Bicycle Diaries: January 2009

Recent Posts


Fat Lad's 1st biking topic:

roll along
or alone?

I posted last Friday that Al, the Fat Lad from Leeds, wants to offer us erstwhile bike bloggers a weekly topic to write about during this long winter of our discontent. This Wednesday I received the first liberal application of his cattle prod:
Solo rides - roll out with your buddies or destroy those miles alone...
It's often said that you have to go along to get along in this world. But this doesn't often apply to the velotariat. First, we certainly don't go along with kar kultur. Whether we're motivated by environmental concerns or we're just cheap we certainly don't get along with road-rage cagers who don't go along with our Share the Road ethos. Second, have you ever been to a critical mass meeting? It's kinda like the old Jewish joke: If you have 3 bikers in a room, you'll get 5 different opinions. Bikers naturally tend to be a solo crowd.

That being said, we do tend to bunch up a lot on the 1st Friday of every month. Then there are the bike clubs ... 1ooos of 'em. Sam Walker, a contributor to the now deceased Cycling Today, reflects on their inherent buddyness as
[a] throwback to early hunter-gatherer groups. Enthusiasts band together for safety and companionship, not to mention discounts, insurance, and a newsletter.
Still though, I believe velotarians are essentially soloists. Just behind our We Are Traffic enthusiasms is the niggling realization that nobody, whether cagers or bikers, really likes traffic. Be honest, when you commute, what's more enjoyable: the open road or the sharing it with dozens of other Lycra louts, fixie pricks, and stoplight cheaters?

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The Polk-Obama Ride!

a sneak preview

The most eagerly anticipated Chicago Critical Mass ride of the year is nearly upon us: the 9th Annual January Polka Ride! The tradition began back in January 2000 with a ride to the old Baby Doll Polka Club near Midway Airport. The Polka Ride has steadily grown over the years, with 45 cyclists pedaling to the Baby Doll in 2000, and now typically draws hundreds of riders. After the Baby Doll closed a few years ago, the ride has found a new home at Lincoln Lanes in Lincoln Square.

Like all Chicago Critical Mass rides, the Polk-Obama Ride will meet at Delay Plaza (Dearborn & Washington) at 5:30pm on the last Friday of the month, 30 January. Critical Mass routes are proposed and voted on by riders according to the simple rules of anarchy. A route will be proposed to Lincoln Lanes, at 4874 N. Lincoln Ave., where the Polkaholics will begin playing at 8pm.


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How cold is it in Chicago?

the Chicago Way

So cold
that the politicians have their hands
in their own pockets.

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Pennyfarthing crash


Winter riding blahs

from Yehuda Moon's
Kickstand Cyclery

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Budapest traffic taming

the Magyar Bycall

From the same country that gave us Nikolai Tesla comes Kitchen Budapest, a self-described spicy innovation lab. It's a new media lab for 20somethings who passionate about bringing together mobile communication, online communities and urban space. And they've created a little gadget that lets cagers know when bikers are near!
ByCall is a portable radio alarm system for urban bikers who want to warn car drivers about their presence nearby to avoid accidents. It is basicly an FM-transmitter fitted on the bike, which emits a constant audio warning in a 5-10 m range on all radio frequencies, so that when the biker gets near a car, the driver will hear the warning on his own car radio if it's turned on (which usually is). The beta version of ByCall will be made for the three most popular radio frequencies, but the final goal is to make a device which works on all available frequencies.

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Titillation galore!

signs of the times?

Try as we might, gentlemen cyclists & velopunks will never be able to completely capture magic of the Golden Age of British Touring. One big reason is that The Colonies simply lack the range of shockingly rude place names that would provide pythonesque humor on our nostalgia tours. Sure, we have Intercourse, PA and Climax, CO. But these pale in comparison to such double entendres as Crotch Crescent in Oxford, Titty Ho in Northamptonshire, Wetwang in East Yorkshire, Slutshole Lane in Norfolk, and my personal favorite, Penistone in South Yorkshire ... it’s pronounced PENIS-tun.

In fact, the UK is so famous for these (and plenty more) that the venerable NYTimes saw fit to run a thoroughly enlightening article on them yesterday. I highly recommend you take a look.

They certainly bring to mind one of Ambrose Bierce's entries in The Devil's Dictionary:
FLAG, n. A colored rag borne above troops and hoisted on forts and ships. It appears to serve the same purpose as certain signs that one sees and vacant lots in London -- "Rubbish may be shot here."

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Fat Lad has an Idea…

inspired by
this lovely lady

You gotta' love the global connections our bike community. Fat Lad, over in the UK, has a page from the Chicago Cycling Chick's blog. He interested in setting up some sort of weekly topic for bike bloggers. I think that he, like all of us, is suffering from the mid-winter blahs. So he needs some motivation.
I know that for some blogging about bikes is as simple as booting up whatever typing device they slave to and going for it. For some of us however we need either liberal application of the cattle prod or some other form of inspiration.

Those who want to join in would get (at first) an e-mail with a topic for that week and then we can link each other in (like the web rings that were popular back when purple lycra was…) anybody in? Fancy a go at this then e-mail me at fatlad atsign bigalsplace dot co dot uk or leave a comment [here]:)

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Bikewinter haiku

take a deep breath

Darkness retreats now
Temps are rising slowly too

Bikewinter pauses

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From one adult to another

words matter

A lot of ink has already been spilled critiquing Obama's inaugural address. Some were hoping for more inspiration, on par with his speech at Sunday's Lincoln Monument Concert. Others felt that the historic nature of an African-American becoming president was far more significant than his words. What impresses me is that Obama spoke to us as adults. He respected us enough to be honest about the challenges ahead.
Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America. For everywhere we look, there is work to be done...

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don’t let the perfect
be the enemy of the good

Voltaire's words came to mind the day after Obama's election. A controversy had broken out over this cartoon when it appeared on the front page of The Chicago Reader. Most of the criticism was dominated by accusations of racism. Would the paper have run a similar cartoon for a white president-elect? YES ... especially if s/he had come from The Windy City. Why? Because such a sentiment is a clear example of our homegrown skepticism. Sure, we're proud as hell that a neighbor is now the leader of the free world. And with the 2016 Olympics a long way off when will the 2nd City get to outshine NYC and LA again?

But we're also well aware of the fact that our politicians are often world-class knuckleheads. After all, our honeymoon with the limelight lasted for only about a month. Now we're trying to explain how the same state that produced a Yes We Can president also produced a What's in it for Me governor.

Obama isn't Blogo.
But neither will he be our messiah.

He doesn't appear to be a bad family man.
But neither will he be the father of our country.

He isn't a quitter.
But he'll be no Jack Kennedy,
no FDR, no Lincoln.

for that matter.

And he isn't afraid of the 21st century.
But he won't fix your computer.

What will Obama be? What's the best we can hope for? He'll be our country's first, and perhaps our only, black president. He'll be thoughtful. He'll be charismatic. But in the end he'll inevitably disappoint. He is an elected politician after all. He will break his promises. He made about 500. And no doubt, there will be scandals. In either case, we'll have the only right citizens really possess in a democracy: the right to vote for someone else in 2012. So The Chicago Reader's front page should be taken as a neighborly but skeptical reminder:

If you screw this up Obama
we won't re-elect you.

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Last day


George W. Bush
2001 - 2009

Barack Hussein Obama
2009 - ?

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My wintry city

love it or
leave it

The day after New Year's, The Boston Globe ran the article, How the city hurts your brain. It's author, Jonah Lehrer, cites the latest research to declare that city life ain't easy.
Just being in an urban environment, they have found, impairs our basic mental processes. After spending a few minutes on a crowded city street, the brain is less able to hold things in memory, and suffers from reduced self-control. While it's long been recognized that city life is exhausting -- that's why Picasso left Paris -- this new research suggests that cities actually dull our thinking, sometimes dramatically so.
Really? I just simply love when the social sciences state the obvious. But my biggest beef isn't with green (nostalgia) tinted research like this.
One of the main forces at work is a stark lack of nature, which is surprisingly beneficial for the brain ... fleeting glimpses of nature improve brain performance, it seems, because they provide a mental break from the urban roil.
Instead, it's his conclusion. Over the last couple of months, me and my neighbors here in The Windy City have been up to our navels in nature ... very, very frigid nature. Its benefits are not so obvious. Aleksandar Hemon, an author and transplant from Sarajevo, writes in today's NYTimes Op-Ed Section,
Once, on a very cold winter day at a North Side El stop, I saw three or four freezing Chicagoans huddled together under the heating light like newly hatched chickens. It was 30 below zero, with wind chill, the kind of cold that makes your bones hurt because the frozen flesh is beyond the reach of pain. There was closeness in the huddle, but no touching; there was solidarity, but no eye contact. And I realized I, too, could huddle along and partake in the scarce warmth; I was no longer a tourist. At 30 below zero we were all Chicagoans.

Another transplant and longtime Chicagoan once told me that weather extremes were just fine for him. Surving winter's sub-zero lows and summer's sticky highs always gave him a sense of accomplishment. One that's not easliy experienced in other locals. Besides, while we all may be operating at reduced brain power, at least we're all in this together!

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April in Paris...

is never
the cruelest month

The City of Light starts to brighten. It rains, but not overly much. Les jonquilles bloom in the city's parks. For Parisians it heralds the opening of street cafes. For budget tourists it's not yet the high season. And in 1928, as Time Magazine noted then, Bicycles are as thick in Paris as hairs on a dog's back. This pithy description introduces a short piece on yet another speed test for bikes. As with other races here in the States le cycliste intrépide was up against the usual competitors.
In across-Paris race between a bicycle, an automobile, a subway passenger and a pedestrian, the bicyclist won—time 17 mins., 16 secs., distance about 6 miles.
I guess that's why April in Paris is also marked by the common expression,
No, thanks, I'm going to walk to the office as I haven't time to ride in an automobile.

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share the road
wherever you roll

Why wait for your city or town to install bike lanes? Altitude, Inc., a product innovation firm outside Boston, offers a nifty, high-tech idea for bikers to do it themselves. Using lasers mounted under the saddle, LightLane casts a virtual bike lane providing cagers with a clear boundary that should be easy for them to avoid. I said ... should.

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The indignities of walking

yep, I'm
a wuss

Now is the winter of our discontent, so penned the Bard. Though Richard III wouldn't have made it until our glorious summer this January. It's cold; Dr. Zhivago cold. The kinda' cold that freezes your milk on the 15 minute walk home from Jewell. That's why I, the 24/7 all weather biker am walking. Like any citizen of The Windy City, I tell folks it ain't the cold; it's the ice. To be a wuss is one thing. To admit it ... is quite another.

It certainly doesn't help that last Sunday I arrived home toasty-warm from the hottest place in The Philippines. So except for Sunday's Full Moon Ride, I've joined the lofty ranks of ... pedestrians. Certainly there are times when wending my way along the fascinating thoroughfares of The Second City would be thoroughly stimulating. This is definitely not the time.

This is the time to hunker down. Imagine a world without cages. Life flows at a slower pace. Folks are routinely late for appointments because they can't find a free place to lock up. And during an extreme winter, for those of us above the Mason-Dixon Line, the bicycle-powered snowplows haven't been cleared the secondary streets. What would you do? Velo-passion is one thing ... insanity is quite another.

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Patrick McGoohan

19 March 1928 – 13 January 2009

I will not be


or numbered.

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When the going gets tough...

the tough
get going

The very first Full Moon Fiasco ride took off Sunday evening as I was suffering from jet lag. New friends, good conversation, and even a wee bit exposure!
Though it was anything but a hot day, the first ever Fiasco in Chicago turned out even better than expected. Some inroads through and helped get the good word out. The final count was 10 helmets, all frozen. Click the spoke card to see the pix.

Ricochet’s brought discussion of themes for future rides, how to get more people involved and the usual banter associated with pitcher after pitcher of PBR. The PBR also inspired the Full Moon over Lincoln Ave photo as a double entendre. I’ve got to tip my helmet to Ammo for that idea.

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I'm back!

now this
is the Chicago

I love


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Can GM be that bad?

horse & cycle

With the venerable auto-maker teetering on insolvency, I think it's important to remember that 84 years ago De Witt Page, its then vice president, opined that neither bikes nor horses were being put out of business by cars. I wonder what he'd say today. Does the phenomenal growth in bike sales herald a renaissance of the car? Doubt it...
Before the 21st Annual Convention of the Cycle Trades of America, at Manhattan, rose De Witt Page ... "Many of my friends," said Mr. Page, unsmiling, "now find parking conditions so intolerable that they ride on bicycles to their offices. . . The automobile has made suburban life possible. In the suburbs children can and do ride bicycles in safety. In nearly all of the fashionable girls' colleges and preparatory schools there are bicycle clubs."

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Happy New Year!

the year
that was

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