Bicycle Diaries: July 2009

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Dulce et Decorum Est?

no, no ...

Over at the BBC, the Today programme asked Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, to write a poem commemorating yesterday's burial of Henry Allingham. He was the last of the British survivors of The Great War.

The title of this post refers to WWI's most famous poem written by Wilfred Owen. They're the first words of the Latin phrase popularized in an ode by Horace. The words were widely understood and oft quoted at the start of the WWI. They mean It is sweet and right. The full line ending Owen's poem is Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori or it is sweet and right to die for your country. In other words, it is a great honour to sacrifice yourself for your country. Owen, a British officer, was killed in action at the Battle of the Sambre a week before the war ended, causing news of his death to reach home as the town's church bells declared peace.


George Simmer's Great War Fiction research blog just posted and analyzes Duffy's poem, Last Post:
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If poetry could tell it backwards, true, begin
that moment shrapnel scythed you to the stinking mud . . .
but you get up, amazed, watch bled bad blood
run upwards from the slime into its wounds;
see lines and lines of British boys rewind
back to their trenches, kiss the photographs from home —
mothers, sweethearts, sisters, younger brothers
not entering the story now
to die and die and die.
Dulce — No — Decorum — No — Pro patria mori.
You walk away.
You walk away; drop your gun (fixed bayonet)
like all your mates do too —
Harry, Tommy, Wilfred, Edward, Bert —
and light a cigarette.
There’s coffee in the square,
warm French bread
and all those thousands dead
are shaking dried mud from their hair
and queuing up for home. Freshly alive,
a lad plays Tipperary to the crowd, released
from History; the glistening, healthy horses fit for heroes, kings.
You lean against a wall,
your several million lives still possible
and crammed with love, work, children, talent, English beer, good food.
You see the poet tuck away his pocket-book and smile.
If poetry could truly tell it backwards,
then it would.

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The wheel's influence...

on dinner

This is casual bike wear? It is ... according to an 1896 column that appeared in the London Spectator. According to Megan Gambino, over at The Smithsonian, it seems that the empire's scribbling classes were rather vexed about the bike's subversive power to undermine the three most important pillars of British hegemony: spiffy dressing, dinner, and enlightened conversation.
The phase of the wheel’s influence that strike …most forcibly is, to put it briefly, the abolition of dinner and the advent of lunch….If people can pedal away ten miles or so in the middle of the day to a lunch for which they need no dress, where the talk is haphazard, varied, light, and only too easy; and then glide back in the cool of the afternoon to dine quietly and get early to bed…conversation of the more serious type will tend to go out.
I wonder what these self-appointed guardians of British good taste would've made of Clif Bars and the consequent abolition of even lunch. More interestingly though, I wonder if they would've applauded Vélopunk's revival of snappy togs. Or have we mistakenly overlooked the fact that fastidious Victorians considered breeches, knee socks, ties, and stout tweed jackets to be hopelessly proletarian ... if not pedestrian?

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...what Dalí & Hitler
had in common

Rebecca Seal, over at the UK's Observer, highlights some of the fascinating ways bikes have played a key role in the culture and politics of over a dozen countries. Among some of the more amazing things I didn't know:

Salvador Dalí was a real freaky bike freak.
...had an Italian Bianchi cycle in his studio and said he would have liked "the whole of France" to cycle: "The Tour de France on bicycles produces in me such a persistent satisfaction that my saliva flows in imperceptible but stubborn streams."
Bike lanes had Hitler's blessings.
...Germany pioneered the creation of cycle paths in the 1930s - because the Nazi party wanted cyclists off the roads. By 1936 they had outlawed cycling groups.
Bike in Bolivia at your own peril.
The La Paz-to-Coroico route, dubbed "the world's most dangerous road" with a fatality every two weeks, can be cycled with a tour group called Gravity Bolivia. Descending 3,600 metres steeply from the peaks, the narrow track snakes along the side of the mountains, with a perilous drop to one side.

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Pedal to Pierogis

Whiting, IN turns over
a new pierogi!

We're rolling south of the border today! Pierogi Fest is the one-of-a-kind festival that draws people from all over the Great Lakes. Although it revolves around the simple stuffed dumpling, it’s really a huge three-day celebration of Polish culture. With musical entertainment, kids activities, contests and a parade, there’s more to Pierogi Fest than just pierogies. Of course, you’ll find more pierogies there than you ever thought existed, but you’ll also be entertained and warmed by the hospitality and friendliness that the fest produces.

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Bike abuse

cattle mutilations?

Barry Neild wonders aloud in Thursday's Guardian about a worrisome trend in street vandalism. Since returning from the States, he's seen more taco'd rims, slashed tires, and busted lights on London's parked rolling stock. Bike theft is bad enough; but why are some folks sorely temped to take their post-modern angst out on somebody's ride? You might be able to understand the casual abuse of those high-end, composite-framed models favored by the Lyra-clad weekend warrior set. As Barry writes,
...the trend might be dismissed as the cycling equivalent of dragging a bunch of keys across the paintwork of a Porsche: bitter acts of vandalism aimed at punishing the overtly wealthy.
Unfortunately, Lycra Louts aren't the only victims.
...more often than not, the victim is some poor elderly beast replete with industrial chain guard, rusted Sturmey Archer gears and a tragically jaunty child's windmill attached to the handlebars.
Tongue firmly in cheek, this trend reminds him of the horse and cattle mutilations that so electrified UFO enthusiasts, Satan worship worriers, and amateur psychosexual obsessives back in the 1960s. Perhaps though Occam's Razor would be more helpful. Some folks are big, fat douche-bags ... especially when they're drunk!

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Driven to distraction

Slate has more on the Feds' refusal to pursue research on the cellphone use of cagers. It goes one step further by exploring possible ways federal agencies have suggested to prevent driving and dialing. They range from the obvious - Stop the vehicle in a safe location that is off the road, well away from traffic, before they receive or place their calls - to the doubtful - Allow a passenger to receive or place calls. How many cagers actually have passengers? And if they do, isn't someone else yacking away next to you just as distracting?

Two other suggestions seem to be equally obtuse.
Mass transit. The most efficient way to let people yap while traveling is to pack them in a vehicle with a single designated driver. That's called public transportation. Transit agencies should take steps to facilitate passenger phone use, such as improving underground transmission. If noise is a problem, agencies can restrict phone use to texting. The important thing is to get phone users out of their cars.
As a frequent mass transit user, I can easily imagine how wonderful it would be surrounded by even more loud cellphone user.
Software. ...some automakers now include a lockout feature to keep drivers from performing complicated tasks—like entering destinations into a car's navigation system—while the vehicle is moving. Maybe phones could be similarly disabled by integrating them with car software.
Don't even get me going on the American obsession with tech fixes; especially when a rather obvious solution already exists. In fact, it's one that goes all the way back to the invention of the telephone. Answering a phone is completely voluntary.When it rings, pings, or plays your favorite iTune you are under no obligation to respond. Isn't that why voice-mail was introduced in the first place???

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Rolling along


I thought I'd start today's post by brushing up on my high school Latin. I don't think any Roman or Catholic ever said this. My inspiration is a more famous Latin phrase that I've always loved: Solvitur Ambulando.

It is solved by walking was first said by Diogenes the Cynic. It's come to be an appeal to practical experience when confronting any problem. Diogenes believed that pragmatic reason rather than tradition is the only guide for living one's life. If folks don't use reason to guide their conduct it would be better to treat them like animals and lead them on a leash.

Diogenes was considered a royal- pain-in-the-ass by his fellow Greeks. His devotion to practical experience was an overt criticism of the herd mentality of conventional Greek society; so much so that Plato referred to him as a Socrates gone mad. Later, Diogenes Laertius, in his Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, described this approach to life:
Most people, he would say, are so nearly mad that a finger makes all the difference. For if you go along with your middle finger stretched out, some one will think you mad, but, if it’s the little finger, he will not think so.
It should come as no surprise then that I believe that Diogenes's words offer a good guide for rollers. I've been finding all kinds of examples of folks who have solved problems by rolling.

For example, between 1952 and 1953, Willem de Kooning, the Dutch Abstractionist, painted Woman and Bicycle. Art critics generally agree that this painting is an attempt to come to terms with de Kooning's inner conflicts over women. Some even believe that the aggressively angular image of the woman sitting on a bicycle is inspired by Freud's dream theories of sexual repression.

Like de Kooning, Charles Wilson Peale, America's first preeminent artist and all around renaissance man, was fascinated by the possibilities of rolling. He invented his own velocipede, Latin for fast foot, "as a welcome diversion from his arduous painting projects". As David V. Herlihy's writes in his book, Bicycle,
Whenever his back began to ache, he would take a few spins atop his velocipede in the salubrious air of his garden, and return to his easel thoroughly invigorated.
In our own century, many bikers have realized that it is solved by rolling. Setting out from his home in Nepal on 29 November 1998, Pushkar Shah circumnavigated the world over the next eleven years. Why? In 1990, the Nepalese government arrested him for participating in the country's democracy movement. When he was released, Shah decided to spread the message of peace and hope for his country and for the world. This mission was not about material gain or international fame. It was simply about spreading the message of peace.

Whether for peace or future opportunities or relaxation or psychological closure, solvitur volubilis recommends itself because the open road is where anyone can think and reflect on their life and times. Utility is certainly important. Many bike just for that. Nevertheless, it is solved by rolling opens us up to many amazing possibilities.

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Hands free hazard

feds keeps cager
safety data secret

Today's NYTimes reports that the Federal government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration not only refused a request to research the link between cellphone use and road accidents but chose not to publicize previous research and warnings ... back in 2003! Fortunately, the Center for Auto Safety and Public Citizen filed a successful Freedom of Information Act lawsuit for the agency's findings. And The NYTimes has published the documents here. Some of the more amazing, but not surprising, excerpts from the article include:
The highway safety researchers estimated that cellphone use by drivers caused around 955 fatalities and 240,000 accidents over all in 2002.

...hands-free headsets did not eliminate the serious accident risk. The reason: a cellphone conversation itself, not just holding the phone, takes drivers’ focus off the road, studies showed.

The research mirrors other studies about the dangers of multitasking behind the wheel. Research shows that motorists talking on a phone are four times as likely to crash as other drivers, and are as likely to cause an accident as someone with a .08 blood alcohol content.

“We’re looking at a problem that could be as bad as drunk driving, and the government has covered it up,” said Clarence Ditlow, director of the Center for Auto Safety.

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The Eagle has Landed!

one small step for
Walter Cronkite

And what a difference
40 years would've made...

without him.

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Walter Cronkite, biker


As a boy, he used his bike as a drugstore delivery boy and enjoyed
[t]he usual boyhood/early teen activities...: the Boy Scouts and DeMolay (the junior Masonic order), roller hockey and bicycle polo (except on those hot summer days when our wheels sunk in the goo of Houston's Tarvia streets)...
That got me thinking about Pimp My Mallet, the website for Oxford University bike polo enthusiasts. There's also the article on North American bike polo by Rhiannon Coppin. She's a reporter for The Tyee who played a match in VC/BC (Vancouver) in 2006. 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 used to be the International Bicycle Polo Federation based in Jaipur, India and Richland, WA. It hosted seven world championships, the 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 in a while, there's a link Mad Bike Polo. It's got a YouTube vid of the 2006 Midwest Bike Polo Championships held in Madison, WI. Chicago hosted it the next year.

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Ode to cigarettes redux

if only he
had a bike

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Fixie prix & elegant chix

at least
they roll!

Something weird is going on with the Vélotariat. The well-trod debates over bike lanes, critical mass etiquette, and proper frame-sizing have given way to a growing rancor towards bike fashions. I'm not talking here about whether you should cover your ride with guerrilla stickers or colorful electrical tape. Rather there's been a fascinating reaction to the clothes in which folks choose to roll. Over at Manolith, a UK-based men's lifestyle site, Yosef Solomon posted 13 Reasons Why the Fixies Fad Should End Now! The usual criticisms of obnoxious attitudes and dicey braking practices take a backseat to fashion posers. As Yusef states:
It seems to be a sad fact that every “underground” fashion scene will inevitably be taken over by pretentious wannabes. The most recent victim of this trend is that of the once-edgy bike messengers. Actual bike messengers are now faced with the decision to either just suck it up and be confused with mobs of posers, or simply change careers ... Since the whole Fixed Gear trend has finally been maxed out on douche, we thought it fitting to call this fad out for what it is.
Meanwhile critics are setting their sights on the fixie prix's more well-heeled colleagues. The Pipeline, for example, recently took aim at The Sartorialist. Created by Scott Schuman, this blog documents high-end street fashionistas in New York, Milan, and Paris. Many of the posts show incredibly elegant chics and gents. In contrast to Manolith, Pipeline seems particularly cranked up over Schuman's choice of purportedly upper middle-class subjects. It even provides a helpful flowchart explaining how you can get Shot by Scot. If you're a man, it helps to be old, rich and European. If you're a woman, be model pretty or wear a quirky hat. Either way a vintage bike will pretty much guarantee you a spot. Slate's Julia Turner, who first mentioned this critique, defends Scott even though ...
Gathered together, his subjects often seem rich and pampered, too many fashionistas wearing the same expensive and unwieldy shoes.
She can't help loving his work because his focus on facial expressions goes behind the togs. Even though his subjects form a limited spectrum, his photos expose joy, wit, and candor. She feels as if she's met these folks before.

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If I was a bicycle seat...

life could be
oh so sweet

When I was a little boy
My momma, she said to me
Son, When you get big grow up
What you wanna be
I said to my momma
Don't wanna be no doctorman
A politician, a movie star
All those things I can
There's one job I'd like to have,
You can never beat
To be bolted to a chrome frame and be a bicycle seat

Life could be oh so sweet
If I was a bicycle seat
Ride, ride limbo treat
sit on me, I'm a bicycle seat
No more hustles, no more deals
No more trying to sneak those wheels
No more cruisin' or cosmic raps
No more staring at ladies laps
No more eyeing little worms
No more chasing after bumms
No more would you like to dance
No more getting in their pants
Everything i really mean
Is riding right to the bumper seat
No more smelling good to waste
With you pressed against my face

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Lords of the Ring

sword swinging,
bike pedaling warriors
the destruction
of their friends bike

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Sierra Club gears up

to hike, bike,
and paddle

The venerable enviro-org has launched a new website, Sierra Club Trails. It's up and running in a beta test now, and they're planning to launch it soon. As far as I know, the site is the first-ever comprehensive hiking wiki where anyone can post their favorite trails for hiking, biking, even water trails for kayaking. Anyone else then can edit the So if I post a route to Milwaukee, anyone who rode it recently can update road conditions, construction, traffic, etc.

It's also an online community where users can create profiles and meet other bikers, hikers, surfers, you name it, and join discussion forums with topics like the best trail mix recipe or whether guns should be allowed in national parks. Community members can form groups around a particular outdoor interest or place. So it features tips for outdoor adventurers alike, a birding blog, photo contests, and Nature Notes, a series of audio features based on interviews with naturalists and Sierra Club Outings leaders.

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Tonight's Northside Mass...

Jason's last

Jason, biking stalwart and all around great guy, is leaving The City of Big Shoulders for the greener, if not more humid, pastures of The Big Easy. He's got a pretty good job offer down there in his hometown. All of us who've got to know him on the Northside Mass, FBC Full Moon Fiasco, Chicago Mass, and Winston's Tweed Ride are going to be sad tonight. Hopefully with cash in his pockets now he'll get some sister rides up and rolling down there. So although he's soon to be gone, he certainly won't be forgotten!

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Speed demons

or how to
kill a biker

Speed Kills is about as obvious as it gets for anyone who commutes daily in big metro areas like our City of Big Shoulders. Last year, The Spokesman posted about Delaware's then new Neighborhood Speeding Campaign. Its central message is brutally honest: if a cager hits you at 20 mph you have a 5% chance of dying. Up the speed to 30 mph and your chance of death goes up to 45%. Pulling no punches, this rather stark mathematics explains why the state sets the speed limit in residential areas at 25 mph. Of course, part of the problem is that the faster cagers go the more distance they need to stop. So I've put the two sets of sobering statistics together.
Cagers going...
20 mph, need 69 feet to stop

If not, bikers have a...
5% chance dying

30 mph, need 123 feet
to stop
45% chance of dying

40 mph, need 189 feet
to stop
85% chance of dying

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North by ...

by northwest

Vic McDaniel and Ray Francisco, just out of high school, set out from Santa Rosa, CA on second-hand bikes, bound for the great Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle. Travelling on dusty roads, roads of logs, of planks, even of corn stalks, and often no roads at all, they pedaled, pushed, and walked a thousand miles north for fifty-four days.

They started out with only $5.65 between them. Camp was wherever, whenever the sun was gone; food was an occasional meal from a kindly farm wife and what they could fish, hunt, or glean. But they learned that all strangers were not kind, not even close. Vic and Ray reported their adventures to their home-town newspaper. And what adventures they had. They traveled paths beside railroad tracks, fought their way around boulders and up brushy hillsides, and crossed rivers layered with salmon.

Evelyn Gibb, daughter of one of the cyclists, has drawn on her father's recollections to tell this incredible adventure in his voice. Winner of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Nonfiction Book Award, Two Wheels North is a fascinating account of a journey that today we can only dream about--one that finds two boys on the road not only to Seattle, but also to manhood.

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Full Moon Fiasco VII

the FBC

Tuesday, 7 July 2009 Leaving from The Gingerman
3740 N. Clark St. @8PM

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Windy City Wool

Winston's Tweed
hits the Big Time!

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Ode to cigarettes

Orwell’s obsession
with tobacco

Cigarette smoke so permeates George Orwell's stories it almost leaves stains on one’s fingers when reading his books.
So writes Josh Indar in Bumming Smokes in Paris and London. I was fascinated to read this last week in PopMatters' retrospective on the 60th anniversary of 1984. Anyone who's rolled with me knows that I'm a smoker ... an enthusiastic smoker! What started as the youthful urge to be cool has become a 2-pack a day habit. Having tried to quit cold-turkey several times, I certainly understand the power nicotine must've had over Orwell.

Skulking about smoke-free Eton College with a cigarette dangling provocatively from his lip gave Orwell that particular Bohemian air. Later, the ritual of rolling your own probably appealed to his machismo. Smoking also had its practical side. He writes in both Homage to Catalonia and Down and Out in Paris and London that appetite-suppressing nicotine helped him survive when food was scarce or too expensive.

I certainly can concur. My habit definitely took off when I was working in Bosnia-Herzegovina during the war. While UN food convoys were often blocked by the warlords, Drina cigarettes always seemed to get through. And now, being woefully under-employed, I find myself subsisting on Winston Ultra Lights. There's nothing like war and poverty for reinforcing your existential view of life.

Indar points out that cigarettes were most often associated with the working class characters in Orwell's books. This should come as no surprise since much of his work championed the commoners. And perhaps by identifying with their daily struggles, smoking helped him to camouflage his middle class origins.

This is especially apparent in Homage to Catalonia, Orwell's memoir of the Spanish Civil War. Tobacco is listed as one of the five basic necessities of soldiers in combat. The other four are firewood, food, candles and the enemy. Sharing them at the front also built trust and camaraderie. Describing street fighting in Barcelona, he gratefully acknowledges the small act of heroism performed by a fellow militiaman, who finds two packs of Lucky Strikes under terrible gunfire.

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