Friday, February 12, 2016

Why Are Drivers Such A-holes?

If you're a cyclist who spends any time riding on the road, whether it's a lot or a little, you've probably had some pretty negative encounters with drivers. Any ride on the road can quickly involve some uncomfortably close-calls as impatient drivers take life-threatening risks with our lives -- passing too closely when there are oncoming cars, cutting us off, running lights or stop signs, left-hooks, right-hooks, and don't forget the jerks who feel compelled to blast their horns, or scream epithets and obscenities as they go by. Some of that animosity comes out when those drivers aren't even in their cars. Read the comments section of any internet article about car-bike interactions (on second thought, don't read the comments) and just feel the hatred seething from the drivers.

It turns out that there's a lot of research into the psychology of driving -- some of it going back to the early days of cars -- and an awful lot of it points to the idea that getting behind the wheel of a car can transform even the mildest and most gentle person into a raging tyrant and raving lunatic.

I was reading an article on Gizmodo on the subject which takes a fairly straightforward look at the driving rage phenomenon and provides a range of support for the findings, as well as giving some advice for people who feel that driving rage building up (advice that, unfortunately, most car-centric drivers out there will never read or follow). The article is only about driving and focuses mainly on bad driving behavior and driver vs. driver aggression. Bicycles are not mentioned, but it seems to me that everything the article says applies even more strongly when the question is driver vs. cyclist aggression.

One thing the article mentions is how cars make people feel anonymous. Out on the road, we don't focus on the people. We see a large mechanical object -- a covering, a box, or a shield -- instead of the person inside it. "The feeling of anonymity can sometimes mean that we behave in ways that we wouldn't otherwise because we're less likely to be held accountable," says Erica Slotter of Villanova University.

It seems to me that the effect of anonymity is something that presents itself in a lot of ways, and not always inside cars or on the road. Take for example the aforementioned comment sections on so many internet articles. It's so common to find people blaming victims and threatening violence -- even potential murder or at the very least manslaughter -- against the next cyclist they see on the road. But also, note the tendency to refer to bad actions on the road being done by "cars" not "drivers." We probably all do it. "That CAR cut me off," we'll say, as opposed to "that person" or "that driver." It's a tendency that I'm noticeably aware of even as I'm writing this, and I'm finding myself unusually conscious of saying things like "driver vs. cyclist" as opposed to "car vs. bike."

The article goes on to connect that sense of anonymity to a psychological effect known as "deindividuation." Citing 1950s research by Leon Festinger, a social psychologist from MIT, it describes how people "dissolve as individuals when they become part of a group." More importantly, humans have a tendency to de-individualize people in another group. I think that aspect is particularly relevant when applied to drivers of cars vs. cyclists and other vulnerable road users.

Again, the article doesn't mention bicycles, but notice how relevant the following passage is to us cyclists. "Driving exaggerates our in-group/out-group sensibilities. We love to slot things -- including people -- into groups. Groups we belong to -- whether it be the people sitting in our car, a group of vehicles belonging to a certain type, or even cars stuck in a specific lane -- are referred to as the in-groups and they tend to be preferred and favored. Conversely, groups that we don't belong to, or don't want to belong to, are called out-groups, and they're often mistrusted."

So it becomes almost a question of "us vs. them." People on bikes are "other" or "different" and not individuals who deserve respect. I think that also explains the fact that drivers often seem blind to other drivers who run lights after they've changed to red, or roll through stop signs, etc. -- but when they see a cyclist run a light, suddenly their perception is that ALL cyclists run lights.

The article goes on, "Instead of seeing individuals, we simply see a type of car, or an endless stream of automobiles. This, in combination with perceived anonymity, gives us the sense that we won't be held accountable for our actions. It frees us from guilt of our behaviors, and gives us the freedom to commit acts that violate our social and personal norms."

Another thing mentioned is the increase in road fatalities as a result of aggressive driving. "Statistics compiled by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that 66% of all traffic fatalities are caused by aggressive driving, and that males under the age of 19 are the most likely to exhibit road rage." Some of these "aggressive driving" behaviors include weaving/cutting, speeding, hostile displays, tailgating, improper lane usage, no turn signal, and erratic braking.

As cyclists, we've probably all seen at least some of these kinds of things directed at us -- and one could probably add a few others that are more likely to involve us than other people in cars. Passing with too little clearance and when it's unsafe to pass, trying to push a cyclist off his/her bike, or even throwing objects from the car at the cyclist.

What is behind the increase in aggressive driving and road rage? The article cites the fact that people are spending more time in their cars, and the fact that commuting times are on the increase as possible factors.

My own experience would also suggest that peoples' addiction to their mobile technology is another factor. It seems to me that we have become so accustomed to instant gratification, instant results -- the whole world at our fingertips right now -- that we become less patient. Add to that the power of social media and the like to heighten a tendency toward self-centered behaviors.

Remember the "old days" on the internet, when you'd click on a website, or a link, or what-have-you, and then have time to go make a sandwich while you waited for your dial-up internet connection to load the page? Now think how frustrating it is today to even wait a couple of seconds for the same task to take place, and then apply that frustration to being on the road.

Cars today can go so fast, so smoothly and effortlessly, while the occupants are surrounded in comfort and convenience, bathed in the music of spectacular sound systems, and totally insulated from the world outside. The comfort of even the cheapest modern car would outshine the most expensive luxury car of a couple of decades ago. Out on the road, of course a cyclist is the "outsider." Why can't we just go as fast as we want to? When traffic slows down, and drivers are stuck in a long line of cars, they see that guy on a bike up ahead. HE'S the reason. HE'S SLOWING US DOWN! Never mind that even after they get past the cyclist, they're still stuck in a long line of cars -- there's a solidarity with the other cars. They're the in-group. The cyclist is "other" and logic and compassion go out the window.

I don't suppose there was a lot in the Gizmodo article that I hadn't heard before (my old psychology classes seem to come to mind) or at least suspected to be true, but it was an interesting read -- particularly when that information is viewed from the perspective of a bicyclist.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Mechanical Doping - Now Reality

By now, I'm sure most readers have heard that the specter of "mechanical doping" has become a reality in professional racing. I mentioned it in an article about the 2015 Tour de France because the race officials had taken to using tiny flexible cameras to inspect bikes at the Tour for hidden motors. They didn't find anything, but it became very clear that the UCI was taking the possibility of cheating with hidden motors very seriously.

"Mechanical doping" check at the 2015 TdF.
Rumors and accusations have been floating around for a few years now, and leveled at riders such as Fabian Cancellara after a dominating performance in Paris-Roubaix, and Ryder Hesjedal when a bike he was riding in the 2014 Vuelta appeared to take off by itself after a crash. In those cases, and others, there was never any hard evidence of foul play, but that didn't stop the rumors.

As the technology for electric assist motors has improved and gotten more and more compact - to the point that it could be concealed easily inside the oversized carbon fiber frames used by all racers - then the possibility that someone could try to use the technology in competition seemed to become a question not of "if" but "when."

It looks like "When" is "Now."

UCI has confirmed that at the Cyclocross World Championships last month, Femke Van den Driessche used a bike with a hidden motor. Although she was a pre-race favorite, Van den Driessche was eventually forced off her bike in the final lap due to mechanical problems. Her bike was taken for inspection after the race, and officials announced their discovery soon after -- making the Belgian rider the first official case of "mechanical doping."

The outcry was immediate. Eddy Merckx proclaimed that anyone guilty of mechanical doping should be banned for life. Wilier Triestina, the maker of Van den Driessche's bike (the pre-adulterated version, anyhow) is going so far as to threaten legal action against the rider for tampering with the bike and besmirching their reputation. The rider herself faces at least a 6-month ban and some pretty big fines.

Van den Driessche, for her part, denies any wrongdoing. "I don't know how it got there. I'm focused on myself that day. I took care of myself . . . the mechanics made a mistake." Later, she said that the bike she used wasn't her bike. "That bike belongs to a friend of mine. He trains along with us. He placed the bike against the truck but it's identical to mine. My mechanics have cleaned the bike and put it in the truck. They must've thought it was my bike. I don't know how it happened." Although some might find the excuses hard to swallow, apparently a family friend of Van den Driessche's has come forward claiming to be the true owner of the bike, and trying to lend credence to the story. On the other hand, the racer's brother, who is also a bicycle racer, is currently under suspension for doping.

Dammit this sport is hard to take seriously.

State of the art for mechanical doping?
To add to the controversy, the Italian sports newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport recently reported that motors hidden in the frame are already "old stuff . . . It's a poor man's doping." The "new frontier" is electromagnetic wheels. The source cited in that article claims to have personally sold more than a thousand of the "old tech" hidden motors. The new electromagnetic wheels, he claims, cost 200,000 Euros and have a waiting list of 6 months. At that price, they are well out of reach for even wealthy amateurs and gran-fondo riders -- but not outside the budget of a professional team. The diagram of an electromagnetic wheel that was included in the Gazzetta article leaves out some important technical details, but the idea seems plausible. And if true, might be harder to detect than a motor in the bottom bracket. Was the source to be believed? Are such things being used? I suppose time will tell.

Unless someone is in the top ranks of professional racing, though, I can't imagine how the rewards make any of it even remotely worthwhile. The source in the Gazzetta article mentions that numerous gran-fondo riders are using hidden motors (bought from him, supposedly). Others resort to "traditional" doping - as in, drugs. The expense of such things can't possibly lead to any kind of payoff for someone in any kind of amateur racing, gran-fondos, or Strava KOM-chasers -- but I have no doubt that these are all places and situations where people are probably trying to get away with it (and maybe succeeding). And in the professional ranks, where a person can potentially profit from their "enhanced" results, it's reprehensible. Truly, the whole thing is just pathetic.

There are so many ways to cheat now, it seems, that it makes someone like me wonder why anyone would bother getting worked up about bicycle racing -- either as a fan, or as a participant. Chasing after Strava titles when the "competition" could easily be using a motor? Join the ranks of licensed racers, only to wonder if your typical mid-pack finishes are because the winners are cheating, or if it's simply because you suck (likely both)?

Bicycle racing has a serious credibility problem. And instead of getting better, it just looks like it stands to get a whole lot worse.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Getting Zwifty

I'm starting to hear a lot about something called Zwift - which is supposed to take indoor training to an exciting new level by combining elements of computerized video training programs, video games, and online fitness-junkie "communities" like Strava.

The Zwift homepage calls it "Social Cycling for the Solo Cyclist."

Zwift is a turbo trainer "game" that lets riders race each other in a virtual-reality world with little animated "avatars." To access it, one needs to have some kind of turbo trainer, an ANT+ or Bluetooth speed sensor or power meter (the power meter is said to be preferential), a computer, and the downloaded Zwift application. Though any turbo trainer will work, apparently there are all kinds of "smart" turbo trainers out there that have built-in power meters and automatically variable resistance to give Zwift users a more "immersive" experience. By the way, those "smart" trainers start at about $700 and go up to $1500 or more. And Zwift has a monthly membership fee of $10. Confining oneself to the basement can get pretty expensive.

Cycling is Social - or so it says on the Zwift website. Being the Luddite Retrogrouch I am, I still find the faceless internet-based concept of "social" kind of ironic. The site goes on to say: "We believe the best parts about cycling are the places you go and the people you go there with" which sounds funnier when you remember that this is a computer app that enables a person to "ride" without leaving their own basement, and with "friends" they may never meet face-to-face.

But hey - it's much better than being outside.

"Outdoor cycling is great. But weather, traffic, time constraints and distance from other cyclists can take the fun out of it." If that's really the case, then yes, maybe they should stay indoors, riding with their computer-animated avatars.

They go on to say "it's the greatest innovation in cycling since the bicycle." 

You should know I actually laughed out loud at that -- as opposed to a lame little virtual-world LOL.

As for myself, I've always hated indoor cycling (or running on a treadmill for that matter) as I can never shake the feeling that I'm like a hamster in one of those little exercise wheels.

Putting on some music or turning on the TV never did much to dispel the feeling. Before I got committed to riding year-round outdoors (or as close to year-round as I can), the only indoor cycling I could even remotely stomach was riding on rollers as opposed to the stationary trainers that have become so much more common. At least one could justify the rollers on the grounds that it was great for developing a smoother pedal stroke and eliminating "nervous" bike handling habits. That, and you could never afford to zone out too much on rollers. Seriously. Some of the worst bicycle crashes I've ever suffered were in my living room.

Ultimately, though, I eventually gave up the rollers, too, as a sorry substitute for riding outside. There is something called "too cold to ride," and for me, that's about 20 degrees American. And when it's simply too cold or too nasty outside to get out on a bike, I refuse to believe there's anything wrong with taking a break, popping some popcorn, and sliding some good movies into the DVD player. If I feel the overwhelming need to do something bicycle-related, I can always re-pack hubs or true wheels while I watch Breaking Away again.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

I Was Cat 6'ed By A Fool

Are we all familiar with the concept of Cat 6 racing? It's essentially a joke term for cyclists who turn every ride into a competition -- racing other cyclists on the road, whether those other riders know they're being raced or not. Some people refer to it as "commuter racing" though it is in no way limited to commuters. Licensed racers are ranked from Cat 1 through Cat 5. No license is needed for Cat 6.

I have to admit that I have enough of a competitive streak that when I see another rider up the road, I sometimes see them as something like a rabbit to a greyhound. They serve as a little motivation, encouraging me to push a little harder than I might when I'm riding alone lost in my thoughts. I try not to be too much of an ass about it, though.

The other day, on my ride home from work, I had a Cat 6 encounter that left me kind of speechless.

Cat 6 Racing (photo from Good magazine)
Somewhere along the first mile or so of my 15 mile ride home, I saw a rider going the opposite direction. With a hi-vis yellow vest, I thought he might possibly be another bike commuter - though it's rare I encounter them in the area. I couldn't say what kind of bike he was on, though it had a bit of "gravel-racer" look to it, and had disc brakes. That was all I could identify in the moment I saw him. He nodded as he went by.

Another half-mile or so down the road, I got to an intersection with a traffic light where the minor road I was on crosses a broad major highway. I went through the intersection when the light turned green. The light doesn't stay green very long for people on the cross street. Once I was across and hadn't gone more than another 20 yards or so, someone blew past me in a full-out sprint. It was the guy I saw moments earlier on the gravel bike. I can only assume he turned around shortly after I saw him and went into chase mode. He was probably sprinting through the intersection at top speed as the light was changing, and was still charging along as he blew past me.

He yelled something unintelligible as he went past.

I think it was a victory yell.

On my loaded commuting/touring bike, I normally average about 15 miles per hour. A decent pace, but nothing brag-worthy. A brief thought flashed through my mind to give chase, but I quickly dismissed it. I still had another roughly 14 miles to go, lots of hills, and it was my second ride of the day. I didn't need to "save face." I let him go.

Within another half-mile I approached the first of several hill climbs on my afternoon commute. I saw the Cat 6er about a hundred yards ahead of me, out of the saddle, hammering and flailing away up the climb. When he got to the top, he did something truly bizarre.

I could see him dismount his bike at the top of the hill, then raise it up over his head - holding it up in some kind of dickish victory celebration. Even weirder, I could see him, still holding the bike aloft, as he then started doing what looked like squats. What the hell?

Is that a thing now? Some kind of biking/lifting cross-training thing? Or was he still "celebrating"?

After I topped the climb and sped down the other side, I pedaled towards the next intersection. The Cat 6er, still well ahead of me, turned right. I, gratefully, turned left to go home.

I half expected to have him turn around again and take on another pursuit. Thankfully, I spent the rest of the ride in solitude.

I don't know who he was. I'd never seen him on the road before. Don't know if I'll see him again. Don't really care, either.

Anybody else seeing this kind of weird behavior out there?

Monday, February 1, 2016

Amazing Futuristic Bike Concepts

I spotted this article on Interestical (which for some reason keeps appearing to my eyes as InterTestical) about 10 Amazing Futuristic Bicycle Concepts. Man, I love stuff like this. Actually, I love to make fun of stuff like this. As usual - a lot of these "futuristic concepts" are little more than masterbatory design exercises posing as real innovations.

Folding Bike. 
No - there is no explanation or justification in the article as to why the folding bike makes the list. The article doesn't even mention a particular brand or model. Conceptually, folding bikes are hardly new or futuristic. The one pictured is sold through Mini dealers, though I suspect they are built by Dahon. I will attest that a good-quality compactly folding bike can be a nice thing, and some of the models available today are much better than what was available a couple of decades ago. But I'm still not sure why this was listed first.
Eco 7 Compactible Urban Bike
This one is listed by the editors as "a fixed gear style bike" that "compacts down to the size of a brief case." Noticing that the bike shown appears to have an electric assist motor built into the back wheel, and being curious how this bike could possibly fold so small, I did a quick search to find out more about the Eco 7. Turns out, the bike shown IS NOT the Eco 7 Compactible Urban Bike.
This is the Eco 7 Compactible Urban Bike:

The ACTUAL Eco 7 Compactible Urban Bike
It looks like it was made from an erector/meccano set - and even the wheels come apart into little sections. Yeah - that bodes well.

In any case, the mistake doesn't give much credibility to the article.
The City Pedelec 
This looks like a slightly more "modular" version of a Citibike, or other urban "bike share" cycle. "The gears, chains, and spokes are all hidden inside of the casing of the bike." Well - actually, not the spokes. Notice those 3 large plastic "spokes" that make up the wheels. It also has an electric assist motor. The editors say "The goal with the City Pedelec is to find its way into the rent-a-bicycle areas that major urban sprawls are beginning to employee."
"Employee"? They MUST mean "employ."
The Artikar
Described as a "low to the ground, reclined seated bicycle with four wheels where the rider has their legs poised in the air in order to pedal." What? Do they mean a recumbent? So, the Artikar is a 4-wheeled recumbent with a vaguely "car-shaped" neon light ring around the rider -- thereby making really stupid people think you're driving a car - or pretending to drive a car - while giving none of the benefits of actually being enclosed in inclement weather. The editors add that it's a "relaxing, aerodynamic bike that can be taken on the road without any major qualms." Unless you value your dignity.
Honda U3-X
Not actually a bike. It's more like an electric unicycle cross-bred with a Segway. Honda calls it a "personal mobility device." You see, apparently in the future, people will be too lazy to actually walk. The U3-X goes approximately 4 miles per hour, which is no more than a fairly brisk walking pace. Honda likes to think it "makes new strides in the advancement of human mobilization." I don't know if they meant that ironically.

If the U3-X is intended for people with mobility problems (which is hard to assume since all the photos on their website show only young, fit, and presumably able-bodied people using it) I think I see some concerns. What to do when navigating uneven sidewalks and crosswalks that are so common in most cities? Or stairs? Suddenly a person has to get off (if they don't get pitched off face-first) and lug this thing over the obstacles. No thanks. 
Taurus Seatless Bike
According to the editors, the Taurus is supposed to "appeal to those looking for the greatest work out possible on two wheels." No seat means no relaxing, and a better "core" workout. OK, but where are the pedals? Because it looks for all the world to me like it's got electric assist.
Bergmonch Folding Backpack Bicycle
Another folding bike concept - this time in a form that can be strapped to the user's back when not in use. No seat, apparently, so I'm guessing it's just for very short rides -- unless the intent is to give an intense core workout like the Taurus "bike" shown above. Who knows?
Furious Sports Bike
Like a lot of concept bikes, this one dispenses with many of the typical "old-fashioned" design ideas -- like down-tubes, or seat-stays. Notice that bizarre-looking raked out fork pointing out almost horizontally, while the steerer tube is almost vertical. The likely handling on that thing might explain the "furious" moniker. I'm not sure why the drive side is on the left, but that's the least of the issues. The editors tout the onboard computer that "tracks all of the traditional statistics that fitness enthusiasts would want to pay attention to."

ThisWay All-Weather Bicycle
Another "bike" meant to make people think they're in a car. The editors note a concern that this thing's roof might lead to balance issues. Maybe - Maybe not. But a "bike" this bulky definitely would not be something one could carry indoors with them. Like a car, it's best for people who can keep it garaged. The article doesn't mention electric-assist, but I don't think I'd want to try to pedal this thing up even a slight hill without it. Strangely enough, the InterTesticle article ends with the following inexplicable quote: "If ThisWay ever makes it to the market then it probably went t."
Boardman Theft Proof Bicycle
Here's what InterTesticle had to say about it: "Chris Boardman designed the Theft Proof Bicycle likely as a response to all of those broken frames of bicycles that litter urban areas everywhere." Seriously? As if one can barely walk through your average city without tripping over broken bicycles.
The bike is supposed to have electric assist, with solar cells, a fully-integrated on-board computer, and even some kind of fingerprint scanning device to keep the bike from moving unless matched up with its owner. This one is much more "concept" than "bicycle," as even Boardman's developers say that such a bike is at least a couple of decades from reality. "Until then," the editors conclude, "we'll just have to get by with our old lumps of metal in the garage." Speak for yourselves, folks.
Apart from the nondescript "folding bike," I wouldn't expect to be seeing too many of these things out on the roads, or on showroom floors, or anywhere else for that matter.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Good Reads: The Horton Collection's Shoulder To Shoulder

I just got the chance to read the latest book from the Horton Collection, Shoulder to Shoulder: Bicycle Racing in the Age of Anquetil (VeloPress, 2015). The book is a fantastic collection of photos from the hip and swinging decade of the '60s, when the changes that were sweeping almost every other aspect of culture--from music, art, fashion, politics, and even social norms--also altered the world of bicycle racing. And, as the title suggests, nobody seemed to epitomize the decade more than Jacques Anquetil. In many ways, Anquetil's style and panache were the perfect transition from an older "golden" age, to a modern era dominated by television and full-color magazines that made sports athletes into larger-than-life heroes.

"With a comb in his pocket, his glamorous blonde wife by his side, and an unyielding will backed by blazing speed, Jacques Anquetil became cycling's leading ambassador as the sport left behind the post-war era of Fausto Coppi to embrace the promise of the freewheeling sixties," says VeloPress in their notes on the book.

Shoulder to Shoulder shares a similar look and format with the previous Horton Collection volume I reviewed, Goggles and Dust, which was a wonderful collection of racing photos from the '20s and '30s. However, where Goggles and Dust was overwhelmingly a photo album with very little in the way of captions or commentary, Shoulder to Shoulder includes a bit more text to accompany its fabulous photos, including a full index of notes at the back of the book.

Lest anyone think the book is solely about Anquetil, let me make clear right away that the book also includes many photos of other great riders from the era - including Rik van Looy, Raymond Poulidor, Tom Simpson, and many others. And like Goggles and Dust, they are beautifully restored photos, and many of them very rare.

Rudi Altig and Jo de Roo raiding a fruit market during
the '64 Tour de France.
The wonderful black and white images capture many action-packed race scenes, scenes of suffering, and scenes of celebration. There are lots of bloodied faces and riders slogging over mountain passes completely awash in mud and slush. There are also many candid moments, some of which are downright whimsical--Tom Simpson playing the bagpipes, for example, or Anquetil autographing a female fan's leg. Shots of cyclists raiding local fruit markets and cafes to grab a bite to eat during a race stage are a fun reminder that professional bike racing wasn't quite yet the polished, organized affair it would later become.

Probably the most iconic image in the collection.
Anquetil watches the clock during a time trial
stage in the '62 Tour de France.
As if to underscore that eras in bicycle racing are typically defined by a single notable, dominant racer, the book begins and ends with photos that can be seen almost as "passing the torch" from one era to the next. One of the first photos in the book depicts a handshake between Fausto Coppi and a still-teenaged Anquetil in 1953. At the end of the book, a similar photo depicts Anquetil with Eddy Merckx in 1969 -- Anquetil's last year as a professional racer, and the year that Merckx effectively stamped his name on the sport's next era. It's worth noting that all three men held the Hour Record in their own careers, with Anquetil beating Coppi's 1942 record in 1956. And of course Merckx took the title in 1972, as well as being the first racer to match Anquetil's record of five Tour de France wins.

Shoulder to Shoulder is a beautiful collection that any serious cycling fan should check out. Brett and Shelly Horton should really be thanked for preserving so many rare and iconic images and artifacts from cycling's past, and putting them so lovingly into the hands of bicycle racing fans across multiple generations.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

What's In The Bag?

I was reading a memoir post on the blog Mid-Life Cycling about a beloved old messenger bag. The blogger, Justine, wrote about her days as a bike messenger in New York, and her "Original Globe Canvas" messenger bag, purchased from the maker in Chinatown where all knowledgeable messengers bought their bags.

Reading that brought back some memories for me about my own messenger bag, which in all likelihood was very similar - and except for the color, maybe even the same.

No, I never worked as a bike messenger.

Growing up in Northeast Ohio, that wasn't a job that many of us even knew existed. But I quickly learned to appreciate the classic messenger bag as a wonderful and versatile item, especially in the days before I learned to appreciate large saddlebags and panniers that were to be carried directly on the bike. Hey - in those days, it was all about racing bikes with me, and the lighter the better. Bikes with racks, fenders, and all that baggage were strictly for old guys. Now I'm one of those old guys.

When I was a college student at Kent State, I had a friend who was from Brooklyn who had spent some time as a bike messenger in NYC (Did any kid with a bike in New York NOT spend some time as a bike messenger?). Leo was a real character, and he rode all over Kent on his track bike - a Japanese Lotus brand machine with a pink pearl paint job - and his well-used taxi-yellow messenger bag. Oh, and I shouldn't leave out the omnipresent grimy cycling cap. He quickly became something like a legend around Kent, especially with our group of bike nuts.

Being that there probably hadn't been a velodrome anywhere near Cleveland, Akron, or Kent since well before WWII, track bikes like Leo's were a rare sight in our area. It didn't take long before a bunch of guys in our group caught the bug and started searching high and low to find some classic track iron - or failing that, converting an old bike-boom 10 speed to a fixie. Remember that this was probably 1985, so it wasn't yet exactly "the-thing-to-do" that it would later become.

At that time, as much as I'd wanted one, a track bike or fixie wasn't something I could afford. But there was one other thing of Leo's that I knew I'd have to find: The messenger bag. Thick, heavy canvas, fully lined inside with vinyl - it could hold so much, and keep it dry even in a downpour. Nowadays, messenger bags like that are practically a fashion accessory, and the internet has made them incredibly easy to come by. But back then, such bags were as rare in our area as fixed-gear track bikes were. I remember that year when the fall semester was wrapping up, and everyone was getting ready to head home for the winter break, I gave Leo some money and asked if he could find me a bag like his while he was back home. Any color as long as it wasn't yellow (I didn't want people to think we were trying to be twins or something).

When we got back to school in January, Leo brought me my bag. Purple canvas, with yellow vinyl inside. The label read "Globe Canvas Products - New York." Leo told me it came from a cramped little shop in Chinatown, and the place where most messengers got their bags. The bags came in different sizes, I was told, and mine was the biggest they had. It was perfect.

I didn't have a car back then, so I rode my bike for most of my basic transportation in and around the college. I used that bag a lot. Of course I used it to carry books and such for my classes - but it proved far more useful than that. For one thing, it was huge. Big enough to carry 2 medium-sized bags of groceries, so I used it for my runs to the grocery store. It could hold a good-sized load of laundry, too, so I'd fill it up and ride to the laundromat. Any time I'd go somewhere for an overnight stay, or even visiting home on a weekend, my purple messenger bag also became my main piece of soft-sided luggage.

Actually, as a piece of luggage, I still use it today. Any time we fly somewhere, the purple messenger bag ends up being my carry-on bag. I can throw it over my shoulder, keeping one or both hands free to carry other things, and making it easy to get through the airport. It's plenty big enough to carry my laptop, some books or magazines, snacks, other essentials for traveling. Plus, I can access the contents easily without removing the bag from my shoulder, and the big pocket inside is a great place to keep passports and boarding passes. Lastly, no matter how much I might stuff into it, the bag can still be stowed under the seat on any airline.

When I ride to work, I usually use my bike with racks and panniers (and fenders, and lights, etc. . . ) but now and then, when the weather is warm and dry, and the mornings are lighter, and I don't have to carry as much with me, I will choose to ride one of my un-laden, racier bikes for a fun change of pace. When I do that, I use my messenger bag to carry what few essentials I need for the day. And when my daughters and I make our weekly trip to the library, we load all our books into the bag, sling it over my shoulder, and off we ride together.

I've had this bag for about 30 years now, and apart from a few stains here and there, it's held up remarkably well. The purple messenger bag has always carried a lot of stuff, and after 30 years, it also carries a lot of memories.