Friday, 31 December 2010

On the Perfect Martini and Other Myths

For this New Year's celebration, I had a simple task: To prepare the perfect Martini. Not one of the many impostor drinks that have posed as "martinis" over decades past - but a true, traditional one. I enjoy the art of making drinks properly, and what better time to practice this than on New Year's Eve?

At the heart of a real Martini is elegant simplicity. Sugary syrups and exotic garnishes have their place, but that place is elsewhere. Neither does Vodka belong in this most classic of cocktails. A traditional Martini is gin and vermouth in just the right combination - swirled delicately over ice, strained into a classic cocktail glass, and garnished with three olives. And that is all.

But the minimalist recipe is not free of ambiguity. Even among the purists, debates rage regarding which brands of gin and vermouth are best, and what proportions are ideal. After much soul-searching, I opted for Hendrick's and Noilly Prat, at a 4:1 gin to vermouth ratio. And I found traditionally cured Perugia olives - with nothing stuffed inside and no vinegar used in preparing them.

Perfect! But, not so fast... No sooner had I happily surveyed my ingredients, than my friend - an Edwardian history specialist - informed me that I was doing it all wrong. I was fixing to create a 1920s version of the drink, whereas the "real" original is from the early 1900s and requires a different approach entirely. Furthermore, I should not be calling it "the perfect Martini" as it creates confusion with the "Perfect Martini" - which is a separate version of the drink altogether. Ah, academics... How we love to get it just right and spoil all the fun!

Well, I am sticking with my original plan - I've grown emotionally attached to the idea of making it this way. And besides, who is to say that the very first iteration is the "perfect" version of the drink? Maybe the 1920s Martini is considered classic for a reason!

There is really no such thing as a perfect anything, just our personal version of it. It's the version that we will have the most fun with, the version that happens to be just right for us - even if it's not what others consider perfect or correct. Here's wishing you all a beautiful New Year full of such experiences - on the bicycle and otherwise.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Snow Queen!

My Gazelle "Linda" has now been updated for the winter, with new tires and woven dress guards. She is a beautiful sight to behold against the snowy landscape!

The tire replacement was something that had to be done anyhow, as the original ones were cracked and I did not want them to fail in the winter. And of course, I was only too happy to replace them with my favourite cream Schwalbe Delta Cruisers. As for the woven dress guards, there was no reason for them what so ever, other than aesthetic caprice. I thought that Linda looked somewhat generic with the solid black vinyl dress guards, and I wanted to personalise her. We purchased the woven dress guards from Mike Flanigan of ANT and installed them by drilling holes directly into the fenders. I have close-up pictures of the installation and will write a detailed tutorial in a separate post, for those interested.

Riding the Gazelle with the new tires, I immediately noticed that she became a bit faster and quicker to accelerate. This echoes my experience with Delta Cruisers on other bikes - which is one reason I love these tires so much. They are the best combination of city/ sporty/ cushy/ all-weather I have found so far. And okay, it does not hurt that they are available in cream!

It was interesting to cycle on the Gazelle after such a heavy snowfall, and to compare her handling to the Bella Ciao - which I rode immediately after the previous snowfall. Somewhat to my surprise, they handle similarly at slow speeds (under 10mph)- which is the speed I stick to under winter road conditions. The Bella Ciao's superior responsiveness and the Gazelle's superior cushiness are considerably less noticeable when cycling gingerly over slush and ice patches. Their common qualities, however, are all the more noticeable: Namely, how well-balanced and stable they both are. The Pashley I rode last year had these same qualities as well - so I think that all three are great winter bicycles.

The Gazelle does have a bit of an edge when cycling over large formations of hardened snow, due to its wider tires. On the other hand, the Bella Ciao has a considerable "winter cyclocross" advantage: It is easier to drag, lift and carry when road conditions necessitate getting off the bike and moving it over heaps of snow or patches of ice. Overall, I am honestly not sure which I prefer, and I see the two bikes as representing different ends of my winter comfort zone spectrum. The Gazelle has a rack and lights, so by default I ride it more. But once I install these on the Bella Ciao, that may change. For those who have tried different upright transportation bicycles in the winter (i.e., Pashley vs Workcycles vs Retrovelo vs Rivendell vs ANT vs Abici, etc.), I would love to know what you think of the handling.

After the first two snow storms of the season, I can already tell that I will have an easier time cycling this winter than I did last year. Nothing has really changed in a drastic way, but maybe my balancing skills have gradually improved and my lungs have grown accustomed to cycling in freezing temperatures. And as far as aesthetics go, I really do think that it helps to have a bicycle that you are excited about as a winter bike, rather than a "beater". This helped me last year and it's helping me now. The winter landscape is so beautiful, that cycling through it on a bicycle I love (and feel safe on) makes it all the more special.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Get in the Bunker, It's Snowing Out! Our Relationship with 'The Elements'

The blizzard that has swept over the East Coast in the past couple of days has left everyone stunned. After Boston received over a foot of snow within a 24-hour period and another half a foot the next day, life came to a halt. The street plows were quickly overwhelmed, a snow emergency was declared, public transportation ceased, and drivers were asked to stay off the roads. What had been a perfectly functional city only a day earlier quickly turned into a desolate snow-covered landscape. Our Cambridge/Somerville neighbourhood in particular resembled a Siberian village by Sunday evening, with only the rooftops and the tips of pine trees peaking out under a thick blanket of white, as the darkened sky continued to dump more powder onto the abandoned streets. 

Our family phoned to ask how we were coping. Did we have enough food and was our heating working? I had to giggle at the imagery of being trapped in our home, eating canned food next to a space heater. After all, I had just returned from a mile-long trek to the grocery store, somehow managing not to perish in the process. I sympathise deeply with those whose travel plans were derailed because of the storm, and even more so with those who are stuck in airports. But I am surprised by the mass panic and the "hide in the bunker" sentiment of those who are merely staying at home in the city. We are not being bombed. The snow is not radioactive or poisonous (well, at least not significantly so). We can conquer it by... walking! and by wearing really warm clothing!

It seems to me that at least part of the problem, is that "dressing for the weather" has become a novel concept for so many people after years of driving. Despite living in a cold climate, a number of my friends simply do not own warm clothing. A thick wool coat and proper winter boots are not necessary for getting in and out of the car and walking across a parking lot, so why spend money on them? It makes sense, given an automobile-reliant lifestyle. But as soon as the car is unavailable or non-functional, you are trapped - and that is a horrible feeling for those who like to be independent.

I do not subscribe to the "you're not made of sugar and won't melt " line of thought: We can get sick if we go out in bad weather dressed inappropriately. But dressing appropriately is not difficult, and can vastly improve our relationship with nature. Remember the fun of "snow days"? A walk to the grocery store during a blizzard can be just as nice. There are parts of the world where this weather is normal and not a "snow emergency" at all. I have lived in such areas and found my winters to be more enjoyably spent there. But in Southern New England, the winter months are treated as something one just needs to tolerate until they are over - which, to me at least, is rather sad. While I miss cycling on the days the roads are impassable, I don't want to contribute to that mentality. I love snow, and I love the magic of winter. And I did see a mountain biker on my way to the grocery store! The streets were abandoned except for me, him, and the occasional snowplow. We waved to each other across the vast expanse of white and silver, each encouraged by the other's presence.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Just the FAQs

As 2010 comes to an end, I have finally put together a FAQ page. No juicy revelations here; just literally some frequently asked questions that could benefit from being compiled into a single post. Perhaps this will provide some blizzard reading for those stuck indoors!

Skip to...
i. About the Blog
ii. Comments and Moderation
iii. My Cycling Experience
iv. My Bicycles
v. Bicycle Advice
vi. Opinions on "Issues"
vii. Sponsorship and Review Policies
viii.Bicycle Photography
ix. Personal Stuff

I. General questions about the blog

What is the message of Lovely Bicycle?
There is no specific message. I am interested in classic bicycles and in various aspects of the cycling experience. But I would not call that a message, more like a theme. The post on "Functionality, Comfort, and Aesthetics" explains some of my views pretty well, as does the post on why I think bicycles are not like vacuum cleaners.

What made you interested in the topic?
I am generally interested in design: I like to know about the history of objects and the relationship between form and function. Once I started cycling and looking at bicycles, it was as if something clicked and the obsession was born. There is so much to learn.

How and why did you start Lovely Bicycle?
I was shopping for my first bicycle as an adult and it was frustrating, so I decided to document the process. I was also spending a lot of time abroad for work that year, and writing about this new interest was a nice way to stay connected to home. After that, it sort of continued and expanded, eventually morphing into what it is now.

Is Lovely Bicycle a "women's blog"?
That's difficult to say. I do not presume a female audience. But by virtue of being female myself, my experiences and views are biased towards a female perspective and I do not make attempts to correct that bias. Based on the comments and emails I receive, I believe the gender ratio of my readers is about 50/50.

How long does it take you to write a Lovely Bicycle post?
An average post takes about an hour to write. But there are also the pictures, the visits, the test rides - it's hard to say how much time I spend doing working on the blog in total.

How many visitors does Lovely Bicycle receive?
The website currently receives 3,200 visits per day on average. The greatest number of visitors is from the USA (68%), followed by the UK (11%).

Do you answer emails from readers?
I try. However, at the moment I have a 2 week+ backlog, so it may take me a while to reply. You can reach me at filigreevelo-at-yahoo.

Do you publish guest posts or press releases on Lovely Bicycle?
No; all the writing is mine.

What are your long-term plans for Lovely Bicycle?
They are more or less to carry on in the same direction.

Is there a Lovely Bicycle Facebook page or Twitter account?
I now have a twitter account. There are no plans for a Facebook page.

What is your favourite cycling blog?
It is a 3-way tie between Let's Go Ride a Bike, EcoVelo and BikeSnobNYC. I also read the Yehuda Moon comic. 

Who in the cycling world inspires you?
Sheldon Brown.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to start a bicycle blog?
If your approach is goal-oriented from the start, it probably won't work. Just write about what interests you. More on that here.

Do you accept donations for Lovely Bicycle?
While I do not solicit donations from readers, I accept and appreciate them when offered - as long as they are appropriate and pose no conflict of interest.

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II. Comment Guidelines and Moderation

Do I need to sign in to comment?
No, anybody can comment. You can comment anonymously, or type in your name with an optional URL leading back to your site. Use the pull-down menu next to the "comment as" button.

What is your policy on moderating comments?
I approve all comments other than spam, slander, inflammatory remarks, or blatant rudeness. Most of my comments that aren't spam get approved.

Are manufacturers and other industry members allowed to comment?
Yes. Especially if your product or area of expertise is being discussed, please feel free to chime in. It is absolutely fine to sign in as yourself and post a link leading back to your company website. This is not spam if you are contributing to the discussion.

I tried to post a comment, but Blogger gave me an Error message.
Unfortunately this happens on occasion and there is nothing I can do. If you are typing a long comment, Blogger will sometimes time out and your comment may disappear. Consider composing the text elsewhere, then pasting it in the Comment field when done.

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III. Questions About My Cycling Experience

When Did You Start Cycling?
I rode a bike as a child and as a teenager, and you can read about that here. I then stopped at age 17 and did not start again until Spring 2009, at age 30.

How much cycling do you do now?
I cycle for transportation more or less daily. I also cycle about 100-120 miles a week on a roadbike when it's not snowing.

Do you drive or own a car?
I don't usually drive. We used to have a car, but don't at the moment

What is the longest ride you have taken so far?
My longest ride so far has been a metric century (64 miles). I'd love to do longer rides, but it's hard to find the time. Hopefully, I will do my first century (100 miles) soon.

What do you wear while cycling?
When I cycle for transportation, I wear my regular clothes, which tend to include skirts. When I ride a roadbike, I wear wool cycling knickers and jersey.

Do you cycle in high heels?
No, I don't feel comfortable doing that. But I have nothing against others wearing heels while cycling. More on that here.

Do you cycle in the rain?
Yes. Here are my posts about cycling in the rain.

Do you cycle in the winter?
Yes. Here are my posts about winter cycling. 

Do you cycle when it's very hot and humid out?
Yes, and you can read about that here.

How did you develop your transportation cycling skills?
Slowly and gradually, thanks to a comfortable upright bicycle and everyday experience. I always stayed within my comfort zone, and that zone gradually began to expand. There is no shortcut that I know of to feeling comfortable cycling in traffic for transportation.

How did you develop your road cycling skills?
In the first instance, a stable bicycle with "touring geometry" was immensely helpful to me. I also raised the drop bars quite high initially, and then gradually lowered them as I got used to them. At a later stage, I found riding fixed gear to be useful in picking up roadbike handling skills.

When was the first time you rode a roadbike with drop bars?
The first time I tried was in the summer of 2009, but I ultimately could not do it and gave up. The first successful time was in the spring of 2010, on my Rivendell.

How do you care for your bicycles?
Shamefully, I don't. They are all filthy, though the rain does wash them occasionally. 

Do you do your own maintenance work, component installations and assembly?
Usually no. The Co-Habitant loves that sort of thing, so why deprive him? (More about this here.)

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How many bicycles do you own?
I currently have 7. You can read about them here.

Why so many?
I am interested in learning about bicycles - including comparing their geometries, methods of construction, aesthetic traditions, and ride quality. The only way to do that really is via personal experience.

Why did you sell your beautiful Pashley?
The Pashley Princess worked well for me when I was a beginner. But as my cycling skills improved, I found the bicycle to be less responsive than I liked, especially on hills. This is described in my "retrospective review".

What happened to the vintage Raleigh DL-1?
It is still here! It lives in our photo studio (in a town 14 miles away) and is my "studio bike".

Why a custom Royal H. mixte rather than a Rivendell Betty Foy?
You can read about that here.

Of the bicycles you own, which is your favourite?
Can't really answer that! I am painfully attached to most of the ones I own now, and they have different purposes.  

Okay, but "burning building and you can only save 1 bike"?
My Royal H. mixte then. But let's hope it doesn't come to that!

What bicycles would you like to try next?
I would really like to experience "low trail geometry" - preferably on an original French randonneur or a modern (but classic) equivalent. 

If you had an unlimited budget, what is your dream bicycle?
I am not experienced enough yet to have a "dream bicycle". Ask me in 1-2 years!

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What bicycle do you recommend for commuting? 
There is no one manufacturer or model that I can recommend. But I do suggest certain features, which are described in detail here. Keep in mind that my suggestions are for those who have similar priorities as I do; they are not for everyone. 

What bicycle would you recommend that can "do it all"?
I would be very careful about that. See here for more.

Internally geared hub or derailleur?
Only you can decide. I prefer internally geared hubs for transportation, since they do not require maintenance. I prefer derailleurs for long-distance hilly touring, since they allow a wider range of gears.

How many speeds are best on an internally geared hub?
There is no magic number; you need to experiment and determine that for yourself. I prefer 3-speeds, with a classic trigger shifter.  

Do I really need dress guards and a chaincase for commuting?
That depends entirely on you. Here is more on that.

What bike would you recommend for commuting, on a $500 budget?
A good, refurbished vintage 3-speed. Nobody wants to hear that, as a new bike is easier to buy. But if you want my honest opinion, go for the vintage 3-speed. If you absolutely must have a new bike for under $500, I like the lady's KHS Manhattan Green better than others I've tried. 

What bike would you recommend for commuting, on a $1,000 budget?
As of now, I am honestly not sure what to suggest. Perhaps a Gazelle 3-speed, or an Abici, if you are okay with the welded seat cluster on the former or with the unicrown fork on the latter. 

What bike would you recommend for commuting, on a $1,500 budget?
A Bella Ciao, or a Retrovelo Klara

What touring bicycle would you recommend?
All things considered, a Rivendell.

What bike shops can you recommend in the Boston area?
I consider Harris Cyclery in West Newton, MA to be the best bike shop in the area - as defined by product availability, staff knowledgeability, and quality of service. Harris Cyclery became a sponsor of Lovely Bicycle in October 2010, but I have been writing positive things about them well before that time. I also like Cambridge Bicyles and the Wheelworks.

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Are you pro-VC (vehicular cycling) or pro-Infrastructure (bike lanes/ protected paths)?
Not to be wishy-washy about it, but I think that either could work and either could fail, depending on the context.

Do you follow vehicular road rules when cycling in traffic?

What are your thoughts on bike share programs?
I am conflicted on this one. Although bike share programs sound like a fantastic idea on the surface, I feel that they often involve a great deal of wastefulness. I think Mike Flanigan explains this nicely here.

What are your views on bicycle lights and high-visibility wear?
I think that good bicycle lighting is essential, and  I define "good lighting" as steady (non-flashing) lights attached to the bicycle directly and not to moving parts such as helmets or bags. I am neutral regarding high-vis wear and see it is a matter of personal choice. Portlandize has a nice post about this issue.

What are your views on bicycle helmets?
I am pro-choice. My personal views are for the most part in agreement with those expressed on Portlandize (see here and here). I will not engage in helmet debates on Lovely Bicycle.

Are you involved in cycling advocacy or activism?
I try to avoid any kind of "isms". 

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VII.  Questions About Sponsorship and Reviews 

Why did Lovely Bicycle become a sponsored website?
The blog grew beyond my ability to maintain it otherwise. Sponsorship allows me to cut down on other work and dedicate more time to Lovely Bicycle. More here.

How do I know which businesses sponsor you?
All businesses that sponsor Lovely Bicycle display a banner on the right margin of this website under "Sponsors". There are no other sponsors, and no paid advertising material appears on any other part of this website. 

How do you deal with bias and potential conflict of interest?
Please read about that here

On what basis do you select sponsors?
On the basis of liking the products/ services they offer. I decline sponsorship offers from businesses whose products and services I do not wish to advertise.

You collaborate on projects with the bicycle industry. How do you get compensated for your involvement?
I am compensated as a consultant/designer. I do not work on commission or on a profit-share basis.

Do you participate in affiliate marketing?
I do not participate in affiliate marketing of any kind, including per-click ads or text-embedded links.

How do I know when your bicycle test ride reports and product reviews are prompted by the industry?
This information is clearly stated at the beginning of each review.

Do you get paid for product reviews?
No. I do not accept payment for product reviews.

What happens to products that are sent for review by the industry, after the review takes place?
I will either return the product to the manufacturer, give it away, or pay for it (either monetarily, or in equal value trade - such as photography services or banner placement). I do not keep reviewed products as gifts.

As a manufacturer, how do I advertise on your website, or get you to review my product?
Please contact me at filigreevelo-at-yahoo, and I will send you detailed information about my advertising rates and product review policies.

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VIII. Questions About Photography

How often do you take bicycle pictures?
Typically, about twice a week.  I don't do it in a "daily photo journal" sort of way; the majority of my cycling activity goes undocumented. 

You write about cycling in traffic, but I rarely see pictures of that.
I don't feel safe taking pictures, or being photographed, while actually cycling in traffic. Most pictures where you see me cycling are staged on a quiet street or in a park.

Are you and the Co-Habitant professional photographers?
Most of the pictures on Lovely Bicycle are taken casually and do not reflect our professional work - but yes. If you are interested in our work, please get in touch.

What camera(s) do you use on the blog?
In posts prior to December 2009, pictures were taken with an old Nikon CoolPix point-and-shoot camera. In posts starting December 2009, most pictures were taken either with a Panasonic Lumix LX3 compact, or with a Nikon D-90 DSLR. You can also have a look at my flickr account; camera info is listed there for each image. 

How much post-processing do you do, and using what program?
My post-processing is minimal and I use Gimp. Usually the work is limited to image cropping and colour adjustment, when necessary.

Do you have any tips for taking good bike photos?
Everyone's idea of "good bike photos" is different. I will try to write a post about my approach soon. In the meantime, here is an excellent post on this topic from ecovelo

May I use your images in my blog or website?
You are welcome to use my images for non-commercial purposes, if in doing so you credit Lovely Bicycle and provide a link to this blog. Unless credit is given otherwise, all images on this site are ©2011 Lovely Bicycle.

How can I get access to hi-res versions of your images?
Hi-res versions of most images are available for sale. Please get in touch if you are interested in purchasing a specific image.

May I use your images for commercial purposes?
To use my images for commercial purposes, you must purchase them. If you are interested, please contact me to discuss terms.

Are some of your photos already in use by the bicycle industry?
Yes. You might spot photos that have been taken by us in use by Zimbale, Bella Ciao, Red Barn Design, Flying Pigeon LA, Vienna Active Tours, Royal H. Cycles and ANT.

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Where are you from?
I grew up partly in Europe and partly in New England, USA. You have to know me personally to get more than that out of me.

Who is the "Co-Habitant"?
We are married, but the word "husband" makes me think of animal husbandry... 

What is your educational background?
I have a doctorate in Psychology, postgraduate training in Neuroscience, and a degree in International Relations. I am also an Art School dropout.

How old are you?
I am 32 years old.

What do you do for a living?
I consider myself primarily an artist (painting, photography, performance), with a dayjob in academia and consulting. I have been gradually cutting down on the dayjob and focusing on the art. So far, so good.

Why do you sometimes live in Austria?
For work. Here are my posts from Vienna.

What is your height and weight?
A legitimate question as it pertains to cycling, so I am fine answering: I am 5'7" and my weight is usually around 125lb.

Is your hair straight or curly? It always looks different in pictures.
It is curly, but sometimes I straighten it.

What kind of cats do you have?
They are Norwegian Forest Cats, possibly with a touch of Ragdoll. One is brown and white, the other is all brown. They are sisters. You can see pictures here.

Do your friends and family read Lovely Bicycle?
Mostly no. Only the Co-Habitant and my house-mate in Vienna know about it.

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Well, I think that is enough for now! I will link to this page on the main sidebar and and will continue to expand it over time. Thank you, everybody, for reading Lovely Bicycle!

15 Years Under the Chaincase

With a blizzard raging outside, what better way to spend an evening than working on bikes?  The Co-Habitant agreed to help with my Gazelle (and by "help" I mean "do most of the work"), in exchange for which I prepared lavish portions of a dish that is sort of a cross between French Toast and a Croque Monsieur - only larger, fluffier, more generous on the cheese, and with some secret herbs that make it special. He likes my cooking, I like his mechanics: win-win! 

Though I bought new tires for my Gazelle months ago, we had been procrastinating with their installation, as it required dealing with the formidable chaincase. Removing it seemed complicated. And who knew what was under there after all these years?

The Gazelle's chaincase is a vinyl casing that is stretched over a metal support structure. It is clipped and fastened at several attachment points - including an amazing system of clasps along the bottom, the likes of which we have never seen before. I am not certain how closely the current-production Gazelle chaincase resembles the one on my 15-year-old A-Touren model, but mine was not exactly easy to remove and install - not a project for beginners at least.

Once removed, this is what was inside. It's entirely possible that the drivetrain has not been worked on since the bicycle was first purchased by the original owner. The metal structure supporting the vinyl casing was covered in surface rust, as were parts of the chain itself. But otherwise, there were no apparent problems. These bicycles were built to be used and abused for years without any need for maintenance. 

We were disappointed to see that the chainring did not have little gazelles carved into it like the older ones did. But I suppose that would be too much to expect from a '90s model. The metal chaincase support structure disassembles into several parts - allowing the rear portion to be removed without taking the whole thing apart.

The main chaincase attachment bolt is on the chainstay - a more secure method than attaching chaincases or chainguards to the bottom bracket. Another point of attachment rests on the rear axle. While more difficult to tinker with, the benefit of the vinyl chaincase design, is that it is less likely to rub or knock against the chain. It also weighs less than plastic or metal chaincases - though somehow I doubt that was a concern for the makers of Gazelle.

The Co-Habitant was thoroughly impressed by the design of the Gazelle A-Touren's rear triangle, and believes it to be a better (more integrated) system than that of the vintage Raleigh DL-1 or of the modern Pashley

Everything on the Gazelle fits together just so, as if the parts were all custom-made for each other.  And once the chainguard is off, the fork ends are cut in such a way, so as to facilitate wheel removal. The 28" wheels with the stainless steel rims weigh a ton. 

The routing of the tail light is entirely internal: The wiring comes out of the chainstay right next to the fork-end, and snakes along the inside of the rear fender invisibly. These are the kinds of design elements that make this bicycle a fully integrated system - almost an organism - that experiences very few problems. There are fewer things to shake loose, break, or fall out of adjustment, which is what makes it so low maintenance. 

I know that some enthusiasts would have next taken the whole bike apart, scrubbed off the rust, polished the frame and components, and put it back together - but we prefer to let functional bikes be. Having checked the drivetrain, none of the components seemed to be any worse for wear despite some cosmetic degradation, so we just cleaned them up a bit, greased everything, adjusted the brakes and shifter, and closed the whole thing back up. I will replace the chain soon just in case, but that is about it. Changing the tires on this bike was easy, and the cracked originals are now replaced with new Schwalbe Delta Cruisers. We also removed the vinyl dressguards and are replacing them with something more personalised. The snow continues today, but by the time it is over the winterised Gazelle will hopefully be ready for her test-ride. Working on this bicycle has made us both appreciate just how well it was built. I know that the current-production Gazelles differ in the way they are constructed, but I hope that they retained at least some of the ingenuity of the original design. 

Sunday, 26 December 2010

25th December, 25 Degrees... First Attempts at Winter Road Cycling!

Rejoicing at the empty roads on Christmas Day, the Co-Habitant and I decided to give winter roadcycling a serious try. Once the snow arrives, I find riding a roadbike to be inherently more challenging than cycling for transportation, and have not succeeded in doing it until now. One major concern is the slippery road conditions. On an upright step-through bicycle, navigating winter roads is fairly easy: If there is slush or snow, my tires can usually take it and the bike is sturdy enough to remain upright even if the wheels start to slide. But on a roadbike, my weight is distributed differently and the handling is "twitchier" - making for a potentially hazardous situation under the same conditions. When cycling for sport, I am also going quite a bit faster - giving me less time to react to slippery patches ahead.

The other challenge of roadcycling in winter, is figuring out how to dress. On an upright transportation bicycle, I can simply bundle up in my regular winter clothes and potter along at whatever speed I am comfortable with until I reach my destination. But when cycling for sport, it is more difficult to regulate body temperature: Most of my body warms up almost immediately once I pick up speed, so bundling up will cause overheating. At the same time, my hands and face are more vulnerable to the windchill than on a transportation bike because of how they are positioned on a roadbike. To find the perfect balance is tricky and can only be done via experimentation.

After resisting "technical wool" for as long as I could, I finally gave into it, because nothing else was working for me. I hope to write a comparison review of some popular wool brands soon, but basically what I am wearing in these pictures are just a couple of thin layers by Icebreaker and I/O Bio, an old wool hat, and a wind-proof cycling jacket. I am embarrassed to admit that the jacket is Campagnolo, but it is the best athletic jacket I have worn, ever, and I should write a separate review of it as well, as it certainly deserves it.

But my most interesting (as in "bizarre") acquisition for winter road cycling are these Gore Bike Wear "lobster gloves". After mentioning in a previous post about my hands freezing when riding with drop bars, I received suggestions from readers for this style of gloves, and the Co-Habitant got them for me as a gift. The concept of "lobster gloves" was new to me, but I was willing to try anything to keep my fingers from going numb when positioned on the brake hoods. These gloves really do make your hands look like enormous, mutant lobster claws, and whether you consider that cute or unacceptably grotesque is a matter of taste.

The ideas is, that, unlike regular mitten shells, "lobster gloves" make it possible to squeeze roadbike levers while still keeping at least your pinkie and ring fingers together for maximum warmth. There are different variations of this style, and some versions keep the index finger and middle finger together as well. We went to a local Eastern Mountain Sports store to look for these gloves, and I tried several versions by different manufacturers. I chose the ones by Gore Bike Wear (called "Radiator Gloves"), because they were the only ones that allowed me to freely squeeze the brake levers on the floor model roadbikes they had in the store. Similar-looking gloves by Pearl Izumi and other manufacturers constrained my hands too much and interfered with lever squeezing motions. The sizing of the Gore gloves was unisex, and size 6 fit me perfectly. Normally I wear I size 7 in women's gloves.

Once I wore the "lobster gloves" in action, I had to make some adjustments to how I positioned my hands on the brake hoods. Braking while wearing the gloves was more difficult than without, but do-able. And they did keep my hands warm, as well as dry. The inside material is soft and silky, and the outside material is textured, preventing slippage on the handlebars. Of all the available choices, I am glad that I got this version. But I would recommend that those looking for gloves in this style try them on in person if at all possible, especially if you have brake lever reach issues on a roadbike.

As for the handling of the bicycle itself - the Bianchi was great, except when encountering patches of ice or snow, at which point it was not great at all (think ice skating) and I had to get off and walk. After doing that a few times on the Minuteman Trail, it became clear that the trail was no longer usable at this time of year and it was only really possible to cycle on the main roads. A pity, as the roads leading out of town are usually heavy with traffic and unpleasant to negotiate. By the time I get through Arlington on my way to the more open countryside areas in Lexington, I am usually in a bad mood from competing with the aggressive drivers - not a situation I want to put myself in under slippery winter conditions. The additional difficulties of decreased visibility from my eyes tearing up, and a constantly running nose, contributed to my feeling of extra vulnerability on the road.

Although this is the closest I've ever gotten to winter roadcycling, it was still far from an actual success - especially since the the emptiness of the roads on Christmas Day is not something I can normally count on. From a logical standpoint, I don't think it's worth it to cycle for sport in the winter under these conditions - particularly for someone like me, whose bicycle handling skills are still relatively poor. But from an emotional standpoint, I am afraid I'll go nuts if I have to stay off roadbikes until late March; I had not realised until now how addicted I've become. Maybe I should snap out of it, be an adult and wait till Spring. Or maybe I should get goggles for my eyes, stuff wads of kleenex in my sleeve for easy nose-wiping access, consult with local cyclist about the safest winter routes, and try again. I guess we'll see how much I really want this. I am not big on setting goals or making resolutions, but I am curious about what will happen next.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Memories of an Italian Christmas

In the winter of 1989-1990, my family and I lived in Rome. It was an unstable and nomadic time for us. My sister and I - then aged 5 and 10 - were home schooled during this period and spent most of our free time in the nearby park. We picked up a bit of Italian from the local children and were able to play with them. But mostly we observed. 

It's funny, the things we notice as children. I remember being stunned by the presence of snow and palm trees in the same landscape. I remember being upset about how ugly the road around the Coliseum was. I remember a man pushing a fruit cart outside our window every morning, singing "Arance! Mandarance!" And I remember the sight of several glamorously dressed women sitting on a park bench with their infants, breastfeeding while smoking cigarettes with a synchronised rhythmic energy. I have since been to Italy a number of times as an adult, but these childhood impressions of Rome remain prominent.

And then, of course, there was Christmas - Natale! The lavish holiday decorations, the lights, the musicians on the streets and the general festive atmosphere, served as an antidote to the stress of being in a foreign country. We were living in a small apartment, in a building full of other apartments - and between mid-December and the first week of January, there was a constant stream of gifts (mostly cakes, fruit baskets, and beautifully packaged bottles of alcohol) left outside of our door by our neighbours. These were accompanied by "Buon Natale!" notes, but no names or apartment numbers. We did not know whom to thank, or for whom to leave return gifts. When my parents asked our landlord about it, she assured them that this was normal: "They know that you are foreign and don't want you to be lonely." We were impressed and cheered by this thoughtful gesture that seemed to be such a matter of course for our neighbours. Most importantly, we felt wanted in the country, despite being strangers to it.

And I think ever since that childhood Christmas in Rome, that has been my association with Italy: feeling welcome and comfortable, despite not really belonging there. (Kind of like I feel on my Italian racing bikes, come to think of it.)  I always remember Italy around Christmastime, and this year even more so - as I ride my sleek Italian beauties through the wintry landscape.

I have noticed that I tend to be most interested in bicycles whose country of origin holds significance for me. Their history becomes more relevant that way, and they evoke warm memories. Happy holidays to everyone and happy winter cycling!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Bicycle Quarterly: The Art and Science of Velo-Fetishism

As a holiday gift, I received a subscription to Bicycle Quarterly and a set of back-issues containing articles I had been wanting to read for some time. The Winter 2010 issue and the older set arrived a little while ago, and I have been in a BQ-induced trance ever since. To describe this publication is challenging, as it defies easy classification. Part quasi-scholarly journal, part illustrated adventure book, something like this could only have been created by somebody with the mind of the relentlessly tenacious scientist and the spirit of the boy explorer. The result is wild, spectacular, engaging and maddening all at once - which is probably more emotion than any periodical has gotten out of me, ever. For that alone, the Bicycle Quarterly is worth every penny of its $30/year subscription fee.

Bicycle Quarterly focuses on randonneuring and cyclo-touring, and on the classic and vintage bicycles designed for these forms of cycling. Its content includes elaborate bicycle reviews, detailed historical articles, technical articles on frame building and ride quality, travel stories, book and product reviews, and much more in the same vein. But to leave the description at that would be to understate the unique nature of this magazine. First, there are the hand-drawn black and white illustrations. And then, there is the inimitable narrative voice of Jan Heine - both the publisher of Bicycle Quarterly and the author of most of the articles. Dr. Heine writes like a research scientist who, without the pressure of having to publish in peer-reviewed academic journals, has given free reign to his poetic side. With scientific phraseology interwoven with florid descriptions and subjective assertions, it is like some fantastic tapestry that draws me in with the eccentricity of its patterns.

To be sure, the Bicycle Quarterly contains a wealth of carefully researched information, which I find invaluable to my own learning experience. The author is detail-oriented and analytical, conducting in-depth research and getting to the very heart of the matter in every topic he explores. In particular, I have found the rare historical information, and the many articles examining the geometries of classic bicycles extremely useful. The information provided is not something that can easily, if at all, be found online, and so it is a priceless resource. I will be storing these back issues carefully and using them as reference material in the future.

At the same time, Dr. Heine has a very distinct perspective, which must be kept in mind when reading his assertions, reviews and critiques. He favours a specific kind of (1950s French randonneuring) bicycle design and is convinced of the superiority of this design to a degree that, in my view, makes him deeply biased. He also has a number of theories - such as that on "planing," on the virtues of low-trail geometry, and on the superiority of flexible frames - which he tends to treat as fact, or at least as self-fulfilling prophecies. As a trained researcher myself (psychology and neuroscience), I cannot agree that the tests and reviews printed in Bicycle Quarterly are "scientific" - Yet they are presented that way to readers, and that is my biggest criticism of the magazine. Bicycle Quarterly has much to offer - as long as the author's assertions are not taken as gospel by the eager novice.  It is the art and (pseudo-)science of velo-fetishism at its best, and I am addicted.

BSNYC Friday Fun Final Examination on Wednesday and Holiday Bjarne Riis-cess Announcement!

Firstly, with the holidays now an undeniable reality, I will officially be entering into a period of intense family immersion and as such will not be adding additional words and pictures to this blog until Monday, January 3rd, 2012 2011, at which point I will return with regular updates. So, if you're also the sort of person who adheres to social constructs such as "holidays" and "dates," you may want to mark the occasion of my return in your Mini Dachshunds 20011 Wall Calendar, along with other important appointments:

Trust me, that frijerater's not going to cleen itself.

In any case, as of today, I'm loading up my sleigh of smugness and vanishing over the horizon:

If anything important and/or fatuous comes up between now and then (like I get trapped under a meat tape-sealed box and need someone to help save my life) I'll apprise you of it via my "Twitter."

Which I'm sure will result in an outpouring of support from the cycling community:

Hey, if you think it will help--I'm willing to try anything at this point.

However, before I go, I should let you know that, if you've got a bunch of mountain bikes laying around and you need some last-minute holiday cash, you can always sell them to a pair of aspiring YouTube comedians:

CHEAP USED MTN BIKES WANTED to crash in our youtube show! (Fairfield)
Date: 2010-12-21, 2:25PM EST
Reply to: [deleted]

Buick and Robby crash a lot of bikes in their youtube show and we’re just looking to see if anyone has any mountain bikes you’d like to sell for cheap because we’re not looking for any fancy bikes. We’ll pay $15-$20, ultimately depending on the bike. It doesn’t even necessarily have to be in good running condition, as long as the wheels aren’t bent outta shape and the frame and forks aren’t all tweaked. Any donated bikes are appreciated too of course : ). If curious, you can check out our youtube show at
this link.


Naturally, I did check out their YouTube show, and I was even amused for one or two fleeting moments:

I'm not sure how many bikes this Craigslist ad will yield, since $15-$20 isn't exactly top dollar (even if the 26-inch mountain bike does currently have the lowest resale value of any style of bicycle in the used marketplace), but I guess that NEA grant didn't come through and production costs are limited.

I'd also like to give my sincere thanks to everybody for reading, commenting, emailing, and even attending my "BRA" events during what has for me been quite an eventful and meaningful year, encompassing as it has the publication of my book, the birth of my son, and of course the completion of my high school equivalency diploma. (I originally decided to get the diploma after I was denied a job at my local Blockbuster video store, but now that the chain has gone bankrupt it means my accomplishment is largely symbolic.) I hope everybody has a great holiday, and, to paraphrase the Hamlet-Bot 9000, may we all be spared the slings and hot karls of outrageous fortune.

In closing, I'm pleased to administer a final examination. This examination will consist entirely of questions from previous quizzes, one from each month of 2010. If you're right, you'll know, and if you're wrong you'll see whatever the wrong answer video was from that particular quiz. (Incidentally, "curating" this final examination was harder than you might think, since almost every video I've linked to in the past year appears to have been subsequently removed.) Also, should you pass the final examination, you get to graduate to 2011, but if you fail you'll be forced to repeat 2010. Granted I have no way of enforcing this, but I trust everyone will adhere to the honor system.

Once again, thanks very much for reading, have a great holiday, and I look forward to seeing all of you (who pass, that is) in 2011.




According to "GQ," what is one of the "most salient" reasons "riding a bike is better than travel by foot or automobile"?



In the recent bike messenger episode of "Judge Judy," who won: the plaintiff, or the defendant?


How can you support this bike messenger in San Francisco?


"The only problem was that the three-man breakaway couldn’t get the skin off the custard. I mean really I don’t know what they were trying to do. Maybe they just wanted to go say hi to grandma or something, but they weren’t racing bikes. Honestly it was like they attacked, got in the break, and then said to themselves, “Oops, I don’t really want to be here!” They were going so slow we needed training wheels not to fall off our bikes! And needless to say, we caught them without even trying."

Who said the above?

--Jens Voigt
--Paul Sherwen


"Snow bikes" are poised to replace "monstercross" bikes as the Gratuitous Addition to the Stable that Never Gets Ridden (or GASNGR) of choice for 2011.



This wheel setup is known as the:


Apparently, being a bike messenger in Vancouver is a non-stop thrill ride.


(The Recumbent History Channel logo)

In recumbent circles (or, more accurately, horizontal ovals) April 1st, 1934 is known as:


This device is called:

***Special Year-End Bonus Question***

("Okay, now skid!")

The quality and originality of fixed-gear "edits" continues to go:

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