Thursday, 27 August 2009

Slow and Steady: The Tortoise and the Helmet Hair

Last Tuesday, I mentioned a Daily News article written by a reporter named Simone Weichselbaum who not only uses a bicycle to cover her "beat," but who also employs a coach who teaches her how to "street ride." Well, a number of readers have forwarded me the following Craigslist post, which indicates that Weichselbaum's beloved Surly Steamroller has been stolen:

Date: 2009-08-26, 2:53PM EDT

Reply to: see below

If you guys have seen my Surly Steamroller painted blue and yellow covered with pro-biking stickers, could you please help me get it back.

Someone managed to slip the U-Lock off a pole in front of 212 Ave A on Sunday.

This bike is my baby.
If seen, call Simone at 202 320 3598

Assuming this post is not a hoax then we can infer that either John Campo's "street riding" course does not include lessons on bicycle locking, or else it's a separate class but Weichselbaum opted not to pay the additional tuition. Either way, this underscores a fundamental truth about "street riding," which is that you're only as fast as your bicycle is secure. All the lane-splittings, intersection trackstands, light-runnings, and "Out of the way, cocksuckers!" in the world are ultimately useless if, when you arrive at your destination, you u-lock your bike to an open-ended pole. It's basically a tortoise-and-the-hare scenario, only the portly person on the hybrid with vertically-mounted bar ends and a 10lb Kryptonite chain around his ample waist who locks his bike diligently is the tortoise, and the fixed-gear-riding, messenger bag-toting cocky young urbanite is the hare.

Regardless, I do hope Weichselbaum gets her bike back, and obviously if you see a Steamroller with "pro-biking" stickers (whatever those are) on it you should let her know. In the meantime, I'm sure Weichselbaum will also put her hard-nosed investigative reporting skills to good use. And ultimately, this theft could prove a bruchah in disguise in that it might inspire her to pen a series of bestselling mysteries featuring a tough-talking lady sleuth who solves bike-related crime.

Speaking of both vertical bar ends and crime, one of the readers who forwarded me Weichselbaum's Craigslist post also included a photo of this handlebar setup:

I love a good biplane handlebar as much as anybody, but if it isn't illegal to control a bicycle by means of a wooden dowel duct taped to your handlebars then perhaps it should be. That said, he does have a substantial number of rubber bands handy, which means that should either the wood or the duct tape fail he can perform a repair on the fly. However, whether that is in fact the reason for all the rubber bands I simply cannot be sure. It's equally possible that he's part of some roving group of cycling marauders who do battle with each other using office supplies as weapons. While this rider clearly prefers the "rubber band fingerbang," some of his adversaries probably employ other weapons, such as the staple shooter or the dreaded flaming paper airplane. In any case, he's got plenty of ammo:

Hopefully though if he is indeed a cycling combatant he's also using sufficient head protection. If not, perhaps he should consider one of these military-style helmet/cover "modular systems," which a number of readers have brought to my attention:

Urban riders have been taking to the skateboard helmet in increasing numbers recently, and thanks to both the smooth, round shape of their helmets and the petrified looks on their faces as they learn the quirks of their new fixed-gears in rush-hour traffic, many of them look like WWII-era GIs freshly arrived in the European theater and seeing combat for the first time. Given this, I just assumed the designers figured they'd take the army thing all the way, but instead I guess it's actually supposed to pay homage to the "environment" somehow:

You can also u-lock it to your bike, even if your bike has flop-and-chop handlebars:

Personally, I can't think of many things more ridiculous than a hat you wear over your helmet. This is why I was amazed to learn that not only is this not a joke, but also that the City of New York actually paid some company called "fuseproject" to come up with it:

Here's the full description from "fuseproject:"

I can't tell you how pleased I am as a New Yorker ITTET that the city in which I live is paying a company to design helmet hats. Each pothole I dodge on my commute reminds me that this is money well spent. By the way, if you're wondering what "fuseproject" does, here's how they explain themselves:

I read this over and over again and it meant absolutely nothing to me, but I think I've finally got it figured out. Basically, it's just a nice way of saying that "fuseproject" is an assembly line of douchery and that people pay them to take things that already exist and "bullshitify" them. For example, helmets have obviously been around a long time, but it takes an expert to bullshitify them by putting a hat on them. Also, Birkenstock has been around for a long time too, but it took "fuseproject" to figure out that they should "showcase" their "overall brand evolution" by copying Crocs:

They also came up with "Y Water," which to be perfectly honest I can't figure out, but which appears to be the world's first beverage that you consume anally:

I'd like to explain the helmet hat concept away by saying that, as the creators of the NYC condom, "fuseproject" figured they'd continue their success by sticking with the theme of things you unfurl over your head. However, I think the more likely explanation is that somebody who knows nothing about cycling thought they could make the helmet "cool." This is typical non-cycling hubris, and the result (a helmet hat) is predictably idiotic. A non-cyclist who thinks he or she can somehow solve the "problem" of helmets not being cool enough is like the person who knows nothing about plumbing, insists he can fix your faucet for you, and winds up flooding your bathroom. The truth is that helmets are the one aspect of cyling in which you actually should just copy the racers. A GI-style skater helmet or a modular helmet/hat nightmare looks no better than a typical racing-style helmet, which you can buy for like $30 or $40, which will be lightweight and well-ventilated, and which will accommodate a wool hat underneath (or, yes, a non-decorative helmet cover above if you prefer) when it gets cold:

It's also typical of the non-cyclist to focus on the helmet as a symbol of cycling safety. Indeed, the helmet has become a symbol of safe cycling just as the condom has become a symbol of safe sex. However, there's a big difference between the two. If you use a condom properly it will be highly effective, but if you use a helmet properly it won't make a difference if you're still doing everything else wrong. Riding without a helmet will not make you crash, but riding with a bunch of stuff dangling off your handlebars might. If the City of New York and "fuseproject" really cared, they'd have designed a really "cool" and convenient basket instead of a helmet:

Instead, they just bullshitified the helmet, which is about as meaningful as their safe sex campaign would have been if they'd used brightly-colored dildos instead of condoms. Really, they might as well have just promoted retro-chic 1980s hairstyles that also have potentially head-protecting qualities, such as the classic high top fade:

Or the the "sea urchin:"

Or even the studiously unruly coif of Australian comedian Yahoo Serious:

It's great New York City is promoting cycling, though it's too bad they paid "fuseproject" to help them "appeal to the new generation of bikers." They could have saved a bunch of money by just asking the human cannonball at Ringling Bros. Circus for advice, since his approach to safety seems to be the same: put on a stupid outfit, strap on your helmet, close your eyes, and hope for the best.


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