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
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?


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 CafĂ©!

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.