Bicycle Diaries: March 2009

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Rides of March

...with Chainlink

Despite Sunday night's last FU of Winter, spring is near. Change is in the air ... and on the streets. I'm SO READY to drastically increase my saddle time. While I'm an enthusiastic winter biker, I've got to confess, this winter was the toughest in the 10 years I've lived in The Windy City. But get through it I did!

Doing a lot more group rides was a significant part of my winterizing strategy. Lee Diamond, a local realtor and self-described bike freak, started leading monthly neighbor bike tours back in 2008. As he states on his website,
Chicago is made up of neighborhoods rich with history and character. Chicago is a many-layered city. While you have to work hard to not find great spots while aimlessly wandering about, some of the most special places require a tip from someone “in-the-know.”... We’ll lead you around and show you the parks, landmarks, and business establishments that make a neighborhood great while also pointing out residential buildings and properties of interest.
I found other monthly rides over at Chainlink, a new social networking site for local vélotarians. Based on Ning, it encourages like-minded bikers to connect on shared interests and issues. A lot of established rides like Midnight Marauders and Chicago Critical Mass have already set up shop there. It's spawned a whole new set of monthly rides as well. Two I really enjoy are the Full Moon Fiasco, hosted by FBC Chicago, and The Northside Critical Mass, hosted by The "far" Northside Riders.

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Let there be light!

get your
lamps on

Back at the start of the 20th century, many American cities established bike speed limits and required bikers to get lights. Scorchers (as speeders were called) and other bikers caught riding at night were fined or sometimes arrested. Even the music business got into the act.
Get your lamps lit, get your lamps lit,
If you don't I will soon run you in,
Miss Wise was all right for she had a search light,
So safely along did she spin,
Get your lamps lit, get your lamps lit,
Miss Foolish was fined the next day,
Which opened her eyes; Miss Foolish got wise,
And bought a search light right away.

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Style not speed...

elegance not exertion

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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Double trouble?

don't be a clown
or a show-off
your bike!

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How tomorrow moves?

bike cargo trailer advert
from CSX Rail

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Driving Miss Daisy...


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New Spokesman at The NYTimes

before hitting the road
on two wheels

The paper's City Room Blog launched Spokes today. This new feature will regularly cover a wide range of topics about biking in The Big Apple. Today's post, by Sean Patrick Farrell, celebrates spring by highlighting the growing popularity of biking as an alternative means of transport. Although new bike sales have yet to respond to the rising costs of gas and mass transit, New Yorkers have been
...clearly dragging their old steeds out of storage and getting them tuned up. Some of these bikes seem to date to the late 1970s, and there was even a run on that era’s 27-inch tires, a size that has not been seen on new makes since the Carter administration.
Farrell then describes the options for getting all those beaters up and rolling. He suggests online resources for finding bike repair shops but warns that the warmer weather will inevitably lengthen repair and tuneup times. For the congenitally impatient there are numerous bike repair classes, covering everything from fixing flat tires to full tuneups. The post is direct and conversational. I wish Farrell luck and applaud The NYTimes' initiative.

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Au revoir BSG

what will we do now?

frakin' books?

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Signs of Spring...

the good,
the bad, &
the ugly

lighter bikewear

local characters

street debris

rusty bikes

crowded racks

nubbie skaters

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The essence of vélopunk

Tony &
his Pashley Guv'nor

...on a glorious afternoon
in early spring in West Berkshire, England.

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Just how fast is fast?

at least bikes
are in the top five

On 16 September 1929 Time Magazine opined on the fastest means for traversing a mile. If you remove the seaplane, fastest, and the motorboat, 4th fastest, as being impractical for your daily commute, a bike moves up to 3rd fastest.

Atcherly, 1929
Seaplane 0:10.83

Segrave, 1929
Automobile 0:15.56

Davis, 1922
Motorcycle 0:32.53

Miss America VII,
1928 Motorboat 0:38.07

Bedell, 1917
Bicycle 1:04.02

Roamer, 1918
Horse 1:34.08

Jaffe, 1928
Skating 2:30.06

Nurmi, 1923
Running 4:10.04

Goulding, 1910
Walking 6:25.08

Borg, 1925
Swimming 12:43.03

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Put your money where your pedals are? Part II


Last Thursday I posted about Oregon House Bill 3008. Proposed by State Rep Wayne Krieger (R), it would require all bikers to register their trusty steeds and purchase $54 licenses every two years. Not surprisingly the bill has sparked a pretty heated debate within the vélotariat. Perhaps it's my advanced age, but I don't think the idea of a bike tax is all that outrageous.

Indeed, it's quite common around the world. Many countries currently require bike licenses. And they've been doing it since the late 19th Century. The Netherlands issued the bike license above for 1932-33. Although not as stylish as its art deco predecessor, Switzerland continues to issue an annual red-metal license tag like this 1986 example to the right. And here in The States, many cities such as Los Angeles and Stillwater, in MN, currently require licenses. It would appear then that in all these instances local governments and their rolling citizens alike generally share the opinion first expressed by Oliver Wendell Holmes that Taxes are the price we pay for civilization. So for me then there are three big issues:

Is a bike tax unfair?
Is it unduly burdensome to bikers?
Will the generated revenues be used wisely?

More thoughts

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From Lycra to Lumatwill

Gary Fisher adds
a Dashing Tweeds Suit
to His Wardrobe

Last October, I posted about Guy Hills, the London photographer and biker who's working with weaver Kirsty MacDougall to develop a new fabric called Lumatwill. Their company, Dashing Tweeds, has been getting quite a bit of attention of late. The latest issue of Momentum features an interview of Gary Fisher about his recent conversion to tweed-based bikewear.
What evidence have you seen of tweed (and bespoke tailoring) making a comeback?

There is a definite resurgence in bespoke tailoring. All the tailors I know are doing very well and say that more young people are interested. People are bored of mass culture and big brands, so once they discover they can order exactly what they want from a tailor and it will be unique, they don’t want to go back. Tweed is the original choice for sportswear: it tailors very well and holds its shape. Tweed also has a fun quality in terms of colour as well as being waterproof and breathable. Dashing Tweeds includes all this, modern designs, and Lumatwill technology.

What proportion of dashing tweeds clients are cyclists?

The ethos of Dashing Tweeds is that anyone can happily jump on a bike without it being a big deal. Clothes tailored in Dashing Tweeds are not just for cycling, but have cycling in mind, as well as looking good and working in city and country environments. So I’d say most Dashing Tweed customers ride a bike at some time.

Have any clothing makers featured lumatwill or a similar reflective tweed fabric in pret à porter / “ready to wear” designs?

Lumatwill is our name for tweed fabric with reflective yarn woven in. Dashing Tweeds is the name of our cloth collection and brand. We have designed Lumatwill cloth for other designers such as House of Holland and English American and we are happy for them to use our Lumatwill label.

How are dashing tweeds / lumatwill faring in a business sense?

Dashing Tweeds is doing very well. We have books of cloth in all the best tailors, and are launching a small ready to wear collection in Japan this autumn in the best Tokyo menswear store, Beams.

What is your definition of “style?”

We try to achieve an elegant British sporting style but with modernity, no fear of technology, and, of course, a sense of fun. It is also very important that the clothes are very well made and should last for many, many years.

What can we expect to see from dashing tweeds in the future?

We have an exciting men’s cape coming soon, as well as special trousers that can be worn as plus-fours (breeches) and trousers, also some hats and a jacket are on the way.

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Happy St. Patty's!

The Workman’s Friend
by Flann O’Brien

When things go wrong and will not come right,
Though you do the best you can,
When life looks black as the hour of night -
A pint of plain is your only man.

When money’s tight and hard to get
And your horse has also ran,
When all you have is a heap of debt -
A pint of plain is your only man.

When health is bad and your heart feels strange,
And your face is pale and wan,
When doctors say you need a change,
A pint of plain is your only man.

When food is scarce and your larder bare
And no rashers grease your pan,
When hunger grows as your meals are rare -
A pint of plain is your only man.

In time of trouble and lousey strife,
You have still got a darlint plan
You still can turn to a brighter life -
A pint of plain is your only man.

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Folks often ask me... Part II

why roll
with Brit bikes?
For the gay cyclists
who get the same question:



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So done with winter...

perhaps it's
almost over?

Winter’s cold twilight
With Spring’s lightly fevered dawn

Summer can’t be far…

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Lex Luther bailout

John Hamm

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Rock Obama

too funny!

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Put your money where your pedals are?

Oregon pols
bike tax,
part one

Embedded video from CNN Video

Wayne Krieger and three other colleagues in the Oregon House of Representatives are sponsoring House Bill 3008 to require all riders to register their bikes and purchase licenses. BikePortland covers the details paraphrased here:
The $54 licenses must be renewed every two years at the same price. Other fees include; $1 for transferring a license between bikes owned by the same person, $2 if you want a duplicate license, and $5 to transfer the license from one rider to another. Failure to register would carry a maximum $25 fine. Altering bike serial numbers or licenses would be Class D Traffic Violations with a maximum $90 fine. The resulting revenues will go into a Bicycle Transportation Improvement Fund that would then be used to fund bicycle related transportation improvement projects.
Needless to say, Portland's bikers aren't buying it. Their primary fear is that the license fee will discourage new bikers. Others feel that Oregon bikers already support the state's transportation system through their state and local taxes. They also point out that bike traffic doesn't even come close to grinding down the pavement the way cager traffic does. Still others have concluded that the bill is a not so subtle attempt to keep tabs on the presumably more politically confrontational vélotariat.

My thoughts

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Folks often ask me...

why I roll
with Brit bikes

And for the lady cyclists
who get the same question...

'nuff sed...

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Bike facility of the month

stinging nettles
are bike-friendly?

Paul McMahon posted a fascinating
use of natural materials [by the UK's National Trust] to create this highly secure cycle parking facility that blends in seamlessly with the local landscape. The large bank of stinging nettles ensures that all but the most determined of thieves are deterred from attempting to gain access to the cycle stands.

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Freakbike in the big time

the Giraffe

The Record Manufacturing Company Giraffe Lamplighter's Bicycle (1898) was up for auction at Sotheby's Chicago last September. Valued at $25-35K, the seat height of this unusually tall bicycle is over 7' tall which directly relates to the bike's important function. During the late nineteenth century it was used by lamplighters to light gas street lamps. The inordinately long chain is more than three times the length of a conventional bicycle chain. Currently only one other lamplighter bicycle is know to exist, designed and manufactured by a different maker. This original bicycle features black paint, wood rims, 28" single-tube tires and is correctly restored. It sold for $24K. Such a deal!

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from Portland

Greg Fredette’s spirited documentary explores America’s fast-growing bicycle culture and considers how social movements are formed. The film follows five Portland cyclists and the bike-centric social groups they belong to (including the Community Cycling Center, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, Tall Bikers, the World Naked Bike Ride, and the infamous Zoobombers) over the course of a year, offering an intimate look at their personal struggles and triumphs as they discover what it means to be part of a community.

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Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot!!!

yet again...

Back in February the new voice of the Republican Party bloviated over a proposed Madison, WI ordinance that would impose a $100 penalty for cagers opening their car doors unsafely or interfering with traffic and $50 for leaving them open longer than necessary.
Frankly, if the door opens into a bicycle rider I won't care. I think they ought to be off the streets and on the sidewalk. Don't misunderstand here, you bike riders, do not misunderstand this, but I mean if you're going to get in the street, get over there, get over as far right in the lane as you can. You ought to see Saturday morning where I live. It looks like a swarm of mosquitoes. It causes you to take an alternate route. And so now poor bike riders, some old codger opens the car door, bam! The bike rider does a head flip over the door. I haven't seen that. Now they want to fine you for not only opening the door, you don't close it soon enough, you get a $50 fine in Madison, Wisconsin. (laughing)

Perhaps, Rush should get off the drugs and get on a bike? Then he just might join Jim Morrison!

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Calling all muders!

dedicate a bike
to a rider you love

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Somewhere over the rainbow

with Contrail

Doobybrain posted this nifty device several weeks back. It
attaches above the wheel of a bike and covers the bicycle wheel with a layer of chalk. The chalk then creates a trail or mark on the surface of the road, turning the bike into a sort of large drawing utensil. The concept, developed by Pepin Gelardi of Studio Gelardi focuses around the idea of safety in numbers. By using this device, bicyclists will have a clearer path on which to ride safely and out of the way of vehicular traffic.

At the same time, as more bicyclists using the Contrail go over a line created by a cyclist before them, the line gets brighter allowing drivers to clearly see a marked bike path where there might be none. It’s sort of similar to what happens when a dirt path appears in a grassy field after lots of people have taken the same shortcut over a period of time.

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A rackumentary

David Byrne's

bike racks

David Byrne, an avid biker for almost 30 years, has been working with the NYC Department of Transportation and art gallery PaceWildenstein to unveil 9 arty bike racks he designed. They're installed in and around Manhattan and Brooklyn. Inspired by the city's bike rack design competition, Byrne submitted some original design named after specific locations and neighborhoods.

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Fat Lad's 4th Riders Writing Cycle

utilitarian & vélotarian

From Fat Lad:
For you is cycling a lifestyle thing or is it a utilitarian tool for getting from A to B? For our utilitarians how do we convince the caged masses that bikes and not children's toys made large and for our lifestyle companions how do we further evangelise the true way? Thoughts on the back of a £20 pound note to my home address please ;)
Whenever folks ask me why I roll, my usual response is that I'm not all that into the environmental or health benefits of alternative transportation. Instead, I say, I'm cheap ... and impatient. I don't know how I'd get by in the current global recession if I had car payments plus the costs of insurance, gas, and parking.

But even before the economy went south, I realized that I could get around The Windy City as fast or faster by bike. Any trip under 3 miles is certainly faster than by car. Between 3 and 5 is just as fast. What helps, especially with the latter, is that without a car I don't need to trawl for a legal parking spot. All I need is a bike rack. If that's not available, a handy street sign or parking meter will do. I can't overstate the convenience of bike parking. Nothing is more nerve-wracking than spending more time in a car hopelessly searching for parking that I do getting to my destination. And if I need to go further than 5 miles I can always do a combination of biking and mass transit.

Having said that, I'm not a total utilitarian. My attitudes have evolved in some rather surprising directions in the 6 years since I dumped my car. All you need to do is scan some of my early posts to Bicycle Diaries. One close friend, who regularly reads this blog, remarked last week that much of what I post has actually very little to do with biking. He's both right and wrong. Certainly it's just one of the many topics I cover. On the other hand, biking is what unifies it. And like a really enjoyable bike ride, a post rarely has a predetermined destination. It often starts out with one thought or theme, then goes somewhere else altogether. Try as I might, I have yet to post an entry in which my initial intentions match the finished product. In this way I'm a vélotarian. Or as Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden,
Go confidently in the direction of your dreams!
Live the life you've imagined.
As you simplify your life,
the laws of the universe
will be simpler.
I wouldn't say that I'm in the business of evangelising the true way. I leave that to The Rat Patrol and The Scallywags. My goal, if I have one, is to share something that gives me immense pleasure with anyone who's interested in reading this or asking me about my biking. In other words, I much prefer being a humble example than an intrusive lecturer. Besides there are more thoughtful and articulate folks out there than me. My absolute favorite is Pablo Neruda (1904-1973), who wrote the famous poem, Ode to Bicycles. So I'll end with that!
I was walking
a sizzling road:

the sun popped like
a field of blazing maize,
was hot,
an infinite circle
with an empty
blue sky overhead.
A few bicycles
me by,
the only
that dry
moment of summer,
barely stirred
the air.

Workers and girls
were riding to their
their eyes
to summer,
their heads to the sky,
sitting on the
beetle backs
of the whirling
that whirred
as they rode by
bridges, rosebushes, brambles
and midday.

I thought about evening when
the boys
wash up,
sing, eat, raise
a cup
of wine
in honor
of love
and life,
and waiting
at the door,
the bicycle,
only moving
does it have a soul,
and fallen there
it isn't
a translucent insect
through summer
a cold
that will return to
when it's needed,
when it's light,
that is,
of each day.

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