Saturday, March 25, 2006

Central Park by Any Means Necessary

I could take back Central Park in one month.

The problem is that there’s a 6-mile loop-road around the park… But cars zoom around it. It’s finally closed to cars a lot of the time. But not say, from 3 to 7 pm. As a result, I bike around Central Park a lot less than I would like to.

The Central Park loop is one of only two places (the other being Prospect Park, which is a little closer to being car free) in the whole damn city that you can bike fast and without stopping. Is it really too much to ask for one place to bike without cars? And with cars in the park, there’s no legal way to bike straight through park in both directions (like east on 72nd St or west on the south side). Is it really too much to ask for to have a bike path through Central Park?

A car free Central Park is one of Transportation Alternatives’ big projects. Good for them. I support Transportation Alternatives. I send them some money. I read their newsletter. I went to one of their rallies to get cars out of the park. (But only because I thought Jane Jacobs was going to be there and say something. Turns out they just played some video greeting from her, the bastards.)

My wife and I even got the urge to bike to their office one time to have them take our picture for their calendar (we didn’t even make Mr. and Mrs. December).

I wish Transportation Alternatives all the luck in the world. They do make NYC a better place for biking and I’m sure that without them, a bike path never would have been built on the Queensboro bridge.

That being said, what a bunch of pansy-assed work-within-the-system pussies they are. There’s nothing wrong with a biker not wearing a helmet (they wouldn’t take our picture without one—the gave her that helmet to hold for the picture!). There’s nothing wrong with bikes (or pedestrians) running red lights. In fact, crossing against the light keeps the world safe from fascism. If it weren’t for cars, we wouldn’t have traffic lights. A bike won’t kill you if it hits you.

And how dumb of somebody at Transportation Alternatives to tell people during the transit strike to walk their bikes over the bridges. The proper answer was to tell pedestrians to stay off 2 feet of the bike path. Since bikes are going to get through, it would have been in everybody’s best interest to let them through in an organized fashion. Yeah, the bridges were crowded, all the more reason to show people how great it is to bike across the bridge. Bikes were the solution, not the problem. The problem was bikes having to zoom around pedestrians.

So what’s this got to do with Central Park? They’ve been working for years to get cars out of Central Park. It should be a no-brainer. But then getting rid of the lethal bumps on the Williamsburg Bridge was even more of a no-brainer and that took a year or two.

The basic problem is that New York’s Transportation Department has the wrong prime directive. Their goal should be to minimize vehicles on the street. Or maximize number of person trips (can you say “bus lanes”? To them, 3 SUVs moving is better than one full bus). Or to balance the needs of pedestrians and vehicles. Or to minimize deaths caused by cars. But no, the goal of the Transportation Department is to maximize the number of vehicles moving on city streets. Not as a means to anything productive. Just as an end in itself. Their mission in life is to increase traffic flow. Great. And if that means figuring out how to squeeze more cars in Central Park, so be it.

So now Transportation Alternatives has gathered 100,00 signatures and holds rallies and blah-de-blah-blah. But people don’t give a shit. I wish them luck. Keep up the good fight. Eventually they’ll probably succeed. Great. But I don’t have the patience for that.

Here’s how to get cars out of Central Park by the end of April: civil disobedience.

I have two plans. Either will work.

1) You and 20 of your bad-assed biker friends block of the entrance at 6th Ave at the start of the evening rush. Call the media first. You’ll get more press than Transportation Alternative has in years.

2) You and 20 of your not-so-bad-assed friends go for a bike ride. Hell, take your tall bikes. Fixed gears are great. Granny bikes? Love ’em! And then ride around the park during the evening rush hour. All you have to do is ride side-by-side, slowly, and not let cars pass. Best to bring a few little kids so somebody doesn’t run you all over. And you need a few signs so people know it’s a demonstration and not just a bunch of assholes on two wheels.

Somebody still probably has to get arrested. This really would be “parading without a permit.” But it’ll be great: you’ll be arrested for biking in the park! Repeat every day till cars are banned. Two weeks at the most. All the while people will buy you drinks and you’ll probably even get laid.

The news will love the story. The public doesn’t support cars in Central Park. They just don’t care. But once it becomes a issue, then the Mayor will make it so. Picture Bloomberg at a news conference whining, “Pee-ple, the park isn’t a highway! You got to understand, people want the park to play in. It’s got to be a safe for children. Cars don’t belong in Central Park.”

That’s all it would take. Do it.

Why don’t I do it? Well, I don’t have 20 friends. But if you do, you can be a hero. Just let me know. Maybe I’ll even lead the charge. The park is ours. By any means necessary.


Read all about the controversy at Brooklyn Industries and crazy anarchist anti-consumerist bike gangs (as opposed to all the consumerist anarchists running around with Puma balaclavas?).

C.H.U.N.K. 666 is an intersting group, by the way. Tall bikes are cool, by the way. And bike jousting may be a gimmick, but it’s a damn good one. And watching one crazy motherfucker ride a bike loading with exploding fireworks? That’s more than you’ll ever see on the uncensored version of Hipsters Gone Wild.

It’s all on Bikeblog, “perspectives on bike culture in NYC and beyond.”

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Red means go

Perhaps I have too many red blinky lights. But I’m all too willing to shell out another $15 on something that may save my life. And besides, they break, or you lose them, or a friend needs one. You really can’t have too many red blinky lights.

Now that I’ve removed the rear rack on my road bike (and the ride is nicer), I can put a red light back on my seatpost. It’s nice to have a light there as there’s no perfect place on a bike bag to put a light. They should build the bags with a little strap on the button. Because when you attach a light to the back of a bag, it ends up pointing up and not back when you’re riding with drop handlebars.

But I think I’ve finally found the perfect red blinky light. It’s the Blackburn Mars 3.0. It’s on the bottom left. It’s perfect combination of bright, easy to turn on and off, and well-built. It takes AAA batteries, which I think is the best weight and size to power option. Planet Bike's red blinky light (not pitured) is also excellent.

Other lights aren’t bright enough or have too many different blinky options. I mean, come on, who really needs anything other than off and flash blink? The Blackburn still has three different on options, but the flash blink is the middle option. This means to turn it on you press the button twice. And to turn it off you press the button twice. Perfect.

The other great blinky light is the reflecty band blinking light (on top). These are relatively new. You should get a couple. They’re great as an extra light. You can put them on your arm, leg, or if you want to be way cool, your neck. They don’t quite work too well as a pant leg band, so I usually put on my arm. Or both arms if I have two. Then I blink like a friggin’ Christmas tree. But is that so bad?

The lights are (going clockwise from the bottom left):

The perfect Blackburn 3.0.

Smart brand light. Perfectly good. My second favorite. But it’s not nearly as bright (or as expensive) as the Blackburn. Great side light action, though. And it’s blink is a little slower and more soothing.

The circular one with the string. Horrible magnetic-based on-off system. What the fuck? I like the strap, good for hanging off my bag. But bad because if it flips around no light comes out the back.

Cateye: Horrible dual on-off bottoms. And a gazillion of on options. I don’t want to have to think when I turn my lights on or off.

Specialized: I like it because it’s small… but it takes a watch battery and isn’t bright enough.

Blackburn Mars 2.0: Not bad. But bigger and less bright than the 3.0.

My front light, which I’ve used for years and strongly recommend: a Streamlight Stinger. Yes, the exact same light I used as my cop flashlight. I was very happy to give it a second life. I recently upgraded to a Stinger HP. It’s a little bigger and therefore a little more bulky. But it does give off more light. Enough light to serve as a real headlight.

You have to buy a simple velcro holder separately. Buy an extra because the velcro wears out after a while. But it’s easy to take on and off your bike. And equally important, you can use one light and holder for all your bikes. I thank the French guy at Ace Wheelworks in Somerville, Mass, for turning me on to that holder system years ago.

On the left is my old Streamlight. Tested on the eyes of many a-hoodlums on the streets. The middle is the new one. I guess the bigger head makes it brighter. But I like the size of the old one more. And the rubber casing. But I use the brighter one. They both take the same rechargeable battery. You can only charge the battery when it’s in the flashlight.

The Streamlight Stinger isn’t cheap. But it’s good. Hell, like I said, cops use them. You can drop them and they don’t break. The battery lasts about an hour. But when it goes, it goes quickly. The battery itself lasts a year or two before it only lasts a half hour and it’s time for a new one. I have two batteries. I bring the spare with me when (like in the winter) I might ride for more than an hour in the dark. You can swap batteries in seconds.

I don’t rant much, but I do want to say that I don’t understand bikers who ride at night without lights. Think lights aren’t cool? Well have I got bad news for you: biking ain’t cool. And no biker is going to think you’re less cool because you have a light.

(Well, just to be honest, I do think lights on a helmet look really dorky. But if you’re more secure in your manhood than I am, go for it. I do make some concessions to not wanting to be a bike dork. Like I don’t wear spandex. Even though pretty much all my clothing is geared around biking, I like looking like a normal person when I get off my bike. But of course normal people’s shoes don’t go crunch when they walk down the street.)

I especially hate seeing helmet-clad bikers with no lights. The point is to avoid getting hit by a car. A helmet ain’t going to save shit if you get run over by a truck. I mean, I’m not even pro-helmet. I hate helmets. They’re horrible to wear and they scare people away from biking. And if there were enough people biking, we wouldn’t need them. But I do wear one… usually. I do want to live to bike another day.

It’s far better to have a light and no helmet than a helmet and not light. What kind of idiot has a helmet and no light? Use lights.

And wheel reflectors. Don’t believe the hype: reflectors work. Sometimes you forget that they work because you can’t see them work when you’re riding. But you sure can see them when you’re in a car. If it matters (and I think it does), use two per wheel on opposite sides so they balance each other out. They’re actually so old school they can take a little effort to find. But they’re worth the search. Bike Tools Etc sells them. They’re $2 a pair, for crying out loud! Get 12. That's enough for both your bikes and you can still give four to a friend.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Bag on Back

I took off my rear rack for my ride today. The bike handled great and I just zipped along! City biking and agility go so well together. I guess my final answer (for now) is messenger bag… unless I have so much to carry that I need the pannier bags.

There is some more on this in the comments to the previous post.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Carry on Bike vs. Carry on Back

Here’s the question: Is it better to carry your stuff in a bike bag on your back or a bike bag on your bike?

Carrying heavy things (or anything) on your back is certainly no fun. So I just fixed up my road bike with a rear rack and bags to carry stuff. I commuted a couple of times and, well, the jury is still out. There’s good and bad to both.

Bike bag/messenger style:

Advantages: Be at one with all your excess baggage. No effect on bike handling. Less likely to carry extra shit just because it will fit in your bag.

Disadvantages: You’re a human packhorse.

Bag loaded on rear rack:

Advantages: You’re not a human packhorse. For those who always carry a bag, as most bikers do, you might forget how nice it is not to carry anything while zooming around the city.

Disadvantages: Handling is worse. Not in a dramatic way, but if you’re riding a nice nimble road bike, it becomes more sluggish. A racing bike becomes a commuter bike. Not bad if you’re commuting. But if you like racing bikes, then your commute becomes a little less fun. There’s also the issue of what to do with the pannier when you leave your bike. The rear rack could also get stolen very easily. And the bike is a bit heavier.

Bottom line: It’s not so simple. I expected to fall in love with not having my bag on my bike. And that part is nice. But I don’t like the (admittedly minor) effect on handling. I think I may reserve the rack and bag system for when I know I’m going to have a lot of heavy things to carry a long distance (for short distance I’d just use my heavy one-speed with metal baskets).

There’s probably a simple rule of thumb here: If you want to do something right, look at those who do it for a living. Bike messengers carry things on their back and ride fixed-gears. There’s probably no better way.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Racing bike/pack horse

The bike supplies arrived today! Always an exciting moment as I pitter-patter down the stairs and then clamber up the stairs carrying my big box.

Included: One seatpost-clamping rear rack ($30). Two clip-on fenders ($45). Two “grocery” packs ($20 each). One rear-view mirror ($18, for the Bluebird, to help get Zora, after the loss of her left eye, get back on her bike).

The rack and bags seem like a great set up. Of course I won’t know from sure until I try it out for a while. And hopefully nobody will steal the rack. I guess I could loop the seat post cable around the rack. But I’m still thinking that I might want to remove the rack every now and then when I’m not using it.

I kept part of my old rear fender setup, to keep the protection for the back of my legs. Here are the rear rack and the rear fender:

And the front fender:

Here’s the bag in the bag:

And the bag in the bag, again!

The bag, for better or for worse, isn’t completely soft. The side facing the back is hard. And there’s a metal frame providing additional support. It collapses. But it doesn’t roll up into something really tidy. But it does fit in my bag. And it also has a carrying strap for solo carrying.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Shameless plug

Need bike stuff in Australia? I don’t. But maybe you do. Blog reader, 650B fan, and creator of the Chocolate Croissant (scroll down to "Good day from Down Under" below), P. Lynn Miller and his Chainring Transit Authority (not to be confused with the CTA) is swinging into full gear. He’s closing his building company and hanging up his toolbelt for good. He’s going full time into the bike biz. But the point of his e-mail is that he can’t handle both jobs right now. So give him a month or two while he get’s thing settled a bit. And then buy a nice rear cargo carrier or whatever else you need.

Carry more versus carry less

I’m not happy with my seatpost rear rack on my bianchi. It’s too much of a hassle to routinely tie my bag to it. It’s kind of fun; I like the knot tying. But it’s a bit of a commitment. And right after I bought it, I saw they make seatpost rear racks with support for panniers. So I bought one.
It can be attached without taking off my seat via a 4-bolt clamp (quick release is vastly overrated—mostly it just makes theft quicker and easier). So I can easily take it on or off if I want to use it or not.

And I got some simple bags that can go on it. I don’t want to load down my bike with lots of accessories. And I don’t want something that will get stolen. I like the idea that I can put my bike bag in this bag, and then put this bag in my bike bag when I’m off the bike. We’ll see if it works. I’ll keep you updated.

I also got some new fenders, and my current rear fender is attached to the rear rack in a rather ingenious fashion (scroll down to “working that rear” below).

All this would be easier if my bike had eyelets for fenders and a rear rack. But I’m kind of happy it doesn’t because if it did, I would have all this shit on my bike. And this isn’t a bike for that. I like this bike to be a nice, light, simple bike. But seeing how this is my normal commuting bike, there has to be some middle ground and putting stuff in a basket is so much better than putting it on your back.

Happy Trails

Do you get and read the Rivendell Reader? You should. There is some great reading in it. There was an article in the last issue about wheel "trail." For years I’ve wondered and didn’t know 1) why bikes naturally stay straight when you ride, 2) whey the turn when you lean, 3) why forks are always angled forward, and 4) why I don’t like riding Dutch Oma Fiets (even though they’re beautiful). It all comes down to trail (related, of course, to tons of other stuff).

Answers: 1) trail, 2) trail, 3) less trail, & 4) not enough trail. Fascinating.

Here’s a diagram of trail.

That’s a motorcycle. Bicycle rake refers to the fork bend and not just the angle. Bicycles don’t have steering “offset.” And bicycles have 1 1/2 inch trail, give or take. But the concept of trail still the same.

Basically, the wheel hits the ground not at the point at which the wheel turns left and right, but rather a little behind it. The point of contact the wheel makes with the ground is trying to follow (hence: trail?) the imaginary point that is the center steering axis. The bend in the bike fork lessens the trail, because too much trail makes low speed maneuvering too hard. Too little (or negative) trail makes the bike very unstable at higher speeds. I find this really cool.