Monday, March 31, 2008

Peter Vallone Jr. Sucks

He voted against Congestion Pricing!

He's Astoria's Representative in City Council. In other words, he's my Alderman (I know we don't call them that here, but that's the Chicago in me. "Council member" has no Clout).

Astoria Bike officially supports whoever runs against him. [Note: due to term limits, he won't be running again... but that's not really the point.] This isn't just about congestion pricing, but a big part of it is.

Vallone Jr., despite being born and raised in Astoria, or so he claims, has a long history of working against everything that makes Astoria great. Among other things, Peter Vallone Jr.:

1) Voted against congestion pricing.

2) Tried to shut down Astoria's live poultry businesses (actually, I think that was Peter Vallone Sr., but as long as Junior does nothing good, I'm going to hold Senior's shitty leadership against Junior as well).

3) After the smoking ban was passed, said he didn't know there were Egyptian tobacco-smoking waterpipe cafes on Steinway St. Uh, really?

I don't know what's worse, not supporting the businesses and culture of your district or not knowing about the businesses and culture of your district.

What a loser.

The "need" for a car

"I need a car," a friend of mine declared a few days ago. I hate hearing this shit. If you live in New York City, you don't "need" a car.

I'm not a live-off-the-land kind of guy. I like living in urban civilization and paying taxes to support quality of life. I think we need many things beyond just food and shelter. We need schools and police and fire protection. We need health care. We need transportation. We even need art. But we don't need cars.

My friend has three small kids and lives in one of "those" parts of Brooklyn. Now I don't have have any kids, so what do I know? But I see plenty of mothers with kids on the subway. Granted, the mothers often look tired, but they're there. You don't need a car, you want a car.

She can afford a car and bought one. But here's the problem. Her car makes my life worse. Through pollution, through accidents, through parking, through car alarms, through a car simply being and taking up space in a city with little space, cars are bad.

We should have wider sidewalks that fit yuppie strollers. There should be spaces on subways for strollers (and wheelchairs... and bikes). We need to make the city friendly for all people. We need to tell people that they don't need a car. And we need to charge them if they selfishly want a car.

This all started as a discussion about congestion pricing. My friend, in her defense, is pro-bike and pro-congestion pricing. But I still don't want her to have a car. I subsidize her large car through road maintenance, snow clearing, traffic police, curb cuts for driveways, and parking.

Having a car in New York City is not a simple choice you have a right to any more than me running a tannery in my backyard or me keeping neighbors awake at night by blasting a stereo is a choice I have a right to make.

Funded benefits to car owners is wrong. If we charged market rent values for public parking and zoned in ways that didn't encourage parking and car ownership (and even make it a necessity for most Americans), I wouldn't be so opposed to cars.

Why not rent parking space to vendors? I'd love to plop shipping containers on parking spaces and rent them out as offices or workshops or meditation centers or pay-by-the-hour hotels. Anything. I'd love to give parking spaces to trees and benches. I'd love to give parking spaces to anything but parked cars. I want parked cars to pay.

If rich people can afford a car, fine. Hey, rich people live better than you or me. I don't have a problem with that. I just don't want car subsidized by the taxpayer. Car owners need pay the full societal cost of having a car... and then some. Congestion pricing is a start.

Friday, March 28, 2008

A tri-borough improvement!

The Triborough bridge just got better! Much better. Like so many blog writers, I bitch a lot. But then there's a lot about which to bitch when biking in NYC. So it's great to see something better (especially just days after I complained that nothing was better).

I was riding to West End Ave and 94th St today. For variety, I decided to take the sketchy Triborough Bridge. I thought it might be shorter (it is, by a half mile, but wasn't any faster). But I like variety. I even like sketchy. Plus the view from the top of the Triborough, above traffic, without a chainlink fence, looking down at the beautiful and under-appreciated Hell Gate Bridge (did you know the Sydney Harbor Bridge is modeled after our very own Hell Gate Bridge?), it can't be beat. And dag, it's a long way down.

Even leaving aside the outpatients, I've written about the problems of this bridge before, but now there's something new. It's a huge project and a huge improvement: A nice new exit ramp from the Astoria to Wards Island part. This means the worst part of the ride--the nasty next to highway traffic mile--is gone!

Meanwhile there's still a lot of surface construction, so if anything right now the ride is worse than ever. But one day the construction will be done and it will be great.

Sort of. There's still no real signage actually telling a rider how to get from one part of the bridge to another. The Triborough is actually three bridges, and on bike, you go up and down all of them. And it's not easy to figure out how to get to them. So I've made a map. I hope this helps somebody. The more bikes that ride over this bridge, the better for all bikes. And, oh yeah, technically riding your bike over this bridge is prohibited. What a city...

You can zoom on these. The green is the new ramp! The blue is the bad part that doesn't exist anymore. The white line is the ground-level connection between the Queens bridge and the Harlem bridge.

Finding the Manhattan/Harlem/125th Street connection (it actually drops you off on 126th St, but whatever) is tough. Coming from Queens and following the white line, make a left into what looks like the access road to a municipal parking lot. Turn before the green garbage trucks. Then look left for the ramp under the bridge. One you find it, there is actually a sign.
(click on picture to zoom.)

Last time I checked, you can also ride on the south side of the Randall Island to Harlem bridge. But I don't see any advantage. And last time I did, there was a small homeless encampment on the south side. Not really biker friendly.

Also, you may be tempted, but you can't get through the golf course on the west side of the triborough.

There is also a pedestrian bridge on the southwest corner of Ward Island to East Harmlem (El Barrio). I've never been over it because it's up most of the time. It connects to the projects (East River Homes) at what would be E 103rd St.

More uplifting moments from today's ride: how damn beautiful so many Harlem brownstones are. Biking through Central Park (with one eye on sexy joggers). I love New York!

2010 Update: You can still bike over the bridge. After a long period of construction, things are a bit better, but there are still steps, about three flights. If you can't carry your bike up and down steps you need to go down to 59th St. And the Triborough has been renamed the RFK Bridge. Both terms are currently in use. 2014 Update: The footbridge to Manhattan is now open all the time. It's quite a shortcut and goes to some public housing at what would be 103rd St in Manhattan (But 103 Street doesn't go through, use 102 or 105 Street.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

A man, a plan, 2 speeds!

My plan is unfix my fixed gear, put on slightly smaller (650B) wheels, and coast with joy down the Queensboro bridge. I've got nothing against fixed gears. I've had this bike for almost 10 years. A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.

Today on ebay I purchased a Bendix coaster brake 2-speed kickback hub. At least from the pictures and description, the man did a great job cleaning and rebuilding these hubs. That's even better than "new in box" because even "brand new" isn't good for 40-year-old grease.

A kickback hub is a rare bird. It has two speeds. You shift, get this, by braking! Crazy. Every time you brake, you shift. Not ideal. But I've ridden one in Amsterdam and it's surprisingly not a pain. The advantage, of course, is no cables and no external shifting parts. These hubs were made on the early 1960s for Schwinn. Sachs also made some from folding bikes (those are even rarer).

There are two speeds: low and high. On the red and yellow bands, the high is the natural speed and the low is geared down. There's also a blue band where the low is the natural gear and the high is geared up. I wanted the high-speed to be more efficient because that will be used more. The difference between red and yellow band is in the type of coaster brake. I don't know anything about coaster brakes, so I went with the yellow band because it's the later (and hopefully improved) design.

The new hub will necessitate a new chainring. My current fixed hub has 16 teeth. This one has 18 teeth. That means the new hub will be as if in a lower gear. If anything, I'd like the higher speed a slightly higher gear. This means my current 46-tooth chainring will need to get uped to maybe 54 teeth.

Also for this bike, the Screamin' Salmon, I got my new peddles in the mail today. They're flat on one side and SPD clipless on the other. I have these on my (sniff... formerly) Bianchi. That bike is currently at the shop getting a new frame. The peddles are great. To Manhattan, I usually ride with bike shoes, but it's great to have the normal shoe option. And these peddles (or at least the one I already have) are weighted so they always fall in the same direction. This way you never get the wrong side when riding. Slide forward for bike shoes, back for street shoes.

All this said, none of this is cheap. I'm spending more on bikes this month than I have in the past few years combined. But it's all cheaper than having a car. It's even cheaper (but not by much) than riding the subway. And luckily I got paid today.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Design this!

There's a competition to design a better bike rack. I'm going to win. Here's my submission: a parking meter. The resemblance to my middle finger is not an accident. The fact that it can be used for other fun non-bike related activities in only a plus.

We don't need a new bike rack. There are plenty of great bike rack designs in the world. Many are pictured on this blog. The Sydney lamppost rack is probably best (and cheapest) for NYC.

I like more racks that hold fewer bikes. Bike with lots of racks are easier to steal from. And disassembled bikes are more likely to languesh there forever. Plus there is always a lamppost around when you need one.

Just yesterday I rode to the V train on Steinway. V is for Victory (and a rush hour seat)! I noticed a new sign on the grating around the subway staircase saying locked bikes will be removed. My second thought was what a nice souvenir that would make. Alas, it's welded and not screwed on. So while I couldn't steal the sign, I did lock my bike right by the sign (it wasn't removed).

The problem, of course, is that there is nowhere to lock your bike! And now that parking meters are gone (or soon to be gone), where am I supposed to lock my bike? Sign posts aren't really safe. And most are taken by delivery bikes.

You might think that the city would actually want me to bike to the subway. So why not put bike racks by the subway stops? The perfect location is on the back (non-stair) side of the staircase is the perfect location. You can't walk through it. And it's right by the subway stop. Instead, they say no bike parking.

It got me to thinking. Since I moved to this great city in 2002, my biking experience has only gotten worse. Perhaps the city is more bike friendly now than then. That's what T.A. would have you believe. Maybe it is in parts of Brooklyn.

But not for me. Not in Astoria. There has been no improvement to my bike ride. There is no new bike lane I can take on my commute to work. There is still no way I can bike through Central park even though I go right by it. There is still no way I can bike off the Queens' side of the Queensboro bridge without going into traffic (Despite the fact there are two unused traffic lanes: one closed off and another for illegally parked cars).

In many small but important way, things are worse. In order of importance:
1) There is now less on-street bike parking.
2) There is now a gate on the Manhattan side of the Queensboro Bridge preventing access to 2nd Avenue and all points South.
3) There is now a citywide campaign of bicycle harassment that involves arrest, ticketing, and confiscation.
4) The worlds poorest designed speed bump (a lump of asphalt) have appeared on many side streets in Astoria. They make me now bike on the streets if I'm riding fast. In Amsterdam, there are bike friendly speed bumps that slow down cars and yet are actually fun to bike over.

Maybe one day things will be better. But until then, I'll just be a rebel.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Top-of-the-line coaster brake hub?

Is there such a thing as a top-of-the-line one-speed coaster brake hub? I'm thinking of (gasp) turning my fixed-gear into a free-wheel one-speed. I want a light and fast one-speed for commuting. Ideally I'd get another bike, but I think maybe I have enough. And though I have loved my fixed-gear, the Screamin' Salmon, since 1999, and though it's great going up hill, every time I go down the Queensboro bridge, I wish I could coast. That's the best part of the ride!

Plus, this would give me an excuse to build a set 650B wheels. Not only are 650Bs cool (if I say that enough, maybe I'll believe it), but they'll allow full fenders and this frame has always been just a little big for me. So an extra 1/2 inch of clearance.

The coaster brake would have two advantages: one, rain, two, I can put on an Egyptian spoke bike bell and avoid the problem of having to fix three hand brake levers. It's such a shame I now have this great bell on a bike I rarely take into Manhattan. Crossing 3rd, Lex, Madison, and Park... that's where I want to ring!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Have you seen this bike?

The New York Times is known for many good things, its fine bicycle coverage is not normally one of them.

But this article by Colin Moyniham is great.

A Blue Ross 10-Speed Isn’t Hard to Find; A Bomber Who Rode It Is
New York Times
March 15, 2008

The Ross bicycle arrived just after World War II, along with the baby boom, the modern suburb and the cul-de-sac. Millions of the bikes left the company’s New York City factories and wound up on streets all over the United States.

There were always faster and more expensive bicycles, and those with more panache, but Ross held its own as a utilitarian fixture. An influx of cheaper foreign models got the blame when Ross went out of business in 1987, leaving the company on the discard pile of nostalgia.

Now, an old Ross bike is at the center of a baffling case involving what the police believe may be a serial bomber who has caused three explosions in Midtown Manhattan since 2005. The most recent occurred on March 6, when a small homemade bomb damaged the front door of the armed forces recruiting station in Times Square.

As in the other two cases, the blast happened before sunrise, no one was hurt, and a man was seen riding from the scene on a bicycle.

The day after the Times Square attack, the police released a photograph of a bicycle, which they believe the bomber abandoned on East 38th Street. It was a blue Ross 10-speed, the bike of many childhoods.

One person posted the photograph on a Web site called Old Ten Speed Gallery, with a note saying, “The suspect not only rode a bike to commit his crime, he had the audacity to enlist the use of this good-hearted and good timing Ross 10-speed!”

Some New Yorkers who know bikes said the Ross was not the speediest model to use while fleeing a crime scene.

“That’s like hopping into a 25- or 30-year-old Pinto,” said Christopher Shibaya, a mechanic who refurbishes old bikes at the Recycle-A-Bicycle shop on Avenue C in the East Village.

But so far at least, the Ross has seemed to have provided a clean getaway in the Times Square case, and tracing the cyclist who dropped off the bomb might be difficult for investigators.

Aging but functioning bikes occupy a flourishing market niche in New York City because they are cheap and tend to be ignored by thieves. And certain riders might choose a Ross simply because it confers a degree of anonymity.

“This is the perfect bomber’s bike,” said Tom Sachs, an artist in Lower Manhattan, who has collected old 10-speeds. “Unconsidered and disposable.”

Sherwood Ross, the former owner of the Ross bicycle company, said he began making tricycles in 1946 using the name Chain Bicycle Corporation. His factory was on Kent Avenue in Williamsburg, not far from the Schaefer brewery, but around 1960, the company moved to Beach 79th Street in Queens. During its apex, Ross Bicycles Inc., as the company was renamed in 1968, made about a million bikes per year.

The factory moved to Allentown, Pa., around 1970. In the early 1980s, the company helped popularize the use of mountain bikes in urban areas, but it went bankrupt in 1987, unable to compete with cheaper bicycles mass-produced in Asia, Mr. Ross said.

The Ross name was briefly licensed by another bike company called Rand, but then it faded from the bicycle market.

The police say they are examining video from surveillance cameras. Investigators determined the bike was sold years ago in a shop north of the city that is now closed, and have spoken with the shop’s owner. They have also lifted fingerprints off the bike, but say that they have no suspects.

Given that many bikes have had several owners, its usefulness as a clue may be limited. Mr. Ross said that the company had probably made hundreds of thousands of bicycles like the one the police were examining.

One morning this week, 13 Ross bicycles were listed for sale on the New York City page of Craigslist, at prices ranging from $25 to $200. And a recent trip through the streets of the East Village, the Lower East Side, SoHo and the area around City Hall found a half-dozen blue Ross 10-speeds locked to signposts and fences.

Nowadays, Mr. Ross, 86, lives in Florida and earns a living as an expert witness, testifying in lawsuits involving bicycles.

“We’ve gotten some notoriety lately,” he said. “Our bikes have been used for many purposes. You can never control who has them.”

Al Baker contributed reporting.

My bike died yesterday...

...Or was it today. I discovered a crack in the frame of my most beloved bike. My Bianchi Alphana. A real crack. On the lug near the bottom bracket of the downtube. It goes all the way around. It's very sad.

More later.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Explosive device

What the hell is a suspicious-looking biyclist? Like we need to give the city any other reason to harrass us.

Explosive device damages Times Square armed forces recruiting police investigating

March 6, 2008

A suspicious-looking bicyclist was spotted just before an explosion rocked the Times Square military recruitment center - the same scenario as two unsolved embassy bombings, police said.

The bicyclist, reportedly in a grey hooded sweatshirt, was seen around the time of the 3:45 a.m. blast in midtown, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly told reporters today.

"Someone was trying to make a statement," a police source said.

The vacant office, the nation's busiest recruiting station, suffered shattered windows and twisted metal. No injuries were reported, although the blast rattled guests in the nearby Marriott Marquis hotel.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, standing alongside Kelly, said the attack "insults every one of our brave men and women in uniform stationed around the world."

The mention of a bicyclist raised possible links to a May 2005 bombing at the British Consulate and an Oct. 26 explosion at the Mexican Consulate.

In both cases, police said, the suspect was possibly riding a bicycle when hollowed-out grenades - filled with black powder and a fuse - were tossed into the consulates.

No arrests were made in those attacks. Authorities said it was too early to connect the Times Square explosion with those incidents.

There was no word on the type of device used in the attack on the recruiting station parked on a traffic island at W. 43rd St.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Sheldon Brown Memorial Ride in Boston

I won't be there (I'm in Astoria, New York), but maybe some of you near Boston can turn out.

Hello All,

As many already know, there will be a Memorial Service for Sheldon this coming Sunday, March 2 at 1:30pm. It will be at the First Unitarian Society of Newton, across the street from Harris Cyclery.

Details and a map link are at

Prior to the service there will be a memorial ride starting and ending at the shop:

Meet at 10:45 AM in the parking lot behind Harris Cyclery for an informal memorial ride before the service. Departure will be at 11:00. Distance: approximately 25 miles, pace slow to moderate. The ride will go by way of Weston to Water Row in Sudbury (water level permitting!), one of Sheldon's favorite places to ride, and will return by way of Lincoln.

Fixed gears, hub gears, whatever you've got, are all welcome.

Please pass the word.

Elton Pope-Lance Sudbury, MA