Monday, October 20, 2014

Never Think About Shifting Again

You could have predicted it. In fact, back in January, I did. With the availability of electronic shifting systems, like Shimano's Di2, I said it was only a matter of time before somebody made fully automatic shifting a reality.

The prototype computer that makes BioShift work.
(from Baron Biosystems).
Enter BioShift, from Baron Biosystems -- an "intelligent gearing system" for bicycles. By combining the capabilities of Shimano's Di2 electronic shifting system with data from Ant+ power meters, heart rate sensors, and speed and cadence sensors, and using a complex computerized algorithm, the Bioshift is supposed to choose the optimal gear for the rider and the conditions at every moment.

"We did extensive regression analysis of ride data to establish the correct gearing needed at all cycling intensity levels," said Armando Mastracci of Baron BioSystems.

The makers claim that automatic shifting will be a benefit to novice and recreational cyclists, who "will enjoy the freedom of just pedaling without having to worry about choosing the right gear." To be honest, I really don't believe that the inability to choose the "optimal" gear for every condition is the thing that keeps people from riding bikes, or from enjoying them.

Likewise, the makers believe that competitive cyclists, especially triathletes, will benefit because "BioShift chooses the gear that enables the desired power to be delivered with the least amount of effort, even as the athlete fatigues."

That's right -- a fatigued triathlete apparently cannot choose the right gear. Even staying on the bike at all is a challenge. Then again, much video evidence exists to say that having automatic shifting won't necessarily help them, either.

The BioShift system can apparently also be configured in different ways to aid training. Different modes include "fixed cadence mode, fixed heart rate mode, as well as fixed power mode." In other words, for training, if someone wants to keep their power output at a certain level throughout their ride, the system will apparently keep the rider in the gear that will make that possible.

Lastly, the company claims that BioShift operates transparently with the Di2 electronic shifting system, and can be enabled or disabled at the touch of a button. What a relief, because otherwise I can imagine lots of shifting-disabled cyclists calling for mercy rides home when this automatic system quits working.

I suppose the next step is when the gearing can be selected remotely -- by a rider's coach, for example. With wireless capability, it is already technically possible. And I'd be willing to bet that somebody's working on a system that will make it happen. Then just imagine the fun that could be had by somebody who could hack into the system to take over the shifting of someone else's bike.

One thing I will never understand is what makes anyone think that shifting gears is such a chore, or so confusing that we need to have a computer to do it for us? Are riders really incapable of learning how to shift gears -- so much so that even push-button electronic shifting is too much to master? Maybe it's just because most of my bikes have no more than 14 speeds, but I'm just not seeing this as a great breakthrough.

As far as making shifting easier for novices, the same basic argument was made for indexed shifting back in the 80s, then for integrated brake/shift levers in the 90s -- that shifting was so difficult, so complex, that novices just couldn't get the hang of it. "Gear fear" was supposedly keeping people from riding. Yet with all these "advances" in shifting technology, we have not seen huge numbers of people suddenly start riding bikes. Sales of bikes climb and fall, but the number of actual riders hasn't really grown significantly -- and there are just as many unridden bikes in basements and garages as ever, regardless of what kinds of shifting systems they have.

But beyond that, while a traditional shifting system, like friction, or even indexed downtube or bar-end levers might take a little time to master, it's not as though a person can't become at least competent after only a few rides (if even that long). The beauty of them is that such traditional systems themselves are actually very simple -- there is so little to go wrong. Electronic systems and this new "automatic" BioShift, on the other hand, are seriously complicated systems designed to "simplify" an action that really isn't as difficult as some would have us believe. Which means that they probably won't be able to keep them in stock.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Bicycle Safety 101: One Got Fat

From the end of WWII and right up through the 1970s, films were used to teach school children everything from innocuous subjects like good hygiene, proper manners, safety, and the art of "fitting in," to more serious subjects as sex education, the dangers of drug abuse, and drivers' education. A lot of the more serious films were really nothing more than "scare films," designed to frighten kids and teens out of bad behavior -- remember those mainstays of drivers' ed, like Red AsphaltSignal 30 and Mechanized Death? (a lot of those were made in the 50s and 60s here in my home state of Ohio, but are still shown in some drivers' ed classes to this day!). Likewise, a lot of sex ed films from that time are mainly about how premarital sex always leads to VD (that's STDs to you younger folks), and the safety films routinely feature kids getting maimed by BB guns and scissors.

In that same vein as those scare-tactic educational films is one of my favorites of the genre: the bicycle-safety film One Got Fat from 1963. I used to teach a film class, and one of my units was on old educational films from the 50s through the 70s, so I have quite a collection of these film treasures. I recently re-discovered this old classic while sorting through my archives and thought I'd share it here.

First of all, One Got Fat is probably one of the most unintentionally creepy films ever made for kids. Ever. The film is about ten friends who decide to ride their bikes to the park for a picnic, then along the way, one-by-one the kids get picked off because of their mistakes -- some in particularly horrible ways -- while the cheerful narrator (voiced by Edward Everett Horton, whom some may remember for his work on F-Troop, or maybe from Fractured Fairy Tales -- yeah, really showing my age here) blithely and glibly describes their fate. OK, that alone is pretty creepy, but what makes it the stuff of absolute childhood nightmares (maybe adulthood nightmares, too) is that all the kids are depicted in hideously gruesome-looking monkey masks.

It's like the freakin' Island of Dr. Moreau. (Shudder)
 Let's meet some of the nightmarish monkey/human hybrids and find out how they met their demise:

First, we meet Rooty-Toot "Rooty" Jasperson. Rooty (riding a Schwinn Varsity) has the nicest and "newest bike in the bunch and he was as proud of it as he could be." Unfortunately, Rooty gets tired of using hand signals, so the minute he skips one hand signal -- "just once" the narrator stresses -- he gets creamed by a car as he makes a left turn! His crash is depicted as Rooty swerves in front of the moving car, then cut to a cartoonish "crash" animation with "Boooiiinngg" sound effects -- you know, because a juvenile rider crushed under a car is funny. "At this point," the narrator adds, "Rooty-Toot Jasperson left the party." 
Look out Rooty!

Next comes Tinkerbell "Tink" MacDillyfiddy who is so forgetful that she forgets to pay attention to signs. "She's so busy being happy all of the time that her little thoughts tend to wander." (That's right kids, the lesson here is don't be happy). Of course, in her innocent youthful happiness, she wanders right through a stop sign only to get broadsided by a truck. . .
Cue the goofy sound effects. Boooiiinnnggg. "Oops," says the narrator. "Exit Tinkerbell MacDillyfiddy. She forgot, now and then."
Then there's Phillip Floogel -- known to his friends as "Floog." He's the star athlete and class president -- but he's also very easily bored. Because he's "in the mood to do something different," Floog decides to ride on the other side of the street, against the traffic. Narrowly missing one oncoming car, Floog plows head first right into another one that happens to be pulling out of a curbside parking space. As with each unlucky monkey, the scene closes with a shot of a kid's lunchbag, which he'll no longer be needing, while the narrator assures us, "Phillip Floogel isn't bored anymore."
It's like Faces of Death.
Mossby Pomegranate didn't register his bike, so when it got stolen, there was nothing the police could do. Yeah, right -- like they would have done something anyhow. Without a bike, Mossby burned up his sneakers pounding the pavement (no, literally -- the things are smoking) and never made it to the picnic. Sorry Mossby. At least being stranded by the side of the road and "a victim of fallen arches" is a better fate than most of his friends meet.    
Trigby Fipps (the little guy) and "Slim" Jim Macguffny (the husky kid on the handlebars) are riding double. You can almost guess what happens. Glib narrators and society in general have always been hard on the "Slim" Macguffnys of the world. We are told that Slim's own bike "collapsed from the effects of his diet," but his friend Trigby, being a "nice little fellow" (with apparently a much sturdier bicycle) agreed to give him a lift. They disappear down a big hole in the road because Trigby's vision is blocked by the "eclipse" of his massive friend.
Nellie Zwieback (shaking her fist at a fellow rider) doesn't like to share the road, so she chooses to ride on the sidewalk instead. Turns out, she doesn't share well on the sidewalk, either. Pedestrians always have the right of way, we are told, but Nellie "can't think of one good reason why." After she hits a couple pedestrians (inexplicably sending them skyward into a tree), she discovers the reason.
Next on the chopping block is Filbert Bagel, a spoiled kid who refuses to take care of his bike and keep it in good working order "because his parents will probably buy him a new one." Of course, as he careens into the path of a huge steamroller, he discovers that he has no brakes. With the sound of a crunch, followed by a squishy splat (yeah, really) we can only presume that Fil ends up flattened.
Crunch. Squish. Splat.
The last of the creepy monkey children to meet a grisly end is Stan Higgenbottom. Stan rides without lights or reflectors, and predictably rides into a pitch black tunnel (where apparently none of the cars has lights, either). As Stan disappears into the blackness, we hear the crash. The narrator tells us that Stan "wasn't quite bright enough." Get it? Oddly, there is no mention at all about the weird modification that Stan has performed on his bike, relocating his brake levers to what may just be the most awkward and inaccessible part of his "ape hanger" handlebars (I know, I know -- but it was unavoidable).
At least somebody lived. It isn't clear what happened to all the freakish monkey/human hybrids, but we do get a shot of one or two in the hospital, bandaged from head to toe. You know, otherwise the movie might be too disturbing.
And then there are all those lunches whose owners won't be eating them (Notice that "Slim's" lunch is like a freakin' banquet. Ha ha -- 'cause he's fat, get it?).

Wait -- that was only nine. So, what about the 10th kid? Well, that would be little Orville Slump, or "Orv" as he is known.

"I am not an animal. I am a human being. I am . . . a man!" 

Orville Slump is no chump (or chimp?). Orv follows the rules of the road, and takes care of his bike, so he lives to ride again. Not only that, but since he was the only kid whose bike had a basket, he was carrying everyone else's lunches to the picnic. And it's here that we finally get the meaning of the film's title. Now with all those unclaimed lunches at the picnic, Orville gets to have a feast all to himself, so we can presume, as the narrator tells us, he's going to get fat. I suppose that also means that in the film's sequel, we'll get to make fun of Orville for his own bike-crushing mass. 

As a final disturbing note to the film, some might wonder what kind of friend Orville must be, considering that he continues riding on to the picnic to have a massive feast-for-one while all his simian friends are left maimed, disfigured, stranded, or flattened on the side of the road in the worst kind of traffic carnage outside of Red Asphalt and Mechanized Death. In fact, all the characters ride on without a clue as their pals are dispatched one by one.

More than a decade before John Forester published his classic bicycle skills guide Effective Cycling, the film One Got Fat predicated the principles of "vehicular cycling" through its basic lessons of riding with traffic, following the same rules of the road that the cars follow, staying off the sidewalk, obeying signs, and more. Unfortunately, it also gave juvenile viewers the unforgettable lessons that "Bicycling can get you killed," "Happiness leads to death and dismemberment," and "Even your best friend will leave you for dead if it means he can eat your lunch." And all of it came delivered with a healthy dose of fear.

You can watch One Got Fat right here, but don't blame me for resulting nightmares:


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Art of Cycling

I recently finished reading Robert Hurst's book, The Art of Cycling, (2nd Ed., FalconGuides, 2014), a guide that I would recommend for commuting cyclists and anyone else who navigates a lot of miles on traffic-clogged streets. Though Hurst's book is sub-titled "Staying Safe on Urban Streets," there is a lot of useful advice for dealing with traffic in general -- not just in urban environments.

One of the first things people might want to know about the book is how it compares to John Forester's Effective Cycling, which is for many people the ultimate authority on riding skills, and the source of the principle that has come to be known generally as "vehicular cycling." While I would say that the advice given in Hurst's book is, for the most part, generally consistent with Effective Cycling, it does have a somewhat more flexible, nuanced view. Hurst occasionally refers to Forester's work directly, but likewise points to some differences:

"Next to the absentminded anarchy practiced by many novices, the vehicular cycling principle is a stellar guideline. Just by obeying traditional traffic-law principles and riding predictably, a bicyclist eliminates a large portion of the danger of cycling. However, the vehicular-cycling principle has a big hole in it: The strict vehicular cyclist who has eliminated many of his or her own mistakes by riding lawfully will still remain quite vulnerable to the mistakes of others."

In some parts of The Art of Cycling, Hurst is more directly critical of Forester's message -- or at least, critical of the way some people interpret it. He writes, "Some cyclists have added a very confrontational tone to the framework of Forester's message. It is a small group, but a very visible and loud group. Through their riding habits in traffic, which are often deliberately, theatrically antagonistic, they seek to make some kind of point to their special audience of other road users."

Hurst's riding advice tries to take into account the riding behavior of experienced cyclists -- including those who are vocal proponents of vehicular cycling, but whose actual riding actions may deviate from the strict interpretation of that very principle. In his alternative, Hurst says his book provides a "synthesis of sorts between old-fashioned vehicular cycling and the reality of modern street riding. We'll pay homage to the masters who have molded vehicular cycling to their needs, creating a more enlightened and nuanced style."

In offering a more "flexible" version of vehicular cycling, Hurst does not suggest riding strategies that would put one outside the law, such as running red lights, hopping from street to sidewalk and back again, or even filtering to the front of a line of stopped cars (apart from some legal exceptions -- and even then, he recommends caution and common sense). Instead, he stresses adapting "to the ever-changing chaos of city life," finding the "path of least resistance," and using the "safest, easiest, and most stress free options" for getting where we want to go. For example, whereas Effective Cycling and many strict vehicular cyclists may express opposition to bike-specific infrastructure such as bike lanes, cycle-paths, etc., and some may even recommend against using such infrastructure as a matter of principle -- Hurst says riders should remain open to such options. He stresses that all cycle-specific facilities are not created equally, but when well-designed, they can be worthwhile. Some people argue that the presence of both pedestrians (who seem to have the right-of-way even on bike lanes) and inexperienced and unpredictable novice cyclists makes such bike lanes and cycle paths even more dangerous than the streets. Hurst, instead, points out that one needs to exercise some caution -- don't get lulled into a sense of complacency just because it's a "bike path" -- but if there is bike-specific infrastructure available, and it gets you where you need to go (or at least close to it) then one should use it.

If there is an overall theme to the advice put forth in The Art of Cycling, it would be that responsibility is more important than blame. If someone in a car runs a red light and hits a cyclist, then of course the driver is at fault -- we can assign blame to the driver. But assigning the blame to the driver does little to help the injured cyclist who would clearly be better off if he/she had not been hit by the car in the first place. Hurst maintains that it is the responsibility of the cyclist to remain vigilant -- to be alert and watchful of what might potentially happen, and to be prepared for it at all times. Hurst says, "Car-versus-bike accidents require two parties: one to make a colossal mistake and another to be caught off guard by it, one to screw up and another who fails to fully respect the potential of the other road user to screw up."

He continues, "The motorist backing blindly and illegally into the roadway is just another something that happens in the city. Drivers back out of hidden alleys, parking spots, and driveways all the time. It must be expected. It must be prepared for. The law blames the motorist for such a collision -- as it should -- but the safe cyclist blames him- or herself for being distracted and unprepared. It's either that or get used to eating trunks and side panels." It's tough advice that we as cyclists might not want to hear. But ultimately, there's something to it. Nobody is more responsible for our well being than we are ourselves. Not only that, but it fits with something I've long told myself when riding with traffic -- that we can never assume or expect that drivers see us, and we should probably assume that even if they do see us, they probably don't care. I know it may be cynical, but it's the kind of cynicism that keeps a cyclist from getting complacent -- and it could be worse. An old friend of mine, a former NYC bike messenger, used to assume that it wasn't even a question of whether drivers saw him or not, but rather it was his belief that they actually wanted to hit him.

On the always-challenging subject of helmets, The Art of Cycling takes a similarly nuanced view. Hurst recommends helmet use for the protection that helmets can give in certain kinds of accidents -- but also gives a straightforward account of the deficiencies of helmets, unrealistic testing standards, and even of the flaws in accident data that people use to support vociferous demands for helmet usage. For example, regarding testing standards, Hurst writes, "If you look on the inside of a new helmet these days, you should find a sticker stating that the helmet meets the standards set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Make sure the sticker is on any helmet you purchase. But don't get too excited about it."

In addition to the book's guidance on riding techniques, there is also a bit of advice on minor repairs, and choosing tools and equipment -- without getting so specific that the advice would be obsolete within a year or two. And there is also quite a bit of bicycling history -- not just for the sake of including "colorful side matter," but rather to help illustrate how "the birth of the bicycle, the rise of the auto, and the postmodern American sprawled-out city are all lined up along the same continuum." Hurst shows how many of the problems faced by bicyclists today have their roots in the distant past and the early days of the bicycle. It makes for some interesting and enjoyable reading.

I found The Art of Cycling to be a worthwhile read -- and an interesting counterpoint to Effective Cycling (which I also recommend reading). The style is light, informal, sometimes irreverent, and sometimes humorous. Much of what Hurst writes about negotiating traffic seemed to fit with what I see and do myself through my many miles of bicycle commuting. While I can't say I agree with everything in Hurst's book, I did find myself agreeing a lot more often than not, and even then, any differences would be more a question of style than substance. He has some solid advice that could help different kinds riders, whether experienced high-milers, or nervous novices.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Two Wheel Trip Posters - From Velo-Retro

Earlier this month, I wrote about the now-defunct magazine Two Wheel Trip -- notable for having published just two issues in the early 70s before going bust. The cover art on those two issues was really cool, fitting in with the bold colors and graphic style of that era. The plan of the magazine's publishers was to run original bicycle-themed artwork on each issue's cover, and then to release those covers as full-size posters. I had suggested in my article that perhaps someone should reissue those posters.

Enter Chuck Schmidt, of Velo-Retro. Chuck offers reissues or re-creations of all manner of vintage bicycle advertising, logos, and catalogs -- available as posters, t-shirts, musette bags, and more. After reading about TWT here in The Retrogrouch, Chuck contacted me saying he'd be able (and willing) to make it happen. Starting with super high-res scans of my two magazine covers, Chuck cleaned up a few blemishes and flaws in the 40-year-old magazines and turned them into eye-catching, high-quality Giclée prints on high-quality heavyweight paper stock -- suitable for framing.

Two very cool posters, brought to you by Velo-Retro and
the Retrogrouch!
One thing I worried about was how the resolution of the artwork would hold up after being enlarged so much. We were able to get great resolution in our scans so pixelization wasn't an issue, but the artwork on the covers was printed with a "halftone" method -- that is, the different colors were made up of many tiny dots. Enlarging the artwork would also enlarge the dots. I was afraid that when enlarged, they might end up looking like Roy Lichtenstein  pop-art prints. I needn't have worried. The posters look fantastic and the colors are great. Chuck did a really nice job on them.

The posters are available in two sizes: a smaller size, approx. 13 x 19 for $14.95, and a much larger 24 x 36 for $44.95.

The two magazine covers from Two Wheel Trip are bold expressions of the bike-boom era, and would be nice additions to any cyclist's poster/art collection. If interested in ordering one of the posters, check out the Velo-Retro site ( -- if the posters aren't shown yet on the site, contact Chuck through the "Contact Us" link, as they are available even if the webpage hasn't been updated yet to reflect that.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Nuovo Record - Or Super?

On the Classic Rendezvous Google Group recently there was a bit of discussion about vintage Campagnolo derailleurs -- particularly the Nuovo Record and the Super Record, and which one people liked better. Not surprisingly, for every person who preferred the classic NR, there was another who preferred the SR. I thought I'd take a close look at both and weigh in on the debate here.

Not to overstate it, but for me, trying to decide which I like better between the NR and SR is almost (but not quite) like asking which of my daughters I prefer. They are both lovely, and they both share many of the same attributes and similar flaws (unlike my daughters, who are flawless).

Virtually unchanged from 1967 through the early 80s, the Nuovo
Record derailleur was the classic workhorse of Campagnolo's
racing derailleurs.
Introduced in 1967, the Nuovo Record was the all-aluminum replacement for the chrome-plated bronze Record derailleur (hence the name "Nuovo," i.e. "New"). While it kept some of the stylistic touches of the Record and Gran Sport, such as the raised letters on a textured background, or the little scroll-like details on the face plate, those details were rendered much more crisply in the Nuovo Record. The NR became a real classic: lightweight, attractive, and durable. Compared to derailleurs with dropped and slanted parallelograms (like almost all modern units), the shifting performance of the NR's traditional parallelogram design can get a little balky, especially as the chain gap increases, but back then that was just something we learned to deal with. The great thing about the NR was that it would continue to work at least reasonably well even if it was cosmetically trashed. The pivots, springs, etc. could really withstand a lot of abuse. I've always liked the aesthetics of the NR. It's looks harkened back to the past unapologetically, with little visual details that had no functional purpose other than to make it look special. There were many copies of it, but none was executed to the same level.

The first-generation Super Record was almost
identical to the Nuovo Record -- the only real
 differences being black anodized knuckles
 and titanium pivot bolts.
The first version of the Super Record, introduced in 1974, was virtually identical to the NR. Black-anodized knuckles and titanium bolts were the only real differences. But by 1978, a revised version of the Super Record was released. Gone were the embossed, raised lettering and "vintage" styling details. Instead, the design was smoothed out and modernized. A smooth face plate, with a screened-on script logo was the most noticeable touch. The cable anchor arm was revised subtly as well. But the changes in the Super Record were not just aesthetic. The shape of the pulley cage was altered as well, with a different relationship between the jockey pulley and the lower pivot. This small change gave the SR slightly more capacity (up to 28t, according to the catalogs) as compared to the earlier SR version and the Nuovo Record. Though slightly more modern in its styling, the second generation Super Record still maintained its "all out there in the open" industrial functionality -- with its bolts and adjuster screws on full display and easily accessed.

When the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) got ahold of bicycle components in the mid 70s, they mandated little "cone of shame" collars around the adjuster screws on both the NR and SR models -- similar to the lampshade-like "Elizabethan Collars" that veterinarians put on dogs after surgery. The "cones of shame" don't interfere too badly with functionality, but I wouldn't worry too much about dispensing with them altogether, unless someone suffers from irrational fears of being fatally impaled on a tiny 3mm screw.

Mid-80s Super Record - post CPSC (notice the plastic shrouds
around the limit screws) so nobody will be fatally impaled
on it. The slightly different geometry of the pulley cage
gives the SR a bit more capacity than the NR. This example also
has ball-bearing pulleys instead of the traditional bushing-type.
In any case, both the NR and SR would hold up to lots of use and abuse. I've seen plenty of both that were battle-scarred and beaten, yet still worked fine. Not only that, but they are mostly rebuildable, and spare parts can still be found. I picked up a used Super Record once that wasn't shifting as well as it should have. Looking closely, I found that the pulley cage was bent. Replacing the cage was a simple matter, and after that it worked fine. As mentioned, the 2nd-gen. SR could handle slightly larger cogs in the back, but otherwise the difference in shifting performance was pretty subtle between them. The SR was a bit lighter (about 20 grams or so) but on a complete bike, the difference would be hard to notice.

I like the solid, ornate, and almost archaic look of the Nuovo Record, but at the same time I can also appreciate the modern-meets-industrial aesthetic of the Super Record. To me, picking one over the other would be entirely dependent upon the year of the bike, and the style. A mid 80s top-level racer with pantographing and a flashy paint job screams for Super Record, for example. Otherwise, don't ask me to choose a favorite. Can't do it.

Anyone else want to weigh on in this one?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Under the Lunar Eclipse

I rode my bike to work this morning guided by the lunar eclipse.

When I stepped outside in the early morning darkness to begin my commute, I thought that the dark sliver of shadow across the bright white moon was the tail end of the eclipse. I assumed I had missed it, so what a nice surprise it was to discover that it was only just beginning.

With a cool Autumn chill in the air, the gradually shrouded moon hung straight ahead of me, directly above my path in a cloudless sky, leading me West towards my destination.

As I pedaled along the quiet, dark streets, I could see the moon as it was gradually swallowed by the Earth's shadow. Bit by bit, the bright light of the moon became just a thin crescent of silvery white before disappearing in darkness. Then, completely enveloped in shadow, the moon took on an eerie glow -- almost the color of copper. By the time I reached my destination, as the shadowed moon was at its dimmest, the horizon behind me in the East was just beginning to glow with the sunrise. Soon after, the morning light would erase the scene completely.

The phenomenon of the coppery red moon during the eclipse has been called by some the "blood moon" and it apparently happens because even though the moon is completely in Earth's shadow, some of the reddish-orange light of Earth's sunrise and sunset (depending on which hemisphere the moon is being viewed from) is reflected off the lunar surface. Pretty cool.

I was glad I got to see it from the wide open, unobstructed view from my bicycle saddle. What's more, it occurred to me that had I chosen to drive this morning instead of riding, I almost certainly would have missed it.

Another great reason to ride, not drive.

Monday, October 6, 2014

New Book: Goggles & Dust

From the Horton Collection, one of the world's best and most extensive collections of bicycle racing artifacts, comes a new book that showcases a golden era of racing through more than 100 beautifully restored photos. Goggles & Dust: Images from Cycling's Glory Days (Velopress, 2014) is a remarkable pictorial look into racing in the years between the world wars -- the 1920s through the 30s.

Of the impressions that one may get from looking through the book's unforgettable photos, I think the strongest is that racing in that era was a very different sport from racing as it is today, practiced by tough, road-hardened men who knew how to suffer. The pictures reveal some of the great racers of the era, passing over brutal unpaved roads, over majestic mountains, their faces coated in dust and grime, goggles over their eyes and spare tires wrapped over their shoulders -- or collapsed on the side of the road from injury or exhaustion -- and it's hard to imagine bicycle racers of today holding up to the same kinds of conditions.

From the introduction by Brett Horton: "While the names of the great riders were celebrated with increasing fervor in the daily press, the races devised to showcase their abilities became diabolically difficult. To draw crowds and sell newspapers, race directors sought the most difficult routes, the highest passes, the hardest conditions, the longest distances. The 1926 Tour de France, for example, spanned 5,745 kilometers, or 3,570 miles, over a mere 17 stages. Today's much more humane and realistic races, by contrast, run about 3,400 kilometers over 21 stages."

About the photos themselves, many of them have not been seen since the era when they were first taken, and Brett Horton says that each comes from an original negative or print, but that the images in the book have undergone some degree of restoration -- removal of water stains or fingerprints, or cleaning up of other flaws from age or poor handling -- in order to have them look as pristine as possible. The work is done well, and the images are breathtaking.

If I have one complaint about the book, it would be that I'd like to have more to read. Apart from Horton's introduction, there is very little written, and very little description to accompany the images. Most of the photos themselves have little more than a brief caption, if any at all. I'm sure the idea was to let the photos speak for themselves -- and they do -- but I would really enjoy more information, more background, more context for the photos. I don't think it would detract from the images in the least to have some story to tell, as I have no doubt the stories would be just as dramatic as the pictures.

Since the main point of Goggles & Dust is about the images, here are a few samples:

Want to see more? Buy the book!

Goggles & Dust, compiled from the collection of Brett and Shelly Horton, is recommended for its remarkable images. While more story and context would be welcome (I'm a word guy, what can I say), the pictures are wonderful and worthwhile for any bicycle racing fan.