Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A Gentleman Carries His Umbrella Using a Leather Frame Cinch


I've been looking for an excuse to take a picture of my bike against this wall - an outer west-facing wall at my workplace. Took the opportunity yesterday morning when I decided to document my method for carrying an umbrella by bike.

Heavy cloud cover in the morning (when this picture was taken) was forecasted to turn to rain throughout the afternoon. I had an afternoon meeting on the schedule a few short blocks from my office, so I brought my umbrella to keep me dry during the walk. What better way to carry an umbrella on a vintage Peugeot than with a leather frame cinch?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Are Bicycles the New Motorcycles?

Throughout history, bicycling has had a radical, scofflaw sub-culture. In the early years of the modern safety bicycle, machines were expensive and their use was primarily limited to the affluent. But over time, things changed. Bicycles became less expensive and were eventually available to the working class. When the bicycle was made available to the masses, a culture of scorchers and drags were born. It was this class of crazed speed addicts that gave rise to the adrenaline-fueled, danger-seeking sub-culture that would continue throughout the history of bicycling.

The 1970s saw the birth of klunkers and early mountain bikers. BMX was all the rage in the 80s. Bike messengers ruled the 1980s and early 90s. And let's not forget about the fixed gear resurgence of the last decade. For over a century, the bicycle scene has had an undercurrent whose members were considered frightening lunatics to the more genteel members of society.

When you compare the history of bicycle culture to that of motorcycle culture, the two paths are surprisingly similar. Motorcycling has also had a sub-culture of lawlessness and rebellion. Rockers and tons, motorcycle clubs, and modern street bike racing are not so different from early scorchers, bicycle clubs, and alleycats. And like bicyclists, motorcyclists have been consistently pushed into the margins of society.

At the most basic level, both bicycles and motorcycles are modes of transportation that provide their riders with feelings of freedom and independence. And both have a rich past that is closely tied to counterculture. As a bike commuter and general bicycle geek, I tend to feel a certain camaraderie with motorcyclists. We face many of the same dangers and harassment out on the road. But more and more often I see motorcyclists joining the ranks of those who find it entertaining to harass and maliciously endanger bicyclists. It seems almost ironic, given that motorcyclists have historically been subjected to the same types of persecution by motorists.

Is this really all that surprising, though? The average motorcycle rider in the U.S. has an average age of nearly 50 and, here in southwest Missouri, is almost invariably a white male. Add to this demographic a prevailing culture of machismo and - at times - violence, and the resulting population doesn't exactly have a track record of tolerance and courtesy.

I have no intention of generalizing here. I've certainly gotten plenty of respect - both on and off the bike - from motorcycle riders. But it's so easy for a handful of experiences with rude people to ruin the reputation of the entire group. Preying on more vulnerable road users is certainly grounds for tainting the well. For someone who's on a bicycle everyday, that makes it easy to put motorcycles in the same category as cars: larger vehicles to be regarded with caution and fear, whose operators can be malicious and dangerous. This is completely antithetical to the freewheeling counterculture that has traditionally been associated with motorcycling. On the other hand, bicycling continues to represent the very thesis of counterculture: freedom, individuality, environmentalism, and minimalism. I'm not arguing that the bicycle is some type of modern-day freak flag, but I am certainly arguing that bikes are cool. They always have been. They always will be.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The day I had to keep going

I'll be the first to admit my unabashed wimpiness when it comes to the cold.

As soon as the heavy coats come out I just can't handle it anymore. It's too much for my little hands and my ears. And since I'm the one who takes the kid to school in the morning, why should he be cold so I can prove to myself that I can really tough it out by biking?

So it should surprise no one that I've chosen driving over cycling every day since this season's first real cold snap.

You can imagine my despair when we found the car wouldn't work one day last week.

I had a moment. Like, maybe 10 seconds there where I rested my head on the steering wheel, closed my eyes and gathered myself. And then the little guy and I just loaded up and biked in. Simple as that.

I closed the cover on his trailer and gave him a blanket, but he didn't complain. Not even one time.

The only surprise: My ass got really, really cold. Anyone else's ass freeze on extremely chilly bike rides? Even with extra layers? Lordy, that was unexpected.

Also, the only thing wrong with the car was the battery. Simple fix.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Carsplainer

First of all, she was really trying to be nice, the lady who carsplained at me.

"Excuse me," she called. We were on East Walnut, waiting at the light to cross National. I was first in line, she was just behind me when she made contact.

"It's really hard to see you. You really need a reflector on the back of your bike," she called.

I calmly pointed to my rear reflector, telling her I already had one.

"Kid, that's not enough!" she replied. "It's really hard to see you. You need reflectors on the top!"

And, you know what? She was right. I did need to be more visible. I'm still not used to it getting dark earlier, and I stayed late at work. Cody called once he got home and realized I didn't have lights on my bike, offering to bring me some. I declined, even though I was wearing dark clothing because my ride is on wide, well-lit streets with low traffic volume.

The Carsplainer didn't know how tired I was. She didn't know how insulting I found her advice. She didn't realize I was technically street legal. She had no idea that every cyclist runs the risk of going unnoticed by motorists, no matter what time of day it is, and that's why it's so important to behave legally and predictably when sharing the road with motorists.

She really just thought she was being nice.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

When one of us thrives and the other one flounders

It's an odd feeling, this. I haven't felt very happy about Springfield life until now. Maybe it had something to do with the job instability I've experienced. We moved here because I got a job that I didn't really like very much and didn't last that long anyway. Then I took the next job that came along, a gig an hour away, which made for an extremely stressed out and very unhealthy me. Then I jumped at the chance to work in town again, but that job could only be described as bizarre so I quit that craziness and was lucky enough to secure my current gig just four days later.

It's embarrassing, really. We moved here for me, and for me it's been the biggest struggle. Luckily Cody is thriving. He loves his job, easily made lots of friends very quickly and is probably the happiest I've ever seen him. It's so great to see. Made me a little jealous.

I haven't wanted to share much about my life, on the bike or off, because I honestly haven't been proud enough to.

But now I'm about three months into my dream gig. I'm a corporate staffer at our regional YMCA. I'll try not to drone on about how great an organization it is. But it's pretty great. I get to help real people with real life struggles make healthy choices for their children, their communities and themselves. It feels noble, what I do. I feel proud of of my professional self again.

And, just so this doesn't turn into too much of a diary entry, there's a kickass bike rack just outside the office. So great, in fact, that there are usually at least four bikes locked to it. So I was surprised yesterday when I tried to leave, but couldn't because someone had locked his bike to mine while he took some time to chat with a motorist in a minivan just a few feet away. I should mention that 2/3 of this awesome bike rack was unoccupied.

This promises to be at the center of many a great Springfield cycling story.