Monday, August 31, 2015

What The What? Brooks Goes Carbon?!

Crazy things are happening over at Brooks Saddles.

At Eurobike last week, the 100+ year-old maker of classic, handmade leather saddles unveiled a new saddle with carbon fiber rails. Carbon fiber rails?!

Someone must have spiked their tea.

Learn a little more about the Brooks C-13 at BikeRumor.
A couple of years ago, the British saddle maker introduced their new Cambium line of non-leather saddles - or "vegan" as some have dubbed them -- which have a natural rubber top fused with a canvas-like material for comfort and durability. For the most part, the response has been pretty good. I had requested to be one of the people to test out the new saddles at that time, but they rejected my request. (What Gives?! Did it not matter to them that I have at least a dozen Brooks leather saddles?)

Recently, Brooks has teased that they were preparing to release a new saddle in the Cambium range -- a new, lighter C-13. It was expected that it would be a narrow racing saddle, and the lightest Brooks yet, possibly with hollow rails. Not too many people were expecting to see a carbon-fiber Brooks at Eurobike, though.

It's a surprising development, but maybe it shouldn't be. Think about it, there was a time when Brooks leather saddles were all over the professional racing peloton. Amateurs, too. The Brooks B-17, and later the Professional and Team Professional were the saddles of choice for many racers, at least up into the 1970s when plastic saddles started making serious inroads. By the 1980s, the only bicycle race where one could still routinely see Brooks saddles was the Race Across America, or RAAM. Three-time winner Lon Haldeman was famous for his Brooks saddles, and I remember reading much about his method for breaking them in.

With a claimed weight of 259 grams, the new saddle would actually be reasonably competitive among the weight watching racers again. Would Brooks be sponsoring a team in the future? Who knows.

On the Brooks website (where actual details about the new saddle are still scarce), the slogan is #backontherivet, which seems appropriate if they are, in fact, going after the serious racing crowd again. The expression "on the rivet" is an old one for racers going "all out" -- sliding forward on their saddles until they were perched on the rivet at the nose. People still use the expression (or at least Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin still do) for that all-out effort, even though no racers in a couple of generations have used a saddle with rivets.

I have no fears that my favorite all-leather saddles are in danger of going away any time soon - but a carbon fiber Brooks was something I never thought I'd live to see.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Hydraulic Shifting? Why?

Cables are too simple for some people. Light. Simple. Easy to understand. Easy to fix. Replacing a damaged cable, whether for brakes or shifters, is an easy job even for an inexperienced home mechanic.

Can't have that, can we?

Even now, as hypesters are trying to convince us all that the future is electronic shifting (and that future is NOW!), oval chainring maker ROTOR Bike Components is releasing a new different technology -- hydraulic action shifting, to complement hydraulic brakes.

"Hydraulic systems are already something we use everyday without thinking twice," said Carlos Cartón, the lead engineer, "in car brakes, construction equipment, and airplanes. So it made sense to apply this proven technology to bicycle transmission, where the advantages are really clear."

Well - yeah. Hydraulic systems on cars and airplanes -- given their size, complexity, power, etc. -- are clearly superior to cable-actuated systems. But bikes aren't cars, or airplanes. Bikes are small, light, and simple. Cables work fine, and I fail to see how the "advantages are clear."

Dubbed "Uno," the system uses hydraulics to work both of the derailleurs as well as the brakes. Their brake technology was developed with help from Magura, but the derailleurs are unique tech. The company claims that hydraulic actuation will bring "increased precision" over cable-actuated systems, without the "disadvantages . . . like friction, devolving inconsistent force over time, and other inconveniences."

I don't know -- the "disadvantages" of a cable system, to my mind, are well offset by the simplicity. And cables themselves have actually improved to the point that the old notion of cable stretch is practically a non-issue. In fact, it was never considered a problem until the advent of indexed shifting -- in the days of friction-only shifting, who even noticed that the cables stretched over time?

But the folks at Bicycling tout the system's possible benefits: "less maintenance and better precision - at a lighter weight and with less complexity."

Hydraulic pistons, rack and pinion mechanisms, hydraulic lines, master cylinders and slave cylinders. . . Yeah, that looks a lot less complex.
Lighter weight? Lighter than an electronic system with its batteries, etc., but I have a hard time believing that it saves any weight over a traditional cable system.

Less maintenance? Maybe so. But then again, have you ever bled a hydraulic system? I've done it on both cars and motorcycles, and it's a P-I-T-A. Messy. Finicky. And I admit that I don't know for sure what kind of hydraulic fluid they'd be using, but most types of hydraulic brake fluids have a limited shelf life once they've been opened. And for home mechanics who would only be doing such work occasionally, that means waste. Not to mention that old brake fluid is a contaminant that really shouldn't be disposed of by pouring it down the drain -- it needs to be recycled properly.

A unique aspect to the Uno derailleurs is that, unlike indexing systems from Shimano, Campagnolo, and SRAM, the indexing mechanism is built into the derailleur instead of the lever. That kind of reminds me of the old Shimano Positron system, or even Huret Commander -- both of which had the indexing in the derailleur. Neither was very successful. It's possible that having such a system actuated by hydraulics instead of cables would work better than on those early indexing shifters, but I'm not going to be putting that to the test.

More info will come about the Uno hydraulic shifting system soon, since Eurobike is currently underway.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Two Years

This morning I remembered that I first posted The Retrogrouch two years ago today - Aug. 27, 2013. I don't think too many people noticed when it first went up. Only 267 people visited the site by the end of that first month (though, to be fair, it was only 5 days). Since then, readership has grown steadily, but even now, bike blogs like BikeSnobNYC and LovelyBicycle probably get more hits in a day than The Retrogrouch sees in a month. That's OK. We'll just call it "exclusive."

There are currently 350 posts on the blog, including this one. Of those, there are at least 8 dealing specifically with disc brakes. About a half-a-dozen are about press-fit bottom brackets and the creaking that plagues them. There are about 10 dealing with carbon fiber frames and forks. Electronic "integration" and "connectivity" on bicycles gets covered at least half-a-dozen times, as does the subject of overpriced bicycles and components. Perhaps refreshingly, I could only find about 3 posts that deal primarily with helmets (but they tend to get the most comments - maybe not surprisingly).

Perhaps the most unintentionally creepy film ever made for
kids: the bike safety film One Got Fat, from the Bike
Safety 101
Although they tend to get the fewest "hits," the 9 posts about vintage safety films (Bike Safety 101) may be among my personal favorites, as they combine my love of anything bicycle-related, as well as my love of movie history. But by far, the topic that gets written about more than any other is subject of "dumb innovations." There are probably 30 posts or more that fit that subject -- or more if you count articles that touch on it tangentally.

Looking at the Blogspot statistics, I found that the article that has, by far, the most hits is the one about Tange and Ishiwata frame tubing. Why that one? I can only guess that it's been linked to from some of the bicycle forums -- either that, or there are a lot of people googling for info about Tange or Ishiwata. Second to that is the one about Bike Fit Then and Now. Strange thing about that one is that it went unnoticed for a long time, then suddenly the hits on it shot through the roof. Apparently a couple of people posted links to it on the bike forums, and also Facebook it would appear.

Something that I've found I get a lot of comments about (typically off the blog, sent to my personal email) is the look of the blog -- particularly the background image. The image is a collage of vintage bicycle head badges, which I think represent in a very grand way one of the differences between bikes "then and now." Yes, there are a lot of bikes today that still use head badges. But to my mind, they are something that recalls the glory of bicycles from an earlier era. Since much of the collage is obscured by the actual writing on the blog, here it is out in the open:

Some people have wondered if these are my own collection of head badges, but they are not. In fact, only a handful of the badges are actually on bikes I own (or once owned). Some of them are images I've found through searches of head badges for sale on eBay, or through general image searches. In case you're wondering how I made it, I'll try and explain it in some detail in a future post -- who knows? It could prove useful.

Lastly, if you've noticed that posts haven't been quite as frequent lately as they had been - it's because I'm back at work (regular readers probably already know I'm a full-time teacher) and I'm trying to get used to a new, different schedule that's making blog updates a bit difficult for the time being. Hopefully I'll figure out a good rhythm and there'll be fewer delays.

It hardly seems like two years have gone by. Thanks for reading!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Recon Jet Glasses - Who Needs Vision When You've Got Data?

Back in December I wrote about the Recon Jet "smart glasses" which were billed as a "wearable computer" -- not unlike the much-hyped and really-stupid Google Glasses, only for athletes. At the time, I suggested that they reminded me of Geordi La Forge from Star Trek Next Generation, and referred to them as a good case of unnecessary data overload.

Since that time, the Recon company has been purchased by Intel, and the glasses are on the market, ready for purchase by performance addicts and tech geeks everywhere. I suppose the purchase by Intel means that if it's possible that there is actually a market for wearable computers, then the Recon Jets probably have as good a chance for survival as any. It's still a big "If," though.

A writer for CyclingTips managed to get a pair of Recon Jet glasses to test out. They didn't sound like anything I'd be willing to shell out $699 for.

For one thing - and it's a "huge" thing - is that basically they are a pair of goggles that also incorporate a computer, a tiny projector, and a battery pack -- all perched delicately on one's nose.

Then there's this:

and this:

But who needs peripheral vision when they're riding a bike, right? We're talking about the future. PERIPHERAL VISION is for RETROGROUCHES!

Then again, how could anybody react to an SUV coming at them from their periphery when they're trying to decipher all this data being projected at them by the little projector that covers approximately 1/3 of the right-side lens?

Okay - let's say I'm a tech geek and a performance addict who thinks peripheral vision is overrated and has no issue with carrying bulky objects on his face. I just have to have the Recon Jet glasses. Still a problem. Because I'm a far-sighted astigmatic who can't see a damn thing without bifocals. Sorry - no prescription users at this time. At some point, they're sure to create a prescription-ready insert (their website says "coming soon") which will most likely clip inside - behind the main wrap-around lens. So that's another thing to add some bulk and complexity (by the way, I've used those kinds of clip-in prescription inserts that come with one-piece goggle-type glasses -- sweat runs down in-between the inner and outer lenses, making a blurry mess of vision).

The CyclingTips review concluded:

If you were hoping for an actual review of the Recon Jet glasses from someone who's actually tried them, you'll have to go with that review, or look elsewhere, as I won't be (and can't be) trying them out anytime soon.

Damn. I'll try to contain my disappointment.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Akron, Ohio - Home of the Blimp(s)

I was riding my bike home from work today, and enjoying what turned out to be an absolutely gorgeous day -- clear, bright blue sky, nary a cloud to be seen, low humidity, and temperature in the mid 70s. As I approached my neighborhood in the city of Akron, which had once been the center of the North American tire and rubber industry (maybe the world's tire and rubber industry), I heard a familiar sound in the sky. A deep, bronchiolar rumble that could be only one thing: The Goodyear Blimp.

Anyone who's ever watched a major American sporting event on TV has probably seen the blimp -- probably circling over a huge stadium. But if you've never heard one in person, you should know that the sound of a blimp is unique among aircraft. There's nothing else that sounds like one. If you live in Akron, which is still the home of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company (though most of the other rubber companies have been bought, sold, and moved), the sight and sound of the Goodyear Blimp flying slowly overhead is almost commonplace.
One blimp is a common sight in Akron.
Two flying together is pretty rare, even here.

But today was unusual - even in Akron. Looking up for the familiar silver, blue, and gold blimp, I saw there was not one, but two blimps circling overhead.

The two blimps were flying in tandem as part of a "farewell tour" as they are both being moved to new bases - one going to California, and the other going to Florida. The two blimps are actually very different from one another. The older of the two is the Spirit of Innovation, a "true" blimp in that it has no rigid framework holding its helium vessel. It is the shorter, "rounder" looking blimp at the top of my photo. The Spirit of Innovation is a model known as a GZ-20, which has been the standard Goodyear Blimp model since the 1960s.

The other blimp, a newer model, is Wingfoot One, which is longer, and of a completely different design from the Spirit of Innovation. Wingfoot One is what some might technically call a "Zeppelin" which in this case has a lightweight aluminum and carbon fiber framework supporting the helium vessel. Wingfoot One is heading to its new, permanent base in Florida, and another yet-to-be named blimp of the same model is currently being built nearby to replace it at the Akron-area base.

OK - other than the fact that I saw this on my bike ride home, this doesn't really have much to do with bicycles (and I won't go into a retro-grouchy rant about carbon fiber blimp frames). But it was too cool not to share.

Disc Brakes on Pro Bikes - Ho Hum

Disc brakes are here! The trial-period for using disc brakes on professional race bikes has finally arrived! And the response among the teams so far has been . . . underwhelming. Pro racers say "Wha'?"

The bike industry has been pushing disc brakes for road bikes for some time now - lobbying the UCI to allow them on professional race bikes, and doing everything they can to convince the rest of us of their unparalleled greatness. Seriously - the hypesters would have you believe that if you aren't buying a new bike with disc brakes, you're a danger to yourself and others.

Back in April, the UCI finally set up a timetable for approving disc brakes in the pro ranks - starting with the current "trial period" to run through August and September of this year, with another trial period in the 2016 season, then a planned full adoption in 2017.

Apparently, only a handful of teams have embraced the trial, and even in those cases, the trials are very limited. According to Bike Radar, BMC, Orica-GreenEdge, and Giant-Alpecin have no plans on testing the disc brakes at this time, despite being sponsored by Shimano, which does make racing disc brakes systems. Teams that are sponsored by Campagnolo will not be testing disc brakes, as Campagnolo currently has no disc brake system to offer. While it has been confirmed that Campy is working on a hydraulic disc brake system, it doesn't sound to me like they are fully convinced that a disc brake revolution is truly needed. But rest assured, they'll have them soon enough -- probably just in time for the full adoption in the pro ranks.

Trek Factory Racing will have a rider on Shimano disc brakes at the Vuelta a España. The team's press officer, Tim Vanderjeugd, has said, "The goal is to find out what disc brakes bring to racing. We don't know if disc brakes are really an advantage in a race situation. . . We'll cherry pick some stages and try to find answers."

Apparently, one of the difficulties in applying disc brakes to the pro peloton is getting the bikes ready for the discs. Most of the sponsoring bike manufacturers have disc-brake models in their lineups, but they often are "endurance bikes" that have different, less-aggressive geometry than the racing bikes that the riders typically use for competition (another example of the increasingly narrow-segmented niche marketing the industry has been moving into). The other issue is that some of the disc brake wheel systems use proprietary hub spacing -- some are as wide as 142 mm in back in order to accommodate 11 cogs and the brake disc. Then there is the whole quick-release vs. thru-axle question. And even with the thru-axles, there are questions about 12 mm axles vs. 15 mm axles. All of these various incompatibilities make the issue of neutral support wheels a real headache.

While the response to the current trial period seems tepid so far, I have no doubt that we'll see more of this nonsense next year. Will someone wake me up when it's over?

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Marco Pantani's Accidental Death

Never underestimate the power of denial.

I kept thinking that as I watched the documentary Pantani: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist. The film was released last year, but recently became available on Netflix and YouTube. Marco Pantani had a meteoric rise to the top of bicycle racing, then almost as quickly lost everything -- eventually ending up alone in a hotel room, dead of a cocaine overdose at the age of 34.

Directed by James Erskine, and based on a biography by Matt Rendell, the film explores the life of Pantani through archive race footage, old photos, and interviews with family, friends, and people who knew, worked with, or raced with the Italian climber. The film begins as Pantani burst onto the scene at the '94 Giro d'Italia, attacking the formidable Miguel Indurain in the mountains, beating him on the climbs and taking 3rd overall. Rendell says of Pantani, "He seemed to catch the imagination in a way that no other cyclist had ever done. . . He restored a sense of magic that had been forgotten. It was like going back 50 years," comparing the climber to past greats like Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi. The film then goes back to look at Pantani's early years before returning to his peak and downfall.

Certainly, it is impossible to deny that Pantani had tremendous gifts as a racer - and he did absolutely become something like a national hero in Italy, as well as to some racing fans all over the world. Unfortunately, he was apparently unable to deal with the pressures of professional racing. Knowing what we would come to learn about doping and drugs like EPO, it's difficult to separate the talent from the artificial enhancement.

Pantani leading a sit-down strike at the '98 Tour de France -
 the Festina Affair.
If there is anything that really weakens this film, it is that fact that it becomes awfully vague in regards to Pantani's doping - and just like his legions of fans, who chose to look the other way, the film seems to look for any way to deny the racer's culpability in his own downfall. For instance, in one early scene, the film has Pantani's mother telling us that her son wanted to quit racing because, as he told her, professional racing was a "mafia." Later, the film seems to attempt to deflect criticism of doping because it's part of a long-standing culture in bicycle racing, implicating past greats like Coppi and Anquetil as drug users (Anquetil famously quipped that you can't win the Tour de France on mineral water). And yes, it's true that various kinds of drug use have a long history in bike racing - pain killers, stimulants, etc, go way back -- but in terms of actual performance-enhancement, those early doping methods don't hold a candle to the way that EPO altered racing performance.

Winning on the Galibier in the '98 Tour de France -
a huge come-from-behind stage win that helped Pantani
win a Giro/Tour double.
Later, when the film looks at Pantani's ejection from the '99 Giro d'Italia for doping, several people suggest conspiracies that were designed to bring the popular racer down - some of which don't really even make sense from a logical standpoint, and none of which is substantiated in any way. One says, "He had become too famous. They wanted to get rid of him. He had become a nuisance." It is suggested that he was winning too much, "upsetting the balance" of the professional race structure, and denying other teams' sponsors the camera time they needed. "It was bad for the financial structures that keep the sport healthy," says one. Another suggests that gambling interests wanted him taken out of the race - betting on bicycle racing having recently become legal in Italy. But I'm sorry - as far as I'm concerned, the conspiracy theories are completely unsupported by anything resembling factual evidence, and I'd say they are not worth mentioning in a serious biography. They just seem come across as more denial and more excuses.

Several interview subjects in the film talk about how Pantani didn't fail any drug test - and that's technically true. At the time, there was no test to detect EPO. Instead, if a racer's red blood cell count - his hematocrit - went above 50%, he was suspended from racing for two weeks for "health reasons." Understand that in the early days after the introduction of EPO, racers were dying in their sleep because their hematocrit was so high that it made their blood too thick to be pumped. I read somewhere that prior to the "health screening" tests, Pantani was pushing as high as 60% for most of his professional career. In any case, Lance Armstrong supposedly never failed a drug test either, but only a fool would still argue that he raced clean.

The film also looks at the 2000 Tour de France and Pantani's showdown with Lance Armstrong. It was well publicized at the time that Armstrong taunted Pantani - belittling him and offering no respect for the little climber's talent. It was the kind of trash-talking mind game that a lot of American athletes are known for. Eventually, Pantani withdrew from that tour, citing stomach troubles - but the film seems to imply that Armstrong's lack of respect sent the Italian hero on a path to depression and self-destruction.

Not long after that tour, Pantani was implicated in another doping investigation, this one involving Dr. Francesco Conconi, a doctor who was actually connected with the Italian national cycling authorities. He withdrew from racing amid clouds of suspicion.

After his fall from grace, Pantani apparently started slipping deeper into depression - the pressures of racing, and the negative publicity taking a terrible toll on him and his psyche. That is something I can see as terribly sad. Unlike someone like Armstrong, who seemed to have the kind of alpha-dog personality (some might say "psychopathic") to systematically dope without moral reservations, Pantani probably struggled quite a bit with his inner demons, eventually turning to cocaine, which led to his death. But ultimately he made poor decisions, though it seems to me like the film wants to fuzz that up. Bradley Wiggins is interviewed in the film saying, "If you were to survive and wanted to win as a professional and make a living, you had to do what you were told." In other words, Pantani had no choice. They made him do it.

Even Greg Lemond is interviewed for the film, though his comments are almost totally full of respect and praise for Pantani, with only the vaguest mention of the doping. At the end of the film, Lemond speaks of meeting Pantani in 2002. "There was this image of him being this criminal. Pantani the pirate. I looked into his eyes, and it was the eyes of a 16-year old kid. There was a sadness to him, but an innocence, too. . . if he was cheating, the pain was almost unbearable to live with." If he was cheating? Please. Knowing Lemond's stance on drugs in the peloton, I really have to question what else he may have said that the director left out.

One little thing that bothered me about the film's interview subjects is that the film is very inconsistent about identifying the speakers. Lemond and Wiggins are identified, but many others are never named. Of course, it wasn't difficult to figure out which one of the speakers was Pantani's mother, but others, whether they be former racers, managers, friends, or relations, one could only guess who they were.

In the end, the film seems to want to leave us with the impression that Pantani's death was the tragic result of a horribly corrupt system. One of the speakers says, "The doctors, the director sportifs, the general managers of the teams, the sponsors, the beneficiaries of doped sport, they carry on earning good money, they carry on with their prestige, and the athletes are the instruments of the system. Pantani was an instrument of the sporting system. It brought him fantastic success, but ultimately led to his complete destruction."

I agree that Pantani's death, alone in that hotel room, is terribly sad -- and the organization and system of professional racing was (probably still is) horribly corrupt. Pantani's story is a complicated one, and there may be plenty of blame to spread around. But that's just the thing - the film seems to make a lot of implications, but ultimately glosses over the most difficult aspects of the story.

In the end, I just have a hard time with a film that seems almost to deify any racer who helped to define the "EPO era," which made bicycle racing so hard to watch and take seriously today.

I have a link to Pantani: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist on YouTube. However, be aware that other posts of the film on that site have been removed for copyright violations. This once could go the same way.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The "Answer" to Drunk Cycling

Equality is a funny thing, isn't it? For example, in the eyes of the law, a bicyclist and the driver of a car have the same right to the road, and have the same responsibilities. They are supposed to be equal. Yet in terms of protection, as in an accident for instance, we cyclists have a distinct disadvantage to cars with their thousands of pounds of sheetmetal and airbags, etc. On the other hand, when it comes to their ability to inflict damage on other people and property, obviously a car is capable of much more carnage. To many non-cyclists the answer to that little de-facto inequality is simple - make all cyclists wear a 6-oz. foam hat, and then they don't have to do anything to curtail the rights of drivers to text and watch YouTube videos while driving, or even expect them to pay attention while operating a 2-ton weapon of mass destruction. And then there is the overwhelming attitude of many drivers that bicyclists are 2nd class road users who don't really have the right to be on the road at all, despite what the law may say. So in many ways, we're all equal, except when we're not.

People who don't ride get some stupid notions about cycling and cyclists. And then they come up with stupid products to try to capitalize on that stupidity. And then stupid reviewers try to convince us of their merits.

Take the Alcoho-Lock, for example -- it is a lock that includes a breathalyzer to keep drunk cyclists off the road. That's right. You lock up your bike with the Alcoho-Lock, and then if you've been drinking, you have to get on your knees, put your mouth up to the lock, and blow. If it detects too much alcohol, the lock refuses to open. Not only that, but it sends a message via the user's smartphone to a family member so that they can either come pick the person up, or chastise them (I'm not sure which).

Of course, the non-cycling reviewers at Gizmodo think it's swell.

"You might chuckle at the idea of a drunk cyclist, but since they often share the road with motorists, they can be just as dangerous as an inebriated driver," their reviewer writes.

Yep -- totally equal. Drunk Cyclist = Drunk Driver.

Mind you, I'm not suggesting anybody should drink and ride any more than they should drink and drive. But just as dangerous as an inebriated driver? Yeah - that's why we see headlines like this all the time: "Drunk Cyclist Leaves Dozens Dead." Also remember that, while it's certainly possible to ride a bike when drunk, basic balance issues probably make it physically harder to do. It's much easier to get behind the wheel of a car under the circumstances.

And you know how you should never read the comments section after an article involving bicycles? Yeah - I made that mistake again:

It happens all the time, doesn't it?

The makers of Alcoho-Lock have a website with a helpful graphic that shows how to end the plague of drunk riding:

And a video to show the merits of the product. It opens with shots of a bunch of hip-looking urban riders in Japan, all out riding at night (all on their way to get rip-roaring drunk, apparently):

"Under normal circumstances, bicycles are really fun to ride."
Note the minimalist lighting, dark clothing, and nary a helmet in sight. Which of these things will get them killed first?
"Unfortunately, more people are becoming less conscious 'drunk-riding'."I'll side-step the less-than-masterful translation from Japanese to English. But "more people are becoming less conscious" of drunk riding? Were people more conscious of it at some previous time?
Get on your knees and pucker up. After a night of heavy drinking, that could be a bad idea.
The Alcoho-Lock communicates with the user's smartphone app (keep that phone charged, or you might not get your lock open!) to give an blood-alcohol-content reading. If the BAC is too high, the lock won't open.
Then your "partner" gets a call. Maybe something like "your waste of a husband just got wasted again"?
That's right - put the kid on the phone to talk to her drunk father.
"Convince cyclist not to drunk-riding." Again, side-stepping the awkward Japanese-to-English translation. Maybe a reader would like to write some dialogue for this uncomfortable conversation?
"I strongly hope you ride safely and not cause any accidents," says a bike mechanic at the end of the video. Because as we all know, bicycles are the real threat to public safety. 

I just hope that legislators here in the U.S. don't hear about the Alcohol-Lock. They'll be sure to add it to their mandatory helmet laws.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Chris Boardman on Helmets and Safety

Former bicycle racer, and several-times holder of bicycling's Hour Record, Chris Boardman, has recently been in the news for his controversial stance on bicycle safety and helmets. You see, Boardman had the audacity to ride a bicycle without a helmet when he appeared on BBC TV late last year. "I dressed as I would to drive down the shops. I have nothing against helmets," Boardman said afterwards, when a firestorm of disapproval swept up. "My riding a bicycle in normal clothing, looking like a normal person was greeted by some with cries of horror. It's both understandable and unfortunate because it obscures what I believe are the real issues." He added, "There's absolutely nothing wrong with helmets, but it's not in the top ten things that you can do to keep safe."

Read Boardman's full statement "Why I didn't wear a helmet on BBC" 
on the British Cycling website.

The helmet flap has been brought back into the news because Boardman is about to release a bicycle safety film -- aimed not at cyclists, but at the drivers of cars. The short film, called Space, is meant to educate drivers about a British Highway Code section that requires drivers to give cyclists and horse riders as much room as a car, and reinforces the legal right of bicyclists to ride two abreast. I'm not exactly certain of the full contents of that particular section of their highway code, but it sounds like it's similar to the 3-foot passing laws that are making their way in some states here in the U.S. Boardman says (as all cyclists know) "Some motorists don't give cyclists sufficient space when overtaking, failing to take into account the wobble room a cyclist needs. Cyclists don't always ride in a straight line partly because they can spot potholes and other road imperfections that motorists can't."

Boardman points to cities in the Netherlands to show how the large number of cyclists on the roads, as well as well-thought-out bicycle infrastructure, make cycling safer - despite the fact that helmet use is less than 0.5%. He wants to make bicycling such a normal part of life that people don't fear it. He says, "We are drowning in data - economic, health, pollution, you pick any battleground you want and using cycling as a mode of transport for short journeys wins hands down."

The real issues to bicycling safety come from cars with inattentive drivers and poor road design -- not from the cyclists' attire, or their helmets. But the attitude of most legislators (and the people who leave asinine, psychotic comments on any bicycle-related story on the internet) is that bicycle safety is solely up to the cyclists themselves. Mandatory helmet laws are often the result of that kind of thinking. Boardman points out that countries that have brought in compulsory helmet laws - "such as Australia and New Zealand - have actually seen a 30 to 50% drop in the number of people cycling." He added, "When less than 2% of people in the UK cycle regularly, bringing in a law that would actually put more people off would be a serious step back."

"If cycling looks and feels normal, more people will cycle. The more people cycle, the safer they are," he says in his statement on British Cycling. He also goes on to point out how cycling can help reduce the numbers of people who suffer from obesity-related illnesses, and from pollution-related illnesses.

Boardman's attitude about helmets seems to be pretty similar to my own. When I'm suiting up for a long ride, a helmet is just part of my regular routine. There are other times, like riding through my neighborhood to pick up a few groceries, that I'll leave it behind. More importantly, I have no illusions that a helmet will do anything for me in a collision with a car. They simply are not designed or built to protect in that kind of impact (if you don't believe me, read about helmet testing HERE). Nobody should overestimate what a helmet will do for them, but unfortunately, to people who don't ride (like most legislators, I assume), helmets are everything.

It's good to see someone trying to re-direct attention onto the real issues that affect bicyclists' safety. Too bad that all people see is a guy who didn't wear a helmet on the BBC. I'll be interested to see the film that Boardman was working on with the British Cycling Federation. I'll probably post a link here on the blog when it gets released.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Recommended Viewing: The Legs of Amsterdam

"Without a bike, you're nowhere in Amsterdam. Bicycles are like the legs of Amsterdammers."

That's a notion you'll hear phrased several times in the short documentary De Benen van Amsterdam, or in English, The Legs of Amsterdam, directed by Wytse Koetse. The film follows a day in the life of a little bicycle repair shop in the Jordaan district of Amsterdam. The dingy little shop, located on a narrow alley, has been part of the neighborhood for 90 years, and its owner, Frans van der Meer, has been part of its history for the past 22 years.

Frans's shop is vastly different from the bike shops we've come to know here in the U.S. There are no wide, gleaming rows of sparkling new carbon fiber bikes, and racks of garish lycra clothing and new helmets. In fact, other than some new chains and inner tubes, there probably isn't anything in the shop that isn't recycled and reused. There are a few bikes along the walls (to be tripped over) -- but it isn't clear if they are used bikes for sale, or just repair jobs waiting to be picked up. The little shop, with virtually no windows, is lit by nothing more than a few old fluorescent tube fixtures that flicker and barely work at all. Stacks of wheels, bins full of nuts, bolts, and axles, and boxes of old hubs and sprockets clutter every nook and cranny in the shop. No, Frans's shop appears to be the place where people who rely on their workhorse bikes day in and day out come to get honest repairs to get them back on the road. Nothing fancy - just get it done right.

I couldn't help but notice that even Frans's work stand is just something whipped together from recycled parts - a couple big hooks suspended from a few old inner tubes.

One of the great things about the film is that it is not only a portrait of the little shop and its owner - but it also portrays a busy little working class neighborhood and its people. Throughout the film, a number of customers come in for repairs, but it also seems that some are there as much to visit an old friend as they are there to get their bikes fixed.

"The great thing about being a bicycle repairman is you fulfill a social role."
"It's always a lively bunch here," says one regular visitor. "Neighbors come to have coffee and catch up." He then goes on to describe how Frans will help a guy out by repairing his bike even if the guy is a little short on cash.

In one scene, a little old woman comes in for repairs, another regular customer . . .

. . . and makes some sandwiches for Frans and his assistant while they fix her bike.

There are some funny moments in the film, such as this one from the beginning:

"Look at this, the bike chain is not even tightened. What a Belgian way to do that."
I have to admit, I don't actually know why that's funny - but I still had to laugh.

And it should be noted that, however good of a mechanic Frans may be at keeping these old workhorses going, the film probably shouldn't be taken as any kind of instructional film, or an example of good and safe shop practices. There are lots of shots like these ones:

Grinding . . .
. . . welding . . .
. . . more grinding . . .
and nary a bit of eye protection to be found. Frans looks away (so he can't actually see what he's doing) so as to avoid the sparks. Awesome!

And the frame welding job is . . . well . . . it's welded.

Frans says, "I welded everything. It's all fixed."
I really enjoyed getting this look at the humble little bike shop in Amsterdam's Jordaan district. And humble really describes it - the shop - the owner - the people. At the end of the film, as Frans sweeps up and turns out the lights, he says, "This shop is my freedom. It's my work and I feel at home here. I'll never be a millionaire or anything like that. But I enjoy what I do. I enjoy my work. I enjoy my life. I'm happy and satisfied. Happy to be a bicycle repairman."

You can check out De Benen van Amsterdam on Vimeo, or watch the embedded version from YouTube right here:


Friday, August 7, 2015

Bicycling and Weight Loss

When I left for college at the age of 18, I was 6 feet tall and weighed no more than 130 lbs. Hard to believe that today, but I was a bean pole. Contrary to what one might expect, I didn't look like some kind of Holocaust survivor, either. I was just super lean, and had (still have) a really slim, bird-like frame. The wrists are a good place to get an idea of what someone's bone structure is like, and my wrists were so small that I typically couldn't wear men's watches unless I could punch a bunch of extra holes in the band.

Also, like a lot of teen-aged males, I was super active and must have had a crazy metabolism. In those days, I'd go for bike rides of anywhere from 50 to 80 miles at a time, then get home and devour a large pepperoni pizza by myself, or a dozen tacos or something. By the end of college, I was still riding regularly, but not nearly the same kind of mileage. I gained some weight, and graduated weighing about 145. After getting married, and settling into full-time work, I gradually gained more weight and eventually maxed out at 185 pounds. For a 6-ft man, that probably doesn't sound all that unusual, but on my frame, it was a lot. I mean, it's not like it was muscle or anything. I even developed the kinds of problems that one typically associates with being overweight - like sleep apnea.

So I'd try to lose weight, and my favorite way of getting exercise was always cycling. As a teacher, there were years where I could take a summer off, and before I had kids, that meant lots of time to ride. I started riding every day, and while I wouldn't do the kinds of rides I did when I was 18, I'd still get out for 30 or 40 miles a day most days. Twenty miles would be the minimum I'd go. I was averaging about 250 miles per week - and I wasn't losing anything. Not a pound. Talk about frustrating.

I was generally hungrier, being that I was putting in all those miles, but I was trying not to eat more than I might have otherwise. At the same time, I wasn't cutting calories, either. But it still just didn't make sense that I wasn't losing any weight.

A few years ago, I read Grant Petersen's Just Ride, and one of the things he says in that book is that cycling in general isn't really all that great for losing weight -- at least not by itself. Not that there's anything wrong with it, but that if losing weight is the particular goal, there are probably other things one should do.

Hmm. . . Maybe. But there may be another thing to consider.

One summer, I took a summer job - writing and editing for a local magazine publisher. The offices were eleven miles from my home, right in the heart of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which is the local cycling mecca. My boss was an avid runner and cyclist himself, so he had a shower installed at the office. I figured it was a perfect setup to start riding my bike to work. I'd ride the eleven miles there in the morning, and while everyone else was getting their coffee and donuts, I was getting a shower and changing. Afterwards I'd have a light breakfast at my desk - usually some toast and a piece of fruit. Lunchtime was my big meal. The only place I could get lunch (other than packing my own) was a restaurant down the street that was known for Big American fare - bacon cheeseburgers, huge orders of french fries, nachos, and all that other high-calorie, high-fat kind of food. Not to mention a beer list that took up a whole wall. My usual was the cheeseburger and fries. At 5:00, I'd ride the eleven miles back home. Have a light dinner, and end the day.

About a month into the summer, I was with my wife shopping. Apparently, I kept hiking my pants up and I didn't even realize I was doing it, but my wife noticed.

"What are you doing?" she asked.
"I don't know - it feels like my pants keep slipping down," I said.
"How much weight have you lost?"
"I haven't been checking," I said. "I didn't know I'd lost any."

When we got home, I stepped on the scale. I'd lost about 15 pounds without even being aware of it. "Holy cow," I thought. "I'm melting!"

By the end of that summer, I'd lost a total of about 20 - 25 pounds and gotten down to about 160. I had to get a bunch of new clothes. The sleep apnea went away, too.

Funny thing was that I still hadn't really changed my diet all that much, except for the fact that I was eating these big cheeseburgers and fries at least a few times a week. And I was only riding about half the total miles that I was riding during those times when I was actively trying to lose weight. 250 miles per week, no weight loss. About 120 miles per week, and I was dropping pounds without even realizing it. What gives?

I'm not in the habit of reading sports medicine journals or anything, but I have a theory. I was only riding about half as many total miles, but I was also splitting those miles up into two short rides per day instead of one long ride. I think that was the key. Two shorter rides in a day rather than one longer ride -- exactly what one gets when they bike to work.

It's pretty well established that exercise can raise one's metabolism so that they are burning more calories, and that this calorie burning boost can continue for a while even after the exercise is done. I was riding the eleven miles to work first thing in the morning and getting my metabolism going, so that even as I'd be sitting there at my desk, my body was probably still burning calories to the point that by lunch time I was famished. I'd eat that big lunch, work for a few more hours, then at the end of the day, I'd get out and ride another eleven miles to get home. Get my metabolism back up again at the end of the day, and keep burning calories into the evening hours.

I've talked to other people and read about still others who started riding their bikes to work regularly who also reported impressive weight loss. I wouldn't mind hearing from somebody who has done some actual research into this, but I think there's probably something to it. And obviously, if I'd cut back on the carbs, I'd probably see an even bigger difference -- but fact is, I still love bread and pasta just too much.

A few years ago I started riding to work for my regular full-time teaching job. That first year I did it, I managed an impressive 50% bike-to-work average, including the winter months. I also lost more weight - again, without really trying to and without changing my diet. I was down to about 150 pounds at one point. In subsequent years, lousy weather and a couple of extra-harsh winters lowered my bike-to-work average somewhat, so my weight has fluctuated a little, but mostly I seem to be staying somewhere between 155 and 160 pounds.

I start back to work again in another week. One of the things I'm looking forward to is getting back to a regular routine of bicycle commuting. If the weather cooperates, it might be possible to get back to a nice lean 150. Biking for weight loss may or may not be so effective - but at least in my experience, bicycle commuting seems to make the difference.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Schwinn Catalogs

After running scans of those old Schwinn ads from the '60s and '70s last week, I had a couple of people write mentioning how much they also loved the Schwinn catalogs from the same period. There are some great sites that feature complete archives of old Schwinn catalogs online, HERE, and HERE.

My favorites are the catalogs from about '65 through '74 -- those are the ones with the full-color spreads, attractive models, and travel-destination settings (Disneyland, Universal Studios, and Hawaii were among some of the locations).

Of course, go check out the archives, but I have a couple of favorite images to share for a brief post for today.
1965 Mens "Sport" bicycles . . .
. . . And Ladies "lightweight" models. Looks like a simpler time, doesn't it?
1968 Men's Paramounts. Photographed in front of the LA Coliseum. Very clean-cut looking guys, given the time.
1968 - Ladies "lightweights." It could just as easily be a fashion spread.
1971 - Breeze and Collegiate ladies models. And a couple of cute lady models. The '71 catalog was shot on location in Hawaii.
From 1972 - Sport Styling for the Girl On-the-Go. Got to love the tennis whites.
From 1973 - Yes, Virginia, there was a "ladies" version of the Paramount. 

And the ladies Super Sport. Cute dimples.

1973 accessories. Do NOT lock your bicycle to a tree.

And then there's this one - my favorite, and a favorite of some readers, too. Today's swimwear's got nothing on this model's paisley bikini. And that dude's outfit? Wow. Re-defines bicycling fashion. 
Oh, yeah - and the bike is pretty awesome too.
Hope you enjoyed - Just a brief post today.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

What Is The Masi Legacy?

Few bike names evoke more passion than Masi. The Italian master Faliero Masi was one of the preferred builders of many great racers, including Eddy Merckx, Fausto Coppi, and Jacques Anquetil (regardless of whose name appeared on the bicycles themselves), and the name is loaded with that "mystique" that makes bike fanatics drool like Pavlov's dogs.
Yeah, the current Masi logo bears
the name "Milano," but has as much
connection to that Italian city as
those Pepperidge Farm cookies.

Though Faliero's son Alberto continued to build excellent bikes in Italy, the U.S. rights to the Masi name were sold to American investors when a Masi factory was built in Southern California in the early '70s. That California factory fostered many great names in American framebuilding, as well, including Mario Confente, Brian Baylis, and others. Established builders like Albert Eisentraut and Dave Moulton also spent some time building at the California Masi factory.

The Masi name has been revived in recent years, but really has little, if anything, to do with the brand's storied past. According to Wikipedia, the brand is now owned by Haro Bikes, which is best known for BMX.

I just learned that Masi has a "Legacy Project." So, what exactly is the legacy of this current incarnation of Masi? Is it a legacy of bikes built by an Italian artisan under the famous Vigorelli velodrome? Or the legacy of the California factory turning out tidy American-built frames with an Italian accent through the '70s and '80s? Or is it the legacy that prevents Alberto Masi from selling bikes with his own name on them?

Looking at the company's current website, one can find lots of popped-out-of-a-mold-somewhere-in-Asia carbon fiber frames, and one "Speciale Series" lugged steel bike that is probably built in Taiwan, but looks decent from a classics-appreciating standpoint.

But what about that Legacy Project? Two limited-edition frames are being offered - in road and cyclocross versions -- dubbed the USA Gran Criterium and the Cross Campaigner respectively. Being built in the U.S. might mean that the legacy they are trying to invoke is that of the California factory. The fact that they are being painted by Jim Allen, who got his start at the California Masi factory, would seem to bear that out. Or maybe it has something to do with the fact that the bikes are built from steel?

Then again, steel or not, looking at the bikes, I don't see anything that says "Legacy."

Comically oversized tubing, with a MASSIVE head tube. Welded construction. Bloated carbon fiber fork. And the cyclocross version has thru-axles and disc brakes. Who are they trying to appeal to? Is it the racers and racer wannabes? The original Gran Criterium was about as good as top-level race bikes got in their era. But riders looking for a narrowly focused, top-level race bike today aren't likely to be buying steel. And riders after that Masi "legacy" may not appreciate those design and build details that make the bike look like a ferrous version of a carbon-fiber bike.

I've got no problem with made-in-America steel bikes for the go-fast crowd -- but calling it a "Legacy" just leaves me with lots of questions.