Bicycle Diaries: October 2007

Recent Posts


Breaking away

off the links
on the bikes

From Time Magazine, back in June, Dan Kadlec writes about the healthier lifestyle of recent retirees and younger senior citizens. Specifically this trend has moved duffers off the links and onto bikes. For the first time in decades, more golf courses closed than opened last year. New bike technology and design can accommodate seniors needs such as reducing strain and pressure, which leads to longer cycling trips and healthier lifestyles. And seniors: not too skimpy on the bike-shorts, please.

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Olympic traffic taming

4 wheels bad, 2 wheels good
as Beijing aims for smog-free games

In the London Times, 27 August 2007, Jane Macartney writes:
Wang Yong wants to see bicycles massed on the streets of Beijing but many in the Chinese capital think that his ideas are ahead of his time. The city fabled as the “Kingdom of the Bicycle” has fallen out of love with two-wheeled travel and is infatuated with the car, not least as a status symbol. Intersections are gridlocked by hooting cars in acrid and choking air.

Beijing is a city struggling against smog and Mr Wang, the president of Beijing Bicycle Rental Services, is hoping that his venture to introduce bicycle rental will gather speed. Only days ago he won the support of the Government, which is worried that a pall of pollution could cast a shadow over the Olympic Games next August.

He has won the sponsorship of the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau as well as the police in a city where bicycle theft is a matter of course. Mr Wang set up his company two years ago, but the going has not been easy. He said: “It has been much more difficult than I expected. In Paris it’s easy because the service is promoted by the Government. In Beijing, it’s an enterprise that I am trying to set up to protect the environment - but I don’t want to lose money.”

So far he has established 31 rental points across the city with nearly 5,000 bicycles available. The Government has said that it hopes that by the time of the Olympics the capital will boast as many as 200 rental stations and 50,000 bicycles.

But why hire a bicycle in a city of 9 million bicycles and 17 million inhabitants? Mr Wang believes that his service relieves residents of the expenditure of buying a bike, the hassle of parking it and the worries over theft. He acknowledges, however, that as China has entered the car age, “some people think my idea is ahead of its time. The Chinese aren’t bored with driving and it’s impossible to lure them back to the bicycle right now.”

Mr Wang and environmental officials are hoping that more Beijingers will be encouraged to give up their cars as they realise the dangers. He said: “One-third of all breathable dirt comes from car exhausts so if there were more cyclists this could make a difference to our air."

To buy a bicycle in Beijing can cost as little as 200 yuan (£13). To take part in Mr Wang’s scheme, residents must pay a 400 yuan deposit and rent of 100 yuan a year. He said: “If you can’t afford that then you aren’t my target customer. It’s like a street stall and a five-star hotel: they each have their own customers.” But he admits that city officials are reluctant to approve sites to park bicycles. “If they use the land for car parks they can make a lot more money.”

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Totally useless stuff

but ain't my
new saddle cover neat?

I got this
early 2oth century Bukhara saddle cover
on eBay.

bikes made it all the way to Samarkand ...

and local carpet makers wanted to
fancy up their customers' rides.

This rather specific art form isn't all that rare.
These last two examples
were produced by the Turkoman in Iraq ...

and in Waziristan in Pakistan.

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Safety first...

fashion second

I wear a helmet. Period. I've spent too many years stuffing education into my brain. Besides, I've got precious little hair to worry about. So while the debate over the effectiveness of helmets rages on I will continue to wear mine for much the same reason that Pascal gave for believing in God's existence. Basically, why take the risk of not wearing one if helmets are indeed safe? And if they're not, what do I risk by wearing a helmet?

Anyway, if helmets aren't all that safe there's every possibility that they could be made more so. A good case in point is Vin Ferrara, a former Harvard quarterback, who has designed a safer football helmet.

Rather than being lined with rows of traditional foam or urethane, Ferrara’s helmet features 18 black, thermoplastic shock absorbers filled with air that — not unlike his squirt bottle — can accept a wide range of forces and still moderate the sudden jarring of the head that causes concussion. Moreover, laboratory tests have shown that the disks can withstand hundreds of impacts without any notable degradation in performance, a longtime drawback of helmets’ traditional foam.

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I've got a bike...

you can ride it
if you like it

Thank You
Pink Floyd!

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Greek traffic taming

bike lane
protest in Athens

From another victim of wildfires, London Greek Radio reports that hundreds of bikers braved heavy rainfall last Saturday to join a protest through central Athens. They called on local authorities to create special bike lanes for congested roads in the city center.

Blowing whistles and shouting anti-cager slogans, bikers of all ages said they would mark out bike lanes on the streets themselves if authorities don't respond. The protesters, who organized the rally over the Internet and by text message, also called for new laws allowing them to take their bikes onto the metro and the urban railway network.

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SoCal wildfires

Random Rantings
from an Unarmed American

Jon M, my good buddy and next door neighbor needs your help. He need sent me this last night.
As I'm sure you know large areas around Los Angeles and San Diego are engulfed in wildfires. I was frustrated with what I could find about where the wildfires are burning. I can't imagine how frustrating it would be if my home was in a threatened area. After a little poking around I found some wildfire data and used Google Maps to display it.

I'm asking for your help in sharing this web page with others in the hope that it will get to people who are in the thick of it and could make use of a simple wildfire map.

I also have a blog where people can post comments and make suggestions to improve the map here.

I've included some notes with the map to describe the data source and the display of the map.

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Strike bikes

pedals in protest

Deutsche Welle, Germany's state TV network, reports on 22 October 2007 that 3 months ago employees at the Bike Systems company in Nordhausen in the German state of Thuringia, occupied their factory to protest its closure. Now, they've started production of a limited edition Strike Bike to prove the company's viability.
Without a boss or manager in sight, the bicycles are being assembled by the 135 former employees of Production started on Monday, and by Friday, the group hopes to have the limited run of 1,800 pre-ordered bikes ready for shipping throughout Germany and Europe.

"The mood is great," said one of the occupying workers, Eric Schillat. "We really hope that we will be able to continue to produce bikes on a permanent basis."

The group has occupied the Bike Systems factory since July, after the company was closed down and declared insolvent. But unless the former employers find an investor with several millions to spend, they'll likely have to pack their tools and go home.

US private equity investor Lone Star acquired Bike Systems' parent company, Biria back in December 2005. Once one of Europe's biggest bike manufacturers, it was drowning in debt when Lone Star took it over. After shutting down another Biria subsidiary at the end of 2006, production at Bike Systems was stopped at the end of June. Ten days later, Bike Systems registered for insolvency.

Undeterred, the employees came up with the idea of producing the strike bike "We want to show potential investors that we have the capacity cover the costs of production," Schillat said. The three-speed bike, which is available in men's and women's models and comes in a symbolic red color, costs 275 euros. Customers needed to pay the sum in advance.

"We don't have any materials here," Schillat said, "you try ringing to order bike parts as a bankrupt firm." André Kegel, who used to supervise one of Bike System's production lines, called the strike bike "a symbolic action. You can't make any money with the strike bike," he told the German daily Die Welt.

In order to turn a profit, the Nordhausen factory would have to manufacture at least 200,000 bikes a year. And without an investor, the workers won't be able to raise the sums needed to keep the factory open. According to Kegel, for just the parts needed to produce that number, workers would need an advance of 7 to 8 million euros.

And according to Wolfgang Wutzke, the head of the firm in charge of the insolvency, there still isn't an investor in sight.

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UK traffic taming

This biker collective uses creative methods to encourage environmental responsibility. Its aim is to promoting bikes as a healthy, practical and enjoyable alternative to high-carbon lifestyles, and to challenge the politics and economics that have led us down the road to environmental destruction and massive global injustice.

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Bike friendly? Part II

rollier than thou
Passions that are forced to remain faraway are generally malevolent. The contemporary spectator appears to perpetually watch for the fleeting occasion to make his opinion known on a great variety of things he knows nothing about, but in every case he only expresses his dominant emotions: omniform envy, ambition without means and pretension without illusion.

Because these are the traits that massively express a system of production that cannot dream of making consumers more successfully than it makes merchandise. This desperate mediocrity regularly hastens to say anything at all with authority, so as to resemble the authorities, who also say anything at all. This mediocrity systematically forgets the obvious, dogmatizes from the rumors that it has itself invented and blindly talks nonsense about its own falsifications.
The late Guy Debord, leader of The Situationists, would come down hard on the wackier wing of the biker community today. He would see it as a subculture that, devoid of all theoretical and practical coherency, is unified only by its aesthetic: tight pants, black tattered clothes, matted hair, body odor. In this fashion, our young radical learns the first thing about neo-anarchism: the need to replace genuine radicalism with a revolutionary lifestyle.

Much else flows from this: dumpster-diving as an end in itself, veganism – a simple dietary choice – at once becomes revolutionary, and the desire for radical activity translates into meaningless black bloc participation (the caricature of revolutionary action in an obviously non-revolutionary situation; a purely spectacular semblance of opposition and a lingering legacy from The Weathermen and other such pitiful groups).

Aside from vague catch-phrases about autonomy, community, and anti-authoritarianism, the neo-anarchist never develops any clear idea of what the end goal really is, and because of this confusion about the end, this individual naturally develops a distorted set of means. In other words, because these anarchists do not understand the actual nature of the revolution and what it seeks to accomplish, the tactics that are ultimately adopted cannot help being non-revolutionary.

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Talk Yiddish

Back in June I posted about the Biblical Curse Generator. I thought it was an excellent tool for finding the right curses when cagers abuse their road privileges.

Well, it's Shabbat. In a humble effort to promote Judeo-Christian understanding I thought I'd provide some equally effective Yiddish curses. So what can you say when a tipesh, or moron, hits a biker when making a right-hand in front of them?

Finding the right words is important. Yiddish categorizes the idiocies of others in a thousand ways. Therefore, fine distinctions matter. First, is s/he a shmendrik, kuneh-laiml, or yold? A shmendrik will hit a biker because s/he expects it to get out of his way. A kuneh-laiml, on the other hand, didn’t notice the biker in the first place. And a yold is simply a fool who believes both when they claim that hitting the biker wasn't their fault.

Personally, I favor shoyteh ben pikholts: literally, a fool with a woodpecker for a father. Then you should add, Vilst krikhn? Zolst meer krikhn afn boyekh! In other words, You want to crawl? You should crawl on your belly! If you get a response, just throw in Zits in krits in shveig. That means Sit and gnash your teeth and be silent.

... much more creative, and satisfying, than the overworked Flipping the Bird.

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Bike porn

oh yeah baby

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Frank Patterson

and why I ride British

Perhaps the first bike artist, Frank Patterson was born in Portsmouth, England, on 12 October 1871. It was middle of the reign of Queen Victoria and biking was developing as a popular means of transport. Bikes opened up countryside travel to everyone; including Patterson, for whom bike art became a life long passion.

In a career spanning over 59 years, Frank Pat Patterson illustrated for Cycling magazine, C.T.C. Gazette, and many other publications, producing many thousands of drawings chronicling the golden age of the bicycle. He rolled his last on 17 July 1952.

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Bike friendly?


Over at his blog, Dave Moulton describes POBs or Pedestrians on a Bike. It's not unlike the widespread stereotype of cagers. [They] behave like pedestrians. Most pedestrians don't follow too many rules; they wander around willy-nilly all over the place.

Dave then goes on to describe an irritating sub-group, the APOBs.
The “A” is for Anarchist, Arrogant, or Asshole, pick any one. They grew up as POBs, later bought expensive bikes and started hanging out and riding with cyclists. However, they never became true cyclists because they disregard the laws of the road, at all times.
I greatly appreciate his perspective. So much ink has been spilled on the malevolent cager that it's become a meaningless category (like calling every conservative a fascist or Nazi) but very little on the equally malevolent biker. This is unfortunate. With the growing popularity of utility biking, particularly on urban streets, I've seen increasing numbers of the kind of bikers Dave describes, even some talking on their cell-phones.

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Think yiddish...

ride British

The Gentleman Cyclists are small, far-flung but dedicated group that honors The Golden Age of British Touring by restoring lightweight bikes from the 1930s through the early '60s. You might think they're not all that different from the Penny-Farthing or Schwinn beach cruiser fanatics. But they are, indeed, a unique crowd.

What's the point of restoring a classic Raleigh or Phillips or Rudge if you're not going to tour with it? Why would you ruin the experience by stuffing yourself, sausage-like, into togs of Lycra or other horrid unnatural fibers. And why set a speed record when the countryside is so pleasant?

Twice a year, The Gentleman Cyclists answer these questions by gathering for a spirited roll down memory lane. In the Spring, they show up in Red Wing, MN for the 3peed Lake Pepin Tour. Then in the Fall, outside the Twin Cities, they stage an All British Cycling Event.

This is the first year I've done both with that which rolls, my '62 Raleigh Robin Hood Sports. In fact, after Lake Pepin I spent most of the summer working restoring it as well as putting together my British touring kit and togs. It's not as difficult as you might think. Frost River produces a nifty line of saddles bags and panniers.

The tours are Lycra-free events. Not a stitch of it is permitted ... well except for padded shorts that are conveniently hidden. But finding proper attire with that 1930s flare isn't all that difficult to find. I've always been attracted to its classic look: tweed touring caps, Norfolk jackets, and breeks.

I actually found this relatively cheap Norfolk-style jacket at Macy's just around the corner from my downtown office. Besides, it's more comfortable than you might think. Neither tour is a speed trial; just the opposite. British touring from that period is punctuated with many stops for food, water, tea and sometimes a pint at the local brewpub.

Traveling light is the order of the day. We simply carry a change of clothes and rain gear. We also enjoy pass storming and rough stuff touring. Scenic overlooks are an invitation for a brew-up of tea or a nap in the grass and are seldom missed.

Essentially, to get away for the weekend we pack a few things, mount up and head to the country. Most every farmstead has refreshments or a room to rent, every little village has a family-run restaurant. It’s a romantic image to be sure but firmly based in reality. It’s a reality that is fairly easy to reproduce given the right scenery, equipment and most important: attitude. We even have a sag-wagon!

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Steel is back, Part II


Two weeks ago, I posted on how the bike industry has (re)discovered steel as the next big thing in design. Over in England, Nick Foulkes opines in The Guardian that this turnaround has gone even further, particularly among the well-heeled. Here is an excerpt:
Some years ago, the acronym Rub enjoyed a certain currency. It stood for Rich Urban Biker and was usually applied to a 50-year-old advertising executive who spent weekends astride a Harley-Davidson recapturing the youth he never had.

Now the Rub has been replaced by the Muc (Middle-class Urban Cyclist). Whereas the ageing professional used to have his legs wrapped around a large, shuddering piece of American metal, today those limbs are pumping up and down as he pilots his bicycle through the city traffic. The middle classes used to cycle, but somehow, as affluence increased and the two- or even three-car household became usual, cycling waned; seven years ago, Raleigh was in receivership.

On Thursday, the rude financial health of Raleigh made news on the Today programme. The same afternoon, I collected my younger son from school: all cycling helmets and rear-mounted infant seats and not an SUV in sight.

This month has also seen the resurgence of the prototypical 21st-century Muc: David Cameron pedalling to the House of Commons. Smythson, where Mrs Cameron works, has come out with cycling stationery, a 'rider's journal' that allows cyclists to record their 'training and racing goals', terrain, distances, gears used, weather conditions etc. Perhaps it should launch a volume to tally the number of red lights jumped, pedestrians knocked over, hydrocarbons they haven't used and so on.

The surest indicator that cycling has sunk its teeth deep into the middle-class psyche is that I have bought a Pashley. For those few who do not know what a Pashley is, imagine a two-wheeled, rider-powered version of an old Bentley.

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