Saturday, July 27, 2013

Leadership, Cycling, and Putin

President Barack Obama, and daughter Malia, ride bicycles
President Obama, riding a bike with family while on vacation

President Obama rides a bike from time to time while on vacation - in that bicycling-as-family-activity (that isn't golf but is vaguely sporty) sort of mode. And that's fine. Not an apparent declaration of "manliness" however. (Also fine.)

Prime Minister, Vladmir Putin, Russia with Austrian Federal Chancellor Werner Faymann
President Putin (while prime minister), presented a bike in Austria

By comparison, sometimes President, sometimes Prime Minister Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin likes to put on shows of manliness. If he isn't leading Siberian cranes while piloting an ultralight he could be tranquilizing Siberian tigers or God knows what. This article in the New York Times gives some highlights of his manly achievements.

In 2010 the prime minister of Austria tried to give (then) Prime Minister Putin an appropriately manly gift and came up with the mountain bike (shown above).

Later, in 2011, Putin and then President Medvedev went for a bike ride together - however unlike most Putin staged events, this was not very manly. Photographs of President (then prime minister) Putin and Prime Minister (then president) Medvedev - their outing on bicycles. The whole thing seems a little forced - really, they needed to go on a bike ride together? Someone at least decided that they shouldn't ride matching bicycles, so Medvedev has a kind of hybrid thing and Putin has a (nominally more manly) mountain bike - although not the one the Austrians gave him. (The Austrians were perhaps sad about this.)

President Putin shown on Russian television catching a big fish

This sort of thing, wearing camo and out in the wild, is more Putin's idea of manliness that one assumes he thinks maps to leadership in the mind of the average Russian. Of course at this point, Putin has kind of spoiled his brand in this area for more intelligent Russians because so much of this sort of thing is obviously staged. In particular, in August of 2011, a scuba dive in which he brought up ancient amphorae was revealed to have been a set up, with the items he "found" having been put there for him in advance.

Russians are reminded of this Soviet movie in which a character catches a fish that is put on the line for him

So when Russians saw that he had caught a huge pike in a YouTube video or on the evening news, many doubtlessly were reminded of the above scene in a classic Soviet film where a fish is put on the line for someone to catch. Is this that manly? (By the way.)

Of course, there are different kinds of leadership - an article appeared recently about Pope Francis: "Avoid fast cars and ride a bike instead pope tells trainee priests"

Pope Francis revealed that it pains him when he sees a nun or priest driving an expensive car, and he praised the beauty of the bicycle, noting his 54-year-old personal secretary, Msgr Alfred Xuereb, gets around on a bike.

Pope Francis seems OK with bicycles.

People who have nothing better to do than be interviewed on CNN have been worried that he doesn't ride around in a sufficiently tank like vehicle as pope - while in Brazil, a former Secret Service agent in a whiny tone explained that the Pope's "handlers" much be crazy to allow the people of Brazil so much close access to him - and that he used a car and not the armored "PopeMobile." (See this item for example.)

bush in kolo
Then President Bush, a more serious mountain bike rider

Different leaders find manliness in different places, though. President Bush (II) was an avid mountain biker.

President Obama attempts to prove something by being photographed firing a shotgun

A bicycle would certainly not have solved this problem (whatever it was) for President Obama. Someone found him a gun. Someone else got a camera.

So perhaps there is no connection between leadership and cycling.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Bicycles, Motorcycles and Old Photographs

Pierce Mill & Bicycle, Motorcycle
Peirce Mill in Rock Creek Park 1918-1920, two cars, one motorcycle, one bicyclec

From the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog
Title Rock Creek Park
Date Created/Published [between 1918 and 1920]
Medium 1 negative : glass ; 4 x 5 in. or smaller
Reproduction Number LC-DIG-npcc-00028 (digital file from original)
Rights Advisory No known restrictions on publication.
Call Number LC-F8- 1543 [P&P]
Link -

Pierce Mill (Washington, D.C.)
Bicycles & tricycles.
Water mills.
Rock Creek Park (Washington, D.C.)
United States--District of Columbia--Washington (D.C.)--Rock Creek Park.

While there quite a few subject headings assigned to this photograph, the person who looked at it was not able to distinguish the motorcycle on the left and the bicycle on the right - early motorcycles were much closer to bicycles in appearance, reflecting their direct evolution from bicycles. Also, it seems clear these are police officers - you can see badges on their jackets and they have the right sort of uniform hats. (See the detail photo below.)

Given where Peirce Mill is in Rock Creek Park in Washington DC, one wonders how it happened that the two officers are together with their different modes of transportation. Are they connected with the women and the cars, and the person just visible in the back of one of the cars?

Peirce Mill has not operated commercially for years but apparently still can be operated for demonstration so in a sense is a working mill - it is used for school programs by the National Park Service and is open for visitors. So, the folks in the photo were on an outing? With policy escort? Another mystery of an old photograph.

Pierce Mill & Bicycle, Motorcycle (detail)
Detail showing the two police officers, one with a motorcycle, one with a bicycle

Oddly the Library of Congress has the Mill's name as "Pierce Mill" but the National Park Service web site makes clear it is "Peirce Mill" - I will have to suggest that it be corrected in the LoC database.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

"He Jumped" - 14th St Bridge Commute

This week has been pretty warm in the DC area - leaving my house to ride in at 6:30 it has already been 80 degrees (27 C) or higher and fairly humid. I consider these "two bottle" days since instead of just one bottle of Gatorade, I have two bottles, one of which I take frozen from the freezer - by the time I am half way to work, it is drinkable and I'll finish it before arriving.

Cars to left, river to right
Taken a different day and of the other end of the bridge, this gives a sense the layout of the pedestrian area on the bridge

This morning I got to the 14th St Bridge that connects Arlington to Washington around 7 AM. Riding onto the bridge, I am on the fenced in pedestrian area that is for foot and bicycle traffic in both directions - it isn't terribly wide given how many cyclists use it these days. About 100 yards (meters) on to the bridge, I saw a backpack sitting on one side, more or less blocking bicycle traffic heading towards me. I have noticed that I don't necessarily transition from "bike thinking" that is mostly reactive and instinctive to other problem solving; anyway, a woman outbound stopped next to the backpack and said something and I shot by in the other direction - then after about ten yards, stopped, turned around, and went back.

"He jumped off the bridge," she said. I was stunned - what?!? This bridge may be 50-60 feet (20 meters) above the water, so as a suicide jumpoff location it isn't suitable, so to speak. And for that reason, one assumes, the fence keeping one from jumping off is fairly low (as shown in the photo). I had not seen this, but the woman had seen some guy who put down his backpack and promptly climbed up and jumped over, just as I approached from the other direction. (How I didn't see this, I still don't understand.) Sitting next to his backpack was his wallet, almost ready to slip over the edge under the rail into the Potomac.

We look over - we see nothing. No guy. So, I mean, what is one to do? A guy drops his stuff and jumps off a bridge, so you call 911. So I did. The 911 operator and I did not have a terribly successful conversation - she seemed amazingly unaware of how the 14 St bridges (there are five of them, including rail bridges) are laid out. Eventually she said that (a) she was sending the police, even though by now we could see the guy, happily swimming (remember, is was quite hot out) not below us but off to one side and studiously ignoring us, above, yelling at him, and (b) that I could leave this location and didn't need to wait for the police.

So I continued on my way to work. The woman, for whatever reason and I have no idea how long, stayed. I also don't know if the police really showed up, or what else happened.

I don't know what my lesson-learned from this bizarre experience was. I mean, sure it was hot, so taking a swim in the Potomac may be a semi-sensible thing to do, but leaping off a bridge in rush hour and leaving all that stuff behind where it isn't exactly possible to keep track of it? So my guessing he just wanted to cool off would be a little counter-intuitive. I think.

I ride by a cyclist who is stopped along the trail on my commute, I ask, "got what you need?" I have given away a couple of inner tubes and pumped up a few tires, and of course encountered any number of situations where I could be no help whatsoever (since I only care so many tools in my little tool bag). Hmm.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

In the City of Bikes: The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist (Book Review)

In the City of Bikes: The Story of the Amsterdam CyclistIn the City of Bikes: The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist by Pete Jordan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I liked this book very much, both because the subject and the way it was handled was appealing (to me) and also because I think it is well written. I was confused however by title - I only understood what it meant properly after I had read 50 pages or so. In particular, "the story of the Amsterdam cyclist" can be understood as "a social history of cycling in Amsterdam" - "the Amsterdam cyclist" is meant to indicate Amsterdam cyclists in general from the 1890s to today. (Probably this confusion is just my problem.)

The blurb on the back cover states, "Part personal memoir, part history of cycling, part fascinating street-level tour of Amsterdam, In the City of Bikes is the story of a man who loves bikes-in a city that loves bikes." But really 90 percent of this book (which is almost 400 pages of text plus 40 pages of notes) is a history of urban cycling as transportation in Amsterdam, and to some extent in the Netherlands more generally. There is some comparison to cycling (and use of cars) in the United States, but not so much as to seem polemical. The "tour of Amsterdam" referred to in the blurb is, I think, incidental to the history of cycling for the most part (and that's fine).

The personal memoir aspect is ten percent or less of the book and mostly at the beginning and end of the book and the beginning and end of chapters. The transitions from the memoir portions to the more purely historical narrative are smooth and the style is consistent and at least for me; I was just as interested in both parts. Everyone has read a nominally "travel" book where it feels like the author is padding his or her experiences with "historical context" and the shifts from the personal travel anecdotes to the "history" portions are clunky - there is none of that here.

In fact, even though this could have been reworked as academic work on cycling history, it is far more pleasant (and just as instructive) to read the way it is, with the unobtrusive memoir sections providing helpful context by providing an understanding of "where the author is coming from."

When I got this book in my hands, I was a little doubtful - looking at a 400+ page book entirely on cycling in Amsterdam I wondered if it could really be something I would be drawn into and enjoy. Well, that turned out to be no problem - I liked it a lot.

My only slightly negative comments are minor. The chapters about cycling in Amsterdam in World War II are interesting but of the entire book it was the one part that seemed a little long. It was somewhat surprising that the "modern era" (the 1980s on) is dealt with in about twenty pages at the end (although there are mentions of modern Dutch cycling throughout, when I think about it). Having read this, I somewhat oddly feel I can tell you more about policies for Dutch cycling in WWII than today. Hmm.

It was also odd that the author's one previous book credit is writing a "memoir" of his experiences washing dishes (professionally!) in all fifty states. I regard such "listicle" type books as an artifact of our time (although I'm probably wrong about that) and not a good one. That doesn't mean I don't read such books from time to time, but many of them seem like clever ideas and don't read well - anyway, it wasn't exactly a hint in my mind of what is in this book.

For an American reader interested in cycling for transportation as an alternative, this book is a gentle (and I guess extensive) historical introduction or overview. While it is obvious that the author has a point of view and what that point of view is, the book is not written to hit the reader over the head with that.

The Publishers Weekly blurb states, "the readers will understand that the bike is to Amsterdam what the car is to America" - yes, and will understand in a helpful way why.

View all my reviews on Goodreads of cycling books

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Laurel MD Race Track Used for Cycle Racing (1925)

Apparently this 1.1 mile track in Laurel Maryland was primarily used for auto racing but was also used for bicycle racing from time to time (in 1925). Here are some photos of the track in both "modes" in 1925.

The track on July 11 of 1925 for auto racing

Title: Laurel Race, 7/11/25
Date Created/Published: [19]25 July 11.
Medium: 1 negative : glass ; 4 x 5 in. or smaller
Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-npcc-13958 (digital file from original)
Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication.
Call Number: LC-F8- 36387 [P&P]
Library of Congress

Laurel Wooden Race Track 1925
The same wood track being used for a bicycle race a week later

Title: Laurel bicycle races, 7/18/25
Date Created/Published: [19]25 July 18.
Medium: 1 negative : glass ; 4 x 5 in. or smaller
Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-npcc-14017 (digital file from original)
Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication.
Call Number: LC-F8- 36590 [P&P]
Library of Congress

One of the individual racers

Title: R.J. O'Conner, Laurel bicycle races, [7/18/25]
Date Created/Published: [1925 July 18]
Medium: 1 negative : glass ; 4 x 5 in. or smaller
Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-npcc-14014 (digital file from original)
Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication.
Call Number: LC-F8- 36587 [P&P]
Library of Congress

If you Google "laurel race track 1925" you come up with blog posts and various sites selling images, none of which mention that the image comes from the Library of Congress. Peculiar. These are from the National Photo Company Collection at LC, digitized from glass plate negatives.