Bicycle Diaries: December 2008

Recent Posts


Bike nerds & green geeks

an image problem?
...for most people the bicycle is something you use for transportation until you are successful enough to buy a car; that the bicycle is not seen as a sexy, technologically advanced machine worth aspiring to tells me that cycling has an image problem. This image problems crops up in numerous T.V. shows and movies. One example is The 40 Year Old Virgin, where Steve Carell, in the role of a loser, rides his bike everywhere.
So writes Andy Posner in one of my favorite web articles of 2008. It appeared in The Huffington Post on 29 June. Although I don't shared his fetish for high tech materials, he does makes good sense when he asserts that if can change the image of erstwhile bikers we can definitely change the world.
But if we can change the way cyclists are perceived we can create a paradigm shift in what individuals do with increasing wealth. Just imagine hundreds of millions of people in China, India and America happily riding carbon fiber bicycles alongside carbon fiber plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. Sure, getting there will require a lot more than a change in values: we need policy changes and the infrastructure to make cycling safer and more convenient, as well as a renewably-powered, electrified transportation system. However, as long as cyclists are seen as losers, the bicycle will lose out to the hybrid. And given the scale of climate change and the geopolitics of oil, that would mean that we all lose.

Labels: , ,


What's inside your Sturmey-Archer?

planetary gears

Gizmodo, the gadget blog, has the answer. It features a fancy-schmancy business card by Adam Mayer. The digital design incorporates the ever popular, though always mysterious, SA guts. If you want to expand your origami skills in a whole new direction you can find the directions here. It's a great way to visualize what's going on inside your 3speed hub even if you don't need a business card in this crappy economy.

Labels: , ,


Off to The Philippines!

yet again


Labels: ,


Happy Boxing Day!

new ice-cycle gives cycling
thrills on lakes in winter

From Modern Mechanix, April 1934:
THE bicycle craze has taken its hold on devotees of winter sports, resulting in the development of the ice-cycle, which speeds over the frozen surfaces of ponds or rivers. The new ice vehicle is built from an ordinary bicycle. The front wheel is removed entirely, and the forks extended so that they almost touch the ice with the bicycle standing upright. A steel skate runner is attached to the extended front fork.

Two skate runners are similarly attached alongside the rear wheel. The cycle is pedalled as usual, the rubber tire gripping the ice. The skate runners prevent skidding, and balance can be maintained just as easily as on an ordinary bicycle.

Labels: , ,


Indearingly odd

strangely hopeful

Labels: , ,


Obama holiday message

I am my
brother's keeper

These are also tough times for many Americans struggling in our sluggish economy. As we count the higher blessings of faith and family, we know that millions of Americans don't have a job. Many more are struggling to pay the bills or stay in their homes. From students to seniors, the future seems uncertain.

That is why this season of giving should also be a time to renew a sense of common purpose and shared citizenship. Now, more than ever, we must rededicate ourselves to the notion that we share a common destiny as Americans - that I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper. Now, we must all do our part to serve one another; to seek new ideas and new innovation; and to start a new chapter for our great country.

Labels: , ,


What velopunk isn't

a few thoughts in the
season of commodification

Over at AlterNet there's a great excerpt of Chris Carlsson's Nowtopia: How Pirate Programmers, Outlaw Bicyclists, and Vacant-Lot Gardeners Are Inventing the Future Today! It points to the rise of a new bikekultur with examples such as our own, local Rat Patrol. What makes this new sub-culture different from the wheelmen/women of the 19th and 20th Centuries as well as the Share the Road advocates of the 20th is it's emphasis on
... localism, a more human paced, more face-to-face interaction, hands- on technological self-sufficiency, reuse and recycling, and a healthy urban environment that is friendly to self-propulsion, pleasant smells and sights, and human conviviality.
The Rat Patrol, in particular, rejects the one-up-man-ship of 5k Bianchis, style-driven Lycra, and weekend warrior bike paths. As I read this and other insights I couldn't help thinking of my own sub-sub-culture of gentlemen & lady cyclists. While we don't share the Rat's love of homemade freakbikes, we do start with the same beaterbike medium in restoring the glories of lightweight touring. And in donning classic kit we certainly agree with with the Rat's rather exhaustive manifesto:
• Abnormal concern with perfect finish and perfect operation of the bicycle
• Keeps glossy bicycling magazines under the mattress
• Suggests you should buy new equipment instead of repairing old bicycle • Always rides in superhero tights
• When riding, is more concerned with speed and distance covered than scenery or places visited
• Unable to hold a conversation unrelated to bicycles or biking
• Paranoid delusion that he/she is being persecuted for his/her hobby
• Speech is sprinkled with component brand names
• Constant desire to witness bicycle's transforming power in his/her own life
• Believes that biking is a morally superior choice, therefore befitting a morally superior attitude
• Attempts to bring bicycle-related issues into every conversation
• Awkward duck walk caused by wearing cleated bike shoes into roadside businesses
• Easily impressed with expensive equipment and celebrity endorsements
• Wears helmet even when not on bike

Labels: , ,


Winter bhaiku

so damn cold

So damn cold, my beard
Freezes snotty hard - that’s my
Crusty bike winter...

Labels: , ,


Bike queers

& lamp love
19 November 1900

1 July 1901

Labels: , ,


Bright bike

the joys of viynl

from Michael Mandiberg
on Vimeo

Labels: , ,


Whip it

whip it good

Time Magazine
, 9 December 1929, published this little gem:
When I took my first bicycle tour in Germany, I noticed that the German wheelmen carried a whip in a receptacle attached to the handlebars. Upon inquiry, it was for dogs. I carried no whip, for l found a more excellent way. When chased by infuriated dogs, which happened three or four times every day, I waited till the monster got close. Then leaning over. I spit in his eye, becoming with practice uncannily accurate. The animal invariably retired. It wasn't the heat, it was the humidity.

Labels: , ,


Proper winter attire

à la bike vikings!

Labels: , ,


Road rage

...and a little justice

25 seconds in you'll see NYPD Officer Patrick Pogan knocked Christopher Long (pictured here) of his bike during last July's NY Critical Mass. Pogan then arrested Mr. Long on charges of attempted assault, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. Thanks to this video and a good lawyer, David Rankin, the charges against Long were dropped in September. And on 15 December, New York grand jury indicted Pogan. Though the indictment remains sealed, according to the NYTimes City Room section, Rankin believes prosecutors will seek
felony charges of filing false records in connection with the police report that Officer Pogan filed after arresting Mr. Long. Officer Pogan, who was stripped of his gun and badge in July after the video emerged, also could be charged with a misdemeanor count of assault.

Labels: , ,


Bike decline? Part II

one biker
who dared!

The NYTimes editorial I posted yesterday caused quite a furor amongst bikers in 1928. The paper's editors received an avalanche of letters in the following days, several of which were published on 10 May. I'm posting one that was penned by P.H., a self-described middle-aged woman from Greenwich, CT. Rather than berating the editors for their uncritical embrace of cager culture, she offers a well-reasoned answer to their question, "What adult dares to ride a bicycle on the highways unless he is a mechanic going to work in overalls?" Note also that she subtly reminds them that not all bikers are men, a surprisingly modern feminist rejoinder for the time.


...and here
is the full editorial from yesterday's post.

Labels: , ,


Bike decline?

the more things change
the more they stay the same

It's 8 May 1928, the Great Depression is more than a year away. The 20s are still roaring ... at least for cagers. The previous year Henry Ford ends production of the Model T with 15 million built and starts production of the Model A. A NYTimes editorial celebrates his success by announcing The Decline of Cycling Here. Among the many reasons cited are
  • The increasing popularity of car ownership
  • The resulting dangers from sharing the road with 20,000,000 cagers
Most fascinating, though, is the alleged cultural differences between Americans and Europeans.

As well as state support for bikers rights:

Labels: , ,


Bang brothers...

at it's best

The main purpose of ihumpedyourhummer,
as you will quickly surmise, is to promote and showcase what is quickly becoming one of America’s new favorite pastimes: Humping Hummers. Since the Hummer was made available commercially for civilian use in the early 1990s, it has increased dramatically in popularity, attracting such diverse constituencies as: soccer moms, drug dealers, and professional athletes and other celebrities. You may well ask, “Where do I fit into this mix?” It’s a fair question to pose, and one that we hope to satisfy here. For those of us who cannot or do not care to own a Hummer, there is still a fun and easy way to be a part of this craze.

Labels: , ,


Cheaper gas ...

but less driving

Associated Press
writer, Joan Lowy, reports today that
despite a significant dip in gas prices, cagers continue to drive less.
Federal Highway Administration data released Friday show the number of miles driven dropped 3.5 percent in October compared with the same month a year ago. Between November 2007, when the driving decline began, and October, Americans drove 100 billion fewer miles. That's the largest continuous decline in driving the nation has experienced. Gas prices averaged $3.15 a gallon in October, down from a high of $4.09 in July, according to the Energy Information Administration.
And with this decline,
... subways, buses, commuter rail and light-rail systems have reported record increases in ridership. Amtrak, the nation's intercity passenger railroad, said it carried the highest number of passengers and brought in the most revenue in fiscal 2008 in its 37-year history.

With our crazy early winter, low of 19 degrees tonight and high of 40 tomorrow, the other transportation alternative will have to adapt. So during the next, inevitable lows this winter I would like to suggest a little innovation first floated in 1948 right here in The Windy City. Joe Steinlauf, the owner of Joe's Auto and Cycle Supply, was an inveterate tinkerer. His ice bike here is just one of many contraptions he rolled off the assembly floor through the years.

Labels: , ,


This Is Ivy League

London Bridges

Fancy a peppy roll down springy streets? While not strictly velopunk, Ryland and Alex certainly do capture the bike-driven nostalgia. They're also the perfect end-note for Before there was velopunk. Or as Pitchfork puts it,
...the clip creates and sustains a soft-focus weirdness, borrowing all the elements you’d expect from a postmillennial Chad & Jeremy—blazers, bicycles, merry-go-rounds, a park in autumn—while adding a few new flourishes—women in animal costumes, gently evocative use of color and pattern.

Labels: , ,


Yes, he did.

Some men see things as they are and ask ...

"WTF's in it for me?"

Labels: , ,


Bicycle boom

circa 1932

I spent the weekend winterizing that which rolls. When I ducked inside for a warm-up I took a look at some online archives. Time Magazine really stands out. You can search for both articles and covers. I found this lovely tidbit from 14 November. It's about The Lightweight Cycling, Hiking and Camping Exhibition held at The Royal Horticultural Hall, Westminster in London.
Over the Exhibition the [Manchester] Guardian glowed: "The surprising bicycle 'boom' of the last 18 months is shown here in all its glory, from midget machines to luxurious tandems with no fewer than eight gears which can be changed with a flick of the wrist while the cyclists are actually pedaling. There is thus no need on these machines to freewheel while slipping into another gear. . . .

"Mudguards are now made in a detachable form and can be removed in good weather as easily as taking off one's collar and tie. Handlebars are now all made with a downward curve, since it has been found that this adds to comfort as well as to speed in pedaling.

"As regards speed, it is claimed that the new tandems, supplied with six or eight gears, are capable of anything from 40 to 45 miles an hour. Many of the machines on view, it is interesting to note, are of the 'made-to-measure' model, and can only be obtained after a consultation between cyclist and cycle-manufacturer.

"Although motorists may hardly credit it, the tricycle is coming into vogue again, this time as a racing machine. Racing cyclists today were surprised to learn that these new lightweight three-wheeled machines are capable of doing as much as 23 miles an hour on an ordinary road."

Labels: , ,


Before there was velopunk

there was
the Yale-Vassar bike race

The two schools organized this little roll annually back in the early 1950s. Students from both would meet up at New Haven for booze-driven shenanigans and then race all sorts of contraptions to Poughkeepsie. These races would've been forgotten if it weren't for Life Magazine which featured the 1952 race. In fact, you can see the photos at Google Images new Life Archives page. Also, the Vassar Encyclopaedia has a wonderful interview of Elizabeth Moffat Drouilhet, a member of the Vassar Class of 1930 and the Warden of the College from 1941 to 1976.
So, we started off the Yale-Vassar mixers and they would alternate. They were held, oh, two or three times a year. Vassar students preferred to go down to Yale, because there was so much more to do there—but we alternated and Yale came over to Vassar. It was also the period of the Yale-Vassar bike race to show what absurdities one could get to.One House, Nicholson was its master, ... started off what kept up for a few years, that they would organize a race on bicycles from New Haven to Poughkeepsie. Vassar students made elaborate plans—and this became a problem, fortunately it did not last many years.

It was a period when young people were restless—we had the panty raids which affected most of the colleges in the country, we only had a few, but in those days to have a group of young men go into a women's dormitory during the night was something that turned administrative officers white-haired.

Labels: , ,


How Brit bikes came to the States

from Time Magazine,
5 July 1954

Outside a busy factory in Birmingham, England last week, "Help Wanted" signs went up for 200 workers. The Hercules Cycle & Motor Co., one of the Big Three of Britain's thriving bicycle industry, was adding a new assembly line to feed the hungry export demand for British bikes. The hungriest customer is the U.S. Before the war, Britain shipped only 4,000 bikes a year to the U.S. This year imports rose to 110,000 during the first four months (usually the slow season) ...

Fad & Fancy. The fad for British bikes got a big boost from the 5,000,000 U.S. servicemen who served in Britain during the war and became acquainted with the trim, lightweight British bicycle (28-33 Ibs., v. the typical 55 Ibs. in the U.S.). The bikes also caught the fancy of U.S. youngsters, who liked such grown-up refinements as generator-operated lights, hand brakes and three-speed gear systems. On top of that, the British aggressively advertised and ballyhooed their product, e.g., an 8,000-mile U.S. tour by a London bus covered with advertising placards ...

Says Hercules Boss Arthur Chamberlain*: "We feel sure there is a parallel demand for both American and British machines in the American market . . . Older teen-agers ... are learning that cycling can be a form of sport and healthy recreation." The American market has also taught Bikemaker Chamberlain a lesson about selling in Britain. For the U.S. market, the company made a bike called The New Yorker, with more glitter, chrome and gadgets than was considered good taste in Britain. The model has caught on so fast in England that it is becoming the company's best seller.

* Cousin of onetime Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain.

Labels: , ,


Velotarier aller Länder, Part II

Guy-Ernest Debord, founder and leading light of the French Situationists, was no biker as far as I can tell. But he did describe the amazing dynamics of the velotariat.
The sudden change of ambiance in a street within the space of a few meters; the evident division of a city into zones of distinct psychic atmospheres; the path of least resistance which is automatically followed in aimless strolls (and which has no relation to the physical contour of the ground); the appealing or repelling character of certain places--all this seems to be neglected. In any case it is never envisaged as depending on causes that can be uncovered by careful analysis turned to account. People are quite aware that some neighborhoods are sad and others pleasant. But they generally simply assume elegant streets cause a feeling of satisfaction and that poor street are depressing, and let it go at that. In fact, the variety of possible combinations of ambiances, analogous to the blending of pure chemicals in an infinite number of mixtures, gives rise to feelings as differentiated and complex as any other form of spectacle can evoke. The slightest demystified investigation reveals that the qualitatively or quantitatively different influences of diverse urban decors cannot be determined solely on the basis of the era or architectural style, much less on the basis of housing conditions.

... the whole of life of those societies in

which modern conditions of production prevail

presents itself as an immense accumulation of

spectacles. All that was once directly lived has

become mere representation.

Labels: , ,


Repeal Day!

the death of
a noble experiment

It was 4:32 pm, 75 years ago today. The Chicago Tribune announced that Utah was the 36th and final state to ratify the 21st Amendment to the US Constitution. At that moment, the 18th Amendment, passed 14 years earlier, was repealed. Originally known as the Volstead Act, it had prohibited the production, sales, and transport of intoxicating liquors within the US as well as their import to and export from foreign countries. And so once again is was legal to whet your whistle in public. The Windy City did not suffer all that much during its 14 years in the desert. Wily entrepreneurs, taking matters into their own hands, opened numerous establishments for those wishing to imbibe without undue notice from Chicago's Finest and the FBI.

View Larger Map

Amazingly, many of these establishments have survived to the present day. Some have changed names along with owners. Others have changed little except for the LCD TVs suspended over the bars.

Labels: , ,


Getting through winter

with the Chaffinch Map
of Scotland

As the snow falls, the ice thickens, and The Windy City gets windier, a young roller's thoughts turn to springtime ... oh, so very, very far away! But Strange Maps has just the thing to get one through the long night of winter. The poem below was written by Scottish national poet Edwin Morgan in 1965. Although it looks deceptively simple, it's an amazingly multi-layered combination of poetry, cartography, ornithology, and linguistics ... with just a hint of Scottish nationalism.
This poem is a map of Scotland, or at least those areas in Scotland where the chaffinch is endemic. It shows the different names used in Scottish dialects for chaffinch, varying from chaffinch in the north over shielyfaw in the middle to britchie in the south. It is interesting to note that the generic term finch is an onomatopoeia, raising the intriguing possibility that the regional variation in human dialect terms for chaffinch somehow mimicks the dialects in the birdsong itself. Which conjures up the fairy-tale notion of animals (i.c. birds) initiating humans in the secrets of language.
As my old man used to say,
If Winter's here, Spring can't be far behind...

Labels: , ,


The snowman cometh...

on winter cycling

While I was on vacation last week in Ohio, Bikewinter got off to a wonderful start both there and here in The Windy City. Unfortunately, while my hosts have plenty of bikes, their rural location lacks easy access to the appropriate bike lanes. So all I could do was dream and scheme in anticipation of my return yesterday. Although I did find The History of Sports in Britain, 1880 - 1914 edited by Martin Polley. Polley chose articles from a wide range of journals including Blackwood's Magazine, Nineteenth Century, Fortnightly Review, and Contemporary Review. The result was five volumes that reveal the evolution of middle-class attitudes towards sports in general. He covered specific topics such as sports and education, commercial and financial aspects, sports and animals, the globalization of sports through empire-building, as well as this celebrating winter biking...

Labels: , ,


Cannabalized bike...

and biker!

Labels: , ,