Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Allan Williams Memorial Service and Bike Procession

It is with regret to write about the memorial services for Allan Williams whom i met through the CCBA and all the work he did for the organization. My best to his family. This is a great loss for them as well as everyone Allan helped with his tireless work. Allan was the first person I met in the CCBA, during the weeks before the first Discover Hartford Walking and Bicycle Tour a few years ago. He was a super nice guy and gave a lot for the tour to work so well. Upon reading his Obituary I learned how much more this man has done for Earth! Well done Allan. Wow!

I really wish I could have posted this sooner, but tomorrow is the funeral and a bicycle procession. Please see below:

Bike Procession and Ride:
The Williams Family is happy to have cyclists ride their bikes along with the funeral procession at Cedar Hill Cemetery. You are welcome to drive your bike to the cemetery, ride in the procession, and drive to the reception or back to the rest of your day.

Meet: Cedar Hill Cemetery entrance no later than 10:15 like everyone else
Wear your Discover Hartford Bike Tour T-Shirt!

Riding from downtown Hartford to the cemetery?
Meet at 9:30 AM in Bushnell Park across the street from DEP, 79 Elm Street, Hartford

Allan, you will be missed. Thank you for all your dedication, time and work. Ride On!

Read more!

Thursday, June 25, 2009


I've got nothing profound to write about, but I went down to the Great Meadow and the rocky hill and took some pictures yesterday.

Also, in Hartford bike messenger news, TJ is building patios this summer and not downtown. I saw him at The Spigot last night. Don't get your hopes up, though, I don't think there's a job opening. Read more!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Chuck Schumer Sings the Praises of Bike Riding

Chuck Schumer, a Senator from New York (for whom I have voted, though not recently, what with how I haven't lived there for a while) and a native of my hometown of Brooklyn, has written a lovely little piece for Huffington Post, pointing out that there is no better way to get to know a place (especially Brooklyn) than on a bicycle. Read the nice thing he wrote. Read more!

Strange Terrain

On Sunday, I took a mostly bad mountain bike ride. It rained for most of the time and was super muddy even at the beginning of the ride before the rain started to fall. I probably shouldn't have gone. But, as you know, weekends only come once a week, so you really have to exploit them. I had also endowed my Stumpjumper with a working drive train, so I wanted to test it out.

Despite the bad riding, I did see some interesting things:

The weirdest pavement ever.

What remains of the West Hartford leaf dump.

A secret gazebo, about a half mile south of Heublein Tower.

A south branch of the Park River watershed plaque. I had seen this plaque many, many times before, but never took the time to read it.

I also wanted to see if the Avon Land Trust's trails on the west slope of the mountain below Heublein were any good for a bike. They're pretty tough and were profoundly muddy. I forgot to take a picture. I don't know if I really have an opinion. If you're coming from West Hartford or Bloomfield, they strand you on Nod Road, which sort of sucks. Read more!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Day 1

I received two texts from my friend Joel today.

This is the first one:
And, this is the second: "Made it!".

Joel is on his way to Michigan and is presently in Rhinebeck, NY on his 61cm Bianchi Volpe. He's a tall guy. I still haven't figured out why he's riding there, which is great because it allows me to speculate wildly. The official reason I got on Saturday at the Spigot was "to visit family", which I don't think is an adequate explanation. Our meeting at the Spigot was ostensibly an "interview", but it was far too alcoholic, so I can't remember that much about what we talked about. It was also Dan's last Hartford visit before he moves to SF.

I first met Joel four or five years ago when he arrived in Hartford with his then girlfriend Anna. She was going to graduate school for the 'cello and he was doing Americorps. I met him through mutual friends. Anna had a car and Joel rode an old Miele road bike around town. I didn't know that Miele made bikes, I thought they made fancy appliances.

Anna and Joel broke up awhile ago and she took her car to Boston with her. Since then, Joel has been living in West Hartford with Alicia, Jacob and Will. He's a free lance art handler, doing work for Real Art Ways, the Wadsworth Atheneum and the Cartin Collection. If you've seen art hanging in the last few years, he may have done it. He's really good at it. He's been doing the Catalog thing with our friend Joe. He gets to those places on his Miele.

For a guy with no car and who gets around the Hartford area by bike, he's very low-key about. He's not one of those vicious bike commuting proselytizers. In fact, I never could quite tell if he liked to ride the things. Up until the weekend before last, we'd never even gone on a bike ride together.

Around two months ago, Joel told me that he'd been drinking one night and decided to ride his bike to Michigan. I say weird shit like that a lot, so I figured it wouldn't come up again. Although, we did spend considerable time that evening talking about websites like crazy guy on a bike.

The subject didn't die, though, he started asking me about my Long Haul Trucker (I'm a poser touring guy) and potential touring bikes. Joel had a hard time finding bikes, because he's really tall. Eventually, he found a big Volpe on eBay at a pretty good price. And lo, he bought it, though not off eBay. He went to down the Newington Bike and bought it through them. He also got some panniers and other stuff. Strangely, Joel and I wear the same size bike shorts (medium), but he's a foot taller than me. Since they look like half shorts on him, he hides them under regular shorts.

The 80 miles out to Rhinebeck puts him at 10% completion of his trip. I'm totally jealous and very impressed. Much of the trip will be on the Erie Canal route. When I was younger, I rode on some of it with my parents (so, not very much) and then he'll go into Canada on his way to Grand Rapids, MI (that website doesn't really make me want to visit Grand Rapids).

I got another text from him during the process of writing this: "Meeting my friend in Red Hook. It's cute. Must find beer."

Expect more updates as more texts arrive. Read more!

Friday, June 19, 2009

New Bike Commuter Guide

C.I.C.L.E. (Cyclists Inciting Change thru [sic]Live Exchange, which should really be C.I.C.T.L.E., but I can forgive them) is, by its own description, "a nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles working to promote the bicycle as a viable, healthy, and sustainable transportation choice." (So they're basically just like the Beat Bike Blog except they do a lot more stuff, are an actual non-profit organization, have a much more beautiful website, and are in Los Angeles.) The good folks at C.I.C.L.E. have created a 30-page intro to bike commuting called the "Bicycle Lifestyle Guide," which is available for free online, and which is, basically, awesome. It has pretty pictures, handy, practical tips for becoming a bike commuter, and doesn't take a hardcore, holier-than-thou approach that would likely scare off people who are well accustomed to car dependency. Basically, it's the friendly bike commuting manifesto that I would create if I were nicer and more artistic.

I suppose most people who read this blog (if I'm not being too presumptuous with my use of the plural there) are already pretty much sold on bike commuting. But the Bicycle Lifestyle Guide is a great thing to pass along to our more bike-fearful friends who are so used to hearing us bloviate about the joys of bike-riding that they just tune us out. I'm going to e-mail C.I.C.L.E. and ask if there's any way we can get some copies to distribute here in the Beat. In the mean time, check it out (it's at the link above). Read more!

It's the little things

We here at the Beat Bike Blog are always singing the praises of bike-riding, and one of the things we like to point out is that when you travel at a more stately pace (very stately, in my case), you take notice of more of life's little details. Case in point, the sign pictured below, which I espied on Newton Street, just off Capitol, on my way back to the office from having lunch with a friend downtown. If I knew any ladies, I would pass this along to them, but all I know is tramps.

Lady roommate wanted Read more!

Thursday, June 18, 2009


What's the reasonable length of life for a chainring? I don't know, but it's got to be longer than a year. None the less, this famous purple chainring only lasted a year. I'm very disappointed. Hopefully, the fancy Salsa one on there now gets a little more mileage. Read more!

Free Folding Bike!

Well, you have to win a contest to get it, but still, it requires only minimal effort:

Some website called Inhabitat, which is "a weblog devoted to the future of design, tracking the innovations in technology, practices and materials that are pushing architecture and home design towards a smarter and more sustainable future," is sponsoring a contest to give away a Strida SX Limited, which is a very fancy, design-y folding bicycle that costs nearly $1000 (and which is pictured above).

What do you have to do to win this contest? Well, it's called "Pimp my Eco-ride," so you are supposed to provide one photo that proves you need a fancy new bike - presumably a photo of the lousy bike you have now, or of yourself being fat and needing exercise, or of a really sad face so people will be sorry and give you a bike. You also have to sign up for Inhabitat's newsletter, but I don't think that's the worst thing ever, especially if you get a bike out of it.

Anyway, as a loud and proud supporter of folding bicycles, let me urge you, dear reader, to enter this contest and ride this cool bike. Read more!

Seeking Sponsors - But For a Good Cause This Time

Just over a year ago, some Waterbury miscreant having absconded with my Dahon folding bike after breaking into my (now deceased) Corolla, I put out the call to the interwebs for sponsorship. As you may recall, Xootr, makers of scooters and folding bicycles, came through with a free bike, which I have come to love deeply, and Manhattan Portage sent some free bags, which have also proved useful, durable, and stylish.

Now, I am seeking sponsors not for myself an my co-bloggers (not to be confused with cob-loggers, who keep meticulous records of every piece of corn consumed at a barbecue), but for a worthy charitable organization, Youth Rights Media. YRM is a New Haven organization that teaches local teenagers media production skills and shows them how to put those skills to work to bring about social change. (Here's the trailer for their new documentary, about kids' getting pushed by schools to withdraw or drop out - I'm interviewed in the movie, and I say about eight words in the trailer, at 1:24.) I'm on the board of directors of YRM, and the Executive Director and I are organizing a fundraising event for the fall at Channel 1 in New Haven, for which we need sponsors and door prizes and silent auction items.

Naturally, I e-mailed Xootr and Manhattan Portage to see if they wanted to kick in some prizes, and naturally, Xootr hit me back right away to say, "Fo' sho'!" They are running behind in bike orders but will send a Xootr Mg scooter, which is a $219 retail value! Nice, right? My girl Lauren at Manhattan Portage is running the idea past her cruel corporate overlords, but I have some faith that they will see the wisdom in having their name down as sponsoring this event.

Did I mention that the event will feature original pieces of art by local New Haven graffiti writers and other artists, and will have a live DJ? These things are true. Did I mention that there will be booze? This is also true. Hopefully, I will get many Yale Law students and other hip up-and-comers to attend, so SPONSORS, HOLLER AT ME TO GET DOWN WITH THIS IMPORTANT AND WORTHY JAM!!! There will be stylish fliers blanketing the New Haven area for this event, and you want your company's name on them, feel me? We especially need:

Wine shops, local breweries, moonshine distillers, please get at me.
- MCs. Everyone loves a freestyle battle. There will already be a live DJ. Some off-the-dome rhyming would be great, dontcha think?
- FOOD. Right now the plan is for me and Laura (the Exec. Director) to make the food ourselves. We're pretty good at this, but if anyone is a professional or an amateur who would like to lend their assistance (more hands = lighter work) to make some nice hors d'ouevres, let me know.
- ART. There is certainly room for more art to be auctioned off.
- ANYTHING ELSE. We will not turn anyone away. If you have a tool and die shop and want to do your part, we will give away crescent wrenches as door prizes. If you drive a soda delivery truck and can arrange for some refreshments to get "damaged during shipping," that's cool too. Leave a comment and I will get back to you.

And now, since no blog post without a picture is worth its salt, here is a photo of the coolest board game ever created in the 1980s. Enjoy.

Strike Price Read more!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What is this?

My mother, bless her heart, has a long tradition of sending me weird gifts. Not only does she never miss a birthday, Christmas, Hannukah, or other traditional gift-giving occasion, but she also periodically sends gifts on random dates (or what I perceive to be random dates, since she never explains them). Once, in mid-February, she sent me a copy of Jack Kerouac's "On The Road," which would have been a lovely gift except that this particular copy was in Italian, which I do not read. Another time, I received a very lovingly rendered, highly detailed, hand-drawn picture of a German shepherd (not drawn by my mom), framed and under glass. At the bottom right corner of the drawing, someone (presumably the artist) had written, "Chief" including the quotation marks, suggesting to me that the dog might have another name, his given name I suppose, such as Clarence, but that everyone who knew him called him "Chief."

Since Saturday is my birthday, it was not altogether surprising that I received a gift in the mail today. Since I am impatient, it is equally unsurprising that I opened it right away. Inside, I discovered the following fascinating item:


You should definitely click on it to get the larger view. It is a glass cylinder, about five inches in diameter, sixteen inches long, and open on both ends. It sits in a metal display stand that appears to have been made especially for it. If I had a cherished wooden stirring spoon, this would be the perfect display case for it. I do not have such a spoon, so I ask you, dear reader, what is this item, and to what use can I put it? Read more!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Plans and mans

I could have sworn that these meetings were already held last year or something, but this just arrived in my inbox:

Don't miss the upcoming public meetings on the Draft Statewide Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan and Map Update. There will be a series of 4 meetings with one in our region (Mon. June 29 in West Hartford) - please plan to attend. (I will be out of town, so I am counting on all the bike and ped advocates in the region to be out in full force, in my stead!) Following is the CTDOT press release on the meetings. Go to www.ctbikepedplan.org to view the draft plan.

Newington, CT – The Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) will conduct four public meetings to present information and gather input on the Statewide Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan and Map Update. The meetings will be an opportunity for the public to review and comment on the Draft Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation Plan and Draft Statewide Bicycle Map. The study team will be available at all meetings to gather resident and traveler input on the components of the 2009 Plan and Map. After the public meetings, the Plan will be finalized and presented to CTDOT for adoption in the summer of 2009.

The public meetings will be held on the following dates:

• Wednesday, June 24, 2009 from 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM at Southeastern CT Council of Governments, 5 Connecticut Avenue, Norwich, CT

• Thursday, June 25, 2009 from 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM at Litchfield County Cooperative Extension Center, 843 University Drive, Torrington, CT

Monday, June 29, 2009 from 6:00 – 8:00 PM at Elmwood Community Center, Auditorium, 1106 New Britain Ave, West Hartford, CT

• Tuesday, June 30, 2009 from 6:00 - 8:00 PM at Fairfield Public Library, Rotary Room, 1080 Old Post Road, Fairfield, CT

All meetings will have the same content and format. Each will begin at 6:00 PM with an informal interactive open house session. A brief presentation will begin at 6:45 PM, followed by a discussion period. CTDOT and members of the study team, led by Fitzgerald & Halliday, Inc. of Hartford, Connecticut, will be available at each meeting to discuss the Update and answer questions.

Directions and parking information for the four public meeting locations are available at http://ctbikepedplan.org/html-pub-involve/meetings.html.

Additional information and the DRAFT Plan and Map are now available for review and comment at www.ctbikepedplan.org Other questions or comments may be directed to Mr. David Balzer, CTDOT Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator, via email at david.balzer@po.state.ct.us or phone at (860) 594-2141.

I don't know if we're supposed to go and and complain or like the plan. It seems we're supposed to just show up and look like concerned people with wheels or feet. I read some of the draft and it sure sucks the fun out of riding a bike or walking.

Speaking of sucking, this article does.
Read more!

Monday, June 15, 2009

More Michigan

Some of you readers maybe remember that our friend Dan Shoup rode from Michigan to Connecticut last year to come visit us. I guess MI-CT trips are the cool things to do, because my friend Joel is preparing to ride from CT to MI next week. He's got himself a new Bianchi Volpe and seems good to go. At some point soon, I'm going to do the BBB's first ever interview with him. Read more!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

What makes a road bike a road bike?

Our loyal reader will recall the Special Tour de France, an orange bicycle bequeathed to me by Chillwill upon his departure from Hartford to warmer climes. When I took possession of the rig, it was a single-speed with no handlebars, no saddle or seatpost, and only a front brake. Thereafter, I made it into a serviceable three-speed with a coaster brake, excellent for banging around on and off the road. Well now, moved as much by the need for tinkering as the need for speed, I have made it into a five-speed with 700 cc wheels:

Five glorious speeds!

Now, considering that it used to be a three-speed, and that my other two bikes are both folders with eleven speeds between them, you might think that a five-speed bike with skinny tires and wheels the same diameter as those used by Tour de France champions would pretty much seem like a super-speedy road machine to me. You would be right. In fact, I was so enthused about the long-distance, high-speed, roadie potential of the STDF (hey, what a great set of initials, no? it's like a combination of Sexually Transmitted Disease and Shut The Fuck Up) that I went so far as to add that most essential of road-riding accessories:

Water bottle cage!
(Yes, it's an actual water bottle cage. No, it is not held on by electrical tape. The frame has no braze-ons, so I secured the cage with three hose clamps, but that left sharp pieces sticking out, so I covered it in tape for safety.)

Thus equipped, I took the next logical step and went on a fifty-mile ride with my friend Rami. This was great fun, but I learned something: Five speeds and a water bottle cage is no match for, like, a real road bike (especially when you are wearing sneakers and your real-road-bike-riding companion has clip-in shoes and pedals).

Beauty and the beast
That's Rami's bike in the back. It is made of some sort of space-age polymer and has many speeds well-suited for going up steep hills, of which there are many in East Hampton, Portland, and Haddam, where we rode.

In the end, Rami was gracious in staying with me while I plodded up the hills, and we had a great ride on a beautiful day (Sunday). Afterward, my legs hurt a lot, especially when, late that evening, I rode the Xootr to Bradley to pick up a rental car. On the plus side, I saw neat sights, two of which are pictured below, and which you should click on to see the larger versions.

Pocotopaug Lake, East Hampton, Conn.
Pocotopaug Lake, where we stopped for a little rest.

Top Dog, East Hampton, Conn.
The Checker cab with the Top Dog trailer hitched up to it was in a driveway in East Hampton. If you click to see the larger version, you will notice that the people in the back seat of the taxi are actually (creepily) mannequins. Read more!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Prisoners and Glastonbury

I just read this article in today's Times about a bizarre prison program in France that involves cycling. While the article doesn't mention it, are we supposed to equate cycling with punishment or is it a reward for good behavior. The article explains that the French believe that cycling will help reintegrate the prisoners into society. Things must be different in France, because cyclists pretty much feel like outcasts here.

Also, I made it down to Keeney Cove in Glastonbury finally yesterday. I was on an attempted mission over there once before, but a persistent flat tire scattered the plans of the intrepid. There's a trail, mud and some farm fields. It's pretty cool, though very buggy. I also hit a branch with my right eye, but didn't get a black eye. Here are the pictures:

Read more!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

This is why I'm hot

Being as how la Casa Presidencial is a one-working-car-family since the untimely demise of my terrible, awful, no-good Ford Focus, when the wife goes out in the car in the evening, the youngsters and I are effectively marooned within walking distance. OR SO YOU WOULD THINK! But honestly, did you think I got to be Presidente de China by sitting around and letting carlessness keep me and my sons from after-dinner ice cream? Come on, now. As the photos below demonstrate, I fashioned a handy, modular seat that fastens neatly and securely to the rack of my Raleigh Twenty, which, when I add some extra handlebars, makes a swanky (and free!) tag-along-style ride for my five-year-old. Then I attach the trailer for the two-year-old and voila: Nous avons de mobilite!

Max on his special seat, and Reuben in the trailer
Here are the boys all saddled up, full of ice cream and ready for the ride home. Note the stirrups hanging down on either side of Max's seat - they are made from an old tire.

Me, Max, and Reuben (in trailer)
You can't see him, but Reuben's in the trailer saying "cheese."

Home-made kid seat for my Raleigh Twenty
Scrap wood, an old tire, and good old American ingenuity. If you click for the larger version and look carefully, you can see a carefully placed screw that, along with two others, keeps the seat from sliding side-to-side. Once the strap is cinched down, pulling the whole business toward the bike's seatpost, it doesn't wobble or move at all.

OK, is it possible that I'm a little too proud of myself for this relatively modest feat of engineering? Yes. But goddamnit, it works, it cost me nothing, and Max loves it. If a man can't take pride in all that, what can he take pride in? Read more!

Monday, June 8, 2009


I love going to meetings in north end because I get to cut through Keney Park and then return by the dump on the along river for the return trip. It's rare that you get to roll your tires on some dirt when you're at work. I also got to see a yearling deer and a wild turkey.

Also, CCBA is looking for some volunteers for Celebrate! (the exclamation point is required) West Hartford. Here's an email I got from Ken Livingston:

Hi Brendan:

The Central Connecticut Bicycle Alliance (CCBA) is seeking volunteers to help with our bike valet service for this upcoming weekend’s Celebrate West Hartford Festival Days (June 13th and 14th). According to CCBA President and West Hartford resident Anne I. Hayes, “In years past, we noticed that many people rode their bikes to Celebrate!, but once they arrived, they could not find bike parking. They ended up locking their bikes to trees, parking meters, or keeping their bikes with them. We realized that we could provide a service to bicyclists and encourage more people to bike to Celebrate! Last year’s valet service parked hundreds of bicycles.”

If you are interested in volunteering for an hour or two, please contact Ken Livingston at klivingston@fhiplan.com or 860-416-4309. The bike valet service will be operating from 10 am to 6 pm on Saturday and 12 pm to 6 pm on Sunday.

Thank you for your help.

Ken Livingston

Celebrate!!! West Hartford's not really my thing and I'm going to be BioBlitzing next weekend, but don't let that stop you.

Also, rumble strips can kill you.

So, can police firing ranges.

Read more!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A Painful Case

Well, not really. It just happens to be one of my favorite stories in Dubliners, along with "Eveline". As egos are an important part of cycling, I thought maybe I'd give some words of caution.

Everybody knows that I'm mediocre on a bike. I can mostly ride without looking stupid, but I don't have an emulation-worthy style. I'm just another schlump with a beard on a bike. However, like more cyclists if I don't get beat down periodically, my ego will start to grow unchecked. I think that's probably been happening lately. So, when I took off for Case Mountain (it happened to be the first time I rode there by myself without getting lost at all!), I thought I was going to slaying and doing whatever other cool verbs there are out there for single track. I did have a good time, but I rode the yellow/blue blazed trail and got my ass kicked. It's really hard! So, I've been humbled again. I'm not awesome.

I rode this and I was all proud of myself, but there was a really sharp turn right after that I couldn't make. That's why I stopped to take a picture.

I did not have trouble riding this, but this picture illustrates how nice of a day it was.

I didn't totally understand what this posting meant, but was happy that I was riding before the 17th. Does it mean that a parking area is closing or that the trail is closing?
Read more!

Friday, June 5, 2009

A (pedal) stroke of genius, or at least a good alternative.

Pedaling positions and styles are controversial issues in cycling. I came across this interesting article the other day and it raised some issues that I have been considering lately. The gist of the piece is the idea that a large portion of the cycling community is going about the business of pedaling all wrong. They are not pedaling backwards rather than forward, or trying to accomplish the task one-legged, but they are directing the pedaling force through the balls of their feet when - allegedly - the arch is a much more efficient zone for power transmission. Taking into consideration the location of the pedal under the ball of the foot as dictated by current clipless cycling shoes, most cyclists use the largest leg muscles - the hamstrings, quads, and glutes - to power the bike and use the calf as merely a stabilizer and conduit rather than an active participant in the process. This forces the argument that much energy is being wasted and that it would be more efficient (read also: comfortable) to relocate the contact point under the arch in direct line with the major leg muscles.

I am less concerned with these arguments as related to the racing community than for recreational riders and commuters. I don't know how many new riders I've come across thinking they need clipless pedals and shoes to ride effectively or how many are battling with the introduction to their use, complete with the accompanying stress and nervousness of getting in and out of them in traffic. This all relates to what the against-the-grain folks at the Rivendell Bicycle Works refer to as the "Shoes Ruse," or the idea that you don't need special shoes to ride effectively or comfortably, hell little kids do just fine.

This issue came to my mind after I threw some platform pedals on my cruiser so that I could ride in flip flops or sandals without my toes getting shredded by my toe clips. What I found that I often found myself sliding from the familiar ball-over-the-pedal stance to the controversial arch-over-the-pedal position. And you know what? It felt better! I got more power, less strain on my calves, and felt less prone to slip off the platform. As the article notes, there is more snap resultant from the ball-over-the-pedal stance so the act of sprinting does not seem as explosive with the arch-over-the-pedal position, but lets be serious how much sprinting does one do on a daily commute or ride to the grocery store?

None of this is to suggest that I plan on hooking myself up with a pair of biomac shoes, or intend to drill out my shoes in order to move my clip back a few centimeters, however I do feel more inclined to locate my foot where it feels good and not worry that the ball of my foot is not over the pedal. Its kind of liberating, much like bicycle commuting in and of itself. Read more!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

¡Hágalo Usted Mismo!


I picked up this handy book on basic car and bike maintenance in Havana. It has lots of good tips and pictures. You can look at the whole thing here. Here are some neat highlights (as always, click for a larger view):

Páginas 1 y 2
I just think that's a tough-looking little car.

The parts inside a coaster brake hub, and sensible advice for fixing flats.

The first full paragraph here contains the following awesome advice concerning flat tires: "There is another way, somewhat rustic, of temporarily resolving this problem. It consists of tying a cord tightly around the area with the puncture." Read more!

Slow Ride

One of the things I noticed when I was in Cuba is that the people there ride their bikes slowly. Singlespeeds are prevalent, but even bikes that appear to have functioning derailers or internally geared hubs are usually left on one speed, and people just plod along. The average speed is maybe twice as fast as a leisurely walk, keeping cycling in the realm of appreciable mechanical advantage while obviating the need not only for multiple speeds but, for the most part, brakes.

It seems almost too plain to need restatement that we bicycle enthusiasts like speed. We make appreciate cruising sometimes, but we also like to open it up and fly. When we ride around town or to and from work, we go pretty fast. I like going fast too, and I find it hard not to bear down when I ride. But lately, inspired, I suppose, by my trip, I decided it might be nice to embrace leisure in my riding - at least when I am wearing a suit. The problem (if it can be called that) is that the two bike I have like to go at a healthy clip - the handlebars are pretty low, the saddles are kinda high, and somehow, they make me ride hard. Enter the Raleigh Twenty.

Raleigh Twenty

Some time ago, I found this fine specimen on craigslist and bought it for my dear wife. I had just acquired the much-storied Xootr and was drunk off the utilitarian joys of folding bike ownership. I thought a stylish, retro folder for Anna would be just the thing to get her to ride more, which she often says she would like to do. I figured maybe she could keep it at her office at Wesleyan and use it around the campus. Well, what actually happened is that she wasn't interested, told me I shouldn't have spent the money (which I shouldn't have), and the thing sat in the garage for some months, being not what she wanted and too short for me to ride.

So last night, I brought to bear all of my engineering know-how and created a seatpost extension that made this sturdy old rig worthy of a 6'5" rider:


And today, all spiffed up for court, I endeavored to ride slow on a bike that I judged would not go fast even if I wanted it to. The result: smashing success. Rather than be a weird, fast-riding guy with suit pants rolled up, awkwardly straddling two worlds and two speeds, I embraced my inner country lawyer and toodled along in old-school, three-speed style. It was enjoyable, and I didn't get too sweaty. Also, as much as I love the Xootr, it's kinda fancy and new-looking. A slightly rusty, heavy, thirty-year-old bike seems more appropriate for my rumpled suit-wearing style. Also, I was able to imagine this song as my soundtrack.

Also, here's a video that more or less captures my slow, stately movement:

UPDATE: Join the slow ride old folding bike revolution! Someone is selling two Raleigh Twenty folders in Southington for just $20 apiece. Read more!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Bicicletas de Cuba

During the last week, your humble correspondent was absent from the blogosphere, having undertaken a humanitarian mission to the island nation of Cuba (there was an acute rum surplus that I was helping them out with) (actually, the purpose of my trip was more interesting than that, but if I told you what it was, faithful reader, I would have to kill you). Ever cognizant of my blogging duties, I sought to bring a bicycle-y perspective to my trip by (a) riding a bicycle while in Cuba and (b) taking photographs of bicycles while in Cuba.

The first endeavor proved more difficult than the second. Despite being full of bicycles and rather bike-friendly, Havana has, as best I could determine, no outlet for the rental of bicycles. One bike shop has a sign on its window that says "ALQUILER DE BICICLETAS" (BICYCLE RENTAL), but when I asked inside, they said they don't rent them out anymore. In fact, they seemed not to have any bikes on hand, or even any parts of bikes. What they did have was a lot of tires.

Eventually, I found the solution in the same place where most solutions to vexatious problems are discovered: at a bar. After a long day of walking around Havana, photographing bicycles and engaging in top secret spy business, I repaired to my hotel's sidewalk-front bar for a few ice-cold cans of Bucanero Fuerte and some relaxation. By and by, I put down the book I was reading and got to chatting with the bartender, a bus driver, and a hotel employee charged with playing guitar for the entertainment of tourists (of whom none other than I were present). After about an hour of discursion on divers topics, I mentioned wanting to rent a bike but not having found a place to do it, and the guitarrist offered his cousin's bike, which he averred was in good condition but wanting use. We settled on the price of $10 / day for three days (a princely sum in light of Cuban wages, but a savings for me if I should need to take two cab rides a day, which I would have), and he agreed to drop off the ride the next day.

Rented Bike in Cuba

I would say that this photo, on which you may click to see a larger version, doesn't do the bicycle justice, but in fact the bicycle was not deserving of justice. It was a "Summit" brand, made in China, with the rear wheel sporting but one speed, the threads on the rear axle pretty much stripped, and the chain looped loosely around the smallest chainring. Also, like most bicycles in the world, it was too small for me. But Cuba, of long necessity, is the land of making do, and I figured I should do the same.

I took to the streets on the Summit, pedaling slowly and steadily with my heels to make up for the lack of leg extension. It was a little bit faster than walking. Havana is replete with all-purpose fix-it shops, usually outfitted with a welding rig, lots of tools, and many strange spare parts, along with the most important element of a mechanic or bike shop anywhere in the world: dudes sitting around. I quickly found on of these, and one guy adjusted the seat for me while another engaged me in a lengthy discussion about Barack Obama. After a while, I set out again, now somewhat more comfortable, since I didn't have to bring my knees up to my chest to pedal.

In this way, I roamed the city some. I fell once, when I threw the chain while pedaling up a hill. I had to get off and walk on another hill. I did not go very fast, but I did manage to blend in better than I could on foot, which was nice, because I hate being a spectacle, plus, when people in Cuba notice you and decide you must be foreign, they attempt to call out to you in what they surmise to be your native language. When people made me for American, they had the custom of saying, "Happy holidays," which was initially amusing, then irritating. Sometimes they made me for French or German, in which cases they would say things I couldn't understand, since I don't speak those languages, and I'd respond, in Spanish, "What?" And then they'd say, in Spanish, either, "Oh, I thought you were a [Frenchman or German]," or "Huh! Are you [Spanish, Colombian, Puerto Rican, or whatever country they randomly guessed I was from]?" In addition to parrying these national origin questions, I took some pictures. Here they are:


The ubiquitous Bici-Taxi, preferred short-haul public transit method of Cubans. They come in recumbent-ish versions, as above, and in more upright styles, usually with multiple handlebars welded together (see below) to provide many riding positions (or accommodate many sizes of rider). Many have radios, and some have noisy car horns or horns that sound like car alarms. They go slowly, but steadily.

A driver and his friend wait out an afternoon thunderstorm.

A more intrepid driver labors through the downpour.


Bici-taxis are cool because when they're not in use, they are great for maxin' and relaxin'.

This one says "McQUEEN" on the front. Lightning or Steve?

Here is a typical bike: All utility, one speed, crazy, old-school rod brakes.

Integrated coat rack.


Cargo bikes.

Bike art.

Hotness, thy name is Fiat. (Yeah, it's a car, but it weighs less than a downhill bike and costs less than a road bike. And it is awesome.) Read more!