Tuesday, 31 May 2011

10 Items or Less: The Avocado of Death

In today's modern world of today, there are innumerable evils facing our modern society. Nukelear meltdowns, international financiers who grope hotel staff, and a dependence on foreign desserts are just a few of these insidious threats to our very existence. However, when it comes to negative influences, there is one that looms larger than all others:


Sure, you might think that a movement consisting bunch of rich, iPad-wielding couch surfers with a penchant for borrowing stuff would be relatively benign. Think again--unless you're a minimalist, of course. Minimalists only think once, if at all. They like to keep their heads as empty as their apartments.

The truth is, minimalism is a philosophy of denial, and in this sense it's the Creationism of lifestyles. Creationists deny the mountains of tangible evolutionary evidence we walk on, dig in, and burn in our gas tanks every day in favor of a story they prefer to believe. Similarly, minimalists deny the principles of simple mathematics in favor of a subjective form of accounting that would amaze even a Goldman Sachs executive.

He arrived at his number by arbitrarily omitting stuff (like his toiletry kit), as well as by bundling other stuff together (like his electronics and various chargers) and counting them as one thing. It's that last form of fictional counting--bundling stuff together--that's the most insidious. For example, bundling a bunch of subprime mortgages together and selling them was what caused the financial crisis. Even worse, bundling items together is wreaking havoc at our supermarket checkout counters, as I learned this past weekend:

The above was the scene I encountered in a Brooklyn supermarket at the so-called "10 items or less" register. As you can see, there are ten items of fruit on the conveyor belt alone--and that's not counting what the cashier has already bagged!

At first I puzzled over how someone could commit a civil violation so egregious, but then I realized that this twisted minimalist counting style is now trickling down to the rest of society, and that the woman purchasing all this stuff has probably deluded herself into thinking that all those avocados are one item. (In fairness to her, the juice wasn't hers--it belonged to the gentleman with the giant fanny pack waiting behind her.)

A mortgage crisis is one thing, but glutted supermarket checkout lines are something else altogether, and the consequences of the latter are potentially far worse. Not only does it cause delay, but allowing people to purchase multiple avocados via express lane while simultaneously inconveniencing purchasers of other items could lead to an "avocado bubble" that could burst with tragic consequences--and I don't want to be around when the guacamole hits the fan.

In any case, I've never shied away from social protest, and you can be sure I did my part by sighing impatiently in a barely audible fashion.

Speaking of counting stuff, Transportation Nation is attempting to quantify the New York City bicycle crackdown, and to this end they're creating a bike ticket map to show which neighborhoods in have been most cracked down-upon. Here's how the map looks so far:

(Each red mark represents an extremely indignant white person.)

As you can see, ticketing seems to be heaviest in parts of the city inhabited by the sorts of whiny people whose biggest problem in life is having to wait behind other people buying too many avocados in supermarkets. Non-coincidentally, these are also exactly the sorts of people who send out press releases to local news websites when they get tickets for running red lights on their Dutch bikes, and who ultimately report this information to crowdsourcing projects run by smug transportation websites. The result of this project is what may be the most obvious map ever created, though I am admittedly intrigued by the outliers, such as this one:

I can only assume this represents a roadie on his way to or from the evening races at Floyd Bennett Field (the big beige blob in the middle of the image), and I must say that surviving the wild ride down Flatbush Avenue only to get a ticket just as you've reached the safety of the Gateway National Recreation Area is like winning the World Rib Eating Championship and then choking to death on a maraschino cherry as you enjoy a celebratory cocktail.

Meanwhile, drivers are constantly finding bold new ways to obstruct bike lanes. For awhile, it looked like the protected ones were posing a bit of a challenge, but I'm pleased to report that one motor vehicle owner has finally cracked the problem of how to block them by simply placing his car diagonally across the controversial Prospect Park West bike lane:

I'm not sure what they were actually doing, but they are taking rope out of the trunk so it's possible that they were tying the car back together. The blanket would also indicate they needed to do some work on the underside of the vehicle:

Perhaps by parking the car partially on the curb they afforded themselves easier access:

As for why they wouldn't simply work on the car in the empty parking space right next to them, my best guess is that the green surface offers better contrast for finding those pesky nuts and bolts that are so easy to lose while performing repairs.

Really, the only thing I'm sure of is there's not a cop in New York City who would even think of giving them a ticket, and I also wouldn't be surprised if the so-called "Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes" emerged from their brownstones and served them lunch.

Finally, as I mentioned last week, I am now resolved to bring the "There Will Be Action Wipes" contest to a conclusion:

To this end, I have chosen five finalists, and I'm not exaggerating when I say it was by far the hardest thing I've ever done. (Harder even than having to wait multiple minutes behind a woman buying too many avocados.) The most difficult part was having to exclude the submissions that were brilliant yet not in keeping with the goal of the contest, which was to create an international symbol for cycling. Therefore, as much as I loved this one:

And this one:

And this one:

They were a bit too detailed for simple signage. (Sure, the submission above is a sign, but it doesn't work for, say, an airport terminal, or a dedicated cyclist restroom were such a thing to come into existence.) The same thing goes for this one:

I also was forced to exclude symbols that were signworthy but did not include the time-traveling t-shirt-wearing retro-Fred from the planet Tridork:

Or that took excessive liberties with his bicycle:
Again, I can't say emphatically enough that it pained me deeply to exclude all the submissions above, as well as many other exquisite renderings I also received. So, finally, I've narrowed the submissions down to these five (5) finalists, in no particular order:

I have my favorite, but I'm not saying which. In the coming days I'll most likely put these to a vote, but in the meantime I invite you to reflect upon them and consider which you'd most like to represent you in a municipal setting.

Monday, 30 May 2011

A Swedish Guest

Last week I received a new bicycle for an extended test ride and review: a Pilen Lyx. The distributor (BoxCycles) gave me a choice of colours and I took a gamble once again instead of just asking for black. This time the gamble paid off: The unusual shade of blue looks as stunning in person as it did in pictures. It is an ethereal "northern skies after an afternoon storm" sort of blue that I just want to keep staring at.

A small Swedish manufacturer, Pilen has been producing bicycles since 1998. The worksmanship looks outstanding.

The finishing on the TIG-welded frame with lugged fork crown, seat collar, and capped seat stays is up there with the quality of high-end custom frames.

I will cover the frame details in the review after I've had more time with the bike, but so far I am pleasantly surprised.

Nice headbadge, too. Pilen means "arrow" in Swedish.

The lady's frame is available in one size only and it is huge: 56cm or 58cm (22"+), depending on how you measure it. At 5'7" I had to slam the saddle down, but I'm used to that: my Gazelle and Raleigh DL-1 are the same size.

Here are the Gazelle and the Pilen together. The Pilen will be kept outdoors for the duration of its visit, which will allow me to test its resistance to the elements. The distributor assumed this as a matter of course, since that is how he keeps his own bike and that is how Pilens were designed to be stored.

I've been riding the bike since Friday, but am not ready to describe the ride quality yet. It is not like a Dutch bike, and neither is it like an English roadster, so I am trying to "understand" it. I am also still messing with the handlebar and saddle positions and will hold off on my impressions until I get those just right.

But wait, there's more...

In their generosity, the distributor has given me the green light to give this bicycle away once I am finished reviewing it. There are no strings attached: I can just give it to one of my readers in any way I see fit. This is exciting, and I already have an idea for a contest that is kind of kooky, but hopefully fun. So if you are a taller lady, the Pilen could be yours! The final review will probably be ready in 3 weeks' time, and that is also when the bicycle will be given away. Stay tuned and I will post more about the contest next week!

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Right of Way and Driver Education

Last night we were returning home on our bikes. As we approached an intersection where we needed to make a left turn, we signaled and moved to the leftmost part of the lane. A motorist approaching the same intersection behind us began to honk. We turned around, confused. The light had just turned red and all three of us were stopped at the intersection. She continued to honk. We asked what the problem was. She rolled down her window, and the conversation went something like this:

Motorist:  What the hell are you doing?!
We:  What do you mean?
Motorist: You're not supposed to be in front of me like that, you're blocking the road!
We: We're using the road just like you. Why are you honking?
Motorist: What the hell am I supposed to do when you're blocking my way?!
We: You're supposed to wait for us to turn.
Motorist: But you're not supposed to be there if I need to get by. You don't have the right of way!
We: What? Of course we have the right of way, we were here first.
Motorist: Unless you're in the bike lane, you do not have the right of way! You're supposed to let me get by!
We: Bicycles have the right of way just like any other vehicle.
Motorist: Not if you're not in the bike lane!
We: Yes. Check your facts.
Motorist: No! You check your facts!

I don't know how things would have gone had the light not turned green at that point, but it did. The motorist floored the gas pedal and veered around us in order to proceed straight as we made our left turn.

It's not so much the motorist's rudeness that I found alarming  (she was screaming at us), but the fact that she genuinely believed that cyclists did not have the right of way unless they were in the bike lane. In other words, she thought that if a cyclist needed to make a left turn, they must stand aside and wait for all the cars behind them to pass before they were allowed to proceed. This is blatantly incorrect, but that doesn't help any in situations like this.

In my view, lack of drivers' awareness about bicycling laws is largely responsible for cyclist-motorist confrontations. When I first began riding a bike in Boston, drivers would occasionally scold me for "breaking the law" (i.e. cycling on the road). Now that bicycles have become more common this seldom happens, but yesterday's encounter shows that misunderstanding of road rules still exists. I've read that in areas where this is especially bad, cyclists have taken to carrying copies of local bicycle laws and handing them out to motorists who harass them. That is further than I personally would want to go. But it seems to me that some driver's ed initiative is in order - especially if a city is actively striving to be more "bicycle friendly."

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Cycling and Sun Damage

Though I have derived many benefits from cycling, the one drawback I am still struggling with is sun damage. During my first year on the bike as an adult, I thought that I was being pretty good about using sun protection, but noticed visible damage to my skin that seemed to be a direct result of cycling over the summer months. Darkened patches and wrinkles appeared in areas of my face and body that had been most exposed to the sun while cycling. And this was despite using high SPF sunblock and staying off the road during the hottest times of the day.

At some point last summer, I switched from chemical to physical sunblock (titanium dioxide or zinc oxide), which seems to have helped. My skin was sensitive to the chemical stuff, and some friends told me that 30SPF physical block worked better for them than 60+SPF chemical, as well as lasted considerably longer. I switched and found this to be true for me as well. Physical sunblock remains visible after application and looks kind of goofy, but at this point I couldn't care less and just want to ride my bike without wrecking my skin. After year two there was still some additional skin damage, but less than before.This summer I will try to be extra good about applying the sunblock as frequently as possible.

In speaking to long-time road cyclists about sun damage, I've learned that it is a common complaint - to the extent that some just accept it as inevitable, embrace their wrinkles and brown spots, and pay frequent visits to the dermatologist. I really don't want to believe that it has to be that way, but my own case has done nothing to prove them wrong. What has been your experience with sun damage as a result of cycling, and how do you deal with it?

Friday, 27 May 2011

3 Wheels and a Box: the Christiania Cargo Trike

If you've been hoping for a change of pace from the recurring roadcycling theme, your wish is granted. Yesterday I had a visit from Will of BoxCycles - an importer of European utility bicycles whose warehouse is not far from Boston. The purpose of the visit was to drop off one of these - but more on that later! In the meantime, he was also delivering this Christiania cargo trike to someone local, and I had the opportunity to try it. 

Christiania Bikes have been around since 1976, initially as a small workshop in the Freetown Christiania neighbourhood of Copenhagen, Denmark. If you do not already know the history of this unusual neighbourhood, it's worth looking into - very interesting stuff. In addition to Christiania bikes, the modern incarnation of Pedersen began there as well. Having over time expanded, Christiania now has a factory on Bornholm Island. Their cycles remain manufactured, finished and assembled by hand - the most popular model being the cargo trike shown here.

Though I occasionally see cargo trikes both in Europe and in the US, this is the first time I've examined one so closely. The Christiania is a heavy-duty welded aluminum frame with three 24" wheels: two in front and one in rear. The cargo box is positioned between the front wheels and the cyclist steers with it when turning.  The box is plywood, and there are several models available in different widths and lengths. This trike is 82" long and 34" wide, weighing 75lb when empty. It accommodates 100kg (220.5lb) of weight can can be used for anything from hauling cargo to transporting children.

Inside the box is a bench with padded seat cushions and two sets of seatbelts. Given the weight capacity, this trike can easily fit several children, or even an adult or two.

Seatbelt attachment points on the back of the box.

The handlebars are not really handlebars at all, but more like a pram or shopping cart handle.

The lefthand side is set up with a front brake lever, parking brake and bell. A parking brake is necessary with a cargo trike; without one it will roll down even the tiniest inclines.

The righthand side is set up with a gear shifter. The trikes are available as either 7 or 8 speeds.

Shimano coaster brake hub, clear chainguard, massive cranks and non-slip pedals.

The chainguard provides good coverage, though it is not a full chaincase.

The front wheels are set up with disk brakes, which are activated by the hand lever. Tires are Schwalbe Big Apple.

Rear reflectors are affixed to the fenders of each wheel. A dynamo lighting package is available with his model, using a bottle generator on the rear wheel (you can see the attachment arm for it here).

The stock saddle is a plushy vinyl Selle San Remo.

I rode the trike briefly and clumsily, so I better use the pictures I took of Will to show you how it works. To operate the trike, you basically need to point the box, using that one long handle, in the direction you need to go. This sounds simple enough, but if you've never ridden this kind of trike before it is completely counter-intuitive. The other thing that takes getting used to is that when turning, the box pivots on its axel and becomes parallel to the cyclist - not unlike a swing bike!

Watch this: Here is the trike going straight.

And here is what happens when turning. Crazy!

Those who own one of these trikes say it takes about a day to get the hang of the steering, but that once you do it becomes second nature. While I have no experience with other trikes, there is a nice test ride report on Suburban Bike Mama where she compares the Christiania to her own Sorte Jernhest. I've also seen a couple of Christianias around Boston at this point, and the owners seem pretty adept at steering. 

If we continue to live without a car (which at this point seems likely), it is possible that I may want to get some massive cargo hauling contraption in the future, which is why I was curious to test ride one of these. One thing that surprised me about the unloaded Christiania is how light it felt. I expected the trike itself to be heavy and clunky, but it has an almost airy feel to it without cargo. It rolls easily, including up the mild incline of my street. Once it is filled with 100lbs of stuff I am sure the handling will be different, but it is nice to know how the trike behaves on its own as well. Making turns felt wild and tippy, but also a lot of fun. Since others are able to grasp it in a day, I am sure I would as well. My one source of ambivalence toward the Christiania, is that it seems designed specifically to transport children, which is not what I would need a cargo bike for. It's not only the benches (which I am sure are optional), but also that long handle and something about the general look that, to me at least, makes it resemble a giant pram. I can just imagine using this trike to carry equipment and being constantly asked how many kids I have. Having said that, I think that most people considering a cargo trike like this do in fact plan to transport children, which would make what I am describing a good thing. If drivers see you on the road and think "baby carriage!" they will probably be more careful and will give you more room.

Front loaded box cycles - be they two wheeled bakfiets or cargo trikes - are a radically different experience than riding a standard bicycle, but they also offer a radically different degree of utility. As more people are looking at transportation cycling as a normal and viable option, cargo bikes of all sorts are becoming more popular and I love seeing them on the streets. Maybe a couple of years from now, I will be riding one to the hardware store and writing about it here.

BSNYC Friday Kosher Vegan Pig Roast!

As I mentioned not too long ago, I'll be visiting and speaking at the Göteborgs Cykelfestival in Göteborg (or "Gothenburg" in English), Sverige (or "Ikea" in English) on June 11th:

I'm tremendously excited about this for three reasons:

1) Gothenburg is like 400 times cooler than Stockholm;
2) I once owned a used Saab and plan to exact my revenge on the people of Sweden through acts of petty vandalism;
3) I will be missing the World Naked Bike Ride NYC.

That last item I only just learned via the Twitter, and it's easily the sweetest part of the deal. Simply put, you cannot put enough water between a bunch of sweaty naked bike dorks and me, though the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea is a pretty good start. Watching this video fills me with a revulsion it is difficult for me to articulate without actually regurgitating partially-digested food in the process:

First of all, I don't know why they call it the "World Naked Bike Ride," when it should obviously be called "The Day of the Chafed Genitals:"

Just like last year, I'm sure the ride will be full of the sorts of people who spend up to seven hours a day changing the world by using the free Wi-Fi in coffee shops, and I'm also sure there will be lots of soullessly exuberant index-finger-in-the-air dancing:

People with no reason to live will also martyr themselves in front of taxicabs:

Then the survivors will all jump into a fountain, scrounge around in it for some change, and attempt to buy back at least some portion of their dignity:

I really hope the city cleaned that fountain.

Speaking of cycling in New York City, I cycled in New York City yesterday, and now that the weather's pleasant there's an honest-to-Lob bicycle rush hour:

I also saw a brace of Bromptons:

One of the Bromptonites scolded a woman who stepped into the bike lane. "This is not a sidewalk," she admonished. Now, I'm as irritated by pedestrians in the bike lane as anybody, but there are certain places where you should hold the smugness in abeyance and Chinatown is one of them. Sometimes you've got to respect the character of a neighborhood, even if it's annoying. Pedestrians have been walking in the streets of Chinatown for generations, and one cranky commuter on a clown bike is not going to change that.

Back in Brooklyn, I was overtaken by a man in a purple shirt riding an electric chopper bike complete with coffin tank, and by the time I fished my camera out of my pants pocket he'd gotten about ten bike lengths on me:

He zoomed by me with preternatural calm, and his face bore the same look of sublime contentment as The Lone Wolf or the Recumbabe. I thought I'd seen the last of him, but then he zipped by me again a little while later:

(Yes, that's his hair.)

I'm not normally a fan of electric bicycles, but this purple-shirted commuting Cancellara with his "groovy assist" was all right by me.

Lastly, I should mention two things: 1) It's a holiday weekend here in Canada's wood-paneled basement, so in observance of Memorial Day I won't be posting on Monday, but will be back on Tuesday with regular updates; and 2) Next week I will finally endeavor to declare the winners of the "There Will Be Action Wipes" contest since I'm sure dozens of people are eagerly awaiting the results.

Now, I'm 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 see Crucial Couriers.

Thanks very much for reading, ride safe, and enjoy the holiday weekend.


1) Retro-Fred Bread (in the pumpernickel flavorway), spotted by a reader in:

2) Investment opportunity! Buy a "high speed bicycle patent" for only:


3) Air-drying your clothing now qualifies as an "opportunity for creative expression."


4) Why is this person running?

5) Vancouver, WA is stepping up enforcement of its bicycle:

("So stoked! I'll take 30.")

6) More great news for hipsters! Now you can buy:

7) No saddlebag is complete without a:

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