Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Straight out of L.A.

I'm back in Astoria, glory to God. What grade would I give LA? A gentleman's C at best.

Some nice bike racks, though.
I also enjoyed the mural on the Farmer John meat processing plant. Not only is it many stories tall, but it goes all the way around this very large building.






Such happy pigs! Makes me want to eat more bacon.

While taking pictures, we got kicked out of their parking lot by a security man on a nifty tricycle.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

David Byrne falls off his bike

Falling off your bike and cracking your ribs sucks. Here's David Byrne's account:
05.16.2008: You drank too much and fell of your bike

“You drank too much and fell off your bike” could be the title of a drawing by David Shrigley. But in this case, it actually happened to me after meeting Shrigley for dinner and drinks. While riding home, C and I were briefly separated. Upon reuniting, my tire slipped on the cobblestones of West 14th St., and I remember lying in the street, looking at oncoming headlights and rolling towards the curb so they wouldn’t run me over. Two cops approached and looked down at me. “Have you been drinking?” they asked. Probably a typical question in that neighborhood at that time of night. “Yes, I’ve had a few drinks,” I replied. “But I’m hurt.” I managed to get up by myself and retrieve my bike (no help from the NYPD, though one of them asked if I was David Byrne) and it wasn’t until later, when I was in bed, that the pain made itself truly known. I wondered how I would ever even get out of bed. The next day I went to the hospital and x-rays revealed two broken ribs — numbers 3 and 5, way up high. They're healing now, little by little, and I was told that in 3 weeks I should be OK.

A friend for a day in L.A.

I often wonder why I write this blog. It doesn't pay. And I really do have better things to do.

But I love biking and bikes. And now three times, this blog has actually done something for me.

1) I met a bunch good people at the Pittsburgh Post Gazette through this blog and (unrelated to this blog) was able to promote my book.

2) I met P. Lynn Miller in Australia. Who showed my wife and I the best time you could have in pouring rain on two wheels in Sydney.

3) A friend wrote me yesterday saying, "I hate L.A., too. And I'm there right now!" So she biked 12 miles to Santa Monica tonight and we joined friends of hers for a quiz night at a bar. Some might be happy with second place. But we were playing to win. And we had it, too... till the last round. When we lost our narrow lead in that damned music round. Why do they never have songs by Willie Nelson, the Pogues, Vassilis Tsitsanis, or the Andrews Sisters?

My friend mentioned the shame of biking in L.A. You can bike down side streets very well, but then it's almost impossible to cross the major streets if you're not at a light. In the same vain, I was thinking that they could turn some alleys into great bike lanes. But you'd have to give bikes right-of-way when crossing streets. I could be done, but it ain't going to happen. Alas, my potential bike buddy leaves town tomorrow.

Anyway, I extended my stay till Tuesday. I'll try and make the best of it. Check out some places mentioned in a comment in my previous post (thanks!). Maybe have lunch in Thai Town, too. And I could always jump in the ocean.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Bike L.A.

I'm in L.A. It sucks. L.A. sucks. I don't like the city. Never have. I don't like the car culture. I don't have friends here.

But my parents moved to Santa Monica about five years ago so I'm here every so now and then. My father's health is bad and getting worse, so I'll probably be here more and more.

I hate having to drive everywhere. And I hate that Santa Monica is like one big mall (albeit a mall with a beach and a great Farmers Market twice a week).

So I've decided not to drive. I've taken the bus, walked and biked. It does make me much happier.

Yesterday, my brother and I put our bikes on the front of a bus (I've never done that before) and headed out to a drunken game of kickball, actually called Sloshball, which tells you something. We were playing at a big park just north of Dodger Stadium.

After a 50 min express bus ride, we got off to bike the last mile or so. After one block, my brother's rear tire blow. And it blew with a very loud bang. We were fucked.

I asked a Mexican man on a bike if there was a bike store. He didn't speak English. And I couldn't think of the Spanish word for store. But he did offer to fix my bike with his patch kit. Alas, as I already knew from the bang but still had to show him, the tube had a 6-inch rip.

He pointed me yonder, perhaps to a 99-cent store that I scoured for bike tools and a 29-inch(?!) tube. Amazing, they had everything. But this in my mom's built up Dutch bike. Fenders, coaster brake, rear brake, internal shifting hub. I figured it would take me an hour to fix it. We locked the bikes and took a cab to the field.

We played Sloshball (my brother does have friends in L.A.). It's kickball, but you have to be holding a drink at all times, which makes defense a bit of a challenge. And there's booze at second base. And you can have as many runners as you want at 2nd. I liked being on 2nd. So I was lounging about refilling my beer when a guy threw the ball at another runner trying to get back to second. He hit me smack in my beer, shattering my plastic cup and getting me quite soaked.

We played a brief second game of 2-handed kickball. It was much more tiring, because if you're not holding a beer with one hand, you can actually get tired running.

After the game. My brother and I got a ride back to our bikes. I left him to fend for himself, somehow meeting up with friends. And I started biking back home. I knew I wanted to bike the whole way, to get a sense of the distances in L.A. Two hours and 22 miles later (it would have been 15 miles if I had gone in a straight line), I arrived. It's not a bad city for biking. Straight streets, mostly. Good weather, mostly. Flat, mostly. And downhill if you're going toward the ocean. But it's a big city. The roads are wide and ugly. A very few have a line-of-paint bike lane. On the plus side, the al pastor from taco trucks is much better than the al pastor in Astoria.

Still, I'll looking forward to being home.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

What's your problem?

The New York Times is soliciting bike questions for Joshua Benson, the bicycle program coordinator for NYC's Department of Transportation.

I already got mine in about my issues with Queensboro Bridge access. I hope he answers it!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

12 Dutchmen were on a bike...

...on one bike. Check this out:
This and other great old dutch bike pictures can be found on Andre Koopman's photostream.

Friday, May 09, 2008

So I was letting the air out of a tire of a car stopped at a red light...

I asked a half dozen or so NYPD about my bit of street justice. Get this: not one of them could think of any crime I committed!

A few other items of note:

1) If I were on private property, they could definitely get me for something. But I wasn't.

2) They too mentioned that I may have made the situation more dangerous. I'm not convinced I did, nor that that this makes my actions wrong.

3) A retired cop said he would get me for petty larceny if I took the valve cap. But I didn't. I pointed out I did in fact litter. But next time I could put the valve cap back on. And I could have been cited for not having a bell on my bike, but I didn't tell him this.

4) One officer said he would cite me for harassment. But he admitted this would be a bullshit charge that wouldn't stick. But as this is the only concrete criminal charge that anybody could come up with, I looked it up. I might have been guilty of "harassment in the second degree," a violation. Like littering. A non-arrestable offense if not committed in an officer’s presence. If you "repeat" the behavior (like doing two tires, I suppose), it goes up to "harrassment in the first degree," a misdemeanor. Here's the violation of harassment in the second degree:
A person is guilty... when, with intent to harass, annoy or alarm another person... He or she engages in a course of conduct... which alarm or seriously annoy such other person and which serve no legitimate purpose.
I, of course, plead my conduct was legitimate. But a judge might not agree.

A still have a feeling that there's something on the books that I violated. But nothing that anybody can think of.

So while I'm not saying it's legal or good to let the air out of a car tire while the car is stopped at a red light. And I'm not saying it would be worth a night in jail on some B.S. charge. But I still think I did the right thing. And I'm just sayin' it doesn't seem to be illegal. I'm just sayin'...

Monday, May 05, 2008

Bike Balto

Putting the charm back in Charm City, Baltimore is becoming more bike friendly.

Having lived and loved in Baltimore from 1999 to 2001, I can attest that the city is a good biking town that isn't very bike friendly. I lived and commuted by bike and without a car there for the first 6 months. Just 3 miles from Greektown to downtown. Sometimes I took the Number 10 Bus. The bus system is actually not bad. But that Number 10 Bus could pick up quite a motley crew coming from Dundalk (redneck), O'Donnell Heights (ghetto), and the Bayview Methadone clinic (junkie). It was like one big happy grown up Sesame Street, on a good day.

In Baltimore, I noticed and understood why people put "must have car" in personal ads. For the first time, I realized why people think public transportation is for losers. In Baltimore, a lot of losers are riding the bus. And hell, if you're not a loser, why don't you have car? I did end up buying a car, but not because I was afraid of being a loser. But I really did need a car for work (yes... need). It's the only city I've ever lived in and not been car free.

On one hand, Baltimore is a small city without too many big hills. It's fast to bike around. On the other hand, 1) drivers just aren't used to bikes, but that isn't a huge problem; 2) there are these "death grates," horribly designed sewer grates that your tire could fall into; and 3) there's a lot of ghetto in Balto I wouldn't recommend biking through on a regular basis.

Also, there's a not-too-steep but very steady incline in the whole city from South to North. That's one of the reasons I lived in the East.

But I enjoyed biking in Baltimore, as I do everywhere. There's no reason it shouldn't be a great biking city. Here's to Baltimore! And if anyone goes there, bring me back a crab cake.

NYC bike

In a comment, Carlos DJ writes:
Hey Astoria Bike, I'm sure you get emails like this all the time. I just moved to astoria (close to astoria park) and wanted to get back into biking. I haven't biked since the early 90's when i was in high school so I'm quite outdated. Do you have any tips for buying a bike fit for nyc? I plan on doing mostly weekend daytrips to central park, brooklyn, and that sort of exploring fun stuff. ... Great blog, it's been fun reading it.

A lot of email? Maybe you mistake this blog for something people actually read!

I was at a wedding last night, and somebody asked me the same question you did. My first answer always is: not a mountain bike. That usually gets a strange look and a quizzical, "Why?" Because you just know they were eying some high-tech full suspension aluminum frame thing is the bike store. Why? Because we have no mountains!

If you go bike in mountains, get a mountain bike. That's what they're designed for. If you bike in cities, get a city bike.

But what is a city bike? Here's my answer. Something comfortable, fast, and able to carry.

Ask yourself which of those three things is most important to you and go from there. Fast? Get a nice road bike? Able to carry? Get any bike with eyelets for a rack installation and buy some gigantic saddle bags online from Holland or somewhere. Comfortable? Well, all bikes should be comfortable. But think of the seat and the handlebars you like most. But that's hard to know without riding.

I will say this, the most comfortable position for you hands on a bike is when they're in the hand-shaking position. What you don't want is the flat straight handlebars of a mountain bike. Drop handlebars and old-fashioned shaped (bending back) handlebars are the best. In general, until you know better, get a super high stem for your handlebars so you can sit upright. But keep in mind there's nothing naturally uncomfortable about drop handlebars at about seat height.

And whatever you get, make sure you can carry something, even if it's just a bike bag. And make sure you have fenders. And don't get knobby tires (see my no mountain bike rule) unless you plan to biking off road... which you simply won't do in NYC.

I'm very partial to steel frames because 1) they give a much softer ride, 2) they're safer, and 3) they look better. Aluminum frames are popular because they're easier for machines to weld.

I'm against suspension, but don't want to preach against it, because it can be kind of cool. Maybe it's right for some people. But if people didn't ride aluminum frames and hold on to those dumb flat mountain-bike handlebars, there probably would be no need for suspension on bikes. Ride steel. Don't grip your handlebars tightly. And ride around potholes. Plus, without suspension, you can hop over things.

To answer your question, the ideal bike for a city is a city bike. The best city bikes are out of Holland and France. But you should avoid French bikes because they have non-standard sizes for everything (well, I'm sure they're standard for them). But you'd be hard pressed to run across a French City bike here anyway.

If you ever come across a used Batavus Barcelona, grab it. I also think the Bluebird (featured on this bike), is a pretty damn good city bike.

On money, the more you spend, the less trouble you'll probably have. Newer bikes have fewer parts. That means less to brake. Spend money on tires, because they won't get flats. Think about what you want in a bike, and then start hunting. Astoria, by the way, is not a bad place for finding and buying old bikes. There are some nice Schwinns in these parts.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Even more Vigilantism

There's a not too great article in the Times about cars parking in bike lanes.

But what is great is that a group of vigilantes have started to spay paint no car stencils in bike lanes.

Power to the people.

I wish there were a single bike lane I rode on. Then I could complain it about, too.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Queensplaza proposal

Speaking of DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan [smile], I think I will send her my no-brainer proposal for Queensplaza.
Click here for a higher-res image.

It's dangerous to bike against traffic heading back into Queens off the bridge. But we do, because we have to. The only legal alternative is a four block detour (two of those blocks uphill). The current situation is stupid because there are already two lanes we could be biking on! One, the perfect one, is simply barriered off. There's no downside to turning this into a one-block bike lane except the cost of one more traffic light at the Crescent St. intersection.

The other lane, now used for illegal parked cars, would require nothing more than a line of paint. The best part (if you have a sense of irony) is that there's enough room for cars to continue to park illegal, right next to the new bike lane. Just slide 'em over 5 feet. That's all.

Come on, Janette, give us some love!

Don't tell my wife...

...but I think I'm in love with DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. You can watch a video of her speaking on Streetsblog. She says all the right things [swoon].

Friday, May 02, 2008

I hate Hillary

I can't believe she's starting to sound like George Bush. The Times reports:
Clinton Presses on Gas Tax Holiday
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s decision to take on members of Congress over her proposal for a federal gas tax holiday this summer -– “are they with us or against us” –- is tempting fate a bit, as she risks antagonizing uncommitted superdelegates who are members of Congress and who oppose the tax holiday.
Why doesn't any politician or tax law reward me for NOT USING ANY GAS in my commute to work!!! Why does the government pay people to drive?! Arrrgg.

My head hurts.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

More Vigilante Justice

A friend of mine, well versed in debating the nuances of ethical matters, writes:
Let air out of her tire! You're my hero. I am going to visit you in the hospital every day. And bring cake.

So says my heart. But my head says, no, I don't think we get to disable the cars of people we think are driving dangerously -- even if they are. This kind of vigilante action will end in tears, no? How about taking a quick photo of yacking driver and license plate?

But back to my heart. I've long thought the way to deal with cars in Central Park -- legal or not -- was to calmly ride along side them, pull out a can of orange dayglo spray paint, run a stripe along their side, smile, and glide away: no angry words, no confrontation. They won't even know it happened. But gradually, the word will get out that this is what happens if you drive in a park.

I am of course to chicken to actually to this, but you clearly are the guy to launch it.

I like your spray paint idea! The truth is, it could be done without even actually spray painting a car. We just need to start an urban legend! Everybody reading this needs to work the following into a conversation once a day: "...you know how you just can't drive through the park these days without some roving band of jerks spray painting your car... "

But no, I don't think it is bad to disable cars that are driving dangerously. Any more than than it's bad for the State of New York to ban cars that fail a safety inspection. Why is it different than grounding a plane? Danger is danger, sez I.

Why is giving a flat tire any different than keeping a drunk driver from driving? And while any given drunk driver may not actually be dangerous. I knew this woman was dangerous. Specifically to me.

Since when do people have a right to drive both dangerously and illegally?

And what would a photo do? Besides, call me a Luddite, but I commute to work without a camera.

And I wonder if there is any law against letting the air out of tire. If I were still a cop, I'd be very flummoxed as to what to charge myself with.

p.s. I'll try and get taken to a hospital near you, to make it easier to visit. I like vanilla cake with store-bought canned frosting.

Greater Astoria Historical Society

Turns out the president of the Greater Astoria Historical Society is a doorman in Manhattan who bikes to work. There's a story about him in the Times.

Being a night-owl myself, I like his line that, "You’ve got to embrace the night."

Why do I mention this? Because it's Astoria. And he bikes to work.

Vigilante Justice?

I was biking home tonight, approaching the Queensboro Bridge, and "noticed" an expensive car driving erratically: taking up two lanes, sliding between two lanes, and otherwise making me very nervous.

At a red light, I pulled up to the car and confronted a young woman, not at all surprisingly, gabbing on her cell phone. Not only is this illegal, it's dangerous.

[I would add that since the hand-held cell phone ban, drivers have gotten noticeably less erratic.]

I loudly (her window was up) but not really rudely yelled at her to stop talking on her phone because she was obviously distracted and could kill somebody like me.

She smiled at me and gave me the thumbs up and continued to talk. I insisted she stop talking on her phone. She put her cell phone on her lap and I started to bike away. But I knew she hadn't hung up. So I came back to her window and of course she was still on the phone. I again asked her to stop. She gently waved and even kissy-kissied me, but refused to hang up.

At this point, in a moment I would call inspired genius, I leaned over, took the cap off her front left tire, and proceeded to release the air. To be honest, deep down I've always wanted to do this, but that's not really the point.

I figured if she has too oblivious to notice I was letting the air out of her tires, she really shouldn't be driving. Before all the air was out, the light changed and she gently rolled away. She could still drive on the tire, unfortunately. But it definitely needed air.

While the Indian limo driver behind her gave me a stern nod of disapproval, I believe I did the right thing, like trying to take the keys out of the hands of a drunk driver. Or am I just an asshole?

I am interested in your comments.