Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Vote for John

Give me a second of your time. Help out my good friend and vote for him in the Boston Phoenix poll for best bartender in Boston. Just click here and then vote for John Gertsen at No. 9 park (which John did you think I was talking about?). It only takes three quick clicks and barely a second.

And don't feel bad about voting for somebody you don't know. He loves bikes, helped get me into biking, is a nice guy, and really is the best bartender in Boston.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Bike Commuting 101?

It's easy to commute by bike. Step one: Get a bike. Step two: Ride your bike to work.

But just in case you can't follow those steps, people actually offer classes on such things. I guess it's a good thing, if it gets more people biking. Even though I can't help but think it's for losers, maybe I'm wrong. Here are the details from a T.A. email:

Bike Commuting 101

Are you interested in commuting by bike, but a bit unsure of the hows and whats? Bike New York is holding a free class on commuting. Check it out and get great tips from good people.

Sunday, February 24th
3:30-5:30 pm
Hostelling International
891 Amsterdam (at 103rd Street)

RSVP here.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Why I don't ride

Cause I feel like shit. I love New York; I can take the subway. Even if it is slower than biking.

Along with being able to read and see many more cute girls on the subway, I was wondering what to eat and thinking about the lack of food at home. Coming down the steps from the station, a Mexican woman was hawking tamales. $1 each. I got two. They were good. I never would have seen her from my bike.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Fuck the police?

Last night I was stopped by police. It was about 1AM and I was coming back from Manhattan heading to a bar on 21st St. I needed to buy some groceries and passed the Trade Fair on 36th Ave. I went up on the sidewalk to look inside, trying to decide whether it was worth my while to buy some groceries in this unfamiliar Trade Fair or wait for my familiar 30th Ave branch.

I was stopped in front of the store, having just deciding that it was better to get beer first and then go to the store I know when po-po pulls up next to me. The passenger side window rolls down and a man asks me, “Do you have ID?” “Sure,” I say almost happily. Given my history and professional interests, I actually kind of like being harassed by police. I’m good at talking to cops. Don’t play dumb. Don’t lie. Don't act pissed off (even if you are). Don’t say, “don’t you have anything better to do?!”

Does he think I’m looking for drugs in the projects across the street? Does he think my balaclava means I’m going to rob the store? Or is he just going to bust me for being on the sidewalk or not having a bell? I give him my work ID.

He looks at my ID for a moment and says, “We stopped you for riding on the sidewalk. You know that’s not allowed?” It was 20 degrees out. At 1AM. In Queens. But I put on my sheepish face. “Yeah, I know it’s not allowed. But I just wanted to look in this store and figured you wouldn’t care because it’s ten below out. I’m sorry.” My tone was nice, conversational, even respectful. We actually exchanged some pleasantries and then they left. I continued to break bike laws all the way home.

Vegetables! Get yer squash here!

I like this art across from the Plaza Hotel (N.E. corner of Central Park).
It makes me think wistfully of Baltimore and this pictures:

I miss Baltimore’s wonderful and fading tradition of 'Arabbers' (pronounced A-rabbers). I like a city where you can still buy produce from hard working men and horse-drawn carts.

Bike, damnit, bike!

Why weren't you biking yesterday?

I was biking to work and couldn't help but notice that it was pretty much just me and the delivery men on two wheels (tip them big, please, so they can buy hats and scarves). I was looking at all the cars and pedestrians thinking, they probably think I'm a badass for biking in 20 degree weather. Actually they just think I'm stupid. But then I thought maybe I am a badass for biking in 20 degree weather. But I'm not.

I've posted before about how biking in cold isn't a big deal. Really. And only losers post about what to wear. So I won't. But I will say you never have to be cold while biking. Especially if you bike fast. The only thing that is worth repeating is that glasses are a problem. They get fogged up when you cover your face. I don't have contacts. I just bike a little slower when I can't see. And don't wear cotton next to your skin if you sweat a lot, like I do.

I was recently in California visiting my parents. A friend of my mom volunteers at the Getty Center. She said it has been tough lately because with the temperature in the 50s, her feet were cold. My mom, being of hearty Teutonic stock, asked her if she's tried wool socks. That struck me as the dumbest, most obvious, bordering on rude suggestion I could think of. Of course she's tried wool socks... her feet are cold! Except she hadn't. It never occurred to her. Such is why the people of Southern California will not survive any coming apocalypse. She said she’d give that a try. I couldn’t believe it! Your feet are cold and you never thought to put on warm socks?

So, badass or not, I was biking to work and looking at all these New Yorkers walking around with bare heads in the cold. I was feeling very sorry for them. Then it struck me: Maybe it’s never occurred to them. Dress warmer!

If you’re not a slave to fashion (and believe me, I’m not), being cold is a choice. I hate being cold. It’s really got very little to do with actual temperature. I grew up in Chicago and lived in Boston. Both places are colder than New York. I wasn’t cold. I worked midnights as a cop in Baltimore. It can get cold there. And when you work the midnight shift, you always look at the low temperature, because that’s what it’s going to be. The only times in my life I was painfully fucking freezing cold were in Athens, Greece and on the Nile in Egypt. Ironic, no?

So I don’t want to insult any of you, but maybe you need this simple lesson: Cold? Wear a hat and long underwear. Feet cold? Put on a second pair of socks. Feet still cold, get thicker socks? Then put on a third pair. Really. You just keep piling on shit till you’re warm. It’s not hard. It works.

Think about it. There’s recreation on cold snowy mountains. People work outside in Canada. You can always be warm. And once you are, bike, damnit, bike!

Friday, February 08, 2008

Something for nothing

Astoria Bike doesn't pay the rent (or anything else, for that matter). But you buying my book does. Now you can read the first chapter for free. It's just a ploy to get you to buy the damn thing. But in the meantime you are getting something for nothing.

Here's my plan: you read chapter one and the first page of chapter two (I left that page in just as a teaser. Clever, no?), you love it, you need more, you buy it, and you buy another copy to give to your literate friends to review favorably in influential publications. Anybody who knows talk-show hosts or Oprah personally should contact me as soon as possible.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The death of Sheldon Brown

I was reading P. Lynn Miller's blog and learned of the recent death of Sheldon Brown. He's had a rough year or so.

Sheldon did more for the biking world, especially the web biking world, than anybody. Like many, I learned a lot about bikes and fixing bikes from his website. In terms of specific influences, he was perhaps third only to my parents and Amsterdam. And I never even met the guy. His bike store was too far away in the burbs when I lived in Cambridge, Mass. I emailed him a few time (who hasn't?), I've ordered things from Harris Cycles, but it's the knowledge on his website that will live on. It's comprehensive. If you have a question, any question, odds are you can find an answer. And it's all written with his love for life and bikes.
Rest in peace.

Why I bike! (or) It pays to vote!

It's kind of raining and nasty out and ringing my new bell for no particular reason as I ride home from voting and the hardware store and a lunch of Mexican hangover-helping deep-fried flautas. I love you, Hidalgo (though checking the spelling on google, I discover that you're no longer called Hidalgo. But I still love you, Original Mexican Food Deli, even if that doesn't have the same ring to it)!

I voted for Obama (but also pulled the lever for Clinton rep David Dinkens because he's a right honorable gentleman). I was disturbed to find more than a few registered Republicans living on my block.

On the wet street under the train tracks, I see what looks like money. My first thought is that's it probably some one of those "$1,000,000" bills and homey don't fall for that trick. My smarter second thought is, no, it's probably money.

It is. Wet run-over money. I greedily scoop up bill after bill of slimy cash. I think I have them all when another bike approaches, stops, and in an Eastern Europeans accent, grabs one a few feet away that I missed and says, "this one's mine."

"Fair enough!"

I bike the last block home with adrenaline is coursing through my veins. Before I lock my bike, I count my loot--four 20s and two 10s--$100!

Monday, February 04, 2008

Bike Sydney

Sydney, city of beachesand beach cricketand the view from our friend's apartment.

We were warned that when it comes to bikes, Sydney is no Melbourne. "Bollocks," exlaimed P. Lynn Miller of CTA fame (Chainlink Transit Authority). Or he said something like that in an accent that perhaps could only come from an Australian immigrant originally from a Mennonite family in Pennsylvania. (Our apologies, Lynn. But by the end of the day, we seemed to have taken years off your Aussie accent.) Lynn came to our biking rescue!

I know Lynn, whom I had never met before, through this blog. We got in touch over 650B wheels. Or some bike trailer. We don’t remember who even wrote whom. In Australia, I wrote him when I remembered, "I do have a bike connection in Australia!"

Very generously, Lynn offered to pick us up, give us bikes, and take us around the city. Uh... OK. Thanks. It probably worked to our advantage that his wife and four kids were away for the week!

Here's an exclusive photo of the inner workings of CTA headquarters:

He delivered. As champion wheel builder and Aussie importer of Phil Wood hubs, he has some nice bikes. Most sport mixte frames, and they all have 650B wheels with fenders and, or course, Phil Wood hubs.

Lynn's got some deal worked out with the bulk item garbage pickup. It results in him getting tons of great Peugeot mixte frames. I swooned. Even though later I declined to take one home with me. French frames, despite making perhaps the ideal city bike, have their own standard for thread size. I'm scared to go there. But who else but the French makes beautiful mixte frames?

Lynn's a rebel and proudly flaunts the repressive helmet law! Rock on! Did I mention the weather was shitty? But the ride was great. It's definitely a good city to have a guide. There's no grid. And while it's not particularly bike friendly, if you know the back streets, you can avoid traffic very well. You also get major props from your local friends who don't realize how quick and easy it is to bike from one side of the city to another.

View from the Anzac bridge:
You see the word Anzac a lot down there. It stands for Australia and New Zealand Artillery Command, or something like that. It's also a tasty cookie. [Thanks to Tom for setting me straight in a comment about a few things. Not the least of which is that Anzac is the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.]

Coat hanger bike rack:

This is the most useful bike rack of all. Because you can attach it to any and all of the city's streetlights.
New York, take notice! I go blue in the face saying it, but we need more on-street bike parking. This is the answer.

Hiding from the rain (though that proved to be futile), we got coffee from a great coffee stand and I chatted with some messengers between runs (they know where the good coffee is). Of course, they all knew Lynn because Lynn builds bikes. I forget this guy's name (sorry), but I loved his "Stemnosaurus Rex" mascot!
The ride was outstanding. Afterward, Lynn gave us some dry clothes and we put our wet wearings into the dryer. “Want to go to pub for a $5 steak?” Lynn proposed. Absolutely. Wearing our ill-fitting shorts and t-shirts, we fit right into the pub dress code. When you hear pub, don't think cozy Irish pubs. These are brightly lit places with many rooms, one for "families," another for gambling machines, a third for off track betting, and a small kitchen with a cafeteria line. It turns out the “$5 steaks” actually cost $6 but taste like they’re $50 steaks. Grass-fed, thick, and perfectly cooked. Evidentially, good food is supported by the gambling proceeds. Everybody wins!

And I got to watch cricket. This is a sport I’ve always expected to like because people criticize it for the same reasons they criticize baseball, which I love. India was in the country for a test match. I was reading all about the controversy without understanding anything about the game. I was still struggling with the rules because my cricket fan friends never seem to understand how a few foreign terms can doom the whole process. Maybe it takes a Yank to teach a Yank, but I feel confident and I’m ready for my next test. Or maybe I’ll join the next sidewalk cricket game I see in Astoria.

Thanks, Lynn! Till we meet again...

Bike Brisbane

Actually, we never made it to Brisbane. We were visiting friends in the suburb of Sandgate. But Bike Sandgate has less of a ring to it than Bike Brisbane. Our friends are nice eco-friendly people with a chicken coop in the backyard. Amazingly, this was second place we stayed with a chicken coop. My wife likes chicken coops. And we both like fresh eggs! Still, I still don't see us getting a coop here in Astoria.

We got on our bikes (ours supplied by some of their family who live nearby). 5-year-old Sofia jumped on the trailer bike hitched to her father's bike. I love that those things give the kid the option to actually peddle and contribute. Even if the help is more psychological than substantial. The sun is brutal there, even in tropical Queensland. Even without the helmet law, headcover is extensive.

This sign makes me think many things. Of course there's the almost obligatory and ignored dismount sign. But the top part? I like to think it's a warning to hold on tight so you don't go flying off on the bumbs! (Actually, it means means pedestrians have right of way over bikes.)

Typical old houses with lots of wood slates:

Bats hanging in trees:

Interesting devices to keep all but the skinniest cars off of bike paths:

I can't decide if it's more or less elegant than simple poles in the road.

And a bike rack of a design I had never seen. At the Sandgate train station:

We spotted this bike with a nice homemade trailer.
The designer and builder was very happy to show it off. There are only five of these brackets in the world, he proudly told us.
The width of the trailer was exactly the same width as his handlebars. Clever. Did I mention he was odd and smelled pretty bad?

Conclusion: Sandgate is built for cars. Despite lots of rain, bikes don't have fenders. But there's a pretty good bike network if you're odd and into that kind of thing. I am.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Pimp My Bike

I just picked up one of my bikes from Astoria’s best bike store, Bicycle Repairman Corp. (Did I mention there’s a different new bike store in Queens Plaza right by the entrance to the bridge? It’s more sales than repairs, but you can’t beat the location. I’m sticking with Bike Repairman, but hopefully Astoria can support them all). I hadn’t seen master mechanic Andrés in a while. I’ve been busy and my bikes have been rolling just fine.

I brought in my “clunker” bike because I needed about 5 things done to it and was too lazy (taking off the rear wheel to replace the tube is such a pain in the ass because it’s so accessorized up with fender and rack and coaster break).

I also wanted the rear rack improved or replaced because I put a lot of weight on it and when the saddlebags are loaded, it’s been pushing the fender into the wheel for ages now. I don’t like that.

I like Andrés because while anybody can install something new, he finds solutions to problems. For the rack, his solution was to install a long screw with some spacers for the main rack support. The spacers keep some distance between the rack supports and the fender stays. So even when the rack moves side to side because it’s supporting a lot of weight (like, say, my wife—not that she weighs a lot, but anyway, like I was saying...) it won’t push the fender.

With my wife as his witness, he swears the screw will support the weight of her just fine. (Not that anybody recommends riding people on the bike of your bike, of course... even though it’s fun, romantic, convenient, and everybody in Amsterdam does it. And you should always do what everybody in Amsterdam does!)

And then I have these Egyptian bike bells. In Cairo, you often see men like this:riding bikes like this: One hand on bread, the other on bike. It’s great for your posture. While some may note the absurdity of men swerving through dirty traffic on bikes with huge trays of bread on their head... I thought, “hmmmm, I wonder how that bell sound is made?” I had never heard anything like it. Constant, like a rotating bell, but with a steady sound, clearly not thumb activated.

They only really have one free hand, so it’s either brake or bell. And their brakes suck (just poorly working Chinese hand-operated rod- or bar-and-lever-style brakes). But they have great bells. I imagine they drop their bread more often than they’d like. Or you want to think about while eating your falafel.

You can actually see the bell (barely) on the front wheel of the above pic, the one of the bike not being ridden. Bringringringringringringringring is the sound of wholesale bread being delivered to feed all the happy Cairenes! All 17 million of them.

As I wrote in an early post:
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. On the release, the clapper whacks against the bell, making a glorious sound as long as the bike keeps moving.

We tried like hell to find one in Cairo when we were there. We were sent from one bike store to another, from one side of town to the other. After dozens of attempts and bikes stores (hey, there are worse things to do in Cairo than explore every bike store), a man said, “Yes, I do carry them... but I’m out of stock. But they’re in a truck and, enshallah, may be here before you leave tomorrow.” Well, God wasn’t willing because they weren’t.

But our wonderful friends went back later, bought some, and mailed us five!

So I’ve been sitting on these precious bells for a while.

I went to pick up my bike and Andrés said, “We’ve been waiting for you. We can’t figure out how to install it!” I secretly pleased I had baffled the best, I tried to figure it out. The bell was wired and the lever was on and the bell was sort of mounted. But they couldn’t figure out how to get it to work. I wasn’t exactly sure either, but it least I had seen one before. As it turns out, the bell has to be installed more toward the rim (away from the hub) so that the spoke hits the clapper in the right direction. And then the clapper has to be positioned just so.

Handsome bell! Their final touch with putting the presta valva cap on the screw sticking out! Nice.

In the relaxed position, the spring pushes the clapper out away from the wheel: The clapper is on a flexible spring like thing, so as the spoke passes, the clapper springs back into the bell. Think of the little red arrow thing on the Price Is Right big wheel.

When you pull the break lever, the clapper moves into the spokes of the front wheel like this:Ingenious, clever, a great invention already almost lost to time. As long as the wheel turns... it’s very loud! It’s also the coolest bell ever.

I also had my Syrian hand-made beaded handlebar grips and cable housing snake put on. I’ve never figured a good way to put handlebar grips on tight and still be able to actually put them on. Anyway, they did it good and didn’t even seem to understand my problem when I asked them how they did it. I know you use electrical tape to keep them from sliding... but then how the hell do you slip the grips on?

I have the only Syrian beaded handlebar grips in America and a monopoly on the illegal Syrian import business. But for you, my friend, special price! My bike is officially pimped.

Just jump in front of me, pedestriancrossingagainstthelightmotherfucker [BRINGRINGRINGRINGRINGRINGRINGRING] I dare you!