Saturday, 30 July 2011

Fear and Loathing of the City Bus

MBTA Bus in the Night
As a cyclist, I doubt that I am alone in my strong dislike of city buses. They are enormous. They make frequent stops and wide turns. They have sizable blind spots. And their operators - overwhelmed with countless stimuli and the stress of keeping to a schedule - don't always notice cyclists in their path. All in all, it seems reasonable to be wary of these vehicles, and prudent to keep away from them whenever possible.

But as most fears, mine is not based on such rational ideas. What frightens me are things like the "heavy breathing." I will be riding along, when suddenly there is the sound of a most horrific heaving inches behind me, and I realise that a bus is dreadfully, unacceptably near. What exactly is responsible for the sound that buses make when they are braking I do not know, but it sends shivers through my body and makes me want to jump up on the curb in panic. A couple of times the bus stopped and "heaved" so closely behind me, that I could feel the heat of its terrifying dragon breath against my left calf.

My fear of buses can border on paranoia, and sometimes I am convinced that the driver is playing "chicken" with me. I can tell that they see me - they will sometimes look straight at me - yet they seem to intentionally try to squeeze me out in order to make their stop, or make the green light, or make a high-speed left turn as I am attempting to cycle straight through an intersection - figuring I'll stop out of sheer terror. I've been assured by bike messengers that the driver will yield if I don't give into them. But I lack the courage to play that game, and allow them to win every time.

Over the past two years I've overcome most of my fears about cycling in city traffic. Taxi cabs, large trucks - I am more or less okay with them. But the city bus continues to terrify me. Oh enormous, heaving metal beast... Some day, I will learn how to deal with you and my fears will be conquered.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Underdressed for Your Bike??

DBC Swift Ladies', Test Ride
from a recent email (published with permission):
"Weirdest experience this morning! Was about to go for a ride on my gorgeous Abici, then caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and thought better of it. I was working from home and looked a mess! Stained cargo pants, old T-shirt, ratty ponytail, ugh... Do you ever feel underdressed for your bike?"
Okay, that's pretty funny. And I admit I've felt the same. On a day to day basis I could be wearing anything, depending on what I am doing - from a business suit to paint-stained rags. And when it happens to be the latter, I do feel self-conscious getting out there on a nice bike for the whole world to see me all disheveled. Not self-conscious enough to actually go and change, mind you. But enough to make a mental note to dress better next time.

Could it be that all the so-called "cycle chic" imagery is getting to us, so that we actually feel pressure to dress up on our bikes?

It's possible. But I think the more likely explanation, is that traveling by bicycle can make us more self-aware and self-conscious, simply because we are more visible. Sure, we can hop in the car wearing old sweats with our unwashed hair up in a bun, drive to pick up some milk, and no one will be the wiser. But on a bike we will be observed. If we ride in the same neighbourhood as we live and work, we may not want our acquaintances, romantic interests, or colleagues to see us in that state.

Then again, it may simply be the bike. Owning an elegant, civilised bicycle can make us want to follow suit. And maybe that's not such a bad thing.

BSNYC Friday Naked Drumming Circle!

As you may know, the speed at which a Fred goes "Woo-hoo-hoo-hoo" is 46mph:


Well, I've just learned from a reader that one Fred recently experienced "woo-hoo-hoo-hoo-us interruptus" when he was stopped by Seattle police for going 42mph, a mere 4mph shy of terminal Fredly velocity:


Nevertheless, the cyclist was still rather pleased with himself:

As the cyclist involved… I figure I should give my 2 cents.
.
I was fine with being pulled over. I could have gotten a ticket and would have been OK with it; however, the SUV gaining on me from behind should have also been given a ticket. Going 42 (and by the way… why does everyone assume I was going downhill) on Admiral just keeps you with the flow of traffic. This morning, I was going about 30 mph and had a car zoom past on the right hand side and cut over right in front of me just before the merge to Spokane. Like it or not, it’s safer for a bike to break the speed limit and keep up with traffic (if possible) than to try to obey the law.
.
The officer was nice about the whole situation (and seemed to get a kick out of pulling over a bike). He said he had been looking for a bike to pull over for a while (apparently, I was the first going fast enough). He told me he was careful to write a neat contact report so that I could frame it. If only I had known I was going to be clocked…


And then went on to boast that he had even exceeded woo-hoo-hoo-hoo speed (or WHHHS-1) this one time at band camp:

The fastest I’ve ever gone on a bike? 58mph down a 25% grade in England, on a mountain bike and towing a fully-loaded trailer.

That's nothing. I once hit 76mph on my Big Dummy while descending a vertical rock face in Canada and "portaging" 130 kilos of expired "back bacon." If you don't believe me just ask my girlfriend at the time, Angelina Jolie. Also, I was wearing bib shorts over my t-shirt and had a parrot on my shoulder, just like this guy:

Though that goes without saying.

Something else that goes without saying is that the time-traveling t-shirt-wearing retro-Fred from the planet Tridork Bret is the very embodiment of cycling, and a reader in Australia informs me that not only did he and his countrymen get to thrill to a Cadel Evans Tour de France win, but they also got to enjoy Bret's be-soul-patched visage as they did so:

They say that, if you listened carefully, you could hear Evans's "Woo-hoo-hoo-hoos!" as he hit WHHHS-1 on the penultimate stage.

And 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 go "Woo-hoo-hoo-hoo!," and if you're wrong you'll see a recumbent wedding.

Thanks very much for reading, ride safe, and--if at all possible--ride with a parrot.


--Wildcat Rock Machine




1) Why is this rider smirking?





2) Why is this rider irritated?





(Humble inventor, or hyper-intelligent space lizard?)

3) What is this man demonstrating?





4) Gerard Vroomen of Cervelo is a hyper-intelligent space lizard.





(Humble congressman, or hyper-intelligent space lizard?)

5) Congressman Earl Blumenauer says he is:





6) Always wear a helment when you're:






(Minimalist lizard)


7) The latest minimalist trend is:




***Special Frame Material Smugness-Themed Bonus Question***


(My imaginary cat, SeƱor Nonsequitorres.)


Fill in the blank: Steel is _________ than bamboo.


Thursday, 28 July 2011

The Grass is Always Greener...

Pilen Bicycle, Castle Island
As the summer season of bike shopping continues, some are still looking for the right bicycle while others have already snagged one. And if the emails I receive are any indication, those in the latter category are often plagued with "the grass is greener" regrets.

I bought a Dutch bike, but now I'm thinking it's kind of heavy. Should I have gotten a mixte?

I bought a mixte, but now I'm thinking it's kind of aggressive and twitchy. Should I have gotten a Dutch bike?

I bought a vintage bike, but the components are creaky and it seems unreliable. Wish I'd sucked it up and bought a new one.

I bought a new bike and sold my old rust bucket on C-List. Now I wish I hadn't, because the old one was so much more comfortable!

Look: I don't know what to tell you, except that all of these scenarios make sense. No bicycle is perfect. How do you think I ended up with three transportation bikes?... And even that has not made me immune to the "grass is always greener" effect. Having delivered the Pilen to the venue from whence it will be shipped to the give-away recipient, I am now nostalgic for its super-stable ride and off-road capacity. I remain haunted by the memories of riding Anna's ridiculously gorgeous Retrovelo last year. And seeing the Rivendell Betty Foy makes me wistful every time, just because it is so iconic.

I don't think there is a moral to this story, except that we humans are annoyingly indecisive, covetous creatures. And perhaps also that there is a greater choice for wonderful transportation bicycles out there than ever. Determine what your priorities are, conduct thorough test rides, and don't expect the impossible. No matter how wonderful your new bicycle is, you will always discover an aspect of it where the one you had been considering instead might have fared better.

Rethinking Smugness: Steel is the New Bamboo

There's an old saying about bicycle components. This saying goes something like, "Light, strong, delicious: choose two." Well, this no longer holds true--at least if you're a panda--thanks to the rise of the bamboo bicycle frame:

(Freds who ride bamboo bikes are called "Gilligans," while their retrogrouch counterparts are called "Robinson Crusoes.")

In recent years, cyclists everywhere have been lashing stalks of bamboo together like desperate castaways fashioning rafts, and a reader informs me that Brooklyn's Bamboo Bike Studio is now expanding:

Not only that, you can now go the the Bamboo Bike Studio and make yourself a bike out of (play this sound as you read the next word) steel:

The Brooklyn-based Bamboo Bike Studio (BBS), where DIYers make their own bike frame out of bamboo in a two-day workshop, is opening satellite studios and branching out into the assembly of steel frame bikes.

Wait, what? I thought bamboo bicycles were the ultimate in sustainability, and that the world was going to be saved by a new generation of bike-cultural basket weavers who grow their own transportation in community gardens. Well, apparently not, since it turns out the bamboo bike is about as politically correct as a disposable diaper:

The decision to branch out into steel frame bikes, oddly enough, was made in response to the assertion that the bamboo bikes were not totally green because they can’t be recycled. The epoxy used on the carbon fiber joints on BBS’s bamboo bikes isn’t recyclable. “We thought that was a valid criticism,” says Odlin. But the studio is testing bikes made with a bio-degradable epoxy and Odlin hopes that eventually bamboo bikes will be totally recyclable.

In other words, as far as sustainability goes, the only difference between a bamboo bike and a Cannondale Synapse is that the tolerances on the bamboo bike are looser than a congressman's ethics. Well, that, and the fact that bamboo bikes look better than Cannondales when they're bedazzled with elbow macaroni.

I'm also guessing that nobody's yet ready to discuss the cognitive dissonance involved in experimenting with bio-degradable epoxy in order to build a bicycle which will ultimately be assembled with the same metal components used on pretty much every other bike anyway. Then again, maybe I'm wrong and they're also experimenting with ball bearings made from seeds and tires woven from grass.

By the way, none of this is to disparage the act of making your own bamboo bike, which I'm sure is an enjoyable and edifying experience--I just happen to enjoy the irony. And certainly a homemade bamboo bike is more interesting than an imported crabon one. Sure, if you encounter a peckish panda your bamboo bicycle is liable to be eaten, but a reader informs me that if you run into a bear on your crabon bike it's not going to survive either:



The Sternbergs and other passers-by stopped to help Woodard and collect pieces of his broken bicycle, which were strewn everywhere. The carbon frame was snapped clean in two places.

Of course, as any steel apologist will tell you before you tell him to shut up (it's best to derail steel bike aficionados immediately before they manage to gain momentum), had the bicycle been of the ferrous variety then it could have been repaired. Sure, those repairs will cost you the price of three new frames, but then you wouldn't be able to brag on Internet forums about how your bike survived a bear attack.

Furthermore, as Larry Olmsted would surely tell you, had the bicycle been a titanium Seven it would have fit so well that you'd have been able to avoid the bear altogether thanks to the bike's telepathic handling. In fact, the 100+ question Seven Cycles questionnaire actually includes an entire section on wildlife evasion. And, should the unthinkable happen and you actually hit the bear, you can use your frame's superior strength-to-weight ratio and oversized seat tube to prevent the beast's jaws from clamping down on you.

Fortunately, in this case, the Sternberg family was there to assist the victim, but what if they hadn't? What if Woodward had been forced to spend the night in the wilderness? Well, if you're ever trapped with an unrideable bicycle, the first thing you should do is try to find some bamboo and build a replacement. However, if this is impossible, you should immediately build a cannon from your spokes and hunt for food:



This is yet another reason for retrogrouches to feel smug about their handbuilt wheelsets. Go ahead and try that with your Ksyriums. Sure, you could probably build a depth bomb with one of those exploding R-Sys wheels, but afterwards it would be totally unrideable. On the other hand, all it takes is two spokes to build a bicycle spoke cannon, after which you've still got 34 left assuming you're "palping" the Jobst Brandt-approved full complement of 36.


Here's the video to which they're referring:



Oh, give the guy a break. It's certainly a goofy commercial, but least he's not being shuttled around the city in a giant SUV. Plus, I bet he wasn't wearing a helment when he got punched in the head 10 times in Egypt either, and I don't recall people giving him a hard time for that:

Of course, while Anderson Cooper may be gray of hair, he's not yet technically one of the "peloton of Peter Pans," as described in this article which was forwarded to me by a reader:

When I saw the headline I just assumed it was about a bunch of people who ride in green tights, but apparently it refers to people over 50. I think we all know that cyclists age well, but the article did contain some interesting statistics:

Sixty-five percent of the members of the Santa Rosa Cycling Club are over 50, half the entrants in the club’s Wine Country Century were over 50, and 61 percent of the entrants in the recent Harvest Century Bike Tour in Healdsburg are over 50.

Really, only half? I'm actually surprised something called the "Wine Country Century" skews so young.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

A Look at Berthoud Handlebar Bags and Thoughts on Attachment Options

Berthoud Handlebar Bag, Model 25
I finally received a Giles Berthoud handlebar bag for the Randonneur. It's the Model 25 in gray, which is their medium size and features elastic ties for the pockets instead of leather straps.

Berthoud Handlebar Bag, Model 25
The visual presence of this bag is almost too much for me. There is something about its colour scheme and construction that says "I am French and I am exquisite," and I find this both interesting and intimidating.

Berthoud Handlebar Bag, Model 25
But happily, the Berthoud does not overwhelm the aesthetics of the bicycle. The size is a perfect fit. And the darker fabric and lighter leather combination parallels the contrast between the frame and lugwork. In comparison, the Ostrich handlebar bag on my own bike is more drab and also more bulky.

Berthoud Handlebar Bag, Front Pocket
The bag has a large front pocket,

Berthoud Handlebar Bag, Side Pocket
two side pockets

Berthoud Handlebar Bag, Pockets and Rack Attachment
and two rear pockets. The top flap closes toward, rather than away from the cyclist, which is the opposite of what I am used to with the Ostrich and makes it counterintuitive for me to use - but this is of course user-specific. You can see that leather straps are provided for wrapping around the back of the rack. However, there are no provisions for securing the bag to the rack's platform, which surprised me (Ostrich includes straps for this). I know that some devise DIY systems, and if you've done so I'd love to hear about your process.

Berthoud Handlebar Bag, Books and Clothing
There are leather straps provided for attaching the bag to the handebars, though most opt for installing a decaleur. And here is where we are experiencing a little glitch. Ideally, the owner would prefer to forgo a decaleur: He plans to ride both with and without the bag, and a bagless decaleur sticking out of the bicycle doesn't look great (I agree). The handlebar straps hold the bag up fine, but without being secured on the bottom it bounces on the rack when filled with stuff and going over bumps.  I am also told that the bag can move from side to side without a decaleur, though I haven't experienced this yet during my one test ride so far (with 10lb of weight in the bag).

Berthoud Handlebar Bag, Handlebar Straps
As far as decaleurs go, we had planned to use one of these if going without proved impossible, but I have since been warned that using it with the Nitto lugged stem (as opposed to the regular Technomic stem) is not a good idea, for complicated reasons related to clamp compatibility that I won't go into here.  An alternative would be Berthoud's own decaleur, but it too apparently presents issues with the lugged stem - plus it is fairly obtrusive without the bag on. A headset-mounted decaleur is not possible here, because it would sit too low. So I am seeking a solution, and  also wondering whether securing the bag at the bottom would in itself solve the problem. The bag is not nearly as large as my Ostrich, and I know that some do manage to use it without a decaleur. Sharing of experiences in this regard would be most appreciated.

Help Me Help You: All You Haters Pull My Bootstraps


Hi! Welcome to my Kickstarter page. I am a sardonic cycling enthusiast and aspiring blogger who spends the bulk of the day in my underpants surrounded by soggy half-eaten bowls of heavily-sweetened breakfast cereal.

Also, I have a cat:

(The cat that I have.)

I am planning to create an Internet blog post about bikes. This blog post will have words, and pictures, and possibly video, and will feature state-of-the-art 1990s-era blogging features such as "hyperlinks." It will also allow readers to leave "comments" such as "LOL," "Cats rule!," and "You suck!" Just imagine not only being able to read about bikes on your web-enabled device, but also being able to tell the person who wrote what you're reading that he sucks. Holy shit, right?

This is where YOU come in. I estimate that it will take me anywhere from one-half to one hour to complete this project, as well as a budget of around $5 (I'm out of Froot Loops), and I'm simply not prepared to launch a project of this scope purely on speculation. After all, this is America (the crappy prize hidden inside your box of Canada Flakes), and Americans shouldn't have to make any sort of effort unless our success is assured beforehand.

So I'm going to need 50 grand.

Also, I lied about the cat. I actually don't have a cat, but I thought if I said I had one you'd like me more.

(I don't really have this cat.)

I'm sort of starting to like the idea of having a cat though, so after I get this blog post off the ground I'm going to launch a new Kickstarter page to help me get one. Your life would obviously be greatly improved by my having a domesticated feline, and I figure I can get a comprehensive cat ownership plan up and running for not more than 75 grand.

Thanks for your support,


--Wildcat Rock Machine

Sure, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Why, the nerve of this guy!" Trust me, I can relate. I mean, why would you give some guy $50,000 to create a blog post when you could give some other guy $50,000 to make a glove that flashes turn signals?

He may not have a cat, but he does have the technological know-how to transform your wildest turn-signaling dreams into reality:


He can also control your thoughts, and once we've all been duped into wearing his insidious device he will use it to turn humankind into an army of drones and order us to lay waste to the Earth:


If you don't believe me, watch the video again. At exactly 1:51, the following subliminal image appears:

Thus satisfying my personal criteria for supervillainy:

By the way, Gerard Vroomen of Cervelo also scores two out of three:

The second I see a lizard pop up in a Cervelo commercial I'm summoning his arch-nemesis, the Clean Bottle doofus, who will imprison Vroomen in his redundantly-capped Bidon of Justice:

(Jens Voigt realizing he actually has the second-worst job in cycling.)

I wonder if the Clean Bottle will also get his own Tour blog on Bicycling.com next year.

Speaking of heroes and villains, one of America's biggest bike dork heroes is Congressman Earl Blumenauer--who, a number of readers inform me, made quite a stir in the UK when he wore a bike pin on the BBC:

When asked about it, Blumenauer declared himself "aggressively 'bike partisan:'"

Even Jeremy Paxman couldn't resist, ending the interview with the query: "Can I just ask you, Mr Blumenauer, what is that extraordinary green bicycle on your lapel?"

"Well, I am aggressively 'bike partisan'," replied Blumenauer, "and this is the congressional bike caucus membership pin."

Sadly, this admission will probably spell the end of his political career in the United States, where the average person thinks a "bike partisan" is someone who's romantically attracted to both males and females.

Of course, when it comes to romance, there's no better way to woo your partner than with a bottle of wine you've "portaged" by means of a leather holder mounted on your top tube. I've briefly mentioned this product before, but I had not seen the promotional video, which was forwarded to me by a reader:



Besides the fact that he could have just saved himself a bunch of time by throwing the bottle into his bag, I also noticed the gratuitous insertion of this leather popular smart phone holder:

Clearly when it comes to superfluous leather this guy is nothing less than a genius, and I wonder what it must be like to be unable to look at anything without envisioning a leather holder for it. Is it a blessing or a curse? He's like the John Nash of tchotchkes.

But while humankind has been making stuff out of leather for millennia, it's only recently that we've unleashed the seemingly limitless potential of carbon--or, if you prefer, "crabon." Already though a new miracle material is on the horizon, and it is called "cabon:"

(Via Chris from Electra Bikes)

Presumably, engineers at 3T have figured out how to remove the "r" from carbon/crabon for weight savings while retaining the material's lateral stiffness, vertical compliance, and superior wallet-emptying capability.

Of course, even the finest cabon steed is useless if you don't have a flashy wardrobe to match, and what better way to garner covetous looks from your fellow Freds than with a genuine disembodied hand jersey?

Complete with Renaissance-era male genitalway:


If glove indicator light guy could figure out how to incorporate a directional signal into that jersey somehow I think he'd really be onto something.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

What's in a Cycling Cap?

I was in the Ride Studio Cafe the other day, when a woman came in to buy a cycling cap. She was already wearing a cap - one that looked to be from the early '80s, faded yellow with "world champion" rainbow stripes. She looked around the shop and tried on several of the caps they sell, but seemed restless and her eyes kept wandering over to me. I was wearing a white cap with rainbow stripes, very much like her own only newer. Before she even approached me, I could sense that she was attracted to my cap. I thought that she was going to ask me where I bought it. Instead she asked if she could have it, buying me a Rapha hat as a replacement.

So that is how I came to be in possession of my very own article of Rapha clothing that I'd critiqued only a week earlier. It's (even) less flattering to my face than my other cap, though admittedly it works better under a roadcycling helmet and the fabric and stitching are of higher quality. But more than anything, I like the unusual manner in which I acquired it. Sometimes an item can serve as a memento of a day or a social exchange, attaining the status of a personal keepsake.

Cycling caps are a very particular design that has become iconic: The skull-hugging panel construction, the small visor that flips up, the racing stripes. I don't think that any of the variations look especially good on most people, but their symbolism seems to hold at least as much appeal as their objective attractiveness or their cycling-specific usefulness. I would bet that the sale of cycling caps went up when Breaking Away came out, as well as more recently, when the Yehuda Moon comic became popular.

On a personal level, a specific cap might remind us of an experience associated with cycling that was exciting, formative or inspiring. Maybe our favourite racer wore one just like it. Or the cool older kid in the neighbourhood used to ride his bike around wearing one. At some point I realised that one of my first memories of my father involved a cycling cap. He is not a cyclist, but it was popular to wear them in Europe in the '80s, especially on the beach. I have a very clear memory of him sitting on a blanket and sipping beer while watching my mother swim in the sea, wearing a cycling cap with the visor flipped up. It was either yellow or white, and it definitely had the "world champion" rainbow stripes. Funny.

When the woman at the RSC asked for my cap, I had the distinct feeling that it reminded her of something, and it made sense to give it to her. But I will probably buy myself another one at some point: Those rainbow stripes remind me of Europe in the early '80s, of vintage bikes, and of childhood days at the beach.

Gear Inches and Different Bikes?

Eternally Dirty
Whenever there is mention of a bicycle's gearing, inevitably we bring up gear inches. And when there is a question of what gearing is best on a new bicycle, someone will suggest to calculate the gear inches on a bike the person is already comfortable with and use that as a template. But here is the thing: While I known how to calculate gear inches, I've been finding this mostly useless when setting up a new bike - because, in my understanding, gear inches are bike-specific. In other words, the same gear inches don't feel the same on different bikes. What am I missing or misunderstanding here? 

To quickly summarise for those new to the concept, gear inches are a convenient way to describe the gearing you are in when in different combinations of the front chainring and rear cog (taking into account wheel and tire size and crank length [edited to add: see discussion in comments regarding this; seems that I did misunderstand.]). The lower the number, the easier the gearing. For example: The lowest gearing possible on my Rivendell is 26 gear inches. The lowest gearing possible on the Royal H. Randonneur is 27.6 gear inches. The lowest gearing possible on the loaner Seven is 33 gear inches. 

So, on paper, it appears that the Rivendell is geared easier than the Randonneur, and much easier than the Seven. But in fact the bicycles feel similarly easy to ride in their lowest gearing. Cycling up the same hills, I've determined that 33 gear inches on the Seven feels about the same as 26 gear inches on the Rivendell and 31.6 gear inches on Randonneur. It seems that weight, geometry, positioning, tubing, and a number of other factors play into it and that gear inch calculations are bike-specific. It is not clear to me why some seem to suggest that gear inches are independent figures that one can use to determine the appropriate gearing on any bike. 

---
Edited to add: My "what am I missing or misunderstanding here?" question has been answered in the comments; please read through them for an interesting discussion. I was mistaken in believing that crank length is factored into gear inch calculations; it is only factored into gain ratio calculations (an alternative way to measure gearing). When comparing gain ratios between the three bikes, the equivalently-experienced gearing on the Seven and on the Randonneur are in fact the same, whereas the equivalently-experienced gearing on the Rivendell is a bit lower. So... while other elusive factors remain, it appears that crank length is a huge one and that calculating gain ratios instead of gear inches allows you to factor it into the equation. Please continue to contribute to the discussion if you feel there is more to it, or that I phrased something incorrectly. I would like all of this to remain here for others' benefit.

Small World: The Way We Were

Who among us has not occasionally longed to travel back in time?

For example, what if you could ride a dinosaur? Or witness the signing of the Declaration of Independence? Or ride a dinosaur through the signing of the Declaration of Independence and upload video of your stunt to YouTube, which you now own, because you have a time machine, and you can do anything you want and the world is now a twisted product of your perverse whims, and the ensuing paradoxes are tearing the very fabric of the universe asunder? Or maybe this has already happened and what we perceive as "reality" is merely the construct of someone who has had or will have or will have had had a time machine and used it to meddle with history, and because of this we have no control whatsoever over our own destiny and merely dwell in a self-perpetuating perdition of temporal contradictions?

Fine, so maybe time travel isn't all that great. Still, at least you can safely experience what it would be like to travel way back to the year Two Thousand And Aught Seven, Anno Domini, thanks to a Canadian periodical called "The Glo Bean D Mail," which contains the following article forwarded to me by a reader:

Ah yes, 2007. People "boogied" to the sounds of Incubus and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Audiences thrilled to movies like "Wild Hogs" and "Norbit." And newspapers printed articles about "fixies" which contained passages like this:

Popularized by bike couriers as a fast, simple way to charge around town, the fixie has become the ride of choice for young downtown cyclists – a personal statement and urban art form in one.

Amazingly though, the above words were not published in 2007. They were actually published yesterday(!), in the aforelinked "Glo Bean D Mail" article. So, too, were these:

Some come with stubby, shortened handlebars to make it easier to squeeze between cars. Some have swooping ram’s-horn bars of gleaming chrome, stripped of all handlebar tape. Others have wheel rims made of bright anodized aluminum in pink or gold. Still others have snappy whitewall tires. The latest thing is to have a coloured bicycle chain to match the bike’s colour scheme. A leather seat by Brooks, the storied English saddle maker, often tops things off.

After reading this, I have three questions for the writer, none of which has anything to do with "fixies:"

1) What's it like to be cryogenically frozen for four years and did it hurt when they thawed you out? (Okay, that's technically two questions, but whatever.)

2) Are you bummed you didn't get to see "Avatar" in the theater?

3) Michael Jackson died. How crazy is that?!?

Of course, those of us who have actually had to live through the past four years know how it all went down: first came the fixie fad; then the fixie scene closed; then all the fixie scenesters discovered bikes with gears and reinvented themselves as insufferable pedants. It was, in a word, horrible. But I guess it all seems perfectly delightful when you missed the whole thing because you're the Rip Van Winkle of the "bike culture:"

Still, the rise of the fixie is a healthy sign of a maturing bike culture in the city. Like high-school kids, urban cyclists are dividing into tribes. The nerds are the guys with panniers and reflecting vests; the jocks are the road-bike riders in spandex; the artsies ride vintage women’s bikes with flowers in the basket; the fixie riders, of course, are the cool kids.

Wrong. Wrong! They're all nerds. Have you really not figured that out yet? Or do you still have freezerburn on your brain?

Meanwhile, everybody knows that fixies are totally "out," and interesting hats are totally "in:"


On the train from Oyster Bay - w4m - 29 (City-bound on LIRR)
Date: 2011-07-24, 11:49PM EDT
Reply to:

You boarded the LIRR at Oyster Bay on Sunday evening with your bicycle, an interesting hat, and a copy of the Economist. I was the girl with a gray tank top and dirty blonde wavy hair, jabbering with my Irish friend, but too tongue-tied to talk to you. Did your bike survive the fall?


I've ridden the Long Island Railroad countless times and I've never seen anybody even remotely that pretentious. It must be a North Shore thing. A bicycle? Sure. An interesting hat? Possibly. A copy of the Economist? Perhaps. But all three at once? That's almost as impressive as a guy with a Swedish military bike and a weary Portuguese friend! But the big question is:

So how interesting was the hat?

I mean, was it really interesting, or just mildly interesting? For example, there was a time back in 2009 when I thought the "tricorne" was going to make a comeback, since I saw someone wearing one on the street:

So was the hat that interesting, or was it just "beer hat" interesting? Actually, maybe that's the guy she saw on the train. If so, I'm glad to have helped.

Speaking of pretension, I was reading the July 25th issue of The New Yorker recently and there was an article about "tiny houses:"


Evidently, there is a growing subculture of people who are into tiny houses, and it appears to be the next evolutionary phase of minimalism:

The occupants of tiny houses tend to be committed, and slightly self-regarding, citizens, who cook on little stoves and have refrigerators like wall safes. They shed years of possessions and keepsakes to get by with two shirts and two pairs of pants and two mugs and two forks, in order to occupy what amounts to a monk's cell, for the sake of simplicity, frugality, or upright environmental living. They often embody the zeal of religious converts.

And because shacks are too "Hatfields and McCoys" for minimalists, and cottages are too "Grimm's Fairy Tales," they've invented a new form of pretentious dwelling that splits the difference:

They aren't toys or playhouses or aesthetic gestures--a copy of Monticello as a sandbox in a field in East Hampton, say--and they aren't shacks or cottages, either. Shacks don't have kitchens and bathrooms, and a cottage is larger than a tiny house.

In other words, a tiny house is basically an artisanal mobile home, and people pay up to $54,000 for them:

The tiniest house that Tumbleweed Tiny House Company sells is the XS-House, which is sixty-five square feet, and costs sixteen thousand dollars to build yourself, or thirty-nine thousand dollars if Tumbleweed or someone else builds it for you. Tumbleweed's most expensive house, the Fencl, is a hundred and thirty square feet; it costs twenty-three thousand dollars to build yourself and fifty-four thousand dollars to have built.

Of course, the tiny house movement is a reaction to the McMansions and jumbo mortgages and bursting bubbles and crushing financial burdens that characterize life in modern-day America:

According to Greg johnson, the publisher of a tiny-house Web site called ResourcesForLife.com, to inhabit a tiny house "you have to remodel your sense of what success is and how important it is to you to convey to the outside world 'Hey, I have a big house and big car and I'm successful.' If you have a piece of inner tranquillity, you don't have to prove anything to anybody."

I can certainly understand that people want to liberate themselves from excess and live more modestly, manageably, and efficiently. To that end, I've come up with a revolutionary idea. Imagine if, instead of living in garden sheds, people lived in sort of "tiny house collectives"--large structures containing multiple tiny houses within their walls. Not only would such structures be more efficient than single-family dwellings, but they would also foster a sense of community and even allow for cooperative ownership arrangements. We could call these tiny houses "apartments," and we could call the tiny house collectives "apartment buildings."

Now, imagine multiple "apartment buildings" in close proximity to each other, and the dynamic communities that would result--hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people living in tiny houses and sharing ideas and experiences and creating economies and forming governments. I haven't come up with a catchy name for these communities yet, but I'm thinking either "cities," or else "people nuggets." Then, if for some reason you decide you actually need or want more living space than the people nugget contains, you can just leave it and move into a normal fucking house.

Unfortunately though, tiny house minimalists can't seem wrap their minds around the concept of living in a place that suits their needs. Instead, it makes much more sense to them to live in a miniature version of the McMansion that offends them so much, possibly with one of these on their microscopic front porch:

(America 2.0: Tiny Houses and Tiny SUVs)

In other words, the minimalist/tiny house ideal seems to be to return to the way life was back in the Middle Ages by transforming America into a land of fiefdoms dotted with designer hovels in which the inhabitants have no equity.

Of course, whatever sort of dwelling you inhabit, you should make sure you lay your head on a cycling-specific pillow, as forwarded to me by a reader:

I predict pillows for cyclists will reach prices of up to $5,000 in the next few years, after which urban cyclists will reject pillows and begin sleeping without any sort of head support at all and we'll start seeing articles about a new "fixed-head sleeping movement," and about how some of these crazy urban sleepers are even running their beds blanketless.

Just make sure you don't sleep without your helmet.

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