Monday, January 30, 2017

Weird and Wild Campagnolo Gran Turismo

Many cyclists, when they think of Campagnolo, think of great racing bike componentry. Nuovo Record. Super Record. C-Record. Not always or necessarily the most technologically advanced parts, but light, beautiful, and reliable. Functional jewelry. The brand possesses mystique and inspires passion in its devotees like no other. People get Campagnolo tattoos, for cryin' out loud.

That passion for the brand's high end components often turns to derision and scorn when the lower-end components are mentioned. Low-end Campy gets no respect, and as far as that goes, few components get more scorn heaped on them than Campagnolo's first attempt at a real wide-range touring derailleur - the Gran Turismo - typically ridiculed as the Gran Trashmo.

Introduced in 1971, the Gran Turismo is all stamped steel construction and bears a certain familial similarity to the other low-end Campy derailleurs from the era, the Velox and the Valentino - but larger and sturdier-looking. That said, it does seem to have a slightly nicer finish than the other cheap units, and has the pretty jewel-like red "C" bolts. (Some earlier versions of the Velox and Valentino also had those bolts).

What really set the GT apart from the others -- and pretty much any other derailleur from any other maker -- was its wicked-looking pulley cage. Some have described it as dangerous and weapon-like. I've heard people compare it to some kind of ancient sword or scimitar. One thing for sure, though, is that it couldn't have helped the shifting any. Providing adequate clearance between that swoopy upper cage and the freewheel cogs means that there's no way to get a decent chain gap between the jockey pulley and the freewheel. As I've heard from people who've used the Gran Turismo, the spring tension is also pretty high -- not unlike the cable-breaking Huret Allvit.

All that steel (and it's thick, too) means that weight is the punchline of many Gran Turismo jokes. Such jokes are totally unfair, though, because despite what many people say, the GT is not quite heavy enough to make a decent boat anchor. It would need at least a couple more grams to be effective for a small fishing boat.

One thing that is frequently overlooked about the Gran Turismo is that it had a feature that was pretty rare for Campagnolo: a sprung upper pivot - not unlike Simplex or Shimano. Even the Velox and Valentino, which have a similar body design, don't have it. A sprung upper pivot should help make for snappier shifting, though I understand that the feature isn't enough to overcome the overall other-worldliness of the GT design.

In the 1971 Campagnolo catalog, the Gran Turismo is shown with single rear-only shift levers, which would lead many to assume it was not meant for use with anything but a single-chainring crank. I don't believe that is accurate, however. Stamped right into the body, just above the lower spring pivot, the acceptable ranges are listed as "13 - 36 36 - 54" -- i.e. freewheels from 13 to 36 teeth, and a chainring difference of 36 to 54 teeth. Not only that, but the instruction sheet that was packed in the box with each new Gran Turismo derailleur depicts a double chainring setup. Lastly, for certain Schwinn paired it up with double cranks on their high end touring models, and I assume other makers did likewise.


Campagnolo apparently made a huge T-handled stick shift called Comando Elefante for use with the Gran Tursimo - not unlike the stick shift used on some Schwinn Sting-Rays. I've never seen an Elefante shifter in the real world, apart from the catalog images. (scan from Velo-Pages)

This is the more common (though still hard to find) downtube shift lever for the Gran Turismo derailleur. Right side only. Because there only seems to be a right side shift lever, many people expect that the Gran Turismo was only intended for single-chainring cranks. Not true, however. (photo from VeloBase)

Schwinn used the Gran Turismo on their hand-built Sports Tourer and Paramount Touring models from 1971 - 1973 before switching to their own-branded version of the Shimano Crane GS. (Notice that it is paired with a double crank). From what I've often heard, the standard repair for a poor-shifting Gran Turismo was to take it off and replace it with either a long-cage Shimano, or a SunTour GT. (catalog scan from Waterford Bikes).

Ultimately, the Gran Turismo was a fairly short-lived derailleur. By 1974, it had been supplanted by the much better 1st generation Rally touring derailleur, which had a design that was not terribly different from the Shimano Crane GS, and also included the sprung upper pivot. The Gran Turismo still appeared in the catalog as late as 1975, but disappeared after that. Also, for reasons that have never been fully explained or verified, Campagnolo redesigned the Rally in the early '80s, eliminating the drop parallelogram design and the sprung upper pivot -- essentially making it into a long-cage version of the Nuovo Record. Did they get in trouble for infringing Shimano patents? Or get backlash from die-hard Italian fans who objected to the "Japanese" style derailleur? Or maybe it was just a cost-cutting move.

Frank Berto, in his authoritative history The Dancing Chain, declared the Gran Turismo, "arguably the worst rear derailleur to carry Campagnolo's name . . . If a writer praised it, it meant that he had never pedaled it or he was lying." I don't have any experience trying to actually use one, but his assessment is echoed by pretty much anyone I've ever encountered who did try it. I'd like to imagine that it might be improved somewhat by retrofitting it with larger pulleys, which would help reduce some of the chain gap, but I'm not inclined to make the effort.

Unless somebody is trying to complete a proper restoration, it probably isn't a good choice for a functioning derailleur. Otherwise, I think the Gran Turismo is an interesting curiosity -- an effective paperweight (though not so effective an anchor), a clever conversation starter, or something to mount on the wall and admire for its quirky, otherworldly styling.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Trek 720 Recall

Just a brief post today about another new bike (and wheel) recall. Trek has announced a safety recall of their 2015 - 2017 720 touring model equipped with disc brakes and Bontrager 24 spoke wheels. Apparently the front wheels have been suffering many broken spokes, and the concern is that the broken spokes can lodge in the front brake caliper, causing an immediate stop and likely a "header." The Bontrager TLR 24H disc wheels, which are standard equipment on the 720, but are also available separately as aftermarket wheels, are part of the recall.

You know the drill. Immediately stop riding the bike (or the wheels) and go to the nearest Trek dealer for replacement. After new wheels are installed, the affected owners will be given a coupon worth $100 in Trek/Bontrager merchandise. Hooray.

The full text of the recall notice can be found at Trek Bicycles.

I don't know how many Retrogrouch readers would be riding the latest 720, but I assume they're more likely to be on a 720 than the latest carpet fiber Madone. Readers might recall that I wrote about the current 720 and compared it with the original 720 grand touring machine last year. If I were presented with a choice between the old and the new, I (and most readers) would probably choose the 1980s original.

One thing that this recall brings to my mind is the sense of using 24 spoke wheels on a "touring" bike. Seriously - who thought that was a good idea? Yes, compared with a lot of the latest high-end boutique racing wheels (where as few as 16 spokes is becoming commonplace), 24 spokes might seem like a "sensible" choice. But to me, it's just another case of "racer mindset" working its way into bikes where it doesn't belong, and having 24 spoke wheels makes me question whether the bike is really intended for touring.

It's worth mentioning that the replacement wheels are also 24 spokes. Pssshh.

Realistically, I know that the spoke breakage problem isn't necessarily the result of the spoke count. There are a variety of factors that could be leading to the rash of breakages - but it does make a person wonder. Also, keep in mind that the stresses on a bicycle wheel with disc brakes are different from those on a bike with rim brakes, so that may be a contributor.

Obviously I'm pretty conservative when it comes to wheel design. My "ideal" set of wheels for a touring bike would use 36 spokes front/40 rear. For general road use, I love 32 front/36 rear. If I still weighed what I did in college (125 lbs!) and wanted a real killer set of racing wheels, I might have gone for 28/32, and still I would have saved them only for racing, and only on good roads. Readers may notice that I favor using slightly fewer spokes on the front wheel than the rear, as I like to balance the number of spokes with the weight distribution or load that each part of the bike carries. Some people are big on symmetry and go with equal numbers front and rear (and of course, hubs are usually sold in "matching" sets like that - so if you want to mix it up like I do, that sometimes creates a little extra work in sourcing components). But to my mind (and eye), having the spoke count match the load presents its own kind of symmetry.

Okay - I guess this wasn't that brief of a post after all.

Friday, January 20, 2017

No More "Podium Girls" For Pro Cycling?

As a sport, bicycling has a woman problem. Long considered primarily a sport for men, bicycling has struggled to attract women in recent years, and every time the sport, or the industry, takes what appear to be positive steps to make it more inclusive, something else will crop up to show just how far there still is to go.

Remember these?
These tacky socks were handed out to all attendees at Interbike 2015.
Or this?
The grotesque "Signorina"  bike was displayed at NAHBS 2015 
One questionable element of bicycle racing that has come under fire in recent years is the tradition of the "podium girls" (or "hostesses" as they are officially known). It's a familiar sight at the end of any major bicycle race to see a couple of beauty queens planting kisses on the winner -- a blatant display of objectification and pandering if there ever was one. The fact that it is still commonplace in the current era is a bit of a head-scratcher anyhow, but it seems to me that the curiosity graduated to outrage after the 2013 Tour of Flanders when 2nd place finisher Peter "Mr. McFeely" Sagan grabbed himself a handful of podium girl Maja Leye:
What are the women there for, if not to be groped, right?
Leye later reported that her instinct was to slap Sagan, but stopped herself because she feared that such a reaction would probably result in more consequences for her than for her violator. She was probably right - and if that doesn't perfectly explain the problem, then I don't know how else to explain it.

And just to show how tone deaf people in the sport and industry can be, after that well-publicized groping incident, E3 Harelbeke decided to make it part of their promotional campaign in 2015.
The headline translates to something like "Who will pinch them at Harelbeke." Though I've read that it can also be translated as "Who will be afraid . . .?" which seems frighteningly befitting.

One of the things that I think is really disappointing about the podium girl issue is that there are so few ways for women to distinguish themselves in bicycle racing -- the number of women's races being so much fewer than for men. UCI leadership has little to say about the issue of podium girls, but has all kinds of regulations and limitations on women's racing that almost seem to send the message that appearing as a "hostess" is somehow a more legitimate or acceptable way for women to stand on a winners' podium or to participate in the sport.

Of course, the fact that podium girls are also used at women's races just seems especially awkward:



At some women's races, promoters have taken the "enlightened" step of having male "hosts" (podium boys?) to present awards to the victors:

I'm not sure this looks any less awkward.
So where am I going with all of this?

Well, it seems that somebody in the sport has decided to do something to address the issue. At this year's Tour Down Under in Australia, which is like the season opener of the UCI racing calendar, there will be no podium girls handing out the awards. The South Australian government, which apparently provides some funding and support for the race, withdrew support for having female models on the podium. Instead, junior-level cyclists will present awards -- a move that they hope may help to inspire young athletes far more effectively.

As a father of two girls, I can say that I would much prefer to see them aspire to making it onto a podium as race winners than as models to be ogled -- valued for their strength as much as for their looks.

Not all races on the UCI calendar will be taking this step. In fact, it's more than likely that most of the big races, like the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France will still continue the outdated tradition. It may be a long time before the change becomes widespread.

Though it isn't saying much, we should at least take comfort that cycling's podium girls aren't treated like the women in professional motorsports like Formula One and Grand Prix racing:

Seriously - is it celebration? Or assault?
Oh wait, there's more. . .

And why is it that every one of these guys look exactly like the @$$hole frat boys I absolutely hated when I was in college? Most of them look like they're having a lot more fun than their targets.
In fact, it seems that humiliating the women on the podium in auto racing has become a major part of the "tradition." Run a Google Images search for "Grand Prix (or Formula One) Podium Girl" and the majority of the images that come up are of women being treated in similar fashion.

I know there are lots of people who think it's all just good fun, but just because there are women willing to sign up to be podium girls doesn't mean it isn't a problem. It's a question of value and opportunity. Looks are valued over other attributes to the extent that lots of girls grow up thinking that it's the only way to be accepted or valued. And the opportunities to prove themselves in other ways are limited or downplayed. It probably doesn't even occur to many that they could be the winner - and not just the prize.

I'm going to have to give "cheers" to the Tour Down Under for taking a stand, and hope that others may follow suit sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Cycle Cinema: The Nelson Vails Story

I realize that the film was actually released a couple of years ago, but I only just recently got a chance to watch Cheetah: The Nelson Vails Story, which can now be seen on YouTube. It seemed like a fine idea after observing Martin Luther King's day to watch a film about the first African-American to win an Olympic medal in cycling.

Born and raised in Harlem, Vails was the youngest of 11 children. Surrounded by basketball in his neighborhood, Nelson set himself apart in pursuing cycling in his youth, despite the fact that it was generally considered a "White" sport. Okay - never mind that America's first World Champion cyclist was a Black athlete named Major Taylor. By the 1970s, few people knew or remembered Taylor's name. A big part of the legend of Nelson Vails was how he worked for a time as a bike messenger in New York City, and turned his talents to racing. Earning a living as a messenger meant riding hard in all kinds of weather in order to make more deliveries, and more deliveries meant more money. Vails developed a powerful build, with massive thighs, which made him perfect for track events like the Match Sprints in which he was champion.

The film mainly documents Nelson's rise from his childhood in Harlem and up through the bicycle racing scene, and culminates with his performance in the 1984 Olympics where he took the Silver medal in a close race with fellow American sprinter Mark Gorski. Their Gold and Silver matchup was one of the highlights of the Los Angeles games -- and along with a similar Gold and Silver victory between Connie Carpenter and Rebecca Twigg in the Women's Road Race, marked a new birth for bicycle racing in the U.S.

After the Olympics, Vails became a huge celebrity - even more than the Gold Medal-winning Gorski. His humor, style, dynamic personality, and colorful backstory made him a natural in the spotlight, and he was flooded with sponsorships and endorsement deals, magazine articles, photo shoots, and television appearances in the following years. He also earned a fairly successful living as a professional racer, racing all around Europe, and later on the Keirin racing circuit in Japan. While that career is mentioned, it is only briefly, and I can't help but think there must be more to know.

Much of the story is told through personal interviews with Nelson Vails, along with his childhood friends and family - many of whom describe Nelson as a "spoiled" child (in the most affectionate way possible) and something of a family favorite. Other notable interviews include such people as Women's National Team cyclist Connie Paraskevin, former USCF President Mike Fraysse, former U.S. National Team Coach Eddie Borysewicz, and an extensive interview with friend and competitor Mark Gorski. The Olympic matchup between Gorski and Vails gets a full replay in the documentary, with commentary and descriptions on the action from both men. It's a moving scene when Vails describes that Gorski simply "out-pedalled me that day" and that the real victory was that his dad was able to see him on the podium.



If there is a weakness in the film, I'd say it's that the film leaves out what could be some really compelling information. As already mentioned, I'd like to know more about his professional racing career after the Olympics. I've heard that Vails made himself learn several European languages to be successful in that continent's racing scene. For another thing, it is implied in the film that Vails became fairly wealthy after the Olympics, but that he lost that wealth in subsequent years. Nelson mentions that like a lot of young successful professional athletes, he didn't really learn how to manage his money. But there must be more to the story. Also, the film doesn't really make it clear what Vails is doing today apart from making appearances at various races and charity rides.

One other thing that bugged me as I watched the film was a lack of professionalism in the production. I'm not criticizing the fact that this was likely a film with a limited production budget. I get that. But there are shortcuts and mistakes that are so avoidable regardless of the budget. There are many still-frame photos used in the film, but it's clear that a number of the photos were simply ripped from the internet, and they suffer from the pixelated low resolution that one often finds when they just snatch photos off a Google Images search, taking the first images that pop up. Even if sourcing photos from the internet, there isn't much excuse for not taking a little extra time to get the best quality photos available. What may be worse than the quality of some of the ripped images is the fact that the sources are not ever cited. But the worst gaffe of all is the misspellings of prominent names:

I was a bit dismayed to see that the filmmakers didn't verify the spelling of the famous USCF coach, Eddie Borysewicz. I mean, c'mon -- a two-second Google search would have cleared that up. The same thing occurs with former USCF President Mike Fraysse (displayed in the film as "Frazee").

Okay - enough griping.

On the whole, I enjoyed the documentary. It was great to catch up a little with such a great rider and celebrity from the past. Nelson Vails' success story of poor kid from the Harlem streets to Olympic medalist is so compelling on its own, but more than that, Vails comes across as such a kind and genuinely likeable person.

Wrapping it up - one thing that doesn't really get mentioned in the documentary is that it is NOT the first time Nelson Vails has been on a movie screen. Does anybody out there remember this?:

"Messenger in Maroon Beret" - or so he was called in the credits of the 1986 movie Quicksilver, which starred Kevin Bacon as a stock trader turned bike messenger. A cheesy movie - but Nelson Vails steals the whole damn show in the first 5 minutes.

You can watch Cheetah: The Nelson Vails Story on YouTube - or right here:



And if you want to see that opening scene of Vails in Quicksilver, you can see that here, too:


Enjoy!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Winter Commuting - Not for the Faint of Heart

Regular bicycle commuters are well familiar with the astonishment and disbelief that almost always comes with telling people "I ride my bike to work."

"How far is it?"
"How long does that take you?"
"Aren't you afraid of getting killed?"
"What do you do when it rains?
"What do you do when it's cold?"

Now just imagine the reactions that follow when you tell people you ride through the winter, too. You'll discover that many suddenly go from regarding you as a harmless curiosity to questioning your sanity -- at least if you live in northern climes.

There was a time in my adult or near-adult life when I generally did not ride if the temperature dipped into the 40s or lower. I can't believe I considered myself a dedicated cyclist in those days. Looking back on my life though, I realized that when I was a kid with a newspaper route, from the ages of about 8 or 9 through 14, I rode my bike to deliver the papers nearly year round. I often rode when snow was falling (and I took a number of spills when my tires hit icy patches). Only when the roads were so choked with snow and ice that they became truly unrideable did I leave the bike at home and go out on foot. Was it simply because I didn't have the option of driving?

Over the years, I've used my bike for commuting off and on, but it was overwhelmingly a "fair weather" prospect. For the past 4 - 5 years, I've been trying to ride to work more or less year round. When I started with that renewed dedication back in 2012, I remember people asking me "How long do you think you'll keep this up?" Although I suppose I could have interpreted a question like that as a disparagement on my mental status, I always assumed that they meant how long would I ride before it got too cold for me. At the time, I remember thinking that I really didn't know the answer. At first, I thought I'd probably be able to ride until temps dipped below 40. Well, 40 degree mornings came and went, and before I knew it, I was riding in the upper 30s. One morning, I'd feel the chill more than was comfortable, but then next time, I'd put on an extra layer, or buy a warmer jersey, or some warmer gloves, and soon my new "limit" was 35 - then 30 - and so on. Eventually, I settled on 20 degrees as my bottom limit.

For the past couple of years, my best cold weather gear consisted of an insulated base layer top with a fleece insulated jersey, and a nice soft-shell type of cold weather jacket. My warmest tights were/are Pearl Izumi AmFib tights which are thickly insulated, and have wind-stopping barrier material on all the front panels. My warmest gloves were a 2-part combination of a liner glove with a thicker "shell" glove on the outside. Thick wool socks on my feet, and neoprene/fleece overboots over my touring-type shoes were how I kept my feet warm. With all that gear, I was good down to about 20, but at that limit, I would still start to feel the cold creeping uncomfortably by the end of my commute - starting with fingers and toes. I know people who ride even colder than that, but I figured that 20 degrees was cold enough and wasn't going to feel bad about it.

I knew I could extend my limit by trying out battery-powered warming socks or gloves, but I really have no interest in that -- diminishing returns and all. I know people who have used and swear by winter riding boots, like those by 45Nrth - but all of them seem to require either an SPD or 3-bolt cleat, and I really prefer the versatility of old-school toe-clip pedals. Yes, I could put clipless pedals on my bike for the winter, but the way I see it, that just introduces more compatibility issues that I'd prefer to avoid. I have a pair of shoes that works on just about any bike I have, and I like that simplicity.

This winter, I replaced a few articles, and picked up a few new items to add to my winter arsenal, and the result is that have found I could lower my limit a little further. One item that I've already mentioned here was the pair of Pearl Izumi softshell pants. While the pants alone are good down into the upper 30s, the thing that really sold me on them was the possibility that I could easily layer them over another pair of tights without restricting my movement. The very bottom limit on the AmFib tights is just about 20 degrees, but I figured the softshell pants could extend that comfortably.

I also decided to try a pair of lobster-type gloves. If you've never tried them, lobster gloves are like a cross between a glove and a mitten. Fingers are paired up, which helps conserve heat, but the gloves still allow some dexterity for shifting and braking that one wouldn't get with regular mittens. Granted, they do make it impossible to use the most important finger for riding (guess which one) but I found that my fingers stay warm right to the end of my commute, with no hint of cold creeping in. In fact, in temperatures in the upper 20s, I almost found the lobster gloves to be too warm.

On my feet, my previous pair of neoprene overshoes were starting to wear out around the sole, so I went to replace them. My local shop was carrying a new line, Endura, and they had a very robust-looking pair of overshoes called "Freezing Point." A little thicker, with more fleece, and more substantial, they seemed like they would be worth trying out. The size guide on the tag said that I should be able to use the "large" size with my size 44 shoes, but I found that the "extra large" was much easier to put on without being loose or overly bulky. Even with the thick neoprene and fleece overshoes, I have not had any difficulty getting my feet into my old-school toe clip pedals. Also, the overshoes would work with cleated shoes, but also work just fine with my cleatless touring shoes. One of the things I like about overshoes as opposed to dedicated boots is the versatility. Weather in the morning can be very different from weather in the afternoon for the ride home, and there are plenty of days where I'd need the extra warmth in the morning, but am very glad to be able to leave the overshoes off in the afternoon and just pack them into one of my panniers.

The other day, the early morning temperature was only about 13 degrees, but otherwise it seemed like a good day to ride. I suited up with some of my new finds, and was pleased to discover that I was comfortable for the entire commute. My fingers in the lobster gloves stayed warm all the way to work. With the thickest wool socks I can fit into my shoes and the Endura overshoes, my toes never felt the chill. My legs were warm without overheating, and without the constriction I've encountered when trying to double up on tights. I added a lightweight windshell over my insulated softshell jacket, and was plenty warm enough in the upper body. A thin skull-cap under a fleece balaclava kept my head and face warm, and still fit inside my helmet.  I feel pretty confident that I can now lower my limit to somewhere near 10 degrees!

One other thing to mention about our winters:

Living in Northeast Ohio, I grew up often hearing this old joke. "Don't like the weather here? Wait a couple of hours." Well, the joke is true. I remember once on an early spring day having lunch at a little restaurant which happened to be across the street from a bank that had one of those time/temperature signs out front. As I sat there eating, I watched while the sign cycled from time to temperature and back again. With each minute that flashed on the screen, the temperature dropped one degree. Over the course of 15 minutes, the temperature dropped a full 15 degrees! Unbelieveable (but true!). Anyhow, this past weekend, we had temperatures in the low single digits. Monday was in the teens with a mix of clouds and sun in the afternoon. Tuesday started out with snow that turned to freezing rain, then was just regular rain in the afternoon when the temperature got up to nearly 40. Wednesday started out with everything coated in a layer of ice (I rode anyhow, but had some spooky experiences), and was up to 50 degrees by afternoon. Today its in the 50s but pouring non-stop heavy rain. Friday promises to be sunny but cold - back in the 20s. Predictions for next week seem to be just as ridiculous.

Through it all, I still hope to be able to at least ride a day or two each week.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Computerized Training For Toddlers - Dear God, NO

Remember Zwift, the computer-interactive stationary trainer for social-media-obsessed indoor cyclists? Well, why should adults be the only ones who get to pedal indoors while staring at an LCD display? As if to prove the point that nobody is too young to target with lobotomizing computer screens and hamster-wheel trainers, Fisher Price has just introduced the Think & Learn Smart Cycle for the preschool set.

The Smart Cycle is a plastic stationary trainer that pairs up with a computer tablet - and might probably remind people of something like a toddler turbo trainer, or "Kiddie Zwift." Various learning/gaming apps will be made available to keep the kiddies occupied while they pedal.

The training cycle can also pair up with some web-connected televisions. Yippee.
Okay - I know that it's an unfortunate fact of life that a huge percentage of American kids today are already spending a disproportionate part of their day fixated on smartphones, tablets, computers, and television screens. No doubt they have screen-time overload. Do we really need to encourage it? And I get that having the little tots pedaling something as part of their entertainment - even a mini stationary bike - is probably better than having them lying around like couch slugs while they stare at their digital screens. But there's still something about this whole thing that I find really disappointing. Maybe even a bit unnerving. I don't believe we need another device to substitute virtual reality from actual reality.

Fisher Price claims that the Think & Learn apps will be educational (one of the games has kids pedaling down a cartoon-like road to find the letters of the alphabet, for example), and they cite research that says kids learn more and retain more when they're active. That might be so, but something tells me (and as a full-time teacher, I think I have some insight on this) that a child's learning and retention is better when they are active and interactive with an actual human being (parents come to mind -- studies show that most children have human parents) as opposed to an LCD screen. I'm also not convinced that many kids would be motivated enough by the apps to choose the Smart Cycle over the normal passive computerized entertainment.

Wouldn't it be better - physically, educationally, and socially - to actually take the kids out for a bike ride? Parents and children together - riding, talking, laughing, and interacting? I guess that would be asking too much of parents who can't break their own technology addictions.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

New Hour Record

The cycling world has a new Hour Record champion to celebrate. No, Bradley Wiggins's record of 54.526 km is still standing (that's 33.88 mph for us Amuricans). But on Jan. 4, a diminutive 105-yr. old Frenchman, Robert Marchand, set a new world record of 22.547 km/hr (about 14 mph) for his age category. If I understand correctly, the 105+ age category had to be created just for Marchand.


Marchand rode 92 laps at the Velodrome National near Paris and was surrounded by a large cheering crowd at the end of the hour ride.

A crowd surrounds Marchand at the finish.
According to reports, Marchand believes he could have done even better. He told the AP "I did not see the sign warning me I had 10 minutes left, otherwise I would have gone faster. I would have posted a better time." I don't know how many other people are out there capable of riding 14 miles in an hour at over 100 years of age, so who knows how long Marchand's record might stand.

Marchand is a former fireman who didn't really get active with cycling until he was 68 and retired. But since then, he has completed a number of impressive cycling feats. In 1992, at age 81, he rode from Paris to Moscow. And he previously held the hour record of 26.927 km for someone over age 100, and the record for the fastest 100 km for a man over age 100.

Just imagine all the things this man must have seen and experienced since his birth in 1911. And to think that he's up and riding nearly every day. That's something worth celebrating, and a great way to begin a new year.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year

I know a lot of people who make it a tradition to get out for a ride on New Years Day, though that has not necessarily been a tradition for me. Nevertheless, when I woke up this morning, Jan 1, bright sunshine and clear blue skies made a bike ride practically a necessity.

A canal visitor center in Boston.
Despite the shining sun, the temperatures were only in the 20s early on, so I waited a couple of hours for things to warm slightly -- hey, I had nowhere else I needed to be. By 10:00 or so, the temperature had gotten up to 30, and I figured that was good enough that I wouldn't have multiple layers to peel off by the time it got into the upper 30s by noon.

I headed north from Akron, along the valley road through the little village of Peninsula and up to the even smaller village of Boston. Roads were wet in places, so it was nice to have fenders, and I had to keep my eyes peeled for ice on the shady stretches.

Under the Interstate 80 bridge that spans the
Cuyahoga Valley.
Once I hit Boston, which barely exists as a village anymore (having been mostly swallowed by the national park) I got a couple of photos, then thought about taking the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath back to Peninsula but found the path to be a sloppy mess. Even with fenders, it seemed to me that the bike and I were going to be covered in mud. Most of the path is "paved" with packed, crushed limestone, and this time of year it isn't really a good biking choice. Not only is it less than pleasant (that limestone soup is tenacious), but bike tires will leave some pretty deep ruts when the path is so saturated and those ruts will become almost rock hard after the path dries out. Best leave it to the hikers for now. I stuck to the road for the return trip.

My ride ended up being about 25 miles and left me tired but satisfied. What a great way to start a new year.

Wherever you are, I hope you got to start the year as well as I did.