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.

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