Bicycle Diaries: August 2009

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The prodigal queen

with a little help
from my friends...

...I've found the silver lining in losing that which rolled. As the comments section has shown over the last two weeks, the outpouring of sympathy for my loss is both amazing and gratifying. Enough so that I now have a wonderful replacement.

It might look like the Queen of Scots, my original '53 Lady's Rudge. But it ain't! Now it's The Prodigal Queen. Last May while I was getting the QoS ready for the Lake Pepin 3speed Tour, I discovered that the handlebar stem was seriously bent. With only 48 hours before I headed north I parted most of it out to get that which rolls rolling. It then spent the next few months convalescing on my back porch until I lost its noble brother. The theft, in fact, was a double loss because I didn't have the necessary parts to get it rolling again. And being unemployed, I didn't expect to have it rolling in time for either Winston's DMZV Tweed Ride or The A.B.C.E.

But thanks to Mike Bullis, a fellow 3speed Nutter who lives out near Elgin, I won't be missing either grand gathering. Several days after learning about the theft he emailed me with a wonderful offer: the gift of his 19 inch, '54 Robin Hood, known as The Prodigal Bicycle. It's not only a fitting replacement for my dearly departed '68 Robin Hood.

It comes too with a great story. He's owned it three separate times! He first bought it at the Kane County Flea Market in the mid '80s. Around '96, he sold it to his brother-in-law, who eventually returned it to him in '05. With too many bikes in his garage, Mike loaned it to a local bike shop owner for his Antique Bicycle Display. Then in '08, he was visiting the shop to order some parts. The owner asked him if he wanted it back as he was short on room. Mike replied, Why not?

The Prodigal Bicycle has provided me with everything I needed to revivify the Queen. Its 3speed alloy hub & rim were a particular surprise. I had bought a rather pricey set of rear axle wing-nuts several years ago. But their TPI didn't match my newer hub. Well, they do fit this one! Not only that: the Prodigal came with lovely, chunky, all black rubber tires that, despite their age, are in wonderful condition. They give my new steed the proper commemorative look for a steed that now replaces that which rolls.

I'd also bought a front dyno-bub & rim which, Thank G-d, wasn't on that which rolls although the Lucas Bicycle Lamp was. Again, the Prodigal came to the rescue with a lovely shiny, black Bosch Lamp from Germany. With the expert technical guidance from another local 3speed Nutter, Pirogi John, I successfully wired up the lamp. It's actually the first time it's ever worked and I was able to finish off the entire kit with another pair of axle wing-nuts.

The rest of Mike's Prodigal Bicycle (frame, saddle, drive-train, mudguards, chain-case, and stem set) is safe in my basement locker. I'm going to fully restore it once I'm gainfully employed again. I'm even thinking of making it my year-round commuter bike so I can also restore my '62 Gazelle, Raleigh's precursor to the Robin Hood line. I sincerely hope he approves. When I picked it up last week (thanks to Aaron's handy chauffeur service) Mike said he always thought there was a reason why it kept rolling back to him. I am humbled by his foresight and generosity!

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Les bicyclettes...

de Belsize

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Rolling along

our hobo legacy

One thing you'll notice about the bike community in the City of Big Shoulders is diversity. There are hipster beaterbikes, yuppie spandex-wrapped weekend warriors, Latino ice cream vendors, WASPy commuters, freakbikers, teenage BMXers, and more. Although I haven't seen many South Asians, the streets are a celebration of multi-cultural Chicago.

One group I've begun to notice is what I call The Rollers. They rock! They bike for the sheer joy of the ride, everyday in every kind of weather. Rollers are consummate foxes; or even cats, since they know and do a lot of little things about bikes. You might first think their shared passion for bikes qualifies them as hedgehogs. But the diversity of the bikes themselves as well as values and ideologies is so vast that a hedgehog could never accommodate it all with one big idea.

So rollers aren't necessarily anarchists, unless they want to be. If that label is incorrectly applied by motorists and government authorities, it's because rollers flourish on the edges of American society. Their very existence poses a threat to middle class conformity and this seems to really irritate some motorists.

I've had a number of run-ins with motorists who have shouted insults at me as I rolled along ... LEGALLY. Each time I got the distinct impression that I had gravely wounded their sense of middle class propriety. That I might have rolling rights as a legally recognized slow-moving vehicle didn't seem to enter their minds. They either saw me as a big kid on a toy endangering the streets or selfish hobbiest with more time for leisure pursuits than the harried motorists going to work or shuttling the kids to their doctor appointments.

Such thinking isn't all that surprising. In many ways, rolling against middle class conventions is an old, if odd, American tradition. Rollers are the grandsons and granddaughters of the tramps, loafers, and what the French called flaneurs. They're the sons and daughters of hobos, travellers, vagabonds, and backpackers. They're essentially slackers on two wheels. As such they draw the unwelcome attention of police and politicians as much as did their peculiar ancestors.

When the Depression of 1893 threw millions of men and women out of work they hit the roads. State legislatures, as well as business leaders, around the US reacted with horror and enacted highly stringent laws against these tramps. In a surprising response, Governor L. D. Lewelling defended their rights against arbitrary arrest by local police. His Tramp Circular is not only a astonishing reminder of a time when Kansas was progressive but a wonderful statement of why today we have the right to roll along.
The right to go freely from place to place ... in obedience of a mere whim, is part of that personal liberty guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States to every human being on American soil. If voluntary idleness is not forbidden; if a Diogenes prefer poverty; if a Columbus choose hunger and the discovery of a new race, rather than seek personal comfort by engaging in “some legitimate business,” I am aware of no power in the legislature or in city councils to deny; him the right to seek happiness in his own way, so long as he harms no other, rich or poor; but let simple poverty cease to be a crime.
Not that I'm all that comfortable with labeling rollers, Slackers on Two Wheels. In the wrong mouths, labels can be dangerous. If you think that mere words can't harm, remember that J. Edgar Hoover threw stick and stones at the bones of the rollers' ancestors. During WWI, he was a special agent for the newly formed FBI in charge of Slacker Raids. Agents and civilian vigilantes rounded up foreigners, conscientious objectors, left-leaning idealists, and other outsiders for indefinite detention. Although some were certainly spies and draft-dodgers, most were simply expressing their rights to roll against war hysteria.

Today, rollers, whatever their particular values or ideologies, continue to ride for the right to seek happiness in their own way.

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that which rolled


The last time I saw that which rolls was Tuesday morning, 11 August. I went out early Tuesday evening. My neighbor and I noticed three teenagers (1 woman and 2 men - not from our neighborhood) hanging around the alley by our fence. The lock on on the alley-side door wasn't working.

You see, I live in a 16 flat, 3 floor building with a common area in the back. It's accessible from the alley and the street with two locked wooden doors. I've installed two bars for locking up bikes on the posts supporting the building's balcony system. They're those bars you find in bathrooms for physically challenged folks. Each is double-screwed to prevent their removal. That which rolls was locked up to one with a cable and U-Lock: U-lock thru front wheel and down tube, cable through back wheel and u-lock. All are gone now...

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Robot cars...

freedom for technology

The Intelligent Life, the quarterly mag of The Economist, has a fascinating article on the automation of cars. In When Drivers Are Passengers Paul Markillie describes the trend toward cars that drive themselves. While he believes that this could make them safer, he has
... a niggling worry that it could make some drivers lazy and less attentive. If your car can park itself, why bother becoming familiar with its dimensions and learning how to manoeuvre it correctly? Why bother braking when the car will do it for you? ... Accidents will happen, and inevitably it will lead to more drivers blaming the car itself.
Isn't this another good argument for biking? Bikes put you smack dab in the middle of the world. Cagers, on the other hand, are dangerously isolated and, increasingly it seems, less free to interact with their surroundings. It's ironic that the great American icon of mobile freedom is slowly being replaced by our low tech alternative.

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Bikers behaving badly?

Boston responds...

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Know when to fold 'em!

Dominic Hargreaves's
The Contortionist...

has been shortlisted for this year's £10,000 James Dyson Award for innovation. The 24-year-old, from Battersea, London, said he wanted to create a decent folding bike after the one he was using collapsed.
I couldn't find a folding bicycle I liked. I wanted something that could take a bit of punishment and that you could have fun with. So I made one myself.

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Odes to a bicycle bell

you only exist
as sound

Thanks to local Pittsburgh artists, Eric "Erok” Boerer and Teresa Foley, you can now have a bike bell ringtone. It's free and according to Erok, I’ve noticed that bike bells tend to bring smiles to people’s faces. No matter what happens, when you ring that bell, people get a kick out of it. It's also the most popular ringtone - 300 downloads and counting - on Foley's new website, Locally Toned. With a $1,000 grant from the Fine Foundation as well as support from other Pittsburgh-based art groups, it offers a great selection of novel ringtones with a local connection that is essentially an experiment in creating public art.

And while your waiting for the ringtone to arrive by text message, check out this simple little ode to the bike bell over at Copenhagenize: The bicycle bell/beams, happy/and round, a little/brain without power:/touch me, please touch/you only exist as sound.

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Blood, sweat, and gears

a modest

Jeremiah Catalano-Reilly popped the question to Michelle Simon smack dab in the middle of last Friday's Chicago Critical Mass!

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Cops on bikes


Keeping your balance

w/Albert Einstein

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