Monday, October 23, 2006

I miss biking in Amsterdam

Great photo blog journalism of bikes and one intersection in Amsterdam at

Monday, October 16, 2006

Just call me Mr. Astoria Bike

If you Google "Astoria Bike," a link to my blog comes up first. Cool. Since there's no "Mr. Subway," and my friend Tamara already has dibs on "Ms. 30th Avenue," I'll gladly settle for "Mr. Astoria Bike." I can't wait till posters go up with my picture and are defaced with devil horns, blacked-out teeth, and cocks in my mouth!

Oh, those sexy French ladies' frames

I bought a bike on Ebay. I'm really not sure why. I wasn't even drunk.

Well, I do know why I bought it. I really like French frames. And French Bikes. They're really good sporty practical urban bikes. The problem is that it's a French Bike. ALL the sizes are different. Updating/conversion will not be easy. Maybe the bottom bracket casing can be drilled out to the Italian size for a new bottom bracket. Maybe the handlebars can be replaced with uprights. Maybe the damn thing will sit in my basement forever. She sure is a nice frame.

My old girlfriend had a French bike she loved. Peugeot frame. Light. But it was broken. And I couldn’t fix it because it was French. I convinced her to give it up for a Raleigh 3-speed. It was heavy. And a pain to work on. But I least I could fix it. I don’t think she was ever happy with the trade.

[Update: I didn't do shit to this bike. So a gave it to a French friend who happened to have moved to town and wanted to bike. I told him to buy some new tires and go wild.One night, probably with no lights and no helmet, he got hit by a car on Northern Blvd and 31st St. He was knocked out and almost killed. Luckily, he lived. And except for some major dental surgery, he made a complete recovery. And hell, it ain't like French teeth are all that great to begin with. The bike was never seen again. I forgave him, but he does owe me a bike.]

Hot Karl update

The last bike I assembled for a friend is the Hot Karl. It was a SRAM shifter and it just isn't very good. Shifting problems keep re-happening and the foot hits the guard. The former is exactly the kind of pain-in-the-ass I don't want to deal with. The latter is a basic design flaw that can't be fixed.

I bought the bullet and ordered yet another Shimano Nexus hub. Strange that Sheldon Brown's place seems to have a lock on their sales. I tried to buy one online through Ebay, but the place that was selling the older (heavier) model doesn't have any in stock. Anyway, when the hub comes I think I'll just take it to my bike man and pay him to swap the hubs/build the new wheel. I don't really want to bother. But I do feel I owe my friend a good bike.

[November 10th Update: the Hot Karl is back in business and she's never been hotter.]

Folding bikes

My mother writes:
What is a good folding bike for me? I am interested in a bike that is light-weight and can be easily folded. It does not need to be too compact. I want to put in in the car, drive somewhere and explore the neighborhood. A few gears would be nice, but I do not want a derailleur as I do not want to bother with the chain coming off. Don't need it custom-made. Would like to try it out first.

Are you familiar with Strida? How easy is it to get on and off?

Love, mama

Here's a list of folding bikes brades see:

I have tried a Strida.
I personally didn't like it. It doesn't have the feel of a real bike to me. The rubber belt (instead of chain) makes it feel (and sound) like something you should ride around an airport terminal. Call me old fashioned, but bikes are supposed to have chains. And if the Strida were to break, who could fix it? The Swift Folder is a normal, real bicycle.

All I can recommend is the Swift Folder, the one I have. $920.

No derailleur. You should ask for a chain guard though (for pants leg) as mine doesn't have one and I wish it did. I wouldn't be afraid of the "Custom" part. It's not like they're cutting the metal just for you. They simply assemble it from parts based on what you want: Coaster versus hand brake, number of gears. And they (really a he) were very nice to deal with.

Dahon is the biggest maker of folding bikes. Seems to run about $600. But I don't know anything about them. They have derailleurs and gears. Brompton looks very good. but I have no personal experience with one. You can easily get fenders and 3 speed. About $1,000.

The one thing I would demand if I were you is that your bike have a Shimano Nexus hub. They're not cheap (about $250--hence the price difference between many of the bikes). But they're internal shifting (no derailleur) and never break. They're like your old Raleigh three-speed, but better. The Shimano Nexus is really the only reliable internal shifting hub out there. And they keep getting better. They come is various different speeds. But their latest, an 8 speed (model number SG-8R25) is probably the best. The hand brake with the rear hub is a drum brake (not calipers squeezing the rim) and therefore very easy to pull. I think would be good for your arthritic hands. A coaster brake is also a possibility for some of them. But these issues are all the more reason to buy a Swift Folder because you can talk about them rather than take the least-worst option a bike store has to offer.

All folding bikes should be easy to get on and off because the cross bars are very low.

Sent: Monday, October 16, 2006 1:13 PM
Subject: RE: folding bikes

I don't think that the Swiftfolder is for me as I do not want a high bar. I rather want a low instep. I may go to the bike store near here that carries Dahon bikes and ride one and also see which one can be folded up easily.

More about this later.

I don't think you'll have a problem getting on any folding bike. The cross bars are always very low. And the rear wheel is always very small. But you can ride one and try it out.

Maybe Dahon this is perfect for you. About $600. Comes with all the needed accessories (rack, fenders, chain gard.
Super low cross bar. Front wheel dynamo for light if you ever need it.

You can get it with the same shiftig mechansism as your old Raleigh 3-speed. But it is 5 speed. With coaster break. Sturmey-Archer is the brand name. The other brand that comes with the bike is SRAM. Supposed to be good. But I've had a bad experience with one of their shifters.

Was voted "Bike of the Year" in Amsterdam for whatever that is worth.

Maybe things are better in LA. But I think you will have a tough time finding a store with a good selection of folding bikes. It is better to order what you want than settle for what they have.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Biking the beautiful Triborough Bridge

Check out the lastest on the bike ride on the Triborough, from Randall's Island into Harlem. Normally the blog is about food. I'm glad she didn't eat anything on they way.

I've had some issues on the bridge myself. But I can't really blame the bridge. It keeps it real.

On why bikers don't obey the law, part I: the Queensboro Bridge

It always pisses me off when people complain about bikes running red lights and not obeying traffic laws. Traffic laws are there for cars. Cars kill people. Not bikes. We wouldn’t need red lights if it weren’t for cars.

Running a red light on a bike is akin to jaywalking: nominally illegal but something we should all do because it’s smart, right, and prevents a fascist obedience to authority from developing. (But I also firmly believe that bikes should not ride quickly on sidewalks and always respect pedestrians in crosswalks if they have the walk sign).

Anyway, leaving aside my moral argument, bikes also don’t obey the law because we can’t. Sometimes obeying the law is dangerous. Sometimes it’s just plain bizarre. Let’s say I’m going from my place to Central Park (4 miles away) and back.

First you get to the Queensboro Bridge Bike Path. A nice green line on the bike map representing the best New York City has to offer bikes: a dedicated bike lane separated from traffic. Great. And it is pretty good. But not if you follow the law because you couldn’t bike on the damn thing. And once you get used to ignoring the no-bike signs on bike paths, well, you start to take all rules and regulations with a grain of salt.

The entrance is a bit of a traffic mess, but not too bad. There’s actually a sign indicating you’ve found the bike/pedestrian path. It might be nice for tourists to say, “To Manhattan” or something. But I’ll let it slide.

The first signs of trouble is the bridge closed at night sign.
I can’t figure out if these closing are over. I think they are, but I’m not sure. Anyway, I try to get back before 10PM because the bus shuttle is impressive to have, but still sucks.

And notice the first of the “dismount” signs. On the bike path. Look, bicyclists simply aren’t going to dismount. It goes against everything bikes are. And asking bikes to dismount just makes biking wrong. Besides, the bridge is a-mile-and-a-half long. I ain’t walking, damnit. Why not ask something reasonable, like slow down? I’ll slow down to be considerate to workers.

On the Manhattan side another sign saying bikes must dismount and walk bikes. Uh, why? Of course, nobody does.

The damn closed gate. This gate makes bike (and pedestrians) go a block out of the way to get on and off the path when this is the ideal exit. It’s something to do with traffic flow from the bridge, but the traffic just hits a light either way it goes. Something could clearly be worked out here. And when the gate was open for weeks, traffic flowed just fine.

Then you get more generic warning signs (that could be avoided if the gate was open).

Woh! Truck crossing?! Looks serious, but it’s not.

Finally you get to Central Park (S.E. corner) and your welcomed with a sign saying “do not enter,” “authorized vehicles ONLY,” and “entrance closed.” But this in the entrance you’re supposed to enter. You see, all this refers to cars, not the people and bikes that actually use the entrance. How about a sign saying “Welcome to Central Park. Come on in. Open! (closed to vehicle traffic).” Just an idea.

So you bike around the park, next to cars, and return to Queens. Here’s the Manhattan side of the bridge bike path. Does this look like a welcome path?

The sidewalk isn’t closed. It’s open. And it goes to Queens! It’s like they’re trying to keep it a secret. And because the gate above is closed, the path starts in the middle of a crosswalk, just begging for bike/pedestrian problems and red-light green-light confusion (because coming off the bridge bikes have to go North, but there’s traffic coming from behind, and oh well, trust me).

Going down into Long Island City, you hit the Walk Bike signs again. This one is pleasantly covered with graffiti.

Dismount 100ft ahead! Blocked by construction. But then we’re already supposed to be dismounted for construction.

More reminders, just in case you were thinking of biking. Again, one word: why? It’s a friggin’ bike path!

And another:

And finally, a double whammy of stop and dismount signs. And then the gate blocks off an unused lane that could be a bike path. Instead we all bike the wrong way down a one-way street. The space is there for a bike lane. The lane is even there. And yet, they make us criminal.

So what’s my point? Not that you shouldn’t bike in the city. I love biking in the city. But it is frustrating (but then so is driving. So is the subway. Biking is better). It would take so little for things to be so much better.

On this “Class One” bike path, there is a sign saying “closed” and then at least nine signs telling you not to bike on the bike path. And this is a major bridge we’re talking about. Everybody from Queens has to cross it to get into Manhattan (well, you could go over the Triborough, but check out this latest report of the crack addicts on that bike path). Making the bridge bike friendly—and what you do before and after the bridge—would be the easiest way to make biking more friendly.

[see all posts about why bikes shouldn't obey the law]

Bike to Train

I got a call from some pollster asking me about my latest Amtrak travel. Sure, I’d love to talk about my train travel. It was horrible designed, by the way. And asked me about 30 slight variations regarding price and time and whether I would chose faster Acela or slower regular train. I can’t believe anybody else would agree to sit answer all those stupid questions. Quantitative Methodology gone haywire. Anyway...

He asked my how I got to Penn Station. I was given about 10 choices.

I said, “I rode my bike.” There was a long pause.

I said, “I bet you don’t get that often.”

He said, “I’ve never gotten that.”

I said, “I bet there’s not even a place to put that on your form.”

He said there wasn’t.

I said, “maybe if there was a place to put that on your form, they would know that somebody bikes and they might think about how to accommodate bike commuters.” But for Amtrak, bikes don’t exist. Even though there is decent outdoor bike locking around Penn Station.