Saturday, 30 October 2010

The Masked Cyclist: a Halloween Tale

Sit down, dear reader, and grab a cup of hot apple cider. For in honor of this Hallow's Eve, I shall tell you a tale that is as true as it is chilling: the tale of the Masked Cyclist.

It was a dark, crisp Autumn night many years ago and I was a mere high school girl, cycling home from piano lessons on my step-through mountain bike. The nonfunctional shifters and rusty chain emitted eerie creaking sounds as I rode through the nocturnal New England streets. My path was illuminated by moonlight, since my bicycle had no lights. Suddenly, I glimpsed something out of the corner of my eye - a moving shadow perhaps? I stopped, with a screech of my poorly adjusted brakes.

At first, I saw nothing at all. But soon, an image began to materialise before me.

And then, there she stood: the Masked Cyclist!

We had all heard of her, but only the very few had seen her - and never this closely. Legend had it, the Masked Cyclist haunted the roads of our town, clad in Edwardian garments and astride an old bicycle - her urgent pleas getting lost in the howling of the wind. What did she want? No one knew, but we all feared her intense gaze.

As I stood frozen in place, the Masked Cyclist moved closer and closer toward me - until suddenly we were face to face. "Who are you, and want do you want?" I managed to utter.

"I am the Masked Cyclist," said she, "and I am not at peace, because the beautiful bicycles that used to roam our land so famously have been all but exterminated by sinister forces. Many decades ago, these streets were full of ladies in their finery, gliding mirthfully through town and through farmland on their trusty loop frames with delightful chaincases, dressguards and lights. But now everything is dark and silent, and our towns are empty, and our farmlands have been replaced with strip malls, and the few bicycles in existence are carelessly built monstrosities that bring little joy to their owners. No, this is too horrifying and I cannot rest. Will you help me?"

"But how can I help?"

"I see that you enjoy riding your bicycle, and I pity you for its poor quality and lack of proper accoutrements. If you agree to help me bring the joy of lovely bicycles to our people, I shall be able to rest. You need only tell me that you agree, and the rest will be taken care of."

I looked at her lovely, ghostly bicycle, and without knowing what came over me, I agreed. "Thank you!" she said to me. "You shall go home now and forget all about our little talk. But 13 years from now I will visit you again to thank you."

And so it was. That same evening, I fell asleep and forgot all about my encounter with the Masked Cyclist, and life took its course. Little did I know that the otherworldly creature had decided to possess me, biding her time until the day was right to create Lovely Bicycle. Ignorant of the Masked Cyclist's influence, I knew not what compelled me to write post after post about lugs, loop frames, dynamo lighting, and local frame builders. And thus it continued for over a year, until a fortnight ago. I was cycling home along a popular bicycle commuter route when the Masked Cyclist once again appeared before me. Suddenly I remembered everything. But instead of fear, I was filled with affection - as I now shared the Masked Cyclist's devotion to lovely bicycles.

"Masked cyclist!" I exclaimed, "Is that you?"

"It certainly is," she replied, "I have come to thank you for helping restore the glory of lovely bicycles to our land.  Once again, I see many happy ladies gliding along our streets on their comfortable, trusty bikes, and I am finally able to rest with the knowledge that things are improving."

"But there is still so much work to do," said I, "surely you are not leaving me?"

"Don't be sad," replied the Masked Cyclist. "It is time for me to go now. But my spirit will continue to guide you. And so that you always remember, I leave you my own bicycle. Please take it and cherish it always."

And with those words, the Masked Cyclist disappeared. I have not seen her since, but I can feel that her spirit is at peace.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Happy Feet

Today was the first time I felt well enough to ride a roadbike since having gotten sick last month. It was only 26 miles, but it felt great to have my full lung capacity and energy back.

Continuing with the Italian theme, I took Francesco - my fixed gear stallion. How happy he was, basking in the precious minutes of sunshine in between thunderstorms.

Riding a fixed gear roadbike is an experience that fills me with a special kind of enjoyment - I think because it combines the sensations of walking and flying (fly-walking?).

I was worried that I might be too out of shape to make it, but I had forgotten how comfortable Francesco is. The 26 miles of pedaling felt like a stroll in the park. Although, I have learned by now that even if I feel "fine" riding fixed gear while I am actually doing it, it does take more out of me than a free-wheel bicycle. I usually sleep longer after such a ride, and sometimes I am sore the following day.

One thing that has improved my comfort level with fixed gear cycling considerably, are these "fixie" Power Grips. I wrote about the standard Power Grips here, and since my initial review I have become addicted to these things. The fixed gear version differs from the standard model, in that it makes it easier to insert and remove your feet while pedals are in motion. I cannot tell what it is about the design that makes this possible, but none the less it seems to work. I insert my right toe at the starting position and start cycling slowly while nudging the left pedal with my left toe - then swiftly insert the toe into the left grip on the first stroke. After some practice this became a familiar and instinctive sequence of movements - though it definitely helped that I was already comfortable using this system on a free-wheel bike prior to trying it on a fixed gear.

Now that I am able to use foot retention on this bicycle, I am no longer apprehensive about cycling over bumps and potholes or going downhill at high speeds. The experience is pretty much perfect and very enjoyable. One thing in particular I have noticed, is how easy it is for me to ride "in the drops" - Francesco almost seems more stable when the handlebars are held this way than higher up. Is that possible?

And another interesting thing: I find it much, much easier to get out of the saddle and pedal standing up on Francesco than I do on my other bicycles. Is it the fixed-gearness that is facilitating this or the geometry? As I've mentioned before, I have a terrible sense of balance, and that is what I believe normally prevents me from pedaling while standing up. But on this bicycle, it seems not to matter.

It rained on and off for the duration of our ride, and the colourful leaves strewn over the trail turned into a mess of a slippery carpet. Was I so excited to be riding Francesco that I began to imagine things, or is it easier to ride in slippery conditions on a fixed gear bike? I have read comments about traction before, but I admit that I don't understand them. Could somebody explain it in layman's terms?

As I prepare for some more pruning of my bicycle overgrowth, it is clear to me that I "need" a fixed gear roadbike. So while I am now considering selling my Trek - which has been fun, but not essential - I will definitely be keeping the Francesco Moser.

In the long run, however - maybe a couple of years from now - I will probably want to replace it with a "real" fixed gear bicycle. Mainly, this is because the Moser's bottom bracket is not as high as it should be - and even though my lean on turns is not aggressive enough to warrant worrying about pedal strike yet, it would be better if this wasn't even a potential issue.

But for now, Francesco is my dashing Italian gentleman and I thank him for my happy feet.

BSNYC Friday Fun Quiz!

At the risk of being what "back in the day" certain people used to call a "nudge," I will remind you one last time to come to my BRA (or "Book-Related Appearance") tomorrow at 2:00pm at the Philly Bike Expo. As you probably recall, yesterday I enumerated the reasons you should attend, but here's a quick recap just in case:


My PowerPoint presentation.


Me narrate my PowerPoint presentation.


The sweet, transportive fragrance of Rapha unguents.


Small quantities of fabulous crap.

By the way, if you're wondering how I'll be getting to Philadelphia, I will of course be taking the Wagon Queen Family Truckster. In fact, I've already embarked, and here's some exciting footage of my journey which a fellow road user captured on amateur video:

I know they say the driver was a woman, but I always wear my driving wig when I car-salmon.

In other news, the electronic votes are virtually in, and it gives me great pleasure to declare the podium of the First (and Last Annual) Etcetera and So Forth Cockpit of the "Cockie" Compecockie:

So congratulations to "Antlers Sur L'Herbe":

The eternally-vexing "???:"

And of course the winner and therefore the most "flambullient" cockpit of all time, "Jacob's Ladder:"

As you can see above, the difference between first and second was incredibly close, but working in the winner's favorite was the fact that it had already won the Sheldon Brown Memorial Biplanar Cockpit Award, thus establishing it as the sentimental favorite.

I have not notified any of the winners yet, though I will be in touch in due course to arrange for delivery of your savory and delicious BSNYC/RTMS Coffee, courtesy of the Just Coffee Cooperative.

And so endeth the BSNYC/RTMS Cockpit of the Whatever Awards, not with a bang, but with a wimple:

Expect those Rapha bespoke cycling wimples to "drop" sometime in 2011.

Now, without further a-duh, I'm pleased to present you with a quiz. As always, study the item, think, and click on your answer. If you're right then cheer and punch your neighbor, and if you're wrong you'll see more triathlete remounts.

Thanks very much for reading, ride safe, and hope to see you at the Philly Bike Expo.

--BSNYC/Artie M. Ess

1. How is the NYPD coping with the problem of police cars parked in the bike lanes?

--Issuing summonses to the offending officers
--Encouraging cyclists to call 311
--Briefing officers about bicycle safety
--Ticketing the cyclists who are forced to ride around them

2. In New York City, children on training wheels can:

--Ride on the sidewalk
--Bring their bikes to school
--Attend special neighborhood bike safety classes
--Get sued

3. Holding your bike above your head is a good example of a "doucheclamation point."


4. Why are these riders throwing their bikes into the water?

--They are engaged in a bike-hurling competition
--They are Christians and are baptizing them
--They are racing old-timey cyclocross
--They are discarding them because they are made by Specialized

5. Fill in the blank: "Tarck" bikes are out, _____ are in.

--Cyclocross bikes
--Vintage road bikes
--Randonneur bikes
--Hybrid bikes

(Gynecologist's eye view, via Fyxomatosis)

6. In the above photograph, the clover is the:

--Colnago logo
--Pinarello logo
--Irish Spring logo

7. The L train remains the best place in New York City to see aging hipsters.


***Special Fixed-Gear-Themed Bonus Question***

According to the owner, this is:

--"probably the most outragous fix gear bike ever made in Australia"
--"probably the hotest custom ever to come out of Canada"
--"definately the sickest fixie on Craigslist"
--"vertically still, laterally compliant, and diagonally ridiculous"

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Lovely Bicycles on a Budget: Vintage vs Modern

[image via niniferrose]  

In addition to the variety of comments posted on this website, I receive lots of questions from readers via email. And if I had to say what the one most frequently asked question is, it would be a variation of this one:
I am looking for a nice bicycle for commuting around town and my budget is $500. I would love to get a new Dutch bike or a Pashley, but I just can't afford it. What would you recommend in my price range? 
Now, I do have a page on this website called Budget Options, and a link to it is prominently displayed in the upper lefthand corner. On that page I keep an updated list of manufacturers that sell budget versions of classic bicycles for as little as $150. I also have a page on shopping for vintage bikes. So, in emailing me the above question, the reader is usually looking for more than to be directed to one these pages. They are looking for my opinion: What would I do with $500? What do I recommend of all the possible options?

Okay, if you really want to know, I'll tell you. But I can almost guarantee that you won't like it and that you won't follow my recommendation. Do you want to hear it anyway? Well, all right. I would recommend buying a vintage 3-speed and spending the remainder of your budget on modernising it. Here is how I would do it:

Step 1: 
Buy a vintage Raleigh Lady Sports in your size and preferred colour. Make sure the frame is in good condition, and that as many components as possible are salvageable. Try to spend under $100 on this purchase, and absolutely no more than $150. It is possible if you do some research and ask around. Even if there is a shortage of vintage bikes in your area, post a "want to buy" ad on your local C-List and chances are someone will dig one out of their basement or barn. Or join bikeforums and a kind enthusiastic soul on the Classic & Vintage subforum will provide you with some local contacts. It can be done if you are motivated.

Step 2:
Buy a modern 26" (ISO 590) wheelset with alloy rims and a 3-speed hub built into the rear wheel (the shifter is usually included). The biggest problem with using vintage 3-speeds for transportation, is that they have caliper brakes and steel rims - a combination that provides inadequate stopping power in wet weather conditions. An alloy wheelset will solve this problem. Several bike shops sell such wheelsets online at reasonable prices: A Sun wheelset from Harris Cyclery will set you back $200. An Alex wheelset from Niagra Cycle Works will set you back $130.  Your local bike shop might be able to order a wheelset from a catalogue as well.

Step 3:
Buy a set of 26" (ISO 590) tires with puncture protection. Schwalbe Delta Cruisers in either black or cream are a good choice, because they look classic, make for a very comfortable ride, and cost only $40 for the pair.

Step 4:
Assuming that you are not skilled in bicycle repair, maintenance or assembly, bring your vintage bike and all the parts to a trusted local shop. Ask them to replace the wheelset, put on the new tires, and give the bicycle a thorough tune up. They will probably end up replacing the chain and some cables as part of that process as well. It should run you about $100.

Step 5:
If the vintage bike you found did not come with a saddle and there is room in your budget, get a Brooks or a lower-priced VO leather saddle. If you are tapped out, look for a vintage saddle, or buy a cheap generic one as a temporary fix until you save up the extra money for a new, quality one.

[image via niniferrose]  

At the end of this process, you will have a bicycle with all the comfort, durability and charm of a vintage 3-speed, but with modern braking power. It should last pretty much forever and should feel great to ride. Yes, organising the bike will be a small adventure - but again, it can be done if you put your mind to it.

Having said that, I realise that most of my readers will opt out. For one thing, it seems difficult and time-consuming. It also probably seems absurd to spend a total of $500 on a vintage 3-speed, when you could go to the store and get one of these for the same price, brand new and shiny. I sincerely understand that. But...

Consider that the second most frequently asked question I get from readers over email is a variation of this one:
Three months ago I bought a [Budget Manufacturer X] bicycle, because my budget was $500. Actually, I ended up spending a bit more than that, because I got the 7-speed version. And Basil panniers. And a Brooks saddle. And cork grips. But anyway, I thought the bicycle looked nice and I liked how it rode when I tested it outside the bike shop. But it's only been 3 months, and now my rear fender is making clunking noises, and my chain has come off twice, and I keep getting flat tires. Also, the bike doesn't feel that great over pot-holes and my hands start to hurt on the handlebars towards the end of my commute from work. My bike shop says that I can update some of the components to fix these problems, but it looks like that's going to cost me another several hundred dollars. I am not sure what to do now. What do you think? 
I never know quite how to answer that one, because at that point the person has already maxed out their budget. Any suggestions? And yes, I am perfectly serious that I get these emails. I respect it when people say they are on a tight budget and I would like to be helpful with solutions instead of saying "save up for a better quality bike". But I honestly cannot think of a solution that I truly believe in other than my vintage 3-speed plan.  I have never received an email from anybody complaining about their vintage Raleigh Sports. 

Pressing Issues: Matters of Miner Importance

I didn't become a bike blogger in order to do "work;" instead, I did it because it seemed like a relaxing way to sit in front of a computer all morning in my underpants. However, even into the most pantsless life a little responsibility must fall, and it is now my responsibility to remind you that I will be giving a presentation at the Philly Bike Expo this Saturday, October 30th, at 2:00pm. That's right in between Yoga For Cyclists (which is much easier than Advanced Autofellatio) and Georgena Terry's presentation (Terry being the inventor of the road bike with the tiny wheel in the front that inadvertently launched a "fixie" trend):

It also, unfortunately, conflicts with the presentation of Drew Guldalian, who happens to build very nice bikes, which I know because my friend has one and I've ridden it:

Given this, as well as the fact that I'm intrinsically not very interesting, I know that I have to work in order to draw people to my presentation. To this end, I will first remind you that the Philly Bike Expo people have a "special" going, wherein you get a copy of my book:

Secondly, I will also tell you that the seminar I've prepared is more than entertaining; it's actually a major opportunity to get in on the "ground floor" of a tremendously exciting business venture. I can't tell you what this venture is, and I also won't confirm or deny that it involves time shares, but I will point out that the weather is quite lovely in Boca Raton at this time of year and just leave it at that. Plus, in addition to all of this, I will be giving out prizes, which will consist mostly of stuff I have lying around at home. For example, if you can believe it, Rapha actually just sent me some of their "performance skincare:"

This was very generous of them, and I'm honestly grateful, but the truth is that I have an aversion to scented unguents, and I could smell this stuff before it even got off the mail truck. (It smelled kind of like the bowls of potpourri they keep by the door in the sorts of shops that sell candles and teapots.) I'm also an avowed "lowbrow" when it comes to chamois cream (if you don't know, chamois cream is the stuff you put on your "lowbrow"), and the local pharmacy serves my crotchal needs just fine. (My motto is: "If it's good enough for a diaper, then it's good enough for my bib shorts.") Also, I once had an accident involving hot embrocation that is too graphic to relate here, and I'm now afraid to get anywhere near the stuff.

So, what this means is that I will award this deluxe Rapha Performance Skincare fun-pak as a prize at my BRA. By the way, it will also come in this Rapha sack, which is perfect for pretentiously storing that spare tubular tire you keep toe-clipped to the underside of the saddle on your Serotta, ostensibly in case of a puncture but in reality merely as a sort of "retro" affectation:

Or you can stuff it full of potpourri and hang it in your closet.

But this isn't the only prize I will dispense. I'll also rummage around and see what else I can find, and these items could include lights from Knog as well as perhaps a t-shirt or two. Moreover, I will attempt to dispense these items in a fashion that is enjoyable to all present. So I hope to see some of you there on Saturday, and I hope you will refrain from pelting me with cheese steaks.

Moving on, in the spirit of "work" and fulfilling responsibilities, it's also time to conclude The First (and Last) Annual BSNYC/RTMS Cockpit of the Year Award, sponsored by Just Coffee Cooperative, who won't listen to me when I tell them they'd make a lot more money if they'd just start exploiting people. Yesterday, you voted on the finalists, and here were the winners when I arbitrarily closed the polls this morning:

I. Best Antler or Animal By-Product

As you can see, "Antlers Sur L'Herbe" won by a comfortable margin:

II: Best Aero

In this race, a conservative gravel-phobic base rallied to make sure that aerobars are used only on the road:

III: Best Multi-Level
(The Sheldon Brown Memorial Biplanar Cockpit Award)

In this emotionally charged race, Jacob's Ladder was the clear favorite:

IV: Best STI

It was a very tight race, but the "Upright" configuration won by a rattly worn 9-speed STI lever top cap:

V: Best Owner "Curated" and Piloted

Also a very close race, in the end "Steering Wheel Guy" flipped "The Kansas Sail" the "bird:"

VI: "Freestyle"
(Anything Goes!)

And finally, in the always sensational "Freestyle" competition, the Terry Gilliamesque network of pneumatic tubes that is the "???" cockpit won decisively:

Thus having established the best-of-breed, it's now time to determine the Best In Show and finally put this contest to bed like a naughty dachshund. Simply vote below for the cockpit you like best, and the number of votes each cockpit receives will determine the first, second, and third place finishers:

This Is It! Who Should Get The "Cockie?"

Once the voters are in, that will be that, and three very lucky and potentially overstimulated people will receive their "Cockie" coffee.

Speaking of elections, a number of people have informed me that this bloated saddlebag was recently elected the mayor of Toronto:

Sadly, all I can do is offer the people of Toronto my condolences. I was particularly confused by his self-defeating argument that people shouldn't ride bikes because "roads are built for buses, cars, and trucks, not for people on bikes," since if anything it means that the roads need to be upgraded. That's like saying people shouldn't use computers because "our communication infrastructure was built for letters and telegraphs, and not for the Internet." Of course, he does have a sensitive side:

My heart bleeds for ‘em when I hear someone gets killed, but it’s their own fault at the end of the day.

His heart may be bleeding, but I suspect it's due not to the dead cyclists but to his corpulence, and that it has ruptured from the strain of pushing blood through his fat-clogged arteries. Unfortunately for him, "artificial hearts are built for health-minded people with congenital heart defects, not for people who eat all their meals at Tim Hortons."

Meanwhile, speaking of self-contradictory worldviews, a fellow Twitterer has informed me that the "57 Things" guy was on the CBS Evening News recently:

At first I was puzzled as to why a minimalist with a small amount of stuff would need such a big apartment:

But then I remembered that he and his girlfriend actually had a whole lot of stuff--until they broke up, leaving him in a typical "my girlfriend just left me" apartment. Fortunately though he still has a full wardrobe that easily contains at least 57 hangers:

He also still has his bike, which may or may not be a fixie but definitely has the top-mount-lever-only brake lever configuration so conducive to that "out of the saddle, hands on the bar tops" thing that "hipsters" love to do:

Meanwhile, CBS Evening News juxtaposes the incidental minimalism of a guy whose girlfriend just left him with the cluttered apartment of a former sorority sister who desperately clings to her sticker and shoelace collection:

Here she is standing in her closet:

I give it six weeks before she and "57 Things" guy move in together, and six months before she leaves him after a protracted fight about closet space.

They even talk to a professional organizer, whose orderly wood pile is a testament to his abilities:

But who fails to explain how having a bunch of cabinets you don't use is "minimalist:"

Really, it's no different from having a bunch of stickers you don't stick to anything, or a box of shoelaces you don't put in shoes.

By the way, I'd bet my Ironic Orange Julius Bike that the professional organizer with the tidy woodpile owns one of those artisanal axes:

Even though they're hopelessly out of style, since a reader informs me that it's now all about the designer pick axe:

Thanks to that rescue in Chile, urban lumberjacks are out, and "hipster" miners are in.

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