Bicycle Diaries: January 2007

Recent Posts


i think...

therefore i ride...

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...across the
India - Pakistan border

Siddharth "Sid" Rajan started a unique trip last Saturday to promote peace between India and Pakistan. The 22 year-old engineering student is pedaling his unicycle from New Delhi to Lahore. Two friends of Sid and his sister are accompanying him on their bikes.

His parents are also part of his support team up to the Wagah border. Sid, who captained the Singapore unicycle national team, has set several long-distance uni-cycling records. Last year, for example, he rolled through Laos.

After the Ride4Peace, Sid will start preparing for roll from the North Pole to the South Pole. He will join the 23 other young people recruited by The Pole-to-Pole Leadership Institute. It's organizing the expedition to promote human powered transportation alternatives. Along the way the expedition members will participate in various humanitarian and environmental projects.

The expedition, which begins on 24 April, will depend on bikes, skis, feet to cover the 35,000 km. Each member will demonstrate the skills and endurance necessary for surviving 18 months worth of ice, sand, rain, as well as extremes in cold and heat. Sid will join the institute's Canadian training camp immediately after he arrives in Lahore.

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Polo goes populist

on bikes, that is...

I've been wanting to post about this little-known sport since I first discovered Pimp My Mallet. It's a group of Oxford University bike polo enthusiasts. Then I recently discovered an article on North American bike polo by Rhiannon Coppin. She's a reporter for The Tyee who recently played a match in VC/BC (Vancouver). Her article, Polo Goes Populist, describes the sport and a bit of its history.
Vancouver-based chopper-cycle builder, bicycle aficionado, and artist RedSara invited this writer to a weekly 11 a.m. bicycle polo match, held every Sunday in good weather on the gravel turf at Vancouver ’s Britannia Community Centre.

Played three or four players per side, cyclists – or rather members of Vancouver ’s cycling community and repair centres – mount their steeds and proceed to whack a street-hockey ball across the field and between one of two hastily-constructed upright goal posts.

The mallets are homemade, constructed from either sawed-off golf clubs or ski poles with hard-plastic tubing or cutting-board cut-outs pinned and duct-taped to the ends. Sometimes frustrating, always challenging, often fun, players finished two games to ten points before they wrapped up another Sunday on the pitch.
There's even an International Bicycle Polo Federation based in Jaipur, India and Richland, Washington. It's hosted seven world championships, that last in 2004. Although India dominated most the USA finally won the 7th in VC/BC. Member countries also include Canada, France, Germany, Malaysia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and the UK.

Over at the Pimp My Mallet blog, which hasn't been updated since last November, there's a link Mad Bike Polo. It's got a YouTube vid of last year's Midwest Bike Polo Championships held in Madison, WI. Chicago has been slated to host next year. If you want to get a team together my windy citizens, check it out below.

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Isaiah Berlin is back

one of the hottest books in New York
appears on no best-seller list

Thanks to Thomas Stoppard whose epic three-part play, The Coast of Utopia, opened last November at Lincoln Center in NYC. Inside the show’s playbill is For Audience Members Interested in Further Reading, a short but weighty list that includes Russian Thinkers, a '78 collection of essays on 19th-century Russian intellectuals by Berlin.

As a result, the out-of-print book is all but impossible to find. Although it's completely out of stock, Penguin quickly ordered 3,500 new copies earlier this month. It was the first time in 12 years Russian Thinkers has been printed, to satisfy more than 2,000 suddenly unfilled orders.

The Oprah Effect actually started with an article in the New York Times just before the play opened. The newspaper's former legendary restaurant critic, William Grimes, urged readers to do some reading before seeing the play. With tongue only slightly in cheek, he listed no less than 11 volumes that would repay the effort under the title Required Pretheatre Reading, and with the pay-off: That should do it. You are now ready to see the play...

But when Stoppard read the article his blood ran cold: The title should have been Recommended Post-Theatre Reading, he said in a letter to the newspaper. He then added,
What kind of madman would write a play that requires the audience to read a dozen books in advance? Come as you are; you'll be fine.

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Holy roller

Chechen senior
completes the Hajj on on his bike

At least once in their lives all able-bodies Muslims who can afford to do so must make the Hajj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca. Each year, millions from every continent converge on Islam's holiest city for four days of intense prayer and rituals.

And so last week, the vast majority arrived in Saudi Arabia by boat, plane, and automobile. One hajji, however, arrived under his own power. Biking across continents in search of inner fulfillment has become commonplace for young, mostly wealthy, adventure seekers from the developed world.

But Dzhanar-Aliyev Magomed-Ali, who is neither rich nor young, didn't come from the developed world. He came from Chechnya. There two brutal wars between separatists and Russian federal troops have virtually destroyed the semi-autonomous republic since 1994.

The 63-year-old finished his 10-week trip of nearly 12,000 kilometers (over 7,000 miles) on a rickety, rusting bike. With no access to a high-tech Lycra accessories, he made two simple modifications. First, he wrapped a thick woolen cloth around the saddle for comfort. Then he hung a green metal sign under the top tube, mapping out his route. It read in white printed Cyrillic letters:
Urus-Martan, Grozny, Khasavyurt, Makhachkala, Baku, Tehran, Baghdad, Damascus, Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem, and Urus-Martan.
I put this map together to give you an idea of how he made his way across seven countries and at least four current or recent war zones ...TWICE!

السلام عليكم
(As-Salāmu `Alaykum)

2 February 2007: update here from Lebanon's The Daily Star.
He faced scorpions, snakes and hostile US soldiers and his bicycle took a beating, but the 63-year-old Chechen now back home after cycling to and from Mecca says he is counting his blessings. Dzhanar-Aliyev Magomed-Ali returned to this war-torn Chechnya town on January 18. His pilgrimage, or hajj, to the Muslim holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, had little in common with the exploits of most Western adventurers.

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Would you turn your bike
into a muscle car?

Over at 32 Spokes, Ludwig most certainly would! He posted about this 1950s Mattel Toy back on 7 December,
Strap one of these bad boys on and pedestrians will shudder in fear as you approach the zebra crossings. Smile and nod at motorists' insults as you won't be able to hear them anyways.

...Now all I have to do is actually find one.
It would definitely make an impact at tonight's Critical Mass. But all I can do now is add it to my YouTube favorites.

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Spiny George

A good buddy who now works in DC sent me this Soviet era propaganda poster. It reminded me of Spiny Norman, the hedgehog that shadows Monty Python's delusional Dinsdale Piranha. The poster declares, I have my own opinion. That reminds me of our delusional president's State of the Union performance on Tuesday night.

Yesterday, Bush's speech also reminded The Washington Post's Harold Meyerson of a hedgehog; but of a different sort altogether. His op-ed piece used Isaiah Berlin's famous distinction between foxes and hedgehogs to criticize Bush's Iraq war policy. Below are the relevant excerpts.
In Isaiah Berlin's typology of leaders, Bush isn't merely a hedgehog who knows one thing rather than many things. He's a delusional hedgehog who knows one thing that isn't so.

In the war itself, meanwhile, our current policy has achieved new depths of senselessness. The administration is lining up support from our longtime Sunni allies in the region -- Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt in particular -- as a buffer against the spreading influence of Shiite Iran within Iraq and across the Middle East. Inside Iraq, meanwhile, we have cast our lot with the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a sectarian Shiite with long-standing ties to Iran, and hedged our bet by cultivating the support of another Shiite leader, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, who is even closer to Iran.

This isn't an example of Kissingerian subtlety -- waging the Cold War, for instance, by tilting toward China over the Soviet Union. This is an example of world-class incoherence, entirely of our own making. We charged into Iraq with some dim sense that Hussein's successor government would be headed by representatives of the long-persecuted Shiite majority, but we assumed that comity would prevail between the Shiites and the displaced Sunnis.

Then we rendered that dicey proposition all but impossible by sacking the Iraqi army and most of the civil service -- in effect, plunging the Sunni population into mass unemployment with no prospect of reemployment. We fed the Sunni resistance, which fed the Shiite retaliation.

This is foreign policy as nonsense, as the American people have apparently figured out.

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Ryszard Kapuściński

Life is truly known only to those who suffer, lose, endure adversity and stumble from defeat to defeat.
1932 - 2007
Few authors have inspired me more; not only to travel but also how to think about travel. Ryszard Kapuściński was born in 1932 in Pinsk (then eastern Poland). He was educated in Warsaw. At 23 he joined the Polish press Agency as its only foreign correspondent. He was the posted to India, his first trip outside Poland. His first book, The Polish Bush, Stories of the Polish frontier, appeared in 1962. It was an immediate bestseller.

Kapuściński travelled widely throughout the Third World; storing up, as he once said in an interview, the experiences for the books that would come later. His books cover a number of conflicts in Africa, Latin America, and Asia.

The first that was translated in English is The Emperor. It's based on the last days of Haile Selassie and subsequently made into a play produced by Jonathan Miller. His other books in English include Another Day of Life about the war in Angola, and Shah of Shahs, based on the Iranian revolution. It is particularly relevant reading today.

Imperium is the story of his travels across the dying empire of the Soviet Union in 1989. And The Soccer War is his eye-witness account of the strange conflict between El Salvador and Honduras. Both books are available at Granta along with many essays. His last book, Travels with Herodotus, will be published later this year.

Before Kapuściński left for India on his first voyage abroad, he received Herodotus's Histories as a gift. He would carry it along during all of his subsequent travels. Travels with Herodotus recalls many of the fascinating political and historical events he witnessed, juxtaposing them against the events Herodotus described. He also considers how ways of traveling, conveying information and describing events affect our understanding of the world.

Though it may seem that nearly everything about the work of a reporter has changed since Herodotus's time, it is as true now as it was then that it is hard to understand the course of history - and this in spite of the wealth of information that we receive today from various parts of the globe. For those who nevertheless wish to try, Kapuściński's book is a wonderful guide, above all because it provides no ready answers, teaching readers to ask wise questions instead.
So reportage work carries a significant responsibility. Plying our trade, we are not just men of writing pursuits but also missionaries, translators and messengers. We do not translate from one text into another, but from one culture into another, to make them mutually better understood and thereby closer, even friendlier to each other.
From his 2003 Lettre Ulysses Award Key Note Speech, Herodotus and the Art of Noticing.

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State of the union

state of the president

Tonight our 43rd president will make his annual State of the Union speech. He'll address the nation more unpopular than any president since Richard Nixon in 1974. He was beleaguered by the Watergate scandal and Viet Nam War.

For Bush, 30 years later, it's the Iraqi War. With his unpopular troop surge on the table, his job rating matches the worst of his presidency: Thirty-three percent of Americans approve of his work in office while 65 percent disapprove, 2-1 negative, matching his career low last May. Only three postwar presidents have gone lower Jimmy Carter, Nixon and Harry Truman. And only one has had a higher disapproval rating, Nixon.

White House aides have been quiet so far about Bush's specific focus. Tony Snow, the White House spokesman, has simply said the president
will address major issues, including the war on terror, energy, health care, immigration, and education ... and he’ll be talking about more, as well.
But most observers agree that with a new Democratic majority in both houses of Congress Bush will address:
  • Iraq and National Security - By his own admission, Iraq took a perilous turn for the worse over the past year.
  • Immigration -It exploded into public debate last year, but little has happened to change policies that Bush and Democratic leaders in Congress agree need fixing.
  • The Economy - Some congressional Republicans hail Bush's tax cuts as an economic success, but in terms of producing new revenue to help balance the budget, the cuts haven't done the job. Federal spending rose 42.4 percent from 2001 to 2006, while revenues increased only 20.9 percent.
  • The Environment - Global warming likely will rate a mention in Bush's State of the Union speech, which follows his administration's announcement that Alaska's polar bears will be added to the endangered species list because climate change is melting their icy habitat.
  • Energy -Democrats in Congress hope to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil by eliminating some tax breaks enjoyed by the oil and natural gas industries and by imposing a new fee on certain oil and gas companies.

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Bike safety-tips

more research
on getting thru traffic

From The Onion: The America's Finest News Source.
Warm weather is just around the corner, and soon it will be time to dust off those bicycles. Here are some tips for safe riding:
  • Always use hand signals when turning at intersections. There's nothing motorists pay more attention to than hand signals from bicyclists.
  • Leaving your bike out in the ice and cold all winter may cause serious damage. But it makes a nice subject for the cover illustration of a short-fiction quarterly.
  • Always wear a helmet. If this makes you uncomfortable, think of the helmet as a crown and yourself as King Dorko.
  • Placing your feet firmly on the pedals of the bike will help reduce the "Wheee" sound emitted from your mouth while going downhill.
  • Insist on a bicycle made of solid matter. Liquid and vapor bikes are a passing fancy; argon frames are particularly shoddy.
  • Taking your bike in for a professional tune-up is a great way to waste $25.
  • Be sure to wear your seatbelt, even if just biking down to the corner store.
  • Fat-bottomed girls may be riding today, so look out for those beauties, oh, yeah.
  • Visibility is crucial when biking. Ride with a lit highway flare in each hand.
  • Every three to four weeks, lightly oil the chain. Then dip it in flour and fry it for a real taste treat.
  • As soon as you buy a bike, talk to your friends about how great Shimano crank sets and STX hubs are.
  • Does your city have adequate bike paths? If not, consider bitching about it to your local government for the next 40 years.
  • If rich, spoiled Francis Buxton steals your bike, go on a hilarious and heartwarming journey through the American Southwest to get it back.
  • Bike safety can never be stressed enough. If you doubt this, try stressing it as much as you possibly can. It won't be enough–guaranteed.

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Getting thru traffic

like a sharp knife
through warm chocolate cake

With the new job I'll be ramping up my commuting in the City of Big Shoulders. Even though the new office will be up here on the far north side I'll be meeting with a lot of groups all over the city and surrounding region. To boost the odds for my survival I took a look through the bike blogs searching for commuting tips.

Out in San Francisco Lane Kagay owns CETMAracks. He builds front-end bike racks and blogs about bike culture. Several months ago he posted a dissection and analysis of a busy urban intersection from the viewpoint of a bicycle courier...

  • A. The traffic light turned red while you were mid-intersection.
  • B. Oblivious pedestrians. BIG TROUBLE. Practiced city-walkers will look left before stepping into the street, but you're not likely to encounter them here. See the lady in front? She's looking up at some dumb billboard and daydreaming. The moment she snaps out of it and notices the walk signal, she's gonna bolt without looking. The others behind her are in conversation and WILL follow her thoughtlessly.
  • C. Check the bus. It's difficult to see in this picture, but up ahead there's a stampede waiting to board this bus. The bus driver hasn't signaled yet, but you know better. Stay away from the right side.
  • D. This driver probably poses the greatest danger to you. Oncoming traffic from the right will be approaching any moment, and you can count on this guy making a panicky hard right to clear the intersection. With limited visibility behind the delivery truck (and with you smack-dab in his blind spot), he's not gonna see the stopped bus on the right, and I guarantee you, he's gonna floor it to avoid getting swarmed by pedestrians in front of the crosswalk. Be ready.
Kagay thus suggests:
Get the peds' attention with a shout or a bell or something. When they see your ugly face barreling down, they'll stay put. Lay on a couple hard pumps to get on the wheel of that guy on the bike, but keep a close eye on the black car (D). Watch the front wheels and listen for the acceleration.

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China and India don't roll

...but they build

Over the last few weeks there's been lots of media stories on biking around the world. In Malaysia, Sun2Surf reports the bad news and the good. Bike ownership and use are declining in China and India, while Australia and Europe are at the forefront of bike promotion.

Annual bike sales in China have fallen from 40 million in the 1990s to 20 million. Bike ownership in India is down from about 45 million in 1995 to 31 million. The proportion of trips undertaken by bike in India is between 15% and 35%, but biking is popular mostly in rural areas. The absence of safe bike paths and parking facilities are the major obstacles.

Sixty percent of the workforce in China's capital Beijing biked to work in 1998; that is down to less than 20% now. Hundreds of bike lanes in Beijing have been converted for use by cars.

Ironically, China and India are the world's largest producers of bikes. China manufactured about 80 million bikes in 2005, accounting for about 60% of global production while India's share was around 11%. The export of cheap Chinese and Indian bikes means that are some 1.6 billion in the world.

This global industry, including bikes, parts and accessories, is estimated to have total retail sales in excess of $20 billion. In China, Xinhua reports that as result bike sales have hit annual records around the world. For example, Australians bought nearly 1.3 million bikes last year, outpacing car purchases. This includes everything from recreational bikes and children's bikes right through to high-end road and competition bikes.

Over in Europe there are 250 million bikes for a total population of 462 million. Basically that's one bike for every two people. The phenomenal popularity of biking is driven both by government policy and simple economics.

Last year, the EU included bike promotion in its comprehensive transportation plan for the first time. The UK has followed this up with plan to quadruple bike use by the year 2012. The Danish capital Copenhagen provides 3,000 bikes free for short-term use. One-third of commuters bike to work. And in Germany there are more than 40,000km of bike paths. The city of Muenster allows bikes to use bus lanes but not cars. Special lanes near intersections feed cyclists to a stop area ahead of cars.

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Art Buchwald

...on biking

1925 - 2007
Americans are broad-minded people.
They'll accept the fact that a person can be an alcoholic, a dope fiend, a wife beater, and even a newspaperman, but if a man doesn't drive, there is something wrong with him.

"How Un-American Can You Get?"
Have I Ever Lied to You?

Today's post was inspired by Fritz over at Cycle-licious as well as The Bike Riding Donut Guy in Portland. Today the latter posted a YouTube vid of cagers grappling (unsuccessfully) with icy streets during this week's snowstorm. I'm sure if Buckwald had lived to see it, he would have had something very funny to say...

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5 minutes to midnight

Doomsday Clock
moves forward 2 minutes

Based here in the city at the University of Chicago, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced the change yesterday at an unprecedented joint news conference. It made the statement in Washington, DC at The American Association for the Advancement of Science and in London at The Royal Society.

For the first time it changed the Doomsday Clock because of two major sources of catastrophe. It declared that the world was entering a Second Nuclear Age with the perils of 27,000 nuclear weapons, 2000 of them ready to launch within minutes. And it warned that human habitats are now threatened by global warming.
[t]he Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock conveys how close humanity is to catastrophic destruction--the figurative midnight--and monitors the means humankind could use to obliterate itself. First and foremost, these include nuclear weapons, but they also encompass climate-changing technologies and new developments in the life sciences and nanotechnology that could inflict irrevocable harm.

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