Wednesday, December 26, 2007

NYC bike info updates

It may not be life changing, but the monthly email for the city is kind of reassuring. You can sign up here.

I *did* learn that the city is putting up some covered bike racks. I like them simply because they're very conspicuous. But I've never understand why people are so worried about bikes getting wet. They don't melt. I've had a bike parked outside since I found her in Inman Square (on the line between Cambridge and Somerville, Mass) maybe 10 years and fixed her up. She rides just fine.

Expect few updates for the next month as I travel around the world. But I'm sure I'll come back with some pictures and maybe an update about biking in that friggin' perfect city, Portland, Oregon.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Glad to be me

I was leaving a bar the other night. I unlocked my bike and went back to the entrance to say bye to the owner, who was outside smoking. He looked at me as I started to bike away and said, “Man, it’s cold out. I’m glad I’m not you!”

I didn’t know what to tell him. I like biking? I’m not cold on my bike? Why would it somehow be better to walk home? If only you were me, you’d know how fun biking is?

Whenever I bike, I always think I look so cool. But then I'm reminded that to the rest of the world, even the world smoking and shivering outside bars, people biking by are just weird losers.

Keep Biking Pgh!

Can I say enough good about the new Pittsburgh bike map? I love bikes. I love maps. The designer was nice enough to chime in on a comment below (confirming the Ware-eskian influence). He has built a better bike map. I only hope the world comes beating a path to his door.This map isn’t just beautiful. It’s practical. It has a nice simple key.
It notes: “With a 36% grade, Canton Ave. is arguably the steepest street in the world!” Well, I’ll be!

I like the guide for novices. “Watch out for the ‘Pittsburgh Left’.” And I like the fact that the bike map was clearly designed by bikers for bikers. “If you are moving slower than traffic, move as far to the right side of the lane as possible.” That first part is important to add and easy to omit. It would be too easy to simply say, “stay to the right.” But from a biking perspective, that would be wrong.
On the actually map part of the map, the streets are easy to follow, with one-way and steep streets noted. The “landmark” circles give another chance for the art to shine. And the boxed warnings and comments are actually useful and not just C.Y.A. legalese.

“This section of E. Ohio St. is very dangerous but is the only to access the town of Millvale and the Park coming from Lawrenceville. Use extreme caution.” Will do. And thanks for telling me that it can’t be avoided. “Caution! To stay on California, head down the ramp and make the first left. Stay alert—cars move quickly here.” Got it.

My only complaint, and this may not even be justified, is that the “green” streets indicate recommended streets but don’t actually have any improved conditions for bikes. No bike lane or anything like that. Still, maybe they are better streets to bike on. Or streets that actually get you from one part of town to another part (a strange problem in Pittsburgh). Given the care put into to the map, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. On the NYC map, the red lines mean absolutely nothing, serving only to give the false illusion that New York actually has a bike “network.”

And no talk about this map would be complete without noting the Neville St. warning: “Neville St. is narrow and has a poor road surface. Also, beware of the wild turkeys often seen here—they are very territorial.” Nobody want to be attacked by wild turkeys.

Thanks, Bike PGH!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I love Rivendell

It’s a little hard to describe the utter joy I feel when the Rivendell Bicycle Works catalogue or Rivendell Reader arrives in the mail. You could see this as a shameless plug, but it’s sincere. As sincere as I think Rivendell Bicycle Works is. Yes, they sell things. And yes, the sell things to make money. But they’re really not in it just to sell things. Maybe I’ve drunk their Kool Aid, but it sure tastes good.

Rivendell is so much more. If you want to learn about bikes and how to like your bike more, read Rivendell. They have a definite editorial position: old school. They love wool, fenders, high handlebars, friction shifters, steel frames, things that work, things that aren’t trendy, bike bags, riding bikes every day and not in spandex, lugs, and, most of all, bikes that people will ride. Did I mention they make bikes? I assume damn good ones. I’ve never ridden a Rivendell. Maybe one day I will.

If the whole world had their philosophy, the world would be better. It would have to be wealthy, because their bikes aren’t cheap. But they’re not overpriced. But having two-thousand dollars burning a whole in pocket is a good place to start if you want their bike. I don’t have that money, so I don’t have their bike. But I still love them.

The Rivendell Reader is one of the great sources of bike knowledge, both arcane and practical. If you like food, imagine Cooks Illustrated without the annoying pitch from Christopher Kimball every month about the Lake Fucking Wobegon ideals of life in (car driving) rural Vermont.

The catalogue is great because it’s so much more than a sales pitch. They have articles. Read it and learn. The latest (#19) talks about: picking a handlebar, how to care for leather seats, thoughts on socks, a short history of the power ratchet (and thoughts on friction shifting in general), crank design and gearing, tips for happy riding, an ode to brake clearance, and safety on bicycles. Some of the stuff you may care about, the rest you find you may learn about after reading what they have to say. Everything is accessible. Everything is knowledgeable. Everything is specifically not for bike geeks (even though it’s hard to imagine somebody who isn’t a bike geek curling up in bed with their latest catalogue).

As I’ve said, I’ve never bought a Rivendell bike, but I do buy stuff from their catalogue. Along with 650B tires, mostly little stuff: velcro wheel reflectors ($5), hemp twine, wool beany caps (the best for biking. And it’s they only thing I’ve ever worn that inspired my sister-in-law to say, surprised, given my general wardrobe... “that actually looks cool!”). They also sell beeswax and pine tar soap. I believe them when they say they don’t really make money on a lot of this stuff. They sell this stuff because they like this stuff. And somehow, all put together, I guess they make enough to live on. Good on ’em, I say.

As the years go buy (I’ve been reading Rivendell for probably 10 years now), I find I disagree with them more and more on the details, but still love their philosophy. And I’ve only come to disagree after learning from them and trying out what they preach.

Most people’s handlebars should be higher (at least as high as the seat). But I’m that 1 in 100 that actually lowered my handlebars again, at least on my main bike. It’s comfortable for me, so I’m sure they don’t object.

They don’t like skinny tires. I think they’re the best, at least on bikes meant to go fast. And I ride in potholed NYC and weigh 220 pounds. 700X23 Continentals, baby. I love ’em.

I love bike shoes. They don’t. What can I say?

I wish they were more urban, but they’re not.

But I can disagree with some of what they believe, and they’ll still like me. They’re right for most people, and I want more people to ride bikes, because my bike ride would be safer. If bike stores pushed sensible clothes along with bikes with bags, fenders, wide tires, and simple sifting mechanisms, the world would be better.

Go buy a membership today, I’m sure you’ll thank me later.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Memorial Ride Tonight

Anonymous left this info in a comment:


After 2 deaths in 2 days last week, and 23 deaths so far this year, we are ready to ride, are you?

Memorial Ride for David Smith and Franco Scorcia
Wednesday December 12

7:00pm Gather Union Square North
7:15pm Ride leaves Union Square North
7:30pm Ghost bike dedication and memorial for David Smith, 6th Avenue at 36th Street
8:00pm Ghost bike dedication and memorial for Franco Scorcia, Broadway at 40th Street
Bring flowers, candles and love.

NYC Street Memorial Project
info@ghostbikes.org

SAVE THE DATE: 3rd Annual Memorial Ride, Sunday January 6, 2008. 4 start locations, check ghostbikes.org for details.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Bike Pgh!

I just got back from Pittsburgh, I city I didn't know at all. Thanks to this blog, I was able to meet some of the fine journalists at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and talk about my upcoming book (don't worry, I'll tell you, too, when it's out in May).

I have this thing for rough-around-the-edges (post) industrial cities. I'm much more excited arriving in, say, Pittsburgh, than I would be in say, San Diego. I guess many would find that strange.

I did not bike in Pittsburgh (there was snow and ice and very steep hills) but I applaud those that do. At first glance, Pittsburgh seems like the city with the least potential to be bike friendly. This is just a matter of topography and weather. But of course there are people trying to change that (not the topography or weather... you know what I mean).

Pittsburgh now has what must be the most beautiful bike map in the world. Like most bike maps, it's also the best map to just get around the city. But the map is really a work of art. I checked to see if it was drawn by Chris Ware. It isn't. But it's beautiful. If anybody has a pdf of the art (useful instructions to the novice cyclist), please let me know. Otherwise, I'll try and scan some of it when I have time.


Pittsburgh also features a stellar standard bike rack: Simple and functional and sleek looking. What else do you want in a bike rack?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

You call that snobby?

He says he's cranky, but I'd bet he's a pretty good guy to drink a beer with. Here's his handy template for writing the next story breaking the news of these strange things, called fixed gears.

http://bikesnobnyc.blogspot.com/2007/12/genuine-article-reporting-on-fixed-gear.html

Bikes for two

A few weeks back we had the pleasure of hosting Laura and Aaron Beese for a few nights. They wrote us through warmshowers.org looking for free lodging. Mostly I was interested in seeing their cool bike. I mean, their bio is a little too earnest and has a too few many mentions of the All Mighty one for the comfort of this typical New York City heathen. But then again, they are for Norman, Oklahoma. If they weren’t a little earnest, I wouldn’t know what to think. And some of my best friends believe in God.

Anyway, they were great. And their bike was indeed way cool. But it was disassembled before I got to ride Zora around Astoria.

This was the end of the first third of their biking trip to see the geographical center of all 50 states. Meanwhile, they’re wintering in Hawaii, picking coffee.

It was great having you two, and hopefully you’ll peddle by New York to see us again sometime!

These are hardly the best pictures (see the link above for better), and my bikes in the background make it hard to figure out. But their bike is already partially disassembled. But basically it's a standard bike in the rear, and a recumbent bike in the front. The front passenger can peddle, but doesn't have to.


Bicycle Lift

This is the coolest thing ever! If I lived somewhere with hills. I've always sort of dreamed of a sort of ski lift for bikes. I had no idea my dreams have been realized for over a decade, in Trondheim.

Here's the official PR:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JtB8DX70ihM

Here's the renegade action shots:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7j1PgmMbug8

Friday, November 30, 2007

Don't turn me, bro!

Nothing like a little body-on-car contact to remind you you’re alive.

So a little before midnight I’m biking on 59th, crossing Madison. I’m one lane from the left. There’s a black stretch limo to my right (never where you want to be at an intersection, but there’s a lot of traffic). The limo starts turning left. I’m not going to fast, mind you, but it’s too late to swerve.

I actually spend the rest of the ride home figuring out exactly what I did. I’m not certain. What I think I did is accept body contact as inevitable and turn to the left without leaning, hence falling over to the right, into the limo, which I effectively used as support. I think that’s what I did. Maybe. Somehow I managed to run into a turning car and stay on two wheels. In that sense it was kind of cool, I guess.

Now I hit the little limo with a little thud, and the limo stops. I stop. I look nastily at the driver, about 2 feet from me. Now this is a situation that could quickly come to yelling and my U-lock bashing through a windshield or denting a car. I have a rule: be wrong or be an asshole. But don’t be both. I already knew he was wrong. If only he started yelling at me...

He rolls down his window and I calmly say, “That’s not the left turn lane.” (Hey, it may not be the best line, but it’s not bad for on the spot thinking. A hell of a lot better than “fuck you, dude!”)

Here’s the important lesson for all drivers. The first words out of his mouth were “Sorry” and “Are you hurt?” He may have even admitted that indeed, it wasn’t the left turn lane.

Sorry and Are you hurt? Wow. That’s just about the only correct two things he could have said. By the tone of our voices, I could have been asking for Grey Poupon.

I took a second to figure out if I was hurt. I wasn’t. I told him so. I didn’t even dirty my jeans. Hell, my pants probably dirtied his limo.

I didn’t want to let him off that easily, so I did mention how he could kill someone. And that somebody would be like me. But what else is there to say? I probably should have complimented him on not yelling at me.

He went our separate ways. I biked in front of him and promptly had to avoid a turning taxi, coming around from his right. Jeeze.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Like that's a crime!

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/scotland/glasgow_and_west/7095134.stm
Bike sex man placed on probation
A man caught trying to have sex with his bicycle has been sentenced to three years on probation.

Robert Stewart, 51, admitted a sexually aggravated breach of the peace by conducting himself in a disorderly manner and simulating sex.

Sheriff Colin Miller also placed Stewart on the Sex Offenders Register for three years.

Mr Stewart was caught in the act with his bicycle by cleaners in his bedroom at the Aberley House Hostel in Ayr.

Gail Davidson, prosecuting, told Ayr Sheriff Court: "They knocked on the door several times and there was no reply.

"They used a master key to unlock the door and they then observed the accused wearing only a white t-shirt, naked from the waist down.

"The accused was holding the bike and moving his hips back and forth as if to simulate sex."

Both cleaners, who were "extremely shocked", told the hostel manager who called police.

Sheriff Colin Miller told Stewart: "In almost four decades in the law I thought I had come across every perversion known to mankind, but this is a new one on me. I have never heard of a 'cycle-sexualist'."

Stewart had denied the offence, claiming it was caused by a misunderstanding after he had too much to drink.

The bachelor had been living in the hostel since October 2006 after moving from his council house in Girvan.

He now lives in Ayr.

Deer on bike

I like both bikes and venison. My friend sent me this picture from a while back. Now *that's* a bike carry.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Portland, shmortland

I'm sick of reading about how cool Portland, Oregon is. But here's yet another story...

New York Times
November 5, 2007
In Portland, Cultivating a Culture of Two Wheels
By WILLIAM YARDLEY

PORTLAND, Ore. — Susan Peithman did not have a job lined up when she moved here in September to pursue a career in “nonmotorized transportation.” No worries, she figured; the market here is strong.

“In so many ways, it’s the center,” Ms. Peithman, 26, explained. “Bike City, U.S.A.”

Cyclists have long revered Portland for its bicycle-friendly culture and infrastructure, including the network of bike lanes that the city began planning in the early 1970s. Now, riders are helping the city build a cycling economy.

There are, of course, huge national companies like Nike and Columbia Sportswear that have headquarters here and sell some cycling-related products, and there are well-known brands like Team Estrogen, which sells cycling clothing for women online from a Portland suburb.

Yet in a city often uncomfortable with corporate gloss, what is most distinctive about the emerging cycling industry here is the growing number of smaller businesses, whether bike frame builders or clothing makers, that often extol recycling as much as cycling, sustainability as much as success.

Like the local indie rock bands that insist they are apathetic about fame, many of the smaller local companies say craft, not money, is what drives them.

“All the frame builders I know got into this because they love bikes,” said Tony Pereira, a bike builder whose one-man operation has a 10-month waiting list, “not because they wanted to start a business.”

Mia Birk, a former city employee who helped lead Portland’s efforts to expand cycling in the 1990s, said the original goals were rooted in environmental and public health, not the economy.

“That wasn’t our driving force,” Ms. Birk said. “But it has been a result, and we’re comfortable saying it is a positive result.”

Ms. Birk now helps run a consulting firm, Alta Planning and Design, which advises other cities on how to become more bicycle-friendly. In a report for the City of Portland last year, the firm estimated that 600 to 800 people worked in the cycling industry in some form. A decade earlier, Ms. Birk said in an interview, the number would have been more like 200 and made up almost entirely of employees at retail bike stores.

Now, Ms. Birk said, the city is nurturing the cycling industry, and there are about 125 bike-related businesses in Portland, including companies that make bike racks, high-end components for racing bikes and aluminum for bikes mass-produced elsewhere. There are small operations that make cycling hats out of recycled fabric. Track, road and cyclo-cross races are held year-round, and state tourism groups promote cycling packages. There is Ms. Birk’s firm, which had two employees in Portland in 1999 and now has 14. There are nonprofit advocacy groups and Web sites, including www.bikeportland.org, that are devoted to cycling issues and events in Portland.

And then there is the growing, high-end handmade bike industry, which was made up of just one or two businesses a decade ago but now has more than 10. The Portland Development Commission is working with a handful of the bike builders to improve their business and accounting skills and help them network with one another.

This month, the city will be the host of a trade show featuring bike builders from Oregon, which locals say has more makers than any other state. And early next year, the North American Handmade Bicycle Show will bring its fourth annual event to Portland for the first time. It is expected to be the largest national show so far.

Sam Adams, a city commissioner in charge of transportation, joined development officials to help lure the show to Portland. It seemed a natural fit. The city regularly ranks at the top of Bicycling Magazine’s list of the best cycling cities and has the nation’s highest percentage of workers who commute by bike, about 3.5 percent, according to the Census Bureau. Drivers here are largely respectful of riders, and some businesses give up parking spaces to make way for bike racks.

“Our intentions are to be as sustainable a city as possible,” Mr. Adams said. “That means socially, that means environmentally and that means economically. The bike is great on all three of those factors. You just can’t get a better transportation return on your investment than you get with promoting bicycling.”

Although the city has worked to help drivers and riders share roadways, two cyclists were killed in October when they were hit by trucks, and questions persist over whether enough is being done to protect cyclists.

Mr. Adams said he was preparing a budget proposal that would spend $24 million to add 110 miles to the city’s existing 20-mile network of bike boulevards, which are meant to get cyclists away from streets busy with cars. Doing so could “double or triple ridership,” he said.

The streets were not always so crowded with cyclists. Andy Newlands, by most accounts the first person in Portland to start making bikes by hand, got into the business in the 1970s. Back then, he said, young men would come to him for help piecing together racing bikes. Now, he said, “More and more it’s some guy with a wife and kids and a BMW and all that, and he wants a handmade bike.”

Thirty years ago Mr. Newlands sold frames for under $300. Now a new bike might cost the buyer well over $5,000.

“There’s so much mass-produced stuff out there that there’s just kind of a little bit of a backlash,” he said. “People like a handmade product.”

Sacha White, who was a bike messenger before he started Vanilla Bicycles, one of the most prominent bike makers in Portland, said city officials embraced not only cycling but also the niche industry that has grown out of it, something he considered striking given the size of most operations. His company, among the largest of its kind, has six employees including himself.

“I think the biggest thing that’s come from the effort the city has put into this is the vote of confidence,” Mr. White said, speaking of bike riders and bike makers. “They want us here.”

Ms. Peithman, the recent Portland arrival, had lived in Chicago until September, where she worked for the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, a nonprofit advocacy group. She decided to move here on her own without any job prospects based “90 percent on the bike thing,” she said.

“I’m a long-term-thinking, spreadsheet kind of girl,” Ms. Peithman said. “This is the most rash thing I’ve ever done.”

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Will Bicycling to Work Get You Killed?

A mildly interesting discussion in the comments on the NYT Freakonomics blog.

I like the statistical point that it makes more sense to compare trip to trip and not mile to mile, since people who bike likely have shorter commutes. I also like the point that it would save more lives if people wore helmets on ladders instead of helmets on bikes.

Will biking kill you? The short answer is maybe. But if you live, you'll probably be very healthy and live longer.

Monday, October 08, 2007

My Bike NYC Master Plan

Instead of just complaining, I thought I'd actually be constructive and show what we want (that's the royal we, of course).

[Before you go on, take a quick and wild guess as to how many north/south traffic lanes there are spanning the width of Manhattan at 57th St.]

As it stands now, every time I bike, I am never in a bike lane. Not even the paint on street kind. There just aren't any coming from Astoria and going anywhere in the city. There's just not there. Screw the city's master bike plan. It won't happen and even if it did, it's not that good. Lines of paint don't cut it.

I don't need miles and miles of disconnected bike lanes. I want a few good lanes: separated from parked and moving cars, free of pedestrians (the dirty secret of good bike lanes is that as soon as you make them good, people start walking their dogs in the bike lane, making it a bad bike lane).

Here's what I want. I added all the orange lines to the map. Those are my two-way dedicated bike lanes. Each one would replace one lane of traffic. Notice it's not much.

On north/south streets in Midtown, there are 109 lanes for cars! Wow. I counted them (thanks to Google Earth). I had no idea. That's a lot of pavement, about the width of 7 football fields smooshed together. And they say there's no space! Bullshit. Two lanes for bikes is nothing. If it weren't so much work, I'd draw a third lane on my map just on moral principle.

I don't need a bike lane door-to-door. But I do need a bike lane for the bulk of my ride, the part though high-traffic areas. For the short parts, I can manage on each end. For bikes to be the answer, people have to be able to commute on a dedicated bike lane for most of their journey.

Here's the beauty of my plan: it's easy. It doesn't take much. In Manhattan, basically two north and south bike lanes and a couple of cross-town lanes. You don't *need* a bike lane every block. It would be nice, but I'll settle for never being more than a mile from one. Then you can get where you're going. That's the key.

Here's what's important:
1) They've got to be two-ways. Because that's what bikes need. And that's what delivery bikes do (why don't more people care about the safety of all the Mexican and Chinese bikers who bring you dinner?). It takes up less space to make one two-way lane than two one-way lanes. And going a long avenue out of the way is too much to ask a bike going a few blocks.

2) Bridge access is the most important thing for getting into Manhattan. You need to cross the East River safely and legally (and in style). How is a novice biker supposed to exit the Queensboro Bridge in Manhattan and do something planners apparently never though of, head south? It can't be done legally and safely.

Ironically, heading South can be done somewhat safely but illegally, as most bikes do, by going the wrong way under the bridge on 1st Ave and then going west to Second Ave. Avoid the secret car entrance and heading briefly into traffic (usually there's very little). Here again there already is space for a bike lane, if only they could find somewhere to store those Jersey Barriers blocking the way.

Legally, you have to bike too many blocks out of the way and then risk your life and slow down traffic by biking through the main car entrance to the bridge. Crazy. Even by car-planning standards.

3) Allow bikes to actually commute through Central Park. Not just bike around the loop, like bikes and cars do. But bike both ways, like people want to bike. I bike by Central Park every time I go to work and I don't ride through the park. I can't. This fact shocks even jaded non-biking New Yorkers every time I tell them.

You're only allowed to bike through the park clockwise. To go west, I have to go up to 72nd St., so of course I don't. To go east, there's no bike entrance to enter the park from Columbus Circle. So I don't enter. And remember this park is one those "green" lines on the official map. Ha.

4) Access to the West Side path. It's a good path. But between pedestrians, cars, and bikes going very fast (like me), it's not ideally. Still, the problem is there's no good way to get to and from the path, especially down the Village where I'm usually going if I'm on it.

Last but not least, can we stop bike maps from printing any lines where there is actually nothing to help bicyclists? The official NYC bike map has lots of dotted red lines, implying you should bike there routes. You shouldn’t. The map “borrowed” and photoshopped above has red lines around the U.N., giving the illusion that there’s some reason to actually bike on this route, like a bike lane. There isn’t. I understand that it’s nice to pretend the route is complete. But it’s not. That’s the point.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

How New Yorkers Ride Bikes

We went to see David Byrne talk about bikes. At Town Hall and part of the New Yorker Festival.

It was nice. Certainly a preaching-to-the-choir kind of event. But I enjoyed it.

What I liked:
That 1,200 people would pay $25 to see David Byrne talk about bikes.

Jan Gehl's spiel about biking in Copenhagen. The moral often seemed to be focused on the ability to look at cute girls while riding. Right on. But more practically, he highlighted the idea of what a city could become if only we had the will.

Jonathan Wood's deadpan commentary on pictures of bad bike-path design. See the Cycle Facility of the Month.

Seeing Calvin Trillin read about biking in NYC. I always like putting a face to a byline.

Fuseproject's bike helmets designed for bikers who don't like bike helmets but like hats. Basically it's a simple helmet that you can put a variety of hats on. It looks great. I'm so ready to buy... if only they were for sale.

Things I learned:
In Copenhagen, they paint a small little median in the middle of roads so it's easier for people to cross streets wherever they want. Brilliant. Why didn't I think of that?

In Copenhagen, they time lights for bikes going 20 km/hour, about 12.5 mph. So simple... time lights for bikes. It had never crossed my mind.

That they actually planned on a bunch of people riding their bikes to a bike event. TA provided valet bike parking. I declined. Because I like parking my bike on the street. Plus street parking is a lot faster when getting your bike back.

David Byrne sure is an awkward public speaker for a performer. It was charming and endearing to see him fiddle with his reading glasses to remember the lyrics of a song, song with a large choir of 70- and 80-year-old people (though perhaps David could have learned his lines better).

What I wanted:
Answers. To the nice man from the DOT: I believe that you like bikes and mean well. But I want to know who the bad guy is? Where is the obstruction? What are we up against? Why can't things get done? Why are bridge access lanes Jersey-barriered off at the same time the DOT says there's not enough room for bikes?

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Limberness of the Fixed-Gear Mind

I received a comment from an editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette telling about this article
"The Limberness of the Fixed Gear Mind" (they left out the the hyphen, not me) by Jeff Guerrero, publisher of Urban Velo, a Pittsburgh-based cycling magazine and daily Web site. It's a great read, probably the best single summary of fixed-gear riding. Hits all the main points sympathetically, including the idea of "being one with with your bike." And yet doesn't go off the deep end.

Here's the text. Click the above link for the proper read. (the drawing to the right, by Stacy Innerst, is from their website)

The Next Page: The Limberness of the Fixed Gear Mind


Look at all the bicyclists whizzing around town. Notice that some never stop pedaling -- until they stop moving. They're on a 'fixed gear' bike: the ultimate in simplicity in motion (if you know what you're doing).

Sunday, September 09, 2007
By Jeff Guerrero
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Bike culture is on the rise, in Pittsburgh and across the nation. Whether you know it or not, you have undoubtedly been passed by a nimble rider on a bike that never stops: a fixed gear bike.

Fixed gear riders can often be seen "trackstanding" at a stoplight, rolling the bike ever so slightly back and forth, eliminating the need to dismount. Their minimalist machine typically features just one brake (if any), a single gear combination and pedals that don't stop turning as long as the wheels are rolling.

That's right -- no coasting.

Riding a "fixie" requires constant pedaling, be it uphill, downhill or on flat ground. To the casual observer, riding such a bike might seem impractical at best -- perhaps even dangerous. Since the ability to change gears and coast has been available since the late 1800s, a practical-minded person might ask, "Why not embrace the available technology?"

The answer is not so simple. The bicycle industry thrives on selling innovations to make cycling easier. Modern road bikes feature 20-speed drivetrains and shifters built into the brake levers. Mountain bikes offer 27 speeds, hydraulic disc brakes and pneumatic suspension. And certain hybrid bikes feature an electronic, speed-sensitive, automatic transmission.

All of these technological advances facilitate higher speeds over a wide range of terrain, and ultimately help cyclists achieve what they set out to accomplish.

But just like an archer prefers the bow and arrow to a submachine gun, many fixed gear cyclists feel that riding a bike loaded with modern conveniences is unnecessary.


That's not to say every fixed gear rider wants or needs to be challenged to the hilt. Many cite more esoteric reasons for their choice in bicycles. Anyone who rides a fixed gear understands the concept of "being one with the bike."

If you want to ride faster, you have to pedal faster. If you want to slow down, the opposite applies. The technique for speeding downhill necessitates a Zen-like state where the rider relaxes their legs and lets the pedals push back into their feet. Even achieving a high rate of speed on flat ground requires the fixed gear rider to develop a high cadence (the number of pedal rotations a cyclist can make in one minute). It's interesting to note that cycling great Lance Armstrong was known for his exceptionally high cadence of 120 revolutions per minute.

When it comes to slowing a fixed gear down, better riders eschew conventional handbrakes in favor of using their legs to control the bike's momentum. The technique involves gradually applying reverse pressure against the pedals to slow down, and intermittently locking their legs to induce a series of controlled skids until the bike comes to a halt.

While it may not be the easiest way to get the job done, it certainly is fun.


A popular misconception is that a brakeless fixed gear cannot be effectively stopped.

While it's true that having a front brake is considerably safer, experienced fixed gear riders have an immense amount of control over the bike even without. The control comes from body position, as the farther forward riders positions themselves, the easier the rear wheel skids. As the rider returns to a normal riding position, his or her weight centers over the rear wheel, increasing the coefficient of friction and consequently intensifying the braking power.

By and large, the fixed gear's greatest appeal is its simplicity. And while the fixed gear's aesthetic appeal is undeniable, the real beauty is in its near flawless functionality. With just one brake and one gear pairing to adjust, there's very little to go wrong. Thus, the bike requires virtually no daily maintenance.

For bicycle couriers -- whose livelihood depends on having a functional bike at the ready -- the fixed gear is an appealing option. The same holds true for college students and bicycle commuters, many of whom also appreciate the low-maintenance aspect due to time or monetary constraints. Still others simply grow tired of malfunctioning gear shifters and dealing with overly complicated brake setup.

Plus it's undeniable that fixed gear bikes are something of a fashion statement. In the 1986 Kevin Bacon classic "Quicksilver," pop culture took notice of fixed gear bikes, and that popularity continued to grow throughout the 1990s. Along with the omnipresence of Timbuk2's tri-colored messenger bags, the bicycle courier look came into vogue. Suddenly the once inconspicuous fixed gear riders had a burgeoning audience.

More influential than the mainstream media's attention, however, has been the Internet's role in the proliferation of fixies. Web sites dedicated to the fixed gear subculture typically garner a fanatic response, and new sites continue to spring up daily. Among the most popular sites is www.fixedgeargallery.com, a hub for readers to showcase photos of their personal bikes.

Of course there's a certain camaraderie that comes with riding a fixie in the city. Birds of a feather flock together, and like-minded cyclists are especially prone to forming cliques. While the stereotype of "young white male wearing calf-length pants and a retro-styled cycling cap" is well-founded, the fixed gear community is remarkably diverse and inclusive. The informal society includes people from all walks of life -- from punk rock college girls to aging fathers with mortgage payments and office jobs.


Unfortunately, riding a fixed gear is not for everyone.

While fixies perform well in flat cities like Chicago or New York, the steep hills in cities like San Francisco and Pittsburgh pose a challenge that many riders are not eager to overcome. And for cyclists unfamiliar with riding in the city, riding a fixed gear in heavy traffic is a daunting proposition. Even some fixed gear enthusiasts eventually revert to a freewheeling singlespeed or a multigeared setup, often citing knee pain or a need for greater speed and distance.

On the other hand, many fixed gear riders ascertain the experience strengthens their legs, improves their cycling skills and sharpens their reflexes. While you don't need to be an expert cyclist to ride a fixie, chances are anyone you meet riding one has more than a cursory knowledge of cycling culture and history.

And while riding a fixed gear is not necessarily rebellious in and of itself, the rejection of modern convenience does make a statement. Regardless of their rationale, one commonality among fixed gear riders is a deep-seated love of cycling.

Where It All Began: On a Track, an Endless Loop

Fixed gear bikes are not just a modern urban fad. Since the inception of bicycle track racing, the only bikes used on the wooden banks of the velodrome have been fixed gears.

From the 1890s through the 1920s, bicycle racing was among America's favorite spectator sports, often drawing crowds that rival modern-day sporting events. Despite losing market share to road races like the Tour de France, track racing continues as an Olympic sport and remains a popular activity where facilities exist.

In Japan, track racing still enjoys tremendous popularity in the form of Keirin racing. With over 50 racetracks, highly trained professional riders, strict regulations and heavy betting (reminiscent of American horse racing), Keirin racing is a 1.5 trillion yen industry. Not surprisingly, nationally approved Japanese track racing equipment (stamped NJS) is highly sought after by American fixed gear enthusiasts.

Despite not having a true velodrome in Pittsburgh, the city's track racing heritage is kept alive thanks to the Pittsburgh Masters Velo Club. Every other Friday throughout the summer, Oscar Swan puts racers through their paces on the paved bike track on Washington Boulevard. Swan, a bike rider and racer since the 1960s, leads them through classic track events such as the Madison, Snowball and Match Sprint races.

Interested participants can visit www.pittsburghmastersveloclub.com for more information.


First published on September 9, 2007 at 12:00 am

Jeff Guerrero is the publisher of Urban Velo, a Pittsburgh-based cycling magazine and daily Web site: www.urbanvelo.org

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Fixed-gears need brakes

So I was riding my fixed-gear bike to work the other day. While going over the new horrible series of bumps on Crescent St. as you approach the bridge, my chain came off. It’s never happened before. And it wasn’t a big deal, because I have a hand brake on my fixed-gear bike. So I stopped and put it back on. Chains on one-speeds aren’t supposed to come off. They can’t come off if you’re paying attention and make sure it’s not too loose. But mine was too loose (how often do you check your chain tension?). There’s a belief that true fixed-gears don’t need hand brakes because your feet do it all. 999 times out of 1,000, that’s fine. But that’s not good enough. All I’m saying is don’t ride a bike without a back-up brake.

A small step in the right direction

The only way any city can really become bike friendly is to provide bike paths that get you from point A to point B. Not bike paths, but separate bike lanes. A lot more people would bike if they could where they’re going without having to fight traffic for the bulk of their trip. Traffic scares people from biking (as I suppose it should) because you can do everything right and still be killed. Personally, I worry that I’m not scared enough.

Good bike lanes that actually take you places are still a distant dream in New York. Even the East River bridges, which actually have great bike lanes, don’t really help get people on bikes because the bridge approaches are shamefully horrible. See, for instance, all the bikes going the wrong way off the Queensboro Bridge because both sides put you in places where you can’t legally bike anywhere you want to go. The Queens side in the most shameful because there are two unused lanes: one empty Jersey-Barriered lane that could be used. And another lane occupied by illegal parked (city-related) cars. Space is the not the issue. Priorities are. And until bikes are deemed more important than illegal car parking, all the bikes will continue to bike the wrong way down the street.

But this is a start. They call it a Copenhagen-style bike lane. Call it what you will. It’s great. But it’s only for 5 blocks from 16th St to 23rd St on 9th Ave. I don’t know how they will judge this a success or failure. But it is the answer.

Speaking of space, New York City has lots of space. But it’s all for cars. I don’t like cars. But I hate parked cars even more. At least driven cars are actually helping somebody get somewhere. Parked cars just take up space. Subsidized public space. In a city that has very little space for people.
(I stole both the pics from Transportation Alternatives, my source for all this)

I love when people do this. People in cities are good at using small spaces. And parking spaces aren’t actually that small. One bench is a lot better than one car. Parking for 10 bikes is also a lot better than parking for 1 car.

The bike parking problem in New York could be solved if one car parking space were fitted with a bike rack (or if they put parking meters back). So simple. So easy. So not going to happen.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

New Queensboro Plaza Bike Store

Just opened: L.I.C. Bicycles. 25-11 Queens Plaza North.
(718) 47-BIKES
I bought a few small things from here. You can't beat the location, just off the Queensboro Bridge bike path. He said Andres at the wonderful Bicycle Repair Man Corp isn't too happy with him right now. But I think Astoria/Southern Long Island City can support two good bike stores. I won't be too sad if one of these guys replaces one of the two not-so-good Greek bike stores.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Nice bike

I saw this bike on the bike rack at my work today. "What a nice bike," I thought.

1) The frame has beautiful curves to it. I'm a big fan of the smooth curve on the top of the frame. The little wiggle by the front tire is classy. It's some Austrian frame I've never heard of and can't remember.

2) It's got fenders. OK, they don't make the bike beautiful, it's just hard to respect a bike that doesn't have fenders.

3) There's a little basket under the seat. See #2. It's actually a white plastic "weave" basket that is meant to go on the front of a kids bike. Very simple. Very practical.

4) It's clearly not "off the rack."

5) It's got a bell.

6) It's got a Sturmer Archer 3-speed hub and is single track.

I don't like two things.

1) It's locked by the rear wheel. Know I know it's inside at my school and is probably fine where it is. But I worry about anybody who would lock their bike this way. One day it will get stolen. sniff.

2) The handlebar stem is a modern clamp job. It's standard now. But I still think they're ugly as hell and hope to never have one on my bike.

3) The Sturmer Archer 3-speed hub. I've come to the conclusion that they suck. The risk that it's misadjusted and the peddles don't catch is too high. Eventually it happens and I don't want to be riding it when it does. But that's just my opinion. It's still cool. They're good hubs and I love the clicking sound.

It's a great city bike. It's well loved. I assume a women rides it, just because of the basket. A sexy, urban, very attractive women. Just lock it, please.



Speaking of stealing, last week somebody ripped the rear light off my cruiser bike when it was locked by the Steinway St subway stop. They actually ripped the light off and broke the clamp rather than just taking the light off, which was perfectly removable. Bastards. Oh well.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Bike shop on a bike

A friend sent me this:
You will like this bike-shop-on-a-bike that I saw in Beijing. I also saw barber-shop-on-a-bike, and of course, street-food-on-a-bike.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Other bike sites

Why is everything cool from Portland? And I've never been there. (and Portland Maine ain't bad either, but that's another story).
Here a great blog about city biking. http://thecitybicycle.blogspot.com/. And they talk about 650B wheels. The Jopo looks like a great bike!

But best of all is their link to Finish disco dancing lessons.

And here's a nice blog about transport bikes. It's in Dutch. I can understand some of it. But there are cool pictures no matter.


Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Another Year, Another Hour

Progress is slow in our fair city.
This from Transportation Alternatives:
The New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) announced today that car-free time in Central Park will be increased by one hour in the morning on the park's West Drive, starting Monday, August 6.

Although this was less of an incremental improvement than we had hoped for from the new administration at DOT, with this additional hour the West Drive is open to traffic for only two hours a day, from 8-10 am, and we're one step closer to a completely car-free park.

I've long had mixed feelings about the wonderful people at Transportation Alternatives. They get more done than I do, but that's not saying much. I do find it amusing and a bit sad that this e-mail implies that the park is only open to cars for 2 hours. Why are they spinning reality? The East drive up to 72nd St. is packed with speeding cars 12 hours a day. The 12 hours I might use the park it if it weren't for the cars.

If we win an hour per side each year year, the park might just be car free for my 50th birthday.

Read more about this latest news from streetblog.org.

I'm telling you, I have the answer. But who listens to me?

Warm Showers

Some of you may know Hospitality Club(.org) or Couch Surfing(.com). These are places you can mooch free lodging from people and be nice and give people a place to stay. Great idea.

My wife and I are actually members of the former, but we've never hosted anybody (or asked anybody for hospitality—when we travel, we tend to stay with friends or go to places cheap enough that we can afford a clean bed).

But when you live in New York City, you’re always in demand. And that’s fine. And we're that rare bread in New York in that we're not actually rich but do actually have space for guests. We like guests. One of the great things about living in New York is that eventually, everybody comes to see you. Another reason to never leave Astoria.

So a few people have asked to stay with us through Hospitality Club and I’ve said no. Most of that is simple timing. We travel a lot and we also have lots of friends stay over at home. But there’s something deeper.

We don't mind strangers staying with us, but we want some filter. We don't want every 20-year-old who can log-on to a web site staying with us. I'm sure they're all nice and all... but as a hint if you do this kind of thing: if the host gives you a name or some information, use it. The cut-and-paste request is kind of lame.

Still, there's something deeper, something psychological about opening up your house to strangers who are vetted only by their online good name and their willingness to e-mail. Just because you’re rich enough to travel but poor enough to want free lodging seems like a lame reason to help somebody. We need some control. Whatever the reasons, I've said no to everybody.

Why say yes to some and no to others? You can never host everybody. So why help somebody with access to a computer when there are tons of desperate and deserving and poor and computer illiterate people in the world (and city) that would love a warm bed and shower?

Well now there's something better: Warm Showers(.org). Along with the plus of sounding vaguely obscene, this is a great concept.... Because it’s limited to people who bike. The idea is you take long bike rides and kind people give you access to their shower, or perhaps a bed.

Liking bikes myself, the idea of helping bikers seems like the perfect fit. We can do a good deed, meet people who are probably nice, and at the very least, share something in common with your guests. Hell, I've even got tools.

Personally, I have a few concerns about the privacy aspects of their website. But the guys who run it are real people who volunteer their time and just seem awfully nice. Sign up. Host somebody. Maybe you’ll even meet me.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Path of Least Congestion

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/18/opinion/18haskell.html
July 18, 2007
Op-Ed Contributor
New York Times
The Path of Least Congestion
By DAVID HASKELL

CONGESTION pricing came to a halt after a head-on collision with Albany on Monday. The New York State Senate decided not to take up Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s plan to charge a fee to drivers entering the busiest parts of Manhattan, causing New York City to miss a deadline to apply for federal financing that would have been essential for the program.

Now what?

If Mr. Bloomberg is serious about reducing automobile congestion and carbon emissions, he has two options: discourage car trips, or encourage other trips. To date, he has embraced the first of these two solutions. What’s more, he has very specifically modeled his vision for New York’s future on London, where a congestion pricing plan has operated for several years.

But now the prospects of adopting a London-style plan look bleak. If it turns out that New Yorkers are not yet prepared to embrace congestion pricing, and if Albany remains its intransigent self, Mr. Bloomberg should get over his fascination with London — and look instead at what’s happening in Paris.

Last week, Bertrand Delanoë, Paris’s maverick and popular mayor, introduced the world’s largest and most ambitious bike-share program: 10,600 bikes (scaling up to 20,600 by the end of the year) available at 750 “docking stations” situated every 1,000 feet. With a swipe of a credit card and a modest fee, Parisians (and tourists) can now pick up or drop off a bike in any neighborhood in the city. Riders no longer need to worry about storing their bikes in tiny apartments. The program’s high-tech stations make theft virtually impossible. And with about twice as many bike stations as Métro stops, a free bike is pretty much always within reach.

New York’s subways and buses are already at capacity, and as we prepare to add one million new residents by 2030, our existing mass transit will require improvements that will take years (if not generations) to put in place. Mr. Bloomberg has fewer than 1,000 days left as mayor. His best chance at securing an environmentalist legacy is to embrace bike-sharing.

Sure, the mayor could start with a small and inexpensive bike-share program as early as next summer (say, on Governors Island). But really, what’s that going to achieve? Shouldn’t our mayor, a man who is supposed to be above politics, act more boldly? Once the Paris program demonstrates that bike-sharing can get people out of their cars and off the transit grid, Mr. Bloomberg should grab a page from the Parisian playbook and transform New York into the most bike-friendly metropolis in America.

Take Manhattan south of 86th Street (the exact parameters of the proposed congestion pricing zone). Imagine introducing 10,000 bikes, with stations at every avenue and every four streets. Now imagine taking a bike, at virtually no cost, from the Metropolitan Museum to the Metropolitan Opera, from Union Square to Chelsea Piers, from the Upper East Side to Wall Street, or from Times Square to Battery Park City.

Even a program as extensive as this would be much less expensive than any other transportation alternative on the table. One industry expert suggests that the cost to manufacture, install and maintain a program for 10 years comes to about $8,000 a bike. The program described above would cost New York about $8 million a year (which could be reduced depending on whether the city would be willing to allow advertising on the bicycles). In perspective: that’s a minuscule fraction of the estimated $2.1 billion cost of the 7 line subway extension now under way.

Keep in mind, too, that New York City travel is uniquely suited to such a program: most automobile trips in the city are under five miles, well within reach of even out-of-shape New Yorkers.

Of course, if New York were to add thousands of bikes to its streets, it would also need to create hundreds of new bike lanes. But this is not a financial or engineering challenge — just a political one. All that’s needed is to reallocate one automobile lane on each avenue and most cross-town streets, and the mayor can do that without having to win Albany’s approval.

For a mayor whose disdain for cars is already on record — and an administration already committed to adding new bike lanes — this shouldn’t be any more daring to introduce than congestion pricing.

Last week, I organized an experimental bike-share program in SoHo, with the Storefront for Art and Architecture. We offered free, 30-minute bike rentals to any adult with valid identification. Over five days, hundreds of people expressed their support. These weren’t just cycling activists — in fact, the most excitement came from people who didn’t even own bikes because they couldn’t stand the hassle of trying to store one in the city.

This small experiment seemed to me to be a clear sign that the ridership for a bike-share program is ready and waiting; all that’s needed is some mayoral leadership. With the London model all but dead, Mr. Bloomberg would do well to pay a visit to Paris.

David Haskell, the executive director of the Forum for Urban Design, is the founder of the New York Bike-Share Project.

Friday, July 06, 2007

What I did on my Summer Vacation

I need to mention that I feel a little better about passing on the Turkey to Greece bike trip. Even though it would have been memorable, and I would have remembered it for the rest of my life, and I would have gotten my name and picture in some Greek papers for bike riding... it was fucking hot in that part of the world! Not just, oh my god it’s hot. But record setting 115 degree in the shade hot. I could only deal with that because I was on a beach where I could jump into the chilly Aegean. But to be biking uphill at 2pm in the sun with my eye-balls melting? My fucking word!

Maybe they’ll do it again next year and it will only be a blistering 95. I can handle that.

These are the wonderful beaded handlebar grips, cable covers, and brake handle covers. They may actually come in the arrive in the mail today. At least they’re supposed to. Along with making great gifts (I mean, pimp this ride, baby!), I’m hoping they’ll sell for a fortune on e-bay and then I can then monopolize the beaded bike accessory import business!


The charming bike store where I bought the beaded work. The man then shared his lunch and offered to give us a bike for our first born. Made me think we overpaid. But everybody in Syria was that nice. Sure, we probably could have haggled, but it’s not like they were expensive. And the lunch was delicious.


Here’s a handy way to modify a bike to become a roaming bike coffee and tea vendor. Latakia, Syria. Just ignore all the Bashar pictures… I mean, there was just an election the previous week. He won. Uh, unanimously, I believe.


You’ll just have to trust me that this man delivers his bread on that bike. In fact, the majority of bikers are swerving around Cairo carrying bread on their heads, often without functioning brakes.


Elsewhere in Cairo, and this has nothing to do with bikes, I just want to play with all the porn-loving google-image searchers, here are real nekkid cameltoes for sale! This from the “Friday Market” in Cairo. Hey, I didn’t kill the camels, I just took the picture.


For complete pictures of these summer travels, click here.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Middle East (and a lost bi-continental opportunity)

I haven't been a bike in over a month. But that doesn't mean I haven't been looking.

First, the bad news. Zora and I just passed up a chance to join a bike ride from Greece to Turkey: "Greece-Turkey: 2 Peoples-- One Nature.” I strongly suspect I will regret this. The perhaps once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bike across the Turkey/Greece border seems much better than going back to a beach we know to well (albeit a very nice beach). But the overnight bus ride from Istanbul has been taken, our ferry tickets are bought, and a taxi will be waiting for us tonight at the port of Mytiline. We received some information a bit too late. And through we're still in Turkey, we're about to take a ferry to Greece.

But of course if we were cool we could have made it so. We probably still could. But we're not.

I hope the reason we're not biking isn't simply because getting the gear together from scratch in a country where you don't speak the language seems daunting and expensive. And it's hot. Perhaps it is best to ponder this wasted chance while cooling off in the Aegean Sea.

Meanwhile, back in Cairo a few weeks ago, I was happy to discover a "spoke bell," AKA an "egyptian bell." This ingenous bell, used by men biking with big trays of bread on the head, is activated by a (brake-like) lever. It pulls the attached-to-a-spring clapper of a bell into the spoke of the turning front wheel. This then hits the bell with a glorious sound as long as the bike keeps moving.

Alas, we couldn't find one for sale. After many days and many bike stores and much "try-the-store-of-my-uncles," we finally came a across a store that said, yes, we do carry such bells! But they were out. And the replacements hadn't yet arrived... from France. And by then, after weeks in Cairo, we were leaving the next. day. We went back the next day, but they still haven't arrived. Enshaallah, they're there now, and we may have to send our Cairo friends over to this bike store to pick me up a few.

Meanwhile, in Aleppo, Syria (the best city to vacation in, in the middle east... really... great food, friendly and not-pushy people, cheap as hell, and you can drink the water. Sure Bashar's picture is everywhere, but who's better? Especially for religous freedom.)

So we're in Aleppo still kind of hunting for this bell. Bikes in Syria tend to be new cheap made in China jobs. And hopes are low for the bell because we haven't seen one in Syrian. But we stop in a bike store anyway because I like bike stores and the friendly bike man, in his store big enough so that four people can crouch, says, "sure, you have bought this bell... if you were here 50 years ago!"

Then we notice the pile of beautifully hand-made beaded handlebar grips, cable covers, and brake-handle cables. Some even have beaded tassles! They are the coolest pimp-your-bike accesssory... ever. We bought a bunch. They will make great presents. A few may be sold on e-bay. Hopefully they arrive in a mailed box in two months. These could revolutionize bike decoration in Amsterdam, New Orleans, or any place that appreciates a good bit of bike decoration.

Then the man put newspapers on his desk, and a lunch appeared for all of us with a delicious tomato meat stew, bread, hot peppers, salt, and water and tea. He was very sweet. And even offered to give us a bike when we have a child. Pink for a girl and blue for a boy. We didn't have the heart to tell we have no plans to ever have one. But then we made these plans before we knew that a free bike comes with every kid.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Mr. Astoria Bike is on Vacation

Expect no updates till mid-July. Happy biking.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Oh well...

Sometimes biking is a crime.

May 19, 2007
Bus Kills Man on Bicycle After Robbery
By ANAHAD O’CONNOR and MATTHEW SWEENEY
New York Times

A thief was killed by a city bus in the South Bronx yesterday as he fled across a busy intersection on a bicycle after stealing a gold chain from a jewelry store, the police said.

The man, who was not identified, was struck by the bus just before 4 p.m. near the intersection of East 153rd Street and Melrose Avenue in Melrose, the police said. Witnesses said the man had just snatched a $2,000 chain from the Dreams jewelry store at 651 Elton Avenue and was trying to elude a shop employee when — about a block away — he pedaled into the path of an articulated express Bronx 2 bus.

The bus was traveling at a high rate of speed, sending the man and his bike clear across the street, the police and witnesses said.

“It was a real heavy impact,” said Marilyn VonSaint, who was waiting for another bus nearby at the time of the accident. “The bus smacked him head-on, and he went flying. It was pretty bad. There was blood all over the street.”

The man, who was in his 40s, was taken to Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center with fatal head injuries, the police said. They said the driver of the bus was in shock and was also taken to Lincoln, along with five passengers who complained of injuries.

The owner of the shop, Lakhwinder Singh, said the thief showed up when only one employee was on duty and asked to see a three-inch 14-karat cross on a Cuban-link gold chain. When the employee refused to hand him the chain, the man yanked it through a glass partition and ran out of the shop, Mr. Singh said.

“He took it from here, and he was hit right over there,” Mr. Singh said last night as he stood outside the shop, pointing to the intersection a block away. “He lost his life for $2,000. He’d sell it for maybe only two or three hundred. That makes no sense.”

Mr. Singh said that in all the commotion, the chain and cross apparently disappeared. “The cops said we didn’t find nothing,” he said. “Where’s the cross? I don’t believe it.”

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Why I Bike

The city is my oyster.

I met my book editor down in Union Square. My book, which has absolutely nothing to do with bicycles or Astoria, will be out soon enough. I’ll let you know.

It was a nice ride there and back, even with the rain.

Then, after a long story and a 3-hour rain delay, I biked to Shea Stadium for the Cubs/Mets game. To most people in NYC, that seems like a huge distance. But with a bike, everything is so easy. So close. So fast to get to. Shea stadium, though I don’t bike there often, is just 5 miles away or 30 minutes away. The same distance as is my work.

I left my home is the top 2nd and got to Shea in the bottom of the 3rd. I love New York. I love bikes.

The Cubs lost. But I still love them, too.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Crash mystery

I never mentioned the unpleasant news that my friend, Damien, to whom I gave a sexy french frame, had a nasty crash a while back. Nasty like waking up in the hospital missing both memory and teeth. The inside of his head was fine (and no, he wasn’t wearing a helmet), but he looked like basically he crashed onto his face, which I guess he did. He was a mess. But he’s doing much better now.

Well he just got a copy of the police report (which wasn’t easy to get) and it says that he ran into the side of a van. That strikes me as strange. It happened on Northern Blvd and 31st St., according to the report. That is also fishy because he now lives on 29th St and was coming from the bridge. Why would anybody go two blocks out of the way to take a worse route home? Nobody bikes on Northern Blvd by choice. Maybe he was, but he doesn't think so. And he has no memory.

According to the police report, which is simply the word of the car driver, at 22:30 the driver was going west/south on Northern Blvd. My friend was going east/north on Northern Blvd. Damien than crossed Northern Blvd to continue north on 31st St. at which point he ran into the side of a van. The van suffered damage around the driver’s door.

Now I don’t know what happened. I wasn’t there. And I’m not saying that Damien, with his carefree French ways, is without blame. But I can’t believe that a moderately rational man would simply bike into the side of a van at top speed.

Sounds like more B.S. about bike crashes. If you have any idea how a bike could damage the left side of car without peddling straight into it, let me know. I don't trust the driver's story. I don't trust cars. I do trust the police officer's report in indicating damage to the side of the van. Everything else is suspect.

And we have no idea what happened to the bike. He misses it. But we’re happy he’s alive.

An ode to a workhorse

Speaking of buying things for you bike, I've often heard: “I’m not getting that. That’s more than I paid for my bike!” Well, so what? Cheap bikes are great. But that doesn’t mean you can’t buy anything for that bike that costs more than you paid.

I found my one-speed bike stumbling home from The Abbey Lounge in Inman Square about 10 years ago (back when it was still just a neighborhood bar, before it became a cool dive). It was a rainy night and I was thinking about where I could buy a basic Amsterdam-style one speed, and there it was! Lying there. Abandoned with a broken fork. I took it and added fenders and a front brake and some BMX-style handlebars to sit upright. But basically it was a free bike. And the first thing I did was buy a $60 lock to keep it (and later a bike chain to lock the seat). Why? Because I need this bike.


That’s the Bluebird on the left. I’m talking about the bike on the right.

For quick errands, you want a bike locked outside for convenience (and to take up stairs, this bike weighs a ton). Day, night, rain, and snow, this bike has been locked outside for 10 years (with just a few minor incidents… like the mysterious handle-bar loosener of 34th St.). The big rear bags I got from Amsterdam probably cost more than the bike and lock put together. (Luckily, bike thieves in this country are too stupid to recognize true value.)

I probably couldn’t get more than $25 for it on Craigslist. But I keep it in good condition. He doesn’t have a name, it’s not a pretty bike, and certainly not sexy (if it were, he would be a she). And if something happened to this bike, I would happily assemble a better one that served the same function (or bring a nice old Batavus Barcelona over from Amsterdam).

But get this, if I could really only keep one bike, and as painful as that choice would be, thousand-dollar bikes be damned: I would keep this bike! If you don’t have a car, the bike first and foremost needs to be functional. And that means it has to carry. And carry a lot: groceries, books, furniture, whole lambs. This bike has carried it all.

Do tires matter?

Yes.

Thanks for asking.

I purposefully don’t write much about bike components for two reasons: 1) talk about bike components makes most people less likely to ride bikes, and 2) I don’t care.

I can’t even tell you what components I have on my own bikes. On my 10-speed, my derailleur works very well. I know it’s Shimano. But I couldn’t tell you more than that. I don’t care.

But I am into tires for two reasons: 1) they keep you from crashing, and 2) they keep you from getting flats.

Who wants to ride a bike if it doesn’t get you where you’re going? Or even worse, leaves you stranded. Or really worse, leave you in a bloody heap on the ground. Of course nobody wants to crash. Roads are slippery and it rains, but in general most tires do a very good job of keeping you from wiping out.

But flats happen to everybody. If you can remember the second-to-last flat tires you got, you get too many. Tires go bad from time, use, and sun. There’s no better way to prevent getting flats than to buy a new tire.

Tire liners aren’t bad either. That’s a thin strip that you put between the tube and the tire. In fact, most tires should have tire liners (I don’t have them in my high-pressure thin tires). Will tire liners help you? Well, I think of the punch line from the joke about a man who was hit by a car. A crowd gathers and from the back an old lady shouts, “Give him an enema!” “Lady, he was hit by a car, how is that going to help?” There’s a brief pause before the lady quietly notes, “It can’t hurt.”

Anyway, last time I bought a new tire, Andres at the wonderful Bicycle Repairman Corp bike shop (42-11 35th Ave in Astoria/Long Island City (718) 706-0405) downsold me on a Michelin Speedium. I’m always charmed with businesses that downsell you. I think this tires costs $20 as opposed to the $50 I was willing to spend. He wanted me try it out. I did. He thought I’d like it. I didn’t. I was hoping to. Because maybe I have been wasting money on expensive tires.

This tire was on the rear wheel of my blanch road bike. Eventually I noticed that when breaking hard, my rear wheel was losing grip with the pavement and going in a (controlled) skid too quickly. That can actually be kind of useful. The skidding sound quickly alerts the pedestrian who just walked in front of you. And skidding a rear wheel sounds much more dramatic than it is. But still, I prefer more stopped ability.

I was back in the bike store because my rim was dented from a previous incident. Nothing major, but a noticeable bump when applying the rear brakes. When it comes to man thwacking your wheel with a old hammer, nobody does it better than Andres. I mean I’ve got a hammer, but he's got the finesse. I told him to switch tires while he was at it.

I went back to my preferred tire and am going to put the Michelin on the rear wheel of my fixed gear. That’s the one place where you actually may want a tire to skid quickly. One part of breaking on a fixed gear is being able to lock the rear wheel. It’s not easy to do (and hard on your knees) if the tire won’t let go the road.

I’m sure there are lots of other good tires out there, but I’ve stuck with Continental since my fixed-gear building friend recommended them to me way back in the 20th Century. They’re good tires and they’ve always been good to me. I like Continental Grand-Prix 4000s (formerly the 3000). I would also be happy with the Continental “4-Season.” But the bike store stocks the 4000 so that’s what I got (size 700 x 23). Very good puncture resistance, good grip, fast, light. That’s what you want in a tire, in that order.

The downside is they cost $45 each. But new tires will pay for their cost if they prevent just a few flats. And the hassle of a flat is far greater than just the cost of fixing it.

For non-racing bikes, fatter, lower-pressure tires are cheaper, anyway. Part of the expense of tires goes into making the skinny tires withstand 120-pounds-per-square-inch pressure. For most bikes, you can nice new tires for $10 to $20 each. If you’ve got the money (and already have a comfy seat), it’s the best thing to spend your hard-earned bike money on. It can’t hurt.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A lesson learned in this cruel world

I was biking back home on the Queensboro bridge and saw a man in bikers' gear walking, holding the large thick kryptonite chain in one hand and two nice bike wheels in the other. I suppose he'll learn the importance of locking the frame with his next bike. Poor guy.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

NYC Bike Survey

Here's the latest official NYC Bike Survey.
Actually more interesting than I expected. But then again, I'm kind of into that sort of thing.

Building a Better Bike Lane

AV has kindly brought my attention to a great article in, of all places, the Wall Street Journal. Building a Better Bike Lane. I've been known to read three newspapers a day (not every day). Online I scan another half dozen. And I just don't get the Journal. But they do occasionally have a good article or two.

There are great pictures here: Where to Buy Dutch-style bikes. My Amsterdam bike is a Batavus Barcelona. What's yours? Sorry, but it's hard not to gloat when you have a sweet bike waiting, very patiently, in Amsterdam. And though there's nothing particularly Dutch about the Barcelona (other than it's made by Batavus), the Barcelona just happens to be the best one-speed bike in the world. Fast. Sporty. Solid.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Why I Ride

Why I Ride

Nobody’s Fault?

I was biking back from Lower Manhattan on 1st Ave between 52rd and 53rd St., on the left side of the Avenue. There’s a bus about 3 car-lengths ahead of me. He’s in the next-to-left lane, but about to move in the far left lane. He’s signaling. Then out of nowhere a car speeds by me, about 40-45 mph, and comes way too close to me, about a foot away. I’m thinking pretty nasty thoughts about him as I watch him zoom by me and try to take the bus on the left. The bus continues its leftward drift and runs into him. Suddenly my bike is wheeling through the Schadenfreude Café!

I’m also suddenly aware of my psychic ability to move large objects. As we all know, with great powers come great responsibility. And clearly I wasn’t using these powers for good. But I enjoy seeing my wishes come true as the front fender of the car comes off in one big piece and a dent is put in the side. Meanwhile the bus doesn’t even realize what it did. The car chases the bus, which makes a left on 53rd St and stops.

I’m basically a good samaritan and felt bad for the bus driver. He did nothing wrong, and buses are always blamed for crashes like this. And basically bus drivers are good drivers. And from the damage, it would be all to easy to blame the bus for turning into a car. But clearly the car was at fault. First for speeding. Second for almost clipping me. And third for zooming in the way of a turning bus. So I go up to the bus driver and give him my info. And then I wait 20 minutes for his boss to come. And I tell her what I saw and how it was the car's fault.

And the police come. And don’t even want my info. The bus supervisor questions this and she (the cop) says, “It doesn’t matter because it was an accident. Nobody is at fault.”

Now I understand it’s unusual to write a ticket for something you don't see. And I understand the temptation to be a lazy cop (I am a former police officer, after all). But somebody was at fault. The car. And based on the facts and my account, she could have cited him for something. Just as you cite a drunk driver after a crash. The least she should do is take my information in case it’s needed later, like, say by the MTA or insurance company.

But what bothered me most is that instead of the bus hitting the car, the car could have hit me. And if he had killed me, the cop would have done the same thing. No ticket. No fault. Another bike fatality stat for “bicyclist crossing into a vehicle path.”

If, God forbid, I should die in a bike crash, please remember it wasn’t my fault. Or even if it partially my fault, like running a red light, please remember that it wouldn’t have happened if the driver wasn’t speeding.

Two fewer blocks of bike path

The 37th St. entrance to the East Side “bike path” is closed indefinitely. Supposedly for “structural reasons.” I don’t believe them. I think they closed it because homeless people were camped there. Next entrance is 35th St.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Bike Polo

Also in the Times, there's a good video about bicycle polo.

Registration probably required.

And of course there are good 1st-hand accounts on Bike Blog. How come his friends are cooler than mine? And I think my friends are pretty cool.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Fixed Gears in the Times

It’s not a bad article. Actually, once you get past the part that implies fixed-gears can't stop because they don't have brakes, it’s surprisingly good. But I can imagine writers convincing editors about their story about these crazy people that ride bikes… get this… Without Brakes(!). FYI, my fixed gear has fenders and front brakes.
Live to bike another day, I say.

The article implies that you have to buy an expensive fixed gear. Not true. One of the reasons to ride a fixed gear is that you can take almost any old frame (like the one abandoned on a fence because somebody stole part of it), and put a fixed cog on it and a new chain and you’ve got yourself a bike for almost nothing. It wasn’t that long ago that you couldn’t buy a fixed gear. These bikes were the intro course into bike building, the cheapest way to assemble a bike from parts. Part of what made a fixed-gear culture possible was that every one was hand built, usually by the person riding it.

They were also, as long as most people couldn't ride them, short-term theft proof (great for messengers). Anybody trying to ride away would quickly get thrown off.

So now can we put a moratorium on articles in the main-stream press about fixed-gears? I think the topic has been well covered. Sometimes a bike is just a bike. And there really are lot of other things to write about in the urban bike world.

Unstoppable

New York Times
April 29, 2007
By JOCKO WEYLAND

WHEN is a bicycle not like other bicycles? To begin with, when it has no brakes, or at least no visible brakes, or possibly just a front brake. That means you can’t ride this bike very well on your first try, and certainly not very gracefully, easily or safely.

The rear cog is bolted directly to the hub, so that whenever the vehicle is in motion, the pedals go around, making coasting impossible. This bike doesn’t have a shift lever or extra sprockets, and the chain is shorter and wider than on traditional bikes.

There are no fenders, and the rear wheels are probably bolted onto the frame to deter theft. You slow down by reversing the pedals, or skidding, or doing a skip stop. And that’s just the beginning of the differences between your run-of-the-mill 10-speed and a track bike, or fixed-gear bike — fixie for short — as it is also known.

Many fixed-gear adherents contend that their bikes are the ultimate and all others are pretenders. And these fixed-gear zealots are a growing presence on the streets of New York. Perceived by some as nuisances, or as troublesome, anarchist Dumpster-diving punks who happen to ride bikes, they are occasionally reviled, but they are also the subject of curiosity and interest. Just as die-hard skateboarders 15 years ago stood on the cusp of providing a new lifestyle, so the fixed-gear bike culture could be the tip of something that nobody can accurately predict but something that is huge.

Riders of fixed-gear bikes are as diverse as bike riders in general. Messengers are big fixie aficionados, but more and more fixed-gear bikes are being ridden by nonmessengers, most conspicuously the kind of younger people to whom the term “hipster” applies and who emanate from certain neighborhoods in Brooklyn. You see these riders weaving in and out of traffic without stopping, balancing on the pedals at a stoplight and in the process infuriating pedestrians and drivers alike.

In Williamsburg and points south of Grand Street, these bikes are legion. But they are fast gaining popularity, not just in those bastions of trend followers, and not just among 22-year-olds. Fixed-gear bikes are being ridden all over New York, by messengers, racers, lawyers, accountants and college professors — a diverse and not necessarily youthful cross section of the city’s population. They’re being ridden by people who work in sandwich shops and don’t know or care about gear ratios and bike history, and by people who have been racing these bikes for years in places like the Kissena Velodrome in Flushing, Queens, with its banked, elliptical track. They’re ridden by militant vegans who are virtual encyclopedias of arcane bicycle history, by thrill-seeking members of renegade bike gangs like Black Label, by shopgirls, street racers, Critical Mass riders, your aunt.

There’s also the phenomenon of city riders returning to fixed-gear biking’s roots and getting back to the track, entering races like the Cyclehawk Velo City Tour, to be held at the Kissena Velodrome on May 6.

These disparate riders represent a rainbow coalition, a movement that’s about bikes as part of a way of life, as an identity. Although fixed-gear bikes can be seen as a trendy accessory, they also allow a mild form of rebellion against what many of these bike riders see as a wasteful and insipid way of life. Fixed-gear riders embrace the contrary notion of taking a different route.

“We own the streets,” the spray-painted stencil reads. Not really, but fixed-gear riders are, in a benign way, promoting an alternative to accepted norms.

Anarchy in Motion

So what’s the big deal? It’s just a bike, right? On some level, yes. Two wheels, a chain, a cog, a seat and handlebars. But in the way that one of Marcel Breuer’s vintage Wassily chairs is just a chair that costs $10,000, the top fixed-gear bikes are just custom-made bikes that cost 10 times as much as a regular factory-made bicycle. The pinnacle of two-wheeled transport, they are beautiful objects with simple, clean, stripped-down lines that make them look fast even when they’re standing still.

“They’re the prettiest bikes out there,” said Gina Scardino, owner of King Kog, a store on Hope Street in Williamsburg that sells only fixed-gear bikes. Indeed they are, with a modernist blending of form and function and a look that matches what they’re made for, which is going really fast on a banked velodrome track.

But the question arises: Especially in this city, isn’t it insane to ride a bike that you can’t easily stop? By riding a bike that’s meant to be raced around a special track on the chaotic streets of New York, aren’t you risking life and limb?

It doesn’t make sense. But that may be the appeal, and has been ever since the bikes appeared on the scene more than a century ago.

Fixed-gear bikes have a rich past. Before the invention of the derailleur, the device that made multiple gears a reality, fixed-gears were the racing bike. The original Madison Square Garden, built in 1879 at 26th Street and Madison Avenue, was built for a velodrome. Races testing speed and endurance drew huge crowds, with the top riders among the sports stars of their day.

The bike races at Madison Square Garden were all the rage around the turn of the last century. A velodrome circuit flourished around the country, with the best racers earning $100,000 to $150,000 a year at a time when carpenters were lucky to make $5,000. And all this was happening on the forerunners of the bikes being ridden today.

Johnny Coast’s Coast Cycles sits at the end of a desolate cul-de-sac in the heart of Bushwick, Brooklyn, near the Myrtle Avenue stop on the J, M and Z lines. Mr. Coast, a 31-year-old with dreadlocks down to the small of his back, is a former squatter and current member of Black Label.

Coast Cycles is not your typical bike store stocked with rows of three-speeds and road bikes, along with locks, water bottles and other doodads. It is an old-fashioned, one-person workshop where chickens wander in from the yard. Here, Mr. Coast builds two or three custom-framed bicycles a month, most of them fixed-gears, “tailored to suit a body’s dimensions, to an individual’s geometry and affording the maximum of comfort, design and style,” as he put it in an e-mail message.

Mr. Coast, who works surrounded by Bridgeport lathes, jigs and blueprints, is a believer in fixies as a metaphorical extension of a squatters’ lifestyle that connotes, as he puts it, “living a certain way, subsisting on recycling, not wasting, finding liberation, freedom as a revolutionary act, like in a Hakim Bey sense, primitivist, spiritualist anarchism.”

He laughs at the absurdity of a brand like Mountain Dew approaching Black Label with an offer of sponsorship, as he says happened last year, and is wary of exploitation of the fixed-gear bike culture by corporations that have little to do with biking. “I saw what happened to skateboarding and surfing and punk,” Mr. Coast said grimly.

Look, Ma, No Brakes

The dangers of a small world getting bigger were vividly illustrated a few months ago when a hipster wearing square-frame glasses wandered into King Kog. The store, which sells fixed-gear bikes starting around $800 and going up to the thousands, also carries Jason Chaste’s Fortynine Sixteen clothing line, named for a gear ratio, and high-end parts like Sugino cranks, Izumi chains, and Dura-Ace and Ciocc frames.

“Um, I’m looking for a track bike,” the visitor said.

“What’s your price range?” Ms. Scardino asked.

“Three hundred dollars,” the visitor replied.

“Hmmm, you might want to try Craigslist or eBay,” she suggested gently.

When Ms. Scardino asked the visitor how he planned to use the bike, he answered, “I’m just going to be cruising around.”

You got the sense that this wasn’t the place for him, but also that he might come back one day. As he put it when he left: “I like your shop. It’s neat.”

At Bike Kill, an annual racing event sponsored by Black Label and held in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, nobody seemed worried about the issue of fixed-gear biking becoming too popular; everybody was having too much fun.

Vehicles used in the event, held on a blustery autumn day near the Samuel C. Barnes Elementary School, included tall bikes (two frames on top of each other with a seat about six feet off the ground), bikes with metal rollers as front wheels, tiny bikes and BMX bikes (little single-gear bikes used for tricks) and, of course, fixed-gear bikes.

Stopping on a Prayer

Mr. Coast was there, along with members of Black Label’s Minneapolis and Reno, Nev., chapters and members of other biker groups like C.H.U.N.K. 666, which has footholds in Brooklyn and Portland, Ore.; the Rat Patrol, from Chicago; Dead Baby, from Seattle; and the Skidmarxxx, from Austin, Tex. A lot of unwashed dreads, denim, leather and facial tattoos were in evidence, along with a carnivalesque assortment of voodoo top hats, orange jumpsuits, bunny ears, Mexican wrestling masks and a Pee-wee Herman doppelgänger waving from his Schwinn cruiser.

There were copious drinking, including a contest to see who could ride around in a circle while drinking a six-pack fastest, and the “Blind Skull” event, in which riders wearing big foam skulls over their heads pedaled until they fell over or ran into somebody.

Toward 8 p.m. the drunken tall-bike jousting began, with knights of both sexes armed with padded plastic “spears.” The only dissonant note occurred when a cassock-wearing interloper on Rollerblades with a motor attached was expelled by a Black Label member. “Get your motor out of here!” the biker yelled.

That’s the cardinal rule. No motors. For environmental reasons. Or practical ones, recalling the West Indian messengers who pioneered urban fixed-gear riding in the 1980s, bringing their ingenuity to New York from the islands, where bikes that didn’t have much of anything on them to steal were a decided advantage.

But pinning down what constitutes the fixed-gear movement gets complicated. After all, what does the insanity of Bike Kill have to do with someone like “Fast” Eddie Williams, who runs the bicycle-themed Nayako Gallery in Bedford-Stuyvesant, has published a book of photographs of messengers and competes in Alley Cat and Monster Track street races?

Mr. Williams’s scene is the messenger scene, in which he has been a participant since the early 1980s, when he first encountered the West Indian messengers hanging out at Washington Square Park. “I saw them riding,” he said. “I liked how they maneuvered, stopped at a red light and didn’t step down. And I thought, ‘How do they do that?’ ”

Mr. Williams got a Matsuri, a fast fixed-gear bike, and started working as a messenger. Twenty-five years later, he’s still at it, looking incredibly fit and younger than his 43 years. “Track bikes are not made for street,” he conceded, “and sometimes I need a hope and a prayer to stop short.” But he rhapsodized about their charms. “It’s like playing chess,” he said. “You think out your moves from a block away.”

John Campo, the salty-tongued director of the racing program at the Kissena Velodrome, is another fixie aficionado. As with Mr. Williams, the fixed-gear lifestyle seems to be a healthy one; Mr. Campo looks at least 15 years younger than his 60. Biking isn’t his profession — he’s a jazz musician who has played with Miles Davis, among others — but it is undeniably his passion.

Mr. Campo missed out on the glory days of the Kissena Velodrome, but he tells tales about the father of Vinny Vella, the actor who plays Jimmy Petrille on “The Sopranos,” racing at Madison Square Garden to win enough money to buy a scale for the pushcart he sold fish from, then earning enough to open a fish store on Elizabeth Street. Mr. Campo remembers all the Polish, German and Italian bike clubs, and he remembers Lou Maltese, a member of the Century Road Club who held many cycling records, including the 100-mile national record in a race from Union City, N.J., to Philadelphia.

‘A Zen Thing’

Far from worrying about fixed-gear bikes getting too popular, Mr. Campo yearns for them to return to the their prominence of a century ago, and he welcomes street riders to Kissena. “These kids are lovely,” he said. “They come; they win, lose or draw; they have a great time. This is an American spirit thing, to be free, to do what you want to do and express yourself in your own medium, like surfing or skating.”

Surfing and skating are mentioned a lot in relation to fixed-gear bikes. Something about these activities prefigures much of what is going on today in the bike community. Surfing 50 years ago and skating 25 years ago were small, below-the-radar pursuits with their own rituals and secret codes and vernacular. Now they’re billion-dollar industries, popular the world over. And in the opinion of many aficionados, a little bit of soul was lost along the way.

Bicycling is obviously different; there are more bikes than cars in the world, and bikes have a longer popular history, not to mention the fact that fixed-gear bikes predate “regular” bikes. But something about the trajectories of surfing and skating from unexamined, semi-underground secret societies to blown-out cheesy “sports” could forecast the future of the fixed-gear bike.

Surfing and skating retained some of their rebelliousness, in part because of the varied, unpredictable demographic of who is involved: 5-year-olds and 80-year-olds of both sexes, doctors and garbage collectors, law-abiding citizens and criminals. That makes the skating or surfing “movement” hard to locate exactly, just like the amorphous bike movement.

Johnny Coast. Gina Scardino. Fast Eddie. John Campo. The menagerie at Bike Kill. It’s a broad swath. The group also includes people like Toni Germanotta, a 42-year-old owner of an art studio that serves the apparel industry. “When you’re on a fixed gear,” said Ms. Germanotta, who works in the garment district, “it gives you a higher skill level. You have to be constantly aware, always watching the road. You don’t just ride, and it feels a little crazy.”

And it includes Kyle Fay, a designer for Urban Outfitters who is a relatively new convert. “You take the blame if you get hit,” he said. “It’s self-reliance, being responsible for yourself. It might sound kind of corny, but it’s a Zen thing, being one with the bike.”

And it includes Alex Escamilla, a 23-year-old book artist from Fort Greene, Brooklyn.

“I had a couple of friends who made fun of me for riding one because it was trendy,” Ms. Escamilla said. “But the problem with looking at bike riding as a trend is that you lose sight of everything that is positive about bikes. You know, the renewable energy source, exercise, convenience, saving money, saving time, community, seeing the city in a whole new way, blah blah blah.”

Besides, she added: “Track bikes are fun. And they’re beautiful.”

Jocko Weyland is the author of “The Answer Is Never: A Skateboarder’s History of the World.”