Friday, 30 April 2010

Natural Habitat

English Roadsters were designed for long country rides, and there is nothing quite like experiencing them in this setting. My Raleigh DL-1 in particular seems to thrive on long distances and can pick up speed to an amazing degree if you just give it an open road.

The Co-Habitant is a strong cyclist and he likes to go fast. When we are on equivalent bicycles (for example, both on our Pashleys or both on our Motobecane roadbikes), I have a hard time keeping up with him unless he intentionally controls his speed for my sake. However, when he is on his Pashley and I am on my vintage Raleigh, I can keep up with him perfectly. The Raleigh DL-1 is a powerful and well-designed machine despite its sweet "old timer" appearance.

And the vintage Sturmey Archer AW 3-speed hub is downright magical. First gear is excellent for uphill cycling in mildly hilly areas. Second is my versatile go-to gear for flat terrain when I want to go at a conservative speed. And third gear allows me to pedal downhill, as well to increase speed after maxing out second gear on flat terrain. I have honestly never felt the need for more gears on this bicycle, and don't understand why none of the modern 3, 5, 7, or 8-speed hubs I have tried have the same great feeling.

If my devious plan to install a coaster brake on this bicycle works out, it will be so perfect that I am almost afraid to think about it lest I jinx it. For now, we dream as we watch the sunset.

BSNYC Friday Cheese Plate!

Cyclists in New York City and elsewhere have been following the Patrick Pogan Critical Mass trial with rapt attention, and as you probably know by now the jury has reached a verdict. While they somehow found Pogan not guilty of assault, they did find him guilty of falsifying his report. If you're a criminal layperson like I am, you might assume that being convicted of falsifying a report isn't as bad as being convicted of assault. However, it turns out that the whole falsification thing is a felony, but the assault charge is only a misdemeanor, so he was actually convicted of the more "serious" crime--so the verdict isn't as benign as it seems. You might also have trouble understanding how Pogan could be innocent of committing the actual assault yet guilty of subsequently lying about it, but such is the nature of the legal system. I also have trouble understanding the point of a three-speed fixed-gear hub, so I'll just assume that this verdict is the legal equivalent of that wishy-washy component.

In any case, now that Pogan is an ex-cop and a convicted felon, you can be sure he's looking for security guard work, and I can guarantee you that I will not be engaging him to work at my appearance at the Powerhouse Arena in Brooklyn tomorrow:

I very much hope that at least some of you will join me at this event, to which I will be bringing not only a special and embarrassing (to myself) PowerPoint presentation I'm still at this very moment working on (or at least thinking about working on), but also various prizes from sponsor Knog to give away in a manner I have not yet determined.

Also, the following morning I'll be at the Five Boro Bike Tour, so if you're participating (or even if you're not) please come by the Toga Bikes tent at the start, where I'll be working. There will be copies of my book as well as opportunities to purchase last-minute ride necessities you may have forgotten (this does not include "Wednesday weed") and to have your bicycle repaired by experts (or, if you're unlucky, me). If you've ridden the Five Boro Bike Tour in the past and have visited the Toga tent I very well may have inflated your tires for you since I help out there every year, but this time you can at least put the douche to the face. (I will "Tweet" my exact location on my "Twitter" when I know what it is, and I may or may not also bring one or two of these to either event.)

Having thoroughly and grossly plugged myself, I'm now pleased to present you with 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 be exhorted to "bring out your best."

Thanks very much for reading, ride safe, and I hope to see you Saturday or Sunday.


1) Mark Cavendish's recent controversial victory salute was intended as:

--"A message to commentators and journalists who don't know jack shit about cycling."
--"A message to Bradley Wiggins."

2) Cavendish is sorry.


3) Why is this Tour of the Gila rider smiling?

--He just won a stage
--He has taken the overall lead
--He's holding the race's official (and venomous) live Gila monster mascot
--He has a bird's-eye view of the podium girls

4) Which city will host the Single Speed Cyclocross World Championships in 2010?


(Hangin' it up.)

5) "Messenger chic" is over; now, it's all about:

6) What are these cyclists looking for?

--A game of bicycle beach volleyball
--Lone Starr and Princess Vespa

7) Where does this professional leg shaver ply his trade?

***Special Bicycle Maintenance-Themed Bonus Question***

When is a chain whip useless?

Thursday, 29 April 2010

BSNYC Scrapbook: What I Did on my Autumn Vacation

Yesterday, the Tour of the Gila began in New Mexico, and defending champion Levi "Letle Viride" Leipheimer is already in the leader's jersey. The Tour of the Gila is noteworthy in that top American pros like Leipheimer, Lance Armstrong, and David Zabriskie like to form "ad hoc" teams and ostensibly use the race to fine-tune their form. However, it's readily apparent to even the most casual observer why they really participate, as evidenced by this photo which was pointed out to me by a reader:

When you're based in Europe eating pasta and muesli day after day you find yourself getting homesick for hamburgers and milkshakes. Similarly, when you're constantly getting kissed by spindly European podium girls you find yourself longing for more substantial American fare. So, you head to New Mexico, sandbag, and enjoy the view of the sandbags from the top step. I'm sure if you asked Leipheimer he'd deny it, but his line of sight begs to differ:

(Leipheimer revels in both victory and ample stateside serving sizes.)

Speaking of traveling abroad, last fall I had the opportunity to travel outside of the United States of America by visiting Portland, Oregon. As you already know, I wrote an article for "Outside" magazine about my trip, but there's just something cold, impersonal, and glossy about magazines (at least the non-pornographic ones). Plus, seeing the article in print made me nostalgic. So, since I think of us all as family by now, I thought we could all gather around the coffee table and take a look at some snapshots. Of course, if you hate family (or coffee tables) I won't hold that against you and you're free to visit more interesting corners of the Internet, but for the rest of you who are wondering what Portland looks like in real life (inasmuch as "real life" can exist in a place like Portland) I hope you'll squeeze onto the couch, grab a handful of Ruffles® (I bought Ruffles®), and join me.

When I go anywhere, the first thing I need to know is, "Will there be Porta-Pottys?" Austin had them, and fortunately so did Portland. Here are a pair of them outside the Oregon Manifest Handmade Bike Show:

Relatively unmolested by crime, the people of Portland are free to ride around on all sorts of exotic wheeled contrivances, as you can see above. I know they are unmolested by crime, because every time I withdrew my chain lock in order to lock up the Ironic Orange Julius Bike a bystander would comment on it as though they'd never seen its like before. This happened without fail, whether the person was a porteur bike "palper" outside the bike show or a quasi-homeless guy towing a trailer with a Magna. Yes, in Portland you can just leave Rivendells sitting unattended and locked with a combination of dental floss and goodwill:

Then again, this being Portland, perhaps no thief would deign to steal a bike without bar tape.

Here's the inside of the bike show, where even non-bike dorks came to admire the local handiwork:

The cargo bike is an essential member of any Portlander's stable, since it allows them to help people move by bike, which is part of the "symbiosis of smugness" which holds their society together. I'm not sure what the people in this photo are saying, but I'm guessing the guy in the hat is asking the exhibitor: "I'm thinking of starting a human-powered organically grown fair trade pet food home delivery business. Would this be an appropriate bicycle for me?"

"Yes, it certainly would--though I should warn you that 'Coffee 4 Pets' is already doing something similar. Have you thought of delivering environmentally friendly toilet tissue?"

Also, it took a bit longer than I thought (roughly two hours after my plane landed) but I did finally see someone wearing the hoodie/flannel/elbow pad combination:

This is also known as the "Oregon Tuxedo."

Proportionally speaking, there seemed to be far fewer "tarck" bikes in Portland than in New York City, since the emphasis in Portland seemed to be more on functionality. However, I did see some impressive "fixie" specimens:

Spoke cards aside, that is perhaps the most product placement I've ever seen on a front wheel. I think when you've got more component manufacturer stickers on your bike than your bike has actual components you may have gone too far.

Another thing I noticed is that, in Portland, the saddle is the bicycle equivalent of the automotive rear view mirror in that it serves as a place to hang baby shoes:

Even when Portlanders are away from their bicycles they make sure to let everybody know they ride them:

And they do ride bicycles in Portland. Here's the rack outside of the Whole Foods, where I stopped to pick up some cockles:

Yes, that's another Rivendell (with wooden fenders to boot), which people apparently even use to ride to the store here. I don't think I've ever seen two Rivendells in a single week in New York City, let alone in the space of a day or two, and I've certainly never seen one locked up outside. (Then again, never having encountered a Rivendell, a New York City thief would probably wilt in the face of all that pretension, drop his bolt cutters, and simply run away.) If I ever were to see more than one Rivendell in a day in New York I would just assume some kind of beard convention was in town.

Here are the people who were kind enough to let me join them for bike polo:

(I'm standing behind the camera with the pathetic "Can I play too?" expression which I often wore in my youth.)

Here's me riding a bicycle with a top tube pad for the first time in my life (BMX bikes excluded):

I'll spare you my expression, which is akin to that of a kosher vegan being force-fed pork rinds.

Here's Forest Park, the official slogan of which is "Forest Park: It's Fern-Tastic!"

As a cycling New Yorker, perhaps the most attractive thing to me about Portland was the proximity to a place where you can enjoy car-free climbs, hear gravel under your tires, and urinate in ferns. (I had to urinate all the time due to the richness of the local coffee and beer.)

Not all bikes in Portland are designed for mixed terrain; some are simply built to haul irony, leopard skin, and pirate supplies:

"Where the hell are those pirate supplies?" asks an impatient tall-biker:

Ah yes, freaky forms of transportation abound in Portland. Here's someone riding an athletic field painter:

Some people don't even ride at all; they just stand around looking awesome:

As I mentioned in the article, I also visited the "Bike Shrine" at St. Stephens Episcopal Church. You can see that they spared no expense when it came to signage:

Or art:

If you want a post-nuclear religious-themed painting of your mountain bike, be sure to call Martin Wolfe:

Full of the "spirit" (as well as still more coffee-scented urine), I eventually signed the guest book and moved on...: the Bike Temple, whose headquarters looked creepy in the night:

As much as I loved Forest Park, I can't say that I particularly enjoyed the cold and wet pre-Single Speed Cyclocross World Championships "Ride of Revelry, including feats of strength, daring, endurance, beauty and grandeur:"

This is mostly because I'm a weak and cautious person who lacks stamina and wilts in the face of beauty and grandeur like a delicate plant that's been doused with highly caffeinated urine. Also, I tend to get cranky on rides in which the rollout involves lots of people shouting "Woo-hoo!" as they crash their bikes one by one. And it certainly does take endurance to participate in an Ironic World Championship; in addition to the wet ride consisting of people who were way too excited about canned beer, there was also an ironic debate to decide the host city for 2010:

All of this before the actual race the following day, to which I took the so-called "MAX" train:

In addition to the SSCXWC race, I also participated in the regular Cross Crusade race, and both events were suitably muddy:

As well as muddy:

Here's a spectator dressed as a Venetian blind, which allowed him to fine-tune his irony intake:

Amazingly, though I was filthy by the end of the day, they did not kick me off the MAX on my return trip:

I did flirt with the idea of participating in "Zoobomb" later that evening, though to be perfectly honest the endeavor did not seem in the least bit appealing to me, especially after an exhausting (though thoroughly enjoyable) day of racing. Here's the scene as I approached:

I think it was the sight of the guy in the full-face helmet riding a modified child's bike menacingly around the "Zoobomb pile" that ultimately compelled me to skip the festivity, return to my hidey-hole, and pack my things for the return voyage the next morning:

It was a great trip, though in the end I was a bit homesick and ready to return to the burgers and milkshakes.

David Byrne and 'Urban Revolutions' at MIT

Last night I was at the Urban Revolutions panel at MIT with velo-friend Biking in Heels. This was not something I planned to attend, but she had an extra ticket and I was free - so I came along. The event featured talks by musician David Byrne, director of Boston Bikes Nicole Freedman, director of the LivableStreets Alliance Jacqueline Douglas, and associate director of SENSEable City Lab (inventors of the "Copenhagen Wheel") Assaf Biderman.

In case some might not know, David Byrne was the lead singer of the Talking Heads and has since been involved in a number of artistic and musical projects. Most recently, he has become known for his cycling advocacy and for his book on the subject, Bicycle Diaries. Over the past year Byrne has been on tour giving talks throughout North America on the topic he describes as "Cities, Bicycles, and the Future of Getting Around". Cambridge, MA was his latest stop.

David Byrne came across as thoughtful, knowledgeable and funny. His talk was neither gimmicky nor too heavy on the advocacy; I would put it more into the category of Urban Planning. He summarised the history of how our un-neighborhoodly neighborhoods came to be the way they are and discussed potential solutions, with urban planning initiatives and the return of "everyday cycling" being the primary points of focus.

Jacqueline Douglas and Nicole Freedman (pictured above next to Byrne) discussed similar ideas, but applied them specifically to Boston - stressing activism and grassroot movements as catalysts of change. They noted that Boston's cycling infrastructure has basically been created from scratch over the past 2-3 years, and that the number of cyclists in the Boston area has increased dramatically over this period of time. Douglas and Freedman plan to continue this trend, with a particular emphasis on infrastructure in the form of traffic-segregated bike paths.

The large MIT lecture hall was full for the duration of the event, with the audience listening intently and enthusiastically.

Somewhat to my surprise, the Q&A panel following the individual talks did not result in much debate. Namely, I expected vehicular cyclists to comment on the segregated paths issue, but this did not happen. Perhaps there were not any in the audience? Or else the speakers so clearly allied themselves with the Amsterdam/Copenhagen model, that the vehicular cyclists decided not to bother stirring the pot.

Biking in Heels (the lady in red) got in the queue to ask a question - but alas they stopped right before it would have been her turn.

After the event was over, the most popular panelist was Assaf Biderman of the SENSEable City Lab - demonstrating the "Copenhagen Wheel" to those who wanted to try it.

The Copenhagen Wheel turns any existing bike into an electric bike and "differs from other electric bikes in that all components are elegantly packaged into one hub". The energy spent while pedaling and braking is used to power the motor, and tons of additional features (including route planning and pollution levels detection) are bundled inside the hub.

The Copenhagen Wheel is meant to be a versatile option that will allow more of the population to cycle - including those who are elderly, have trouble handling hills, or do not feel fit enough to ride a bike. While I have no interest in electric bikes myself, I think that this option makes perfect sense for those who need it.

What does not make as much sense to me, is the decision that the prototype bike housing the Copenhagen Wheel should be a sleek, fixie-looking, diamond frame bike with aggressive geometry, narrow tires and "bullhorn" handlebars. It just doesn't seem to fit the population for whom the Copenhagen Wheel was designed. My suggestion to the SENSEable City Lab, is to put the wheel into a bike that is more accessible to the general public.

Also popular after the event was this nice woman from the LivableStreets Alliance, asking people to fill out requests for improvements they would like to see done to the Charles River bridges. Given that I almost get run over by cars 75% of the time I try to cross an intersection at the end of one of these bridges, I gladly filled out a form with my requests.

All in all, Urban Revolutions was an interesting event to attend. If I seem detached in my descriptions, it is because to a large extent I felt that the panel was "preaching to the choir". I suspect that most of the audience had heard and internalised all that was brought up by the speakers long before coming to this event. Furthermore, for all the talk of "equity" and "equal access" that went on, the audience was almost entirely White, and dressed in a way that suggested a very narrow demographic. What exactly, then, was this event meant to achieve? Perhaps a sense of community among existing cyclists and supporters of "livable streets" ideas. At that it was a success. Despite my aversion to "activism", I am genuinely glad that cycling is becoming more commonplace and safer in Boston. And I am thankful to all who play a role in making this happen.

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