch of Google—made not only bikes and parts, but information about them, more available.  Perhaps even more important, it allowed an aficionado of, say, vintage hand-built steel frames or randonneur bags who might be the only such person in his or her area to connect with someone in another town or even country.  I believe that such connections had much to do with increased i’interest in those bikes, parts and accessories—which, perhaps ironically, took off not long after Google launched.

Would the current interest in penny farthings, which has grown particularly strong in England, have happened without Google?  I can’t answer that.  All I can say is that I find the sight of Lycra-clad young people astride high-wheeled bikes charming, if incongruous.

24 September 2023

You Can Ride It. Really!

 I have long believed that John Milton wrote “Samson Agonistes” for essentially the same reasons why he wrote “Paradise Lost.”  For one, I think he was trying to express his political beliefs.  For another, I think he had a poetic sensibility—almost entirely aural—that he simply had to express.

What is the difference between those two works? “Paradise Lost” is an epic poem, while “Samson Agonistes” is a play of a particular kind:  a “closet drama,” which is intended to be read rather than performed. (I would argue that, like “Paradise Lost,” it—or at least parts of it—has to be read aloud in order to truly appreciate Milton’s poetics.)

There seem to be analogies to “closet” dramas in the bicycle world: bikes and components that are created, not to be ridden, but because, well, someone could create them.  An example is a bike with square wheels, which I showed in a previous post.

But, it seems that someone has actually ridden it:

23 September 2023

Shimano Crankset Recall

 I ride Shimano components—derailleurs, cassettes and brakes—on three of my bikes.  So what I am about to write will not be an expression of schadenfreude.

Here goes:  Shimano is recalling 2.8 million of its cranksets worldwide—760,000 in North America.  They include Dura-Ace and Ultegra 11-speed cranks manufactured between from 2012 to 2019 and sold, whether to individuals or to bike-makers, until this year.

The “Hollowtech” cranks were made with two more-or-less U-shaped aluminum alloy bars bonded with epoxy, which accounts for their appearance, light weight—and the problem that’s led to the recall.

 About 4500 crank arms de-laminated—in other words, came apart—as cyclists pedaled them. Some of those incidents resulted in injuries though, apparently, none were life-altering.

Shimano has provided a list of model names and numbers, along with date codes (which can be found on the backsides of the crank arms). 

22 September 2023

No Bikes On The Right

Since the death of Generalissimo Franco in 1975, Spain has gone from being a conservative Catholic bastion to one of the most seemingly liberal and progressive countries in Europe and, indeed the world.  As an example, in 2005 it became the third nation on the planet--after the Netherlands and Belgium--to legalize same-sex marriage.

Note that I used the word "seemingly."  As in other countries, liberalism and tolerance of racial, ethnic, sexual and gender-expression minorities is found mainly in the large cities.  Rural areas and other places far removed from cities either remained conservative or were part of a "backlash" --which included animus against immigrants--that boosted right-wing politicians and parties into power.

In this sense, a recent development in Elche is not surprising.  A coalition of right- and far-right parties now rules the third-largest city in the Valencia region. They are un-doing what previous administrations did or started--including a bike lane in the center of town. 

Moreover, the city's new government wants to increase the amount of space allotted for cars on the city's streets because--tell me if you haven't heard this before--bike lanes "take away parking spaces" and "cause traffic jams."

It seems that right-wing politicians and their supporters see cyclists and bike lanes as easy targets.  Part of that, I believe, is that in a departure from times past, much of the native working class--who form much of the base of support, as they do for the Republican Party in the United States--either work in auto-related industries or are car-dependent in one way or another.  Cycling is therefore seen as attack on their way of life.

Also, in Elche the bike lane, like others in European cities, was funded in part by a European Union fund to develop "low emission zones"--of which the newly-dismantled bike lane.  Right-wing nationalists can therefore depict bike lanes and other sustainability projects as "overreach" by far-away bureaucrats, whether in Brussels (for the EU) or in Washington DC or state capitals (in the US).

It seems that everywhere a nation or group of people tries to make its country or community more sustainable and livable, the pushback comes from the political right--and bicycles and cyclists are among the first targets.

21 September 2023

Their City Is Dying. Blame The Bike Lane.

Recently, another neighbor of mine lamented that the bike lane on our street--Crescent, in Astoria, Queens--is "ruining the neighborhood."

"How?" I asked.

"It used to be so easy to park here.  Now it's impossible," she complained.

I didn't express that I found her cri de coeur ironic given that she doesn't drive.  I believe, however, that she knew what I was thinking:  "When I did drive, one of the reasons I moved here from Manhattan was so that I could have a car.  So did a lot of other people."

To be fair, the reason she doesn't drive is an injury incurred in--you guessed it--a car crash.  So while I conceded that some folks--like the ones who pick her up for errands and outings--need to drive, I pointed out that others could do their chores by walking or biking and their commutes on buses or trains--or bikes.  "Didn't people find it harder to park as more cars came into the neighborhood."

"Yeah, but the bike lane made things worse."

In one sense, I agree with her:  the bike lane was poorly-conceived and -placed.  But blame for decades' worth of traffic and parking congestion on bike lanes that are only a few years old seems, to me, just a bit misplaced.

It seems that such mistaken vilification is not unique to my neighborhood or city--or to American locales in general.  In the UK city of Doncaster, "cycle paths, pedestrianisation and poor bus planning" are "slowly choking our wonderful city centre."  Nick Fletcher, a Tory MP, heaped on the hyperbole, begging planners to "reverse this trend" before "Doncaster becomes a ghost town."

What is the "trend" he's talking about?  The one he and others claim they saw unfold in nearby Sheffield:  a plan to turn downtowns into "15 minute cities," where all of the businesses and services a resident needs are within a 15 minute walk or bike ride. Fletcher and other conservative MPs see such plans the way much of today's Republican Party sees vaccination, mask-wearing during a pandemic, teaching actual history and science and shifting from fossil to sustainable fuels:  as "socialist conspiracies."

Doncha' no"?  They're part of a socialist conspiracy to destroy their city!

Where I live is, in effect, a 15 minute city:  Whatever one's needs, interests or preferences, they can be reached within that time frame, without a motorized vehicle.  Even midtown Manhattan is reachable in that time when the trains are running on time.  And in my humble judgment, Astoria is hardly a "ghost town."  Nor are neighboring Long Island City, Sunnyside or Woodside--or Greenpoint in Brooklyn-- all of which are, or nearly are, 15 minute cities. 

Oh, and from what I've heard and read, Sheffield and Doncaster are both "post industrial" cities in South Yorkshire.  Steel is no longer made in Sheffield, once the nation's center of that industry, just as coal and mining were once, but are no longer, synonymous with Doncaster's identity.  Both cities have endured losses of population that disproportionately include the young and the educated.  So it seems as ludicrous to blame bike lanes and bus routes, even "poorly planned" ones, for turning those cities into "ghost towns" as it does to blame a poorly-conceived bike lane for the lack of parking in a neighborhood to which people moved from Manhattan so they could have cars.

18 September 2023

Riding In Beauty

 Some of you would  cringe if I quote a Carpenters’ song. I wouldn’t blame you.  But I’m going to cite one of their tunes anyway: “Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.”

Today is a very rainy Monday.  I don’t mind:  Yesterday, Saturday and Friday afternoon comprised one of the most glorious weekends for cycling I’ve had in this part of the world. The skies ranged from clear azure to swirly silver and blue with the sun piercing through—and temperatures from 15 to 25c (60 to 77F).

Friday afternoon was a ramble along the Brooklyn and Queens waterfronts between my apartment and the Williamsburg Bridge, and out to the Hispanic and Hasidic neighborhoods of the non-gentrified areas of Williamsburg and East Williamsburg.  

Saturday was ideal for a trek to Greenwich, Connecticut: I pedaled into the wind through the Bronx, Westchester County and over the ridge into the Nutmeg State.  That meant I rode the wind home.

I had the same kind of luck with the wind yesterday, when I pushed my way out to Point Lookout and glided home. The wind seemed to have blown out of the south-southeast:  I had to put more effort into the first stretch, going mostly south from my apartment to Rockaway Beach, than I did on the mostly-eastward section from Rockaway to the Point.

I didn’t take any photos on Friday or Saturday because, as beautiful as those experiences were, they are rides I’ve done many times and I didn’t see anything unusual. That will probably change soon enough, at least on the Connecticut ride, when Fall begins to paint the trees and foliage from its pallette.

On yesterday’s ride, though, a vista from the western end of the Long Beach boardwalk reflected the way this weekend’s rides felt:

I rode in beauty, or at least its light, this weekend. Maybe this rainy Monday won’t get me down, at least not too much.

(In case you were wondering, I rode Tosca, my Mercian fixed gear on Friday. Saturday, Dee-Lilah, my Mercian Vincitore Special, took me to Connecticut.  And yesterday La-Vande, my King of Mercia, brought me to the beaches.)

17 September 2023

Clothes Make The Rider

Some cyclists simply cannot imagine wearing anything but Lycra while riding. For a time, I was such a rider.

These days, I don't wear Lycra--though, perhaps, not for the same reason as this rider:

Can you imagine him in an outfit like this?:

16 September 2023

The Campag Kid Is Holey


No, this isn’t one of my Mercians—though you may be forgiven for thinking that it is.

Rather, it’s an almost-finished build by someone who calls himself “The Campag Kid.” Here in the US, we call Campagnolo “Campy,” but in the UK, the nickname is “Campag.”

That distinction is just one indication of how bicycle culture  in England differed from that of the US or Continental Europe in the 1970s. Bicycle racing—and cycling in general—was ending a long period of dormancy.  In countries like France, Belgium and Italy, the racing scene was dominated by one-day “classics” and multi-day time trials.  But in England, the chief mode of competitive cycling was the time trial.  So, perhaps, it’s not surprising that Campag Kid’s heroes were Alf Engers, Beryl Burton and of course Eddy Mercx. 

It was Eddy who, wittingly or not, started the cult of “drillium.” The word is a portmanteau of “drilling” and “titanium,” and the practice involved, basically, drilling components—usually Campagnolo—within an inch of their lives.

The bike Eddy rode for his 1972 hour record ride was adorned with “holey” stuff. The belief then—as in some quarters today—was that “lighter is faster.” As titanium was used only for small bits like fastening nuts and carbon fiber was a couple of decades on the horizon. So aluminum and steel parts were the ones that got the treatment.

The 1970s Mercian Superlight frame Campag Kid is building lived up to its name:  It was one of the lightest road frames—and had one of the tightest geometries—available  at the time.

As Campag Kid explains,  the cult of drillium—which was arguably even stronger in the UK than in the US—died in the 198Os as aerodynamics came to dominate high-performance bicycle component design. All of those holes came to be seen as “wind catchers,” and aerodynamic parts, although they were sometimes heavier than even non-drilled bits, were believed to be more efficient.

Whether or not drillium has any effect on speed, it certainly can be eye-catching. Oh, and I love the color of that Mercian—and the fact that it’s a Mercian!

15 September 2023

What Is A Bike—Or Bike Lane?

When asked to define “film,” the director Jean-Luc Godard replied, “truth at 24 frames per second.”

Would that New York City’s Department of Transportation would define “bike” so clearly! Then again, if the DOT would, would the city’s Police Department enforce any policy about who and what could be in a bike lane.

The cynic in me says that my question is rhetorical: Just about anyone who pedals a non-motorized bike or walks in a bike-ped lane would answer with an emphatic, “Are you kidding?”

Too many of this city’s bike lanes (and I almost) have been overrun with two-wheeled contraptions that have no pedal assist and that run by a twist of the driver’s wrist.  They, apparently, are lumped in with electric-assisted pedal bikes because they’re sold by the same dealerships.

Now the DOT wants to expand the definition of a commercial e-bike to 48 inches (122 cm) from the current 36 inches (91.4 cm) and “allow” a “maximum” speed of 20 mph (32 kph), which current e-bike riders routinely exceed.

Those behemoths would be even bigger than the delivery “bikes” UPS is trialing on city streets—and weigh 500 pounds (227 kg.).  Oh, and the “bikes” have four wheels.

In other words, they would be as wide as most bike lanes—which would effectively block everyone else—and, with their volume, mass and four wheels, could build enough momentum to maim or kill cyclists.

If such vehicles are allowed to use the lanes, are they still “bike” lanes?

14 September 2023

A "Smart" Investment?

For all of the work that has been done with frame and wheel materials and configurations, and with new ways of shifting and braking, the single most important bicycle-related technological innovation--indeed, one of the world's most important technological innovations, period-- is 135 years old.

I am talking about the pneumatic tire, which John Boyd Dunlop created.  Note my choice of the last word in the previous sentence:  For decades, Dunlop was cited as the "inventor" of the air-filled rubber tire.  But neither he nor researchers on the subject seemed to have been aware of the patent fellow Scotsman Robert Thomson took out four decades earlier for his "aerial wheels," which were tubes of rubber strengthened by a process Thomson invented:  vulcanization.

 Thomson's creations were produced only in limited quantities mainly because rubber, at the time, was very expensive.  And, because there were no cars or planes, and very few of anything we would recognize as bicycles, the market for his creation was limited.  Apparently, though trials showed that carriages fitted with Thomson's "aerial"s were markedly faster and more comfortable, carriage owners and operators didn't line up to buy them.  My guess is that changing a flat tire would have been, to say the least, arduous.

Anyway, Dunlop's tires literally changed the world: Without them,  bicycles, cars and trucks would be no faster than horse-drawn carriages , and modern aircraft could not take off or land. And, ever since, owners and operators of vehicles have tried to eliminate the main drawback of air-filled tires--that they can flat--without sacrificing their buoyancy.

(To clarify:  For whatever advantages they offer, today's tubeless tires do not solve this dilemma.  Since they are filled with air, they indeed can go flat.)

It seems that every decade or two, someone or some company or another comes out with an airless tire.  A few years ago, I wrote about one I rode--the Zeus LCM--I tried about four decades ago, when I worked at Highland Park Cyclery in New Jersey. While I understood their appeal to commuters and folks who weren't confident in their mechanical abilities--or simply didn't want to dirty their hands or scratch their newly-enameled nails--I switched back to my air-filled tubed tires after a few rides.  

About two and a half years ago, I wrote about one of the latest attempts to create an airless tire.  Actually, unless I want to be struck by the ghost of my old physics teacher, I have to correct myself:  there is air at the core of the tire I'm about to describe, just as there is air in most "empty" spaces on Earth.  The difference is that the air at the hollow core of the Metl tire isn't pressurized and not necessary for the tire to hold its shape.

Rather, the Metl tire, as the name indicates, is kept round by a Slinky-like spring made from a nickel-titanium alloy and wound around the inside of a polyurethane-rubber tube, which has a replaceable rubber tread.  The alloy used in the spring, combined with its design, makes for a tire that, like conventional pneumatics, deforms on impact but springs back to its original shape.  This design is very similar to the tires used on planetary rover vehicles, so it's not surprising that tires were developed for the Smart Tire Company with NASA's cooperation.

The Metl tire, without its tread.

The treads are said to have a lifespan of 5000 to 8000 miles (about 8000 to 12,800 km) but the main body of the tire should last for the life of the bike, according to Smart.  They fit conventional rims and are now available--via a Kickstarter campaign--in 700C X 32,35 and 38C sizes.  The 35C width has a claimed weight of 450 grams (about 16 ounces, or one pound), which is fairly typical for a tire of its size.

A pledge of $500 will get you a pair of tires, and it costs $10 to re-tread them.  A complete set of aluminum or carbon-fiber wheels clad with Metl tires can be had with pledges of $1300 and $2300, respectively.  Just take note, dear investors (When have you ever seen that phrase in a novel?) that delivery of the tires and wheels isn't expected before next June.

13 September 2023

When A Local Ride Turns Into A Journey

The other day, before I wrote my 9/11 commemorative piece, I took a ride:  a ramble through Queens and Brooklyn on Tosca, my Mercian fixed-gear.

My ride included some familiar streets and sights.  But I also took in some streets--or, more precisely, segments of them--I hadn't ridden before.

One of those thoroughfares, Carroll Street, spans the breadth of Brooklyn in two sections.  The first begins at Hoyt Street, near the borough's downtown hub and cuts through the brownstone neighborhoods of Carroll Gardens and Park Slope on its way to Prospect Park.  On the other side of the Park, Carroll continues along through neighborhoods less known to tourists:  Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, Crown Heights and Ocean Hill-Brownsville.  It was along that second section, in Crown Heights, that I chanced upon these houses: 

They combine the brownstone facades one sees on the other side of the park with Victorian-style cornices--and rounded, almost turret-like fronts I've seen only in Ridgewood and a couple of other Queens neighborhoods.  That block of Carroll--between Kingston and Albany Avenues--lies in the heart of the Hasidic neighborhood of the Heights.

After I took the photos, I walked Tosca (Carroll is a one-way street) to check out a store where I didn't think I'd buy anything but I wanted to see because it's unlike any in my neighborhood of Astoria, or in most other places.

Turns out, the place moved around the corner, to Kingston Avenue.  I peeked in; the young man working in it knew full well that I wasn't from the community and therefore wouldn't buy the mezuzahs (Star of David medallions found on the doorways of homes), prayer shawls or other items ultra-Orthodox Jews use in their daily lives and worship.  But he didn't seem to mind my being there and we exchanged greetings of "shalom" on my way in and out.

As I turned to my left, I noticed an alleyway in the middle of the block.  

The first painting, closest to the street, seems like a conventional representation of a Torah lesson--until you look closely.  But the sky-blue background gives the scene an almost ethereal feel and the rabbi's expression makes him seem, simultaneously, like a relative and an ancestor, as if the kids might be in a room with him or that he might have come to them in a dream or vision.

To their left were two other murals.  Is the girl--woman?--in awe or fear?  I couldn't help but to think about Edvard Munch's "The Scream"--which, I'm sure, the artist intended.  But is it a scream of ecstasy or terror, or something else?  I might've asked the same questions about the man in the other mural which, of course, evokes Van Gogh's "Starry Night."

Even though the compositions echo (pun intended) Munch and Van Gogh, I felt that the artist's real inspiration may have been one of the greatest Jewish modern artists:  Marc Chagall.  At least, the colors--themselves and the way they play off, with and against each other--reminded me of his paintings and the stained-glass windows he created for the cathedral of Reims, France, to replace the ones blown out during World War II.  In fact, in walking past the murals with Tosca, I felt as if I were in an open-air temple or synagogue.

On the other side of Kingston is another alley, with this portrait by the same artist:

I thought it was interesting how that artist used blue differently from the way it's used in the painting of the Torah lesson.  Here, it makes the man--whom I assume to be, if not a rabbi, then at least some sort of elder in the community.  

It never ceases to amaze me how taking a random turn during a ride in my city can take me on a journey!

11 September 2023

They Left Their Bikes. I Hope They Made It Home.

 Twenty-two years ago today, some young men who believed they fighting for Allah hijacked three passenger airliners. Inside one plane, passengers fought the hijackers and diverted them from careening  it into the Pentagon. Instead, the plane crashed into a field, killing everyone on board.

No passengers, crew members or hijackers survived the other two flights, either. One hit the Pentagon. The other slammed into the World Trade Center—just a couple of miles upwind from where I lived at the time.

In previous posts, I commemorated 9/11 anniversaries by discussing the essential workers. Some rode bicycles to their jobs. Others—who delivered everything from contracts to quesadillas—rode bikes for their livings.

Some of their bikes were found weeks, months, even years, later.  Some of them, alas, were never heard from again.  We can only hope they made it out of the WTC area. If they did, I hope they made it home, wherever that may have been, wherever that is.

10 September 2023

What’s On Their Minds?

 In yesterday’s post, I recalled a bike I rode around the time the  Notorius B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur we’re making their presence known.

I couldn’t help but to think about something else that was popular around that time.  A sinuous profile of a woman interposed on an image of Sigmund Freud’s head appeared on posters and T-shirts with the inscription, “What’s on a man’s mind?” Sometimes the question mark was omitted, turning the query into a declaration.

So, in that vein, the flow of my thoughts turned to this question:  What’s on a cyclist’s mind?

09 September 2023

A New Bike-Packer—Or A ‘90’s Mountain Bike?

Because I am in, ahem, midlife, I am old enough to have owned and ridden a mountain bike made around the time Rock Shox, Marzocchi, Manitou and a few other hitherto-unknown companies were bringing internally-sprung front forks to the general public.  A few bike-makers were developing frames with suspension in the rear triangle. But that feature, and suspension (what Brits called “telescoping”) front forks were still extra-cost options or modifications.

At that time, in the early-to-mid-1990s, mountain bike frames like my Jamis Dakota typically had 71 degree head angles, which are a bit more slack than road frames (73-74 degrees) but more aggressive than ‘80’s machines that, like the balloon-tired bikes from which they evolved—and many of today’s “hauler” and “rough stuff” bikes—had angles ranging from 69 all the way down to 66 degrees.

Bikes like my old Dakota, I believe, were attempts to inject some road-bike responsiveness into mountain bikes, some of which were, frankly, sluggish. But those bikes from three decades ago were comfortable and stable enough that they were often used for loaded touring (sometimes after switching the flat handlebars for dropped bars), as Trek and other bike-makers stopped making dedicated touring bikes around 1988.

Well, someone at the Dutch bike company Van Nicholas seems to have ridden—or simply recalls—one of those mountain bikes. Their new Nootau, billed as “the ultimate bike-packing machine,” is built around a titanium frame with a geometry nearly identical to a just-before-suspension off-road bike.

Of course, the Nootau’s componentry has almost nothing in common with what was in use around the time “Smells Like Teen Spirit” blasted across the airwaves. Like most of today’s new bikes, it has a threadless headset and stem, which were available but not standard.  But, unlike the cantilever brakes on vintage mountain bikes, disc brakes stop the Nootau.  Discs enjoyed brief popularity, mainly on tandems, during the late 1970s and have been revamped during the past few years.

Perhaps the most striking difference, however, between the Nootau’s equipment and that of vintage mountain bikes is in the drivetrain: the Nootau has no derailleurs. Instead, its single-sprocket crankset is mated to a Rohloff rear hub with 14 internal gears. (I’m trying to wrap my head around that: I’ve had Sturmey Archer and Shimano three- and five-soeed internally-geared hubs.

I may not have the opportunity to ride a Van Nicholas Nootau. I must say that I like its look—and relish the irony of how much its design resembles that of my old Jamis Dakota.

08 September 2023

Heat Or Rain?

 Another soupy morning.  Again, I went for an early ride.  Today, however, I wasn’t sure whether I was trying to beat the heat or a rainstorm.  Both were forecast for today.

When I pedaled along the Malcolm X Promenade, just past LaGuardia Airport, I would’ve bet on the rain, except that I don’t bet. Anyway, I kept on riding—out to Fort Totten.

My money (colloquially, of course) was still on rain.  I actually wouldn’t have minded it on such a hot day.

By the time I got home, clouds were parting and the sun was peeking through. The weather forecasters still talked about “possible” showers or thunderstorms for the rest of the day.

07 September 2023

Sunrise Ride Before The Heat

I've been busy during the last two days.

This morning, however, I was able to take a "beat the heat" ride.  Today, yesterday and Monday were "90/90 days, with temperatures (in Fahrenheit) and humidity exceeding those numbers.  

But, even with such summer-like weather, the days are becoming more autumnal in that every day, there's a bit less daylight than the day before.  A few weeks ago, the sky would have been in full-daylight mode at 6:30 am.  This morning, at that hour, I crossed Greenpoint Avenue in Brooklyn and, as I glanced to my left--back toward Queens--I saw this:

Beating the heat was just one benefit of such an early ride:  Rarely do I see a sunrise so filling an urban canyon!  


04 September 2023

A Labor Day Ride

 Today is Labor Day in the US.

In previous posts, I discusses races and other organized rides held on this holiday as well as the roles bicycles and bicycling have played in the labor movement and workers’ lives.  Today, however, I want to talk about something I saw during my ride this morning.

Knowing that a hot, humid afternoon was forecast, I took a pre-breakfast/brunch spin to Fort Totten (about 40 km round-trip) on Tosca, my Mercian fixed-gear. This ride includes, as it usually does, the Malcolm X Promenade, which rims Flushing Bay (where the East River and Long Island Sound meet) from LaGuardia Airport to the Northern Boulevard Bridge to Flushing. 

There are park benches along the Promenade so, not surprisingly, it serves as a lover’s lane, spot for impromptu small parties and simply a place for people to hang out and enjoy views of the water, airport and Manhattan skyline.

I have also seen the unhoused there.  If J they catch my attention, or they catch mine and I am carrying anything edible, I offer it,  They invariably thank me and sometimes eat it as I am pedaling away.  Are they testing it, or do they somehow know that I didn’t spike it with chemicals or ground glass?

Anyway, I have also noticed people—almost always Hispanic men—sleeping or hanging out on benches. I know they are not among the unhoused because they are not flanked or propped by bags or carts full of possessions.

They are most likely like a man who sometimes sits in the doorways of apartment buildings or on the stoops of houses on my block. He always greets me; he “knows” me because he works in a store I sometimes frequent. I see him from late afternoon or early evening to around midnight.

What might he have in common with at least one of the people I saw along the Malcolm X Promenade? Well, for one thing, he works a job that doesn’t pay well. For another, he lives in a room in “shifts.”

He’s in those doorways or on those stoops during the hours when his “roommate“—who probably is in a situation like his—is there. They share the room, and the rent, with another man who is most likely in similar circumstances.

I am mentioning them—and the people I saw during my ride this morning—because they are often forgotten on this day. I am happy that unions are regaining some of the power they’ve lost since the Air Traffic Controllers’ strike of 1981.  But for every union member who’s regained some of the rights, benefits and pay they lost, there are many more like the man on my block or the ones I saw during my ride this morning: the ones who don’t have unions, knowledge of the system or fluency in English to advocate for themselves, let alone anyone else.

03 September 2023

Kids These Days….

 I have never had children.  So, I don’t know what it’s like to teach one’s kid how to ride a bike.

As satisfying as such an experience may be, I imagine it was never easy.  And it probably is even more complicated today:

02 September 2023

Another Beautiful Day, Another (Good) Bike Lane

 Yesterday’s weather was much like Thursday’s, just a couple of degrees cooler. So, of course, I hopped on one of my bikes—La-Vande, my King of Mercia—and pedaled into the wind.

Once again, I followed the Bruckner bike lane. I had to wiggle around a couple of trucks and construction cranes that, apparently, were being used to do some maintenance on the Bruckner Expressway.  I didn’t begrudge the workers:  I was such a great mood from riding on such a beautiful day, and I didn’t want it to be spoiled by a highway falling on me!

Anyway, I rode to—where else?—Greenwich, Connecticut. Along the way, I made another, longer, detour. This one was intentional, though:  I followed another bike lane I hadn’t previously ridden.  Starting at Old Post Road in Rye, it’s a single ribbon of asphalt (well-paved!) that parallels, and is separated from, the Playland Parkway to the Rye Playland, an old-school amusement park that somehow fends off threats from much larger and flashier amusement parks. 

The lane reminded me of some that I’ve ridden in Europe: It followed a significant roadway and,‘while peaceful and even somewhat scenic, is actually useful in getting from one place to another.

The detour added a couple of miles to my ride.  Of course I didn’t mind: I had no deadline and the weather seemed to get even better.

Today is supposed to be as nice, but a few degrees warmer. After I finish my coffee, yogurt and croissant, I’ll be on my way—to where, I haven’t decided.