Tuesday, 30 June 2009

July Mid-City Bike Blast

Just received the announcement for the July Mid-City Bike Blast ride, and it sounds like an exceptionally awesome ride! If you live in San Diego, or within a reasonable distance, this is one you don't want to miss:

"You are cordially invited to July 11th Bike Blast!  We will meet at the City Heights Farmer’s Market at 10:00 AM, leaving at 10:30 AM. Teaming up with San Diego Food Not Lawns, this month we will be stopping at different gardens: elementary school, community, and private gardens in the Mid City area. People who work on these gardens will be there to show us around, and maybe even let us share their produce! Bring something to carry your veggies: a bag, a backpack, a basket, or panniers. We ask that children under 10 are accompanied by an adult or older sibling. We will be going at a slow, conversational pace, and bring your helmet! We will do our best to stick together, but if you get too far behind, you will be on your own. After the ride, stay and shop at the City Heights Farmer’s Market!"

Unusual Flavor: Cycling and the Unaccountability of Taste

As you may know, this past Friday was renowned director Stanley "The Manley" Kubrick's birthday. As such, that Robert Osborne guy from the cable was showing a few of his films, including "Lolita," which Osborne failed to mention is the "Citizen Kane" of pedophilia movies. Having recorded it on my Betamax (the Campagnolo Euclid group of audiovisual equipment) I was watching it yesterday evening when I noticed that, save for the dimpled chin, the Lone Wolf looks a lot like the film's star, James Mason:

For a moment I thought that maybe the Lone Wolf is James Mason, but then I realized that James Mason is no longer with us--and even if James Mason was still with us, he would have turned 100 this past May. Also, as I pointed out, the Lone Wolf has a chin dimple, which James Mason didn't, although it's not impossible that the Lone Wolf's is not genetic and he had it added surgically to enhance his aerodynamics. If this is the case, then it's still possible that the Lone Wolf is somehow related to James Mason--perhaps he's a cousin, or a nephew, or even an erstwhile son. This in turn opens up the enticing possibility that the Lone Wolf also shares James Mason's characteristically suave way of speaking:

If he does, the bicycle industry would be well-advised to seek the Lone Wolf as a spokesperson. I can see him rolling casually on a Tarmac, wearing an ascot and a smoking jacket and saying "I am Specialized" in that lilting Masonesque tone. Listening to James Mason is like watching a satin sheet billowing on a clothesline, whereas listening to Tom Boonen or Paolo Bettini is like listening to some tourist in South Beach try to order a mojito.

Speaking of Boonen and Bettini, it looks like neither will be riding in this year's Tour de France. Boonen of course was banned for having "indirect contact with cocaine" (which somehow sounds even worse than having direct contact with it, like maybe there was an assistant and a suppository involved), and Bettini of course is retired from cycling and has moved on to rally racing:

I'd like to think he has a smooth-talking James Masonesque navigator ("Do bear right after the crest in the road, if you'd be so kind"), or at least someone who talks like 80s Dom Irrera, but I'm guessing his navigator probably sounds more like Roberto Benigni after a night of partying with Tom Boonen.

Ah yes, there's no surer sign of summer than the start of the Tour de France. I, however, prefer to savor the sights and sounds of the sweaty season closer to home. For example, I recently ventured into Williamsburg, Brooklyn (I'm shopping for a new identity and I heard they were having a sale on the retro gas station attendant look) and found its main thoroughfare, Bedford Avenue, to be in the throes of "Williamsburg Walks:"

Not only was Williamsburg walking, but they were also schluffing--on their fixed-gears!

Of course, where there are large numbers of hipsters attempting to saunter off their hangovers, there are people ready to sell them crappy bikes:

Note the pie plate on this makeshift display. Actually, when I first saw this I was excited because I thought it might be some kind game show, and that this was a Wheel of Bicycle Fortune. Had it been, I doubt I would have been able to contain my excitement. Unfortunately, on closer inspection I realized that the wheel didn't spin, nor was there a hipster Pat Sajak or even a hipster Vanna White with a muffin top and a tramp stamp. There was just some guy with a bunch of "vintage" crap, and if I wanted it I had to pay for it. Oh well, I guess for that kind of entertainment you need to go to Portland.

But summer in New York City means more than just closed streets. It also means lots of people on bicycles. In fact, there are so many bicycles out there right now that people are locking them up two-deep:

I don't really have any explanation for this except that people must now be parking their bicycles in ascending order of cost. I'm sure if I'd waited long enough someone would have arrived on a Pista Concept with an Aerospoke and locked it on top of the Surly, and so forth, until there was some sort of custom Chari & Co. monstrosity with white tires and H+Son rims and tiny anodized riser bars at the very top. It seems we've officially reached the point here in New York where the street signs are now just skewers for gigantic shishkabobs of trendiness.

Personally, I'm more than happy to acknowledge the Ironic Orange Julius Bike's status as the low bicycle on the totem pole, which is why I still lock it at street level. (Also, it's too heavy to lift that high.) However, I suppose I'm still somewhat audacious, because I did recently dare to lock it up next to (instead of beneath) this:

I've noticed with both interest and annoyance that in a relatively short amount of time the narrow riser bar has gone from affectation to trend to de rigeur. Nearly every fixed-gear I see in New York City is now set up this way. Actually, I've come to think of these kinds of bars as "moustache bars." Of course, I realize that a real moustache bar looks like this, but the fact is that since the days of Wyatt Earp you seldom see moustaches that long and wide anymore--Tom Ritchey and this guy notwithstanding. No, generally, when you see a moustache now it's relatively short and tidy, with just a mild curve--like a narrow riser handlebar, or like the hairy curtain above James Mason's mouth:

Still, it's too confusing to refer to both types of bars as "moustache bars." Also, I'm certain that Grant Petersen would fight any attempts to wrest the term away from the bars he sells, and as a "woosie" there's no way I'm going to tempt his exquisitely-lugged fury. As such, in the spirit of compromise, I should probably refer to them as "unibrow bars" instead:

This term may conflict with "wheelbrows" (formerly "fenders") but at least it gets Petersen off my case.

Speaking of eyebrows, the constant increase in the number of bicycles has brought with it an increase in brow-furrowing behavior. In the past, I've written of the "sandbar of idiocy," which is the result of this infuriating unwritten rule:

If you stop at a red light and there is already another cyclist waiting at it, you must stop your bicycle in front of the rider who is already there.

Well, lately these "sandbars of idiocy" are eroding in a hurricane of ridiculousness. It's not enough to just come to a stop in front of somebody now; instead, you've got to do it with "flambullience:"

I was waiting at a light recently when I heard the now-familiar and unmistakable sound of a cheap tire skidding behind me. The rider then cut in front of me, revealing a gilded bike, and proceeded to trackstand in the middle of the busy intersection. Interestingly, while the bike lacked "unibrow bars," it was equipped with a brake, which made the skid seem that much more melodramatic. In fact, the entire episode was overly theatrical--to me, skidding into the middle of an intersection and then just (track)standing there is like showing up late to a dinner party, leaping up on the table while everyone else is eating, and doing a model walk.

Speaking of models, a reader recently forwarded me a video in which a model demonstrates the perils of improper saddle adjustment:

Yes, it turns out that if you attempt to mount a bicycle with a vertical saddle the results can be quite uncomfortable--so much so that I was forced to both sepiafy and Larry Kingify them:

Furthermore, the video goes on to show that continuing to ride a saddle adjusted in this manner can make you prone to mishaps involving other household items as well, such as vases containing floral arrangements:

Yes, it just goes to show that even obscenity is subjective, and that one person's pornography is simply another person's cycling PSA.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Veloship of the Chainrings: Riding on Water

Last Friday, I criticized the people of Portland for their flamboyantly ebullient (or, as I prefer to think of it, "flambullient") approach to cycling. Subsequently, I was pleased to see that they received this criticism with good humor--a quality which appears to be typical of them, and which is no doubt a product of light workloads, bicycle-friendly streets, and a wholesome diet of locally-grown organic foodstuffs. Meanwhile, here in New York City, cycling is all too often a dour business consisting of many insoluble subsets, each of which refuses to acknowledge (much less ride with) the others, regardless of whether theme costumes are involved.

However, there are some riders in this world who transcend these subsets. They even transcend the very notion of the theme ride, since their entire lives are theme rides, and that theme is cosmic oneness. They are simultaneously soluble and insoluble, as all of cycling exists within them. I'm speaking of course of cycling's Lone Wolves, who occasionally deign to take human form and ride among us:

I've been criticized in the past for posting images of the Lone Wolf, despite the fact that I do so with genuine reverence. Frankly, if revering the Lone Wolf is wrong, then I don't want to be right. The truth is that I am always simultaneously excited and envious when someone spots the Lone Wolf, as was the case this past Sunday, when a reader was fortunate enough to encounter him at the Manhattan Beach Grand Prix:

As you can see, the White Lotus bicycle is manifest here. Needless to say, it's no coincidence that this is what the Lone Wolf rides. According to that irrefutable authority, the "internet," in Buddhism the White Lotus "symbolizes Bodhi, the state of total mental purity and spiritual perfection, and the pacification of our nature." Note in particular that the USA decals on the twin disc wheels are in harmonious alignment. However, in stunning contrast to this is the Lone Wolf's countenance, which instead of its characteristic beatitude appears to be fraught with concern. While at first glance the source of the Lone Wolf's consternation is not apparent, the scene directly across the street from where he is sitting makes everything immediately clear:

Who would dare to display a lesser white bicycle in the presence of the Lone Wolf? This no doubt is the object of his lamentations. Of course, the Lone Wolf's expression should not be mistaken for anger, as he is above anger. Rather, he is simply in a state of deep compassion for this poor being. Clearly, this person is attempting to take a shortcut to enlightenment, and putting together a bicycle like this and taunting the Lone Wolf with it is like assembling a plastic Christmas tree next to the Bodhi Tree, napping under it for 20 minutes, and then springing to your feet and announcing, "I've attained enlightenment!" It just doesn't work that way.

Still, this does not prevent people from making premature pronouncements of cycling gnosis. A reader recently alerted me to these knuckle tattoos, with which the wearer claims to have attained a state of "Veloship:"

Apparently, "Veloship" is defined as follows:


noun, verb, Wes-ism, -shipped or -shiped, -shipping or -shiping

1. the condition or relation of being a fellow velo: the fellowship of cyclists.
2. friendly relationship; companionship: the fellowship between riders.
3. community of interest, feeling, etc.
4. communion, as between members of the same bicycle gang.

5. an association of persons having similar tastes, interests, etc. in cycling
6. a company, guild, or corporation.

–verb (used with object)
7. to admit to fellowship, esp. bicycling fellowship.
–verb (used without object)
8. to join in fellowship, esp. bicycling fellowship.

- Wes-ism
9. The fellowship of the bicycle. Basically what it comes down to is fellowship on bikes. You
ride with someone and talk about life, God, whatever... And that's what I'll be doing for
the rest of my life.

1. velo-radeship, cyclo-camaraderie, friendcycle, velo-society, intimacy.

However, when I see a pair of hands that say "VELO SHIP" on them, I think of only one thing:

Since it now rains All The Time in New York City, I have a feeling that the "velo ship" conversion is going to become the next big thing. Forget horizontal dropouts and fixed cogs; soon it's going to be all about the pontoons. Not only will this come in handy for flooding, but it will also mean that you won't have to use any of the bridges; instead, you can just ford the East River wherever you feel like it. Actually, it looks like it's taking off already, since "velo ship" riders are beginning to organize alleycats:

That must be the post-race trackstand competition.

Not only that, but "velo ships" are also great for time trials, as the video page shows:

Aerobars Aweigh!

Fortunately, though, some riders are still more humble about their places in the universe, and as such they choose asceticism as the path to spiritual transformation. Here's one such example from the Fixedgeargallery:

While the rider's asceticism is not apparent from the Iro above, it does become clear when you see his second bike, below:

Clearly, this rider has divested his bicycles of unnecessary ornamentation to such a degree that he has but one saddle and seatpost, and he switches them from bike to bike as necessary:

ITTET I applaud such frugality. Really, if you think about it, what's the point of having a seatpost and saddle on every one of your bikes? You can only ride one at a time after all, and most people have a particular saddle they prefer anyway. You've only got one crotch, so why do you need five seats?

But while asceticism and a lack of attachment to material possessions can be spiritually healthy, that doesn't mean that you should invite theft, as is the case with this Bianchi spotted by Daddo One:

This may not be the key to enlightenment, but it is the key to a free bicycle as well as possibly the contents of the owner's home. Perhaps the rider is testing the "veloship" of his or her fellow riders. Personally, I think it's about as "bulletproof" as an R-Sys.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

So Much Park, So Few Picnics

Balboa Park and its satellite neighborhood parks are so vast, we could have a picnic every weekend for a year and never have it in the same place twice. We just might!

The Favored Son

As my bicycle stable has, well, stabilized for the time-being, I'm finding that I do not love all my children just the same. I find myself drawn to the Huffeigh even for errands that might better belong to either the Columbia or the Schwinn.

Two nights ago, I ran to the market for beer, a half-gallon of milk, and one of those little watermelons. It ended up being quite a heavy little load of stuff. Instead of taking the Columbia or the Schwinn, which are better-equipped to take this kind of load, I couldn't resist the stately allure of the Huffeigh, with its new Brooks saddle and cork grips and bell and gleaming black paint. I was a little surprised to find that the whole disproportionately heavy load fit quite nicely into the little basket I've mounted on the rear rack, and I had no trouble at all.

The bikes have also fallen into clear roles: the Columbia is the work-horse, the grocery bike, the long-hauler. It sits me forward a bit more, the saddle is higher, and I feel like I pedal it more efficiently -- better for hard work. The Runwell, which has been idle for some time awaiting new tires, is always going to be the older gentleman who doesn't get out much, I'm afraid. And the Schwinn, well, the Schwinn is quite comfortable, but ungainly and heavy.

But the Huffeigh is just the right combination of all three: it can carry a load, it's sufficiently old, and it's very comfortable. I just like it, is all. So now we're about to go on a picnic, and although I probably should take one of the other bikes, I think it's going to be the Huffeigh again.

Friday, 26 June 2009

BSNYC Firday Fun Quiz!

As the week draws to a close, there is obviously one thing on everybody's lips, and I'm not talking about cold sores or ironic mustaches. I'm referring of course to Michael Jackson's death. Now, ordinarily I wouldn't even mention it, since everybody else is discussing it and will continue to do so for some time to come. However, mere hours after Jackson's death, I was reading the New York Times and saw this:

Impromptu vigils broke out around the world, from Portland, Ore., where fans organized a one-gloved bike ride (“glittery costumes strongly encouraged”) to Hong Kong, where fans gathered with candles and sang his songs.

Now, I realize Portland considers itself the home of "bike culture," and I'm sure it's a lovely place to ride a bike, but seriously--it's enough already. Is there any news or pop cultural event around which the people of Portland will not form some sort of kitchy theme ride? Do they just sit around waiting for things to happen or for people to die so they can put on stupid outfits and jump on their bikes? Also, where do they find the time? This ride had already happened before the Times even managed to complete its report. And while the people of Portland apparently have plenty of time on their hands, they are less endowed when it comes to dignity. Just look at this thing:

I realize Portland is a very progressive place when it comes to riding bikes, but I can't help thinking that they may have set the cause of cycling back to about the Michael Jackson x Mick Jagger "collabo" days. If I were not already a cyclist and I was headed to a bike shop to purchase my very first bicycle, and on the way I saw a bunch of people riding around dressed like Michael Jackson, I'd probably rethink the whole thing and start pricing motorcycles instead.

Then again, maybe the people of Portland do have it right after all. Here in New York City I was honked at by a driver this morning who seemed annoyed by the simple fact that I was riding in the bike lane. The driver was blasting "Billie Jean," and the crappy Buick he was driving probably rolled off the lot at about the same time that the song first hit the airwaves:

As irritating as this was, I opted not to chide him, and instead simply left him to wallow in his grief and rotundity.

Alas, while we no longer have Michael Jackson, we still have his music. More importantly, we still have both "Weird" Al Yankovic and his music, so things could be a hell of a lot worse.

With that said, I ask that you set aside any grief you may have and try to focus on a quiz. As always, study the item, think, and click on your answer. If you're right you'll know, and if you're wrong you'll see "So So Vegan."

Ride safe this weekend, and have a "collabo" with enjoyment.


1) Taints rejoice! Finally, a saddle you can:


2) Nice colorway! This crank is on a bicycle that is a "collabo" between:

--Fort x Philadelphia Flyers
--Ridley x Reese's Pieces
--Blue x NASCAR
--Cannondale x Halloween

3) If you're a "hater," which beverage might you be most likely to enjoy?

--Honeydew Bubble Tea
--Pabst Blue Ribbon
--Genesee Cream Ale

4) What is not included with this "Campy Track Crankset," for sale on Craigslist?

--A Campagnolo left crank arm
--The "OG box"
--Crank arm bolts
--An actual Campagnolo track crankset

5) Forget fixed-gear conversions. The hot new thing is changing your bike into:

--a tandem
--a cargo bike
--a Dutch city bike
--a recumbent

6) The "epic" pie plate on this Mavic R-Sys, if placed on a phonograph, plays "La vie en rose" by Edith Piaf:


7) Complete this knuckle tattoo: EPIC ____:


8) Fixed-gears lend themselves well to wacky sound-effects.


Thursday, 25 June 2009

These Colorways Don't Fade: Interviews, Encounters, and Collabos

Further to yesterday's post, I must say that one of the best parts about reviewing a Dutch city bike (or at least a designer interpretation of a Dutch city bike) is that one is automatically exempted from using the terms that are otherwise mandatory in bike reviews. These terms include: hoops, stoppers, clampers, rubber, and skins. (Incidentally, in S&M circles those things plus a bottle of wine equal a romantic evening.) Furthermore, one is also exempted from citing the bike's lateral stiffness and vertical compliance, as well as referring almost sensually to the "beefiness" of the bottom bracket, as epitomized in the famous Neuvation video.

However, if you found yourself missing any of these things, perhaps this video will help tide you over until the next James Huang review "drops:"

That must be the new BB30 standard everybody's talking about.

But while I have no idea to whom the above bottom bracket belongs, I can say with assurance that it is not attached to a hipster, since hipsters tend towards the small and diminutive. (You could smother at least three hipsters to death with that posterior.) And speaking of hipsters, there is a brief interview with me in the current issue of "The Fader," which can probably best be described as a "hipster" magazine:

In my defense, I was drinking during the interview, and unlike Tom Boonen who blacks out and has "indirect contact" with cocaine when he drinks, I just say boring things to hipster magazines. Also, there's a photo of me or else someone purporting to be me doing some kind of contrived urban cyclocross maneuver. Hey, that shark's not going to jump itself. However, I will deny any accusations that I did it "for the hipster pussy," unlike this person:

That said, if I was motivated by "hipster pussy," this interview could only help, since one day maybe I'll get invited to a party thrown by "The Fader." In addition to a number of articles about various bands and rappers, the current issue contains images from one of these parties, which from the looks of it was not lacking in the Impassioned Hipster Dancing department:

Also, it appears as though furry cossack hats may be the new flat-brim fitted caps, and patterned cashmere mufflers may be the new keffiyeh. It's a good thing the woman from the BB30 bottom bracket video wasn't there, though. I have a feeling nobody would have made it out of there alive.

Of course, the fact is that even if I did attend one of these Impassioned Hipster Dancing parties, I probably wouldn't have much to talk to people about, since from the looks of the crowd they probably aren't conversant in the relative merits of the various bottom bracket standards, and they'd probably be quite bored by my thoughs on them. (Though the one person who rode a fixie to the party would probably say "square taper FTW!" at some point.) Really, the best I could do would be to refer knowingly to some of the bands on this "mix tape," which was sent to me by Barry Wicks:

Wicks actually sent me a first "mix tape" back in March, and I was extremely grateful to receive another one. Even better, in addition to providing me with Impassioned Hipster Dancing party small-talk, he also provided me with an ironic t-shirt to wear. Behold:

Yes, that's Barry Wicks with an Afro making karate-love to a flower. I can't help suspecting that Barry Wicks may be about to "drop" an energy drink, because I'm sure a beverage called "Wicknasty" with this image on the can would fly out of the bodega refrigerators. So I'd like to extend a sincere thank-you to Barry Wicks for the excellent hipster party survival kit, and if any of you wind up at an Impassioned Hipster Dancing party and see someone standing in the corner wearing a "Wicknasty" t-shirt and making awkward chit-chat about bottom brackets, come by and say "hello" because it's almost certainly me, and I'll almost certainly be really uncomfortable.

Speaking of comfort, I recently stumbled upon some photos of actress Famke Jansen looking a bit too comfortable on a Dutch city bike:

If yesterday's review inspired you to join the legions of people already happily palping Dutch city bikes, look no further than this pictorial for a guide to how to ride one properly. Yes, in a certain way the Dutch city bike is the SUV of bicycles--it's a little too big, it creates the illusion of safety, and nobody pays any attention when they're operating one.

Still, a Dutch city bike is downright stealthy when compared to a recumbent:

9:30pm, 2nd ave Brunnette on Bike 35th st to 10th(?) st. - m4w (East Village)
Reply to: [deleted]

Date: 2009-06-24, 11:26PM EDT


I realize the chances of you seeing this are slim, slim, slim...but just in case lightning strikes---

We were riding bikes near each other down Second Avenue tonight. You have brown hair and brown eyes. Were wearing a white helmet and blue jeans and riding a blue 10 or 12 speed semi-vintage type of bike. I was on the recumbent.

You turned onto second Ave around 36th street (and narrowly avoided a cab at 35th street!) and then rode down Second before turning left on 10th street (?) or so.

I was totally struck by your looks (and liked the way you ride) and was hoping there would be a good opening to say hi... Hard of course as we were both kind of racing down the street, but... if you happen to see this, I'd love to race you to a coffee sometime!

Then again, a recumbent is stealthy in its own way, since the rider can prowl around the city safely below eye level like a U-boat of dorkitude. Even this post is stealthy--notice how he just slipped in the fact that he was on a recumbent in the same way that you'd gloss over the fact that you're already married or you have an STD. We've seen recumbent riders on the make before, and it wouldn't surprise me if the city is teeming with them. Nor would I be surprised to learn that some of them are equipped with crotchal periscopes in the hopes of encountering Famke Jansen or oversized bottom brackets. Maybe we'll see a RANS recumbent x U.S. Submarines "collabo" in the near future.

In the meantime, though, we'll have to make due with more fixed-gear "collabos." Here's one in the P.K. Ripper "colo[u]rway:"

Yes, heads will turn and bars will spin when you make the scene on your ironic nostalgia machine. Just top it off with a "Comeplaypolo" t-shirt and you'll be a shotgun blast of cycling references. Is "warmed over" a colorway?

Regardless, it seems as though people aren't going to tire of "collabos" (or "collabia," which is technically the plural form of "collabo") and limited editon colourways anytime soon. Even Tweeting celebrity Dennis Hopper is getting in on the act:

It looks like we'll have to wait a little longer for the Hopper x Krylon dayglo pussy "collabo" to drop, since Dennis Hopper seems to be wandering around his house in his underpants (he doesn't say that but with Hopper it's just assumed), rattling a spraypaint can and cooing, "Here, kittykittykitty!" He probably shouldn't have Tweeted about it, though, since now PETA's liable to join the collabo too.

But I'm sure he means well. He's only doing it for the hipster pussy.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

BSNYC Product Review: Electra Amsterdam Original 3i Bicycle

Some of you may recall that, back in April, the New York Times ran an article about Dutch city bikes, surmising that they may be the "first real status symbol" ITTET. The article also went on to state that the Dutch city bike is an alternative for people who do not relate to the "machismo of bike culture," and who do not want to don "kamikaze messenger-wear," whatever that is. While I can certainly see their point, I also could not help noting the irony that in certain ways a Dutch city bike is as impractical for New York City as a "kamikaze messenger" bike, and that the supposed Dutch city bike trend may be as much about a fixie backlash as it is about practicality.

This seemed to anger certain Dutch city bike enthusiasts, who, among other things, accused me of never having ridden a Dutch city bike. This was untrue. I most certainly had ridden a Dutch city bike, though admittedly I did so in a Dutch city and not in New York. Furthermore, it was a long time ago, and I must also confess my memory of the experience is not as clear as it could be--due at least in part, no doubt, to the ready availability of the Wednesday substance in that part of the world. So yes, I suppose I should have confessed that I had not ridden a Dutch city bike in New York City while not under the influence of a controlled substance. Still, I was quite comfortable in my assertion that a large, heavy bicycle is in certain ways less than ideal in a city where street space is extremely limited and many people live in small apartments which often can only be reached by either stuffing oneself into a small elevator or else climbing multiple flights of stairs.

So there's the backstory, and eventually this heady, marijuana-scented cloud of controversy blew over--until I received an email from someone at the Electra Bicycle Company, offering me the opportunity to sample their take on the Dutch city bike, the Amsterdam Original 3i:

At this point, I'm sure Dutch city bike enthusiasts all over the world are practically choking on their toast and marmalade. "That's no Dutch city bike! Whither the generator light, skirt guard, and rack?" And yes, I agree that a bike like this without at least a rack is like a mountain bike without knobby tires. What's the point of a baguette-getter without a bread basket? Well, you certainly can get those things from Electra, but you've got to either buy the higher-end Amsterdam, or else purchase them as aftermarket add-ons. Even so, I have a feeling a true Dutch bike enthusiast would look as askance at even a fully-loaded Electra as a hipster would look at a fixed-gear without "true track" geometry. Still, it had the enclosed drivetrain, and the fenders, and the kickstand, and the upright riding position (and, from the looks of it, the tonnage) so I figured I'd take Electra up on it and see how the other half rides.

Electra had the bike sent to a Manhattan bike shop, so I dispatched an accomplice to pick it up, and together we rode to Brooklyn. My accomplice is a woman and is far from the "kamikaze messenger" type, though she is accustomed to riding a bike with drop bars. The Electra fit her well (she's tall) but she found the bike slow and unwieldy, particularly on the bridge. (The Electra was apparently about as good for climbing as the Steampunk 36er, which we encountered that day.) Her immediate conclusion upon reaching Brooklyn was that this was a country-house-get-the-paper bike and not a city bike. Given her feedback, I figured I should ease into the Electra and get to know its easy-going personality first. As such, the first test to which I subjected it was the Weekend Morning Bagel Run.

Part I: Leisure

Firstly, I'll just say that entering an apartment building with an Electra Amsterdam is about as easy as bringing a drunk home. If there are steps, you've got to drag it up them--and trust me, it does not want to go. Then, if you've got a foyer with double doors, you've got to try to hold both of them open at the same time and wrangle the thing through, sometimes employing your feet. Even if a helpful neighbor arrives on the scene, they're powerless to help you, since there's no way past the bike. Then, once inside, it's either more steps, or it's an elevator, and unless you live in a building with a freight elevator this thing will take up most of it. Forget popping the thing up on the rear wheel, which is standard New York City indoor bike-moving procedure. And of course, once you get the drunk inside, you think your work is done, until the drunk collapses on your floor. Similarly, once you roll the Electra into your apartment, you've got to find someplace to put it. You can lean, say, a road bike against your wall and it will sit there nearly flush--plus you can even lean another road bike against that one and it still won't take up that much space. With the Electra, though, I had no option but to just park it in the middle of the living room floor where it actually interfered with the workings of my TV remote.

Anyway, setting out on the Weekend Morning Bagel Run was the same thing, only in reverse. Finally, though, I got the thing out onto the street, and I settled in behind the cockpit--which, I might add, is extremely roomy:

Next, I ran through the three gears of the Nexus hub:

Now, ordinarily when I "slay" a bagel run, I'll palp either my Ironic Orange Julius Bike or my Scattante, neither of which is set up for a particularly aggressive riding position. Still, the difference between those and the Electra was almost shocking. I felt conspicuous, like Madeline Kahn in the sedan chair in "History of the World Part I." But I was also comfortable--that is until circumstances called for any maneuverability or acceleration, or until my route was obstructed in any way. For example, ordinarily I'd pass a double-parked car like the one below without even thinking about it. However, on the Electra it was daunting to slip through even this gaping space:

Still, though, when the coast was clear I was definitely comfortable--until I reached my first incline. As you can see, the bottom bracket is well forward of the saddle, and between that and the upright bars it's almost impossible to stand up while riding the thing. It's like trying to lean forward on the Tilt-A-Whirl, or like trying to get up out of your chair only to have some bully immediately push you back into it. Eventually you realize you've just got to keep the thing in first gear and lean forward. By the time I summited the overpass I was so proud of myself I immortalized the event in pixels:

Here's the Electra from the front:

And here it is from behind:

Eventually, I made it to the bagel place, where I flipped down the kickstand and tethered the Electra to a parking meter:

As I returned to the Electra with my doughy bounty, I reflected that this would be a perfect bagel-getter, if only there were absolutely no hills and it had a rack or a basket in which to carry the bagels. Still, I was enjoying the bike, so I decided to detour through the park on the return trip. It just so happened that this was the day before the Tour of Brooklyn:

Predictably, everyone was in serious training mode:

Almost immediately, I encountered an elite group of riders:

They dropped me. Then, I encountered a slower chase group:

They also dropped me. Finally, I encountered this kid:

I don't mean to brag, but I totally smoked his ass.

Of course, the fact is that this is not a bike designed for speed, and as such to ride it that way is to fail to appreciate it. And I must admit, despite the fact that the bike was not as maneuverable or as suited to going uphill as I'd like, I did find myself relaxing and noticing my surroundings a bit more. For example, had I been riding by Ironic Orange Julius Bike, I'd never have noticed that someone was having a stoop sale:

Alas, if only the Electra came stock with a rack, perhaps I could have swung by and returned home with someone else's dusty crap--though with the Electra now taking up half my living space I wouldn't have had room for it anyway.

After that it was one more time crossing the overpass:

After which I wrestled the Electra back inside and enjoyed my bagels. In all, it was actually a pleasant experience.

Part II: Business

Of course, it's one thing to ride a couple of miles for some bagels in residential Brooklyn on the weekend when traffic is light. It's quite another to commute by bicycle during rush hour into Manhattan. In my opinion, no bike deserves the "city bike" moniker if it can't be employed successfully in this manner. And while I enjoyed my bagel run, I must say that I fully expected that commuting on the Electra would be a frustrating experience, since the bike's main shortcomings (wide and hill-averse) would no doubt be thrown into sharp relief.

The first hill I encountered was in Prospect Park. I was not exactly climbing in the KOM group with the Electra, though I was hanging solidly in the fanny-pack-and-half-shorts group:

Once the hill was behind me, I settled in and decided to exploit the bike's strength, which is being comfortable. And I was comfortable. The front caliper brake together with the coaster brake mean it's always easy to slow down, leaving your hands free for things like texting and rummaging around in your handbag, which is clearly why the coaster brake is the component of choice for bike salmon and Beautiful Godzillas. Things were going well until I encountered my first traffic jam:

On the IOJB, I would have slithered through this effortlessly. However, on the Electra my only option would have been the sidewalk schluff, and there was no way I was going to demean myself to such a degree. Instead, I was forced to sit there behind a person on a vintage scooter wearing a sport jacket, hoodie, ironic chrome skid-lid, and iPod earbuds. This was doing little to improve my mood--that is, until he tried to pass a car service a little while later and got stuck:

Never has the sound of scraping metal sounded so sweet.

Eventually, I got through the traffic jam and came to the next potential trouble spot, the Manhattan Bridge. I knew all too well that this mild incline could be my undoing. As such, I downshifted and resisted the urge to stand. At first, I was passed by a motley assortment of riders on fixed-gears, mountain bikes, BMXes, and old crappy 10-speeds:

But then to my surprise I noticed that I was actually keeping pace:

At this point, I felt I had finally gotten used to the Electra and understood how to ride it. I no longer felt like Madeline Kahn; instead, I felt like, well, Sean Connery in "Finding Forrester." I also couldn't help feeling that pedestrians were reacting differently to me, and not necessarily in a good way. It may very well be my imagination, but generally when jaywalkers step out in front of me without looking and then suddenly notice me, they give a start. On the Electra, though, it seemed like they looked at me, shrugged, and just kept going. This was probably due to the fact that, in my upright position, I looked less like I was going to hit them than like I was going to hug them. Some people might like that, but personally I prefer jaywalkers to have a little more spring in their step when they see me, so if I were going to make a habit of commuting on the Electra I'd probably have to install some knives on the handlebars to make it seem more menacing.

Speaking of making a habit of commuting on the Electra, while it's not something that I'd want to do it was certainly better than I thought it would be. I'd still choose it over the subway, and I was even able to hang with some bike cops. (Though that's obviously nothing to brag about.) Furthermore, while I felt slower on it, I really wasn't. The truth is my commute only took me a little bit more time than it ordinarily does. This speaks to the greater truth that so much about riding "fast" in the city isn't about speed at all; really, it's more about the style of speed. We've all watched someone blow a light on a track bike, only to catch right back up to him two blocks later. On the Electra you're forced to wait where you might otherwise ride, and you're forced to sit when you might otherwise stand, but really for casual riding it all balances out in the end.

Plus, it's apparently a Rapha magnet, since I locked it up at one point and returned to this:

I guess they want to have little designer bike babies.

That said, in New York City a bike does need to be maneuverable, and that doesn't just mean splitting lanes. It also means bringing it inside, or wheeling it between parked cars to lock it up, or even just finding room to lock it up. There are bikes that take fenders and racks that are still relatively light and maneuverable, so in that sense the Electra is far from an ideal New York City bike.

Still, it did manage to win my accomplice over. While she wasn't crazy about her first ride, she subsequently rode it often, became very attached to it, and now wants to keep it:

(Thanks to Minnehaha for the bag.)

Of course, this is New York City, so while she wants to keep it, she doesn't know where to keep it. Yes, it turns out that here comfort is in fact a bit of a luxury, and practicality is indeed relative.

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