Saturday, November 30, 2013

Lance Armstrong in the Public Domain & Other Finds in "The Commons"

The Flickr Commons has many interesting digitized historical photographs of cycling and also the (very) occasional original "born digital" photograph as well - these are believed to be in the public domain or otherwise under some Creative Commons type license and available for use in things like my blog. So occasionally I go through the search results in the Flickr Commons for "bicycle" just to see what is there. Since the search results include items in Flickr where users have added tags, the available search terms are often more than if one did searching in the "native" system. So for example, a user may tag a photo from the Library of Congress with a bicycle in the background with the word "bicycle" when the Library of Congress would not have that as a search term associated with that photograph.

Wind Tunnel (2)
A digital photo (not digitized) of Lance A from the San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives

The San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives has an unusually large number of photographs, both digitized and "born digital," in the Flickr Commons - about 166,000. Among those are a few tagged with "bicycle." The photo above is unusual generally for the Flickr Commons because it is a photograph of a public figure, Lance Armstrong, taken relatively recently (2008), and in the public domain. Or anyway, the statement is that, "there are no known copyright restrictions." Perhaps in their hurry to put material online, the amount of metadata supplied for any item can be minimal - here the title is "wind tunnel (2)" and that's all there is - Lance Armstrong is not named (or searchable).

Madeline Bailey -- Mrs. Duryea -- WM.B. Bailey  (LOC)
Blurry bicycle in the background, off to the left

Above is an example where the user-added tags include bicycle, resulting in a "hit" for this photograph, although most users will not find this particularly helpful since the bicycle is so blurry as to be unidentifiable other than that it is a bicycle. Although perhaps someone might find useful the presentation of the opportunistic nature of bicycle parking in 1910 (as compared to today).

School Children, Were Forced to Use Their Bicycles on Field Trips During the Fuel Crisis in the Winter of 1974. There Was Not Enough Gasoline for School Buses to Be Used for Extracurricular Activities, Even During Dark and Rainy Weather 02/1974
National Archives digitized photograph showing children cycling in Oregon in 1974

The National Archives has some digitized photographs (including a few with bicycles) from after 1923, after which U.S. published materials (well other than music . . .) are generally not in the public domain. I am particularly amused by some photographs that document life during the "gas crisis" of the 1970s. The caption for the above photo states that, "School Children, Were Forced to Use Their Bicycles on Field Trips During the Fuel Crisis in the Winter of 1974. There Was Not Enough Gasoline for School Buses to Be Used for Extracurricular Activities, Even During Dark and Rainy Weather 02/1974." Apparently (and perhaps not surprisingly) things were more dire in Oregon in this regard than they were in Washington DC - I don't remember this level of deprivation around here. The children depicted all seem to have road bikes - was that typical in Oregon? It sure wasn't here. That I recall.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The "American Girl" of 1897 - to be Thankful for on Thanksgiving

In the St. Paul Globe newspaper this article was titled "The Queen of Thanksgiving" but the same article was published in a number of newspapers across the country (with various titles). The article has a large illustration portraying the American girl (or woman, really) of 1897 in various settings.

"American Girl" & Thanksgiving (article illustration)- 1897
Full version of the illustration for the article about the "American girl" of 1897

The full text of this article in the Sunday November 21, 1897 issue of the St. Paul Globe talks about many positive aspects of the "American Girl," stating that, ". . . Thanksgiving day, '97, will find the American girl, as all other Thanksgivings have found her, not emancipated, for she never was enslaved, but free as the bright, frosty air that wooes her athletic frame, sending the bleed coursing swiftly through her veins and imprinting the charming tinge of robust health on her cheeks." One can argue that point, of course, but the description of women and cycling that follows seems to suggest that some things have been changing:
A good place to view her at her best will be from the sidewalk of any smooth-paved street of our cities, or from the pathways of macadamized country roads. Here, in the nattiest and newest of bicycle rigs, she will be seen, with her cheeks aglow, her bright eyes sparkling, her pretty hair dancing merrily in the wind, bowling along a-wheel at a pace that surely has nothing in common with chains or fetters, unless it be the bicycle chain that enables her to challenge the wind to a trial of speed and beat the old flirt in a canter. The manner in which the American girl has taken advantage of this glorious sport bears ample testimony to the fact that when she wants a thing she will have it and knows how to take the fullest advantage of what is hers by right. If the shades of the dear old grandmothers of the days of wheel and distaff could return to earth next Thursday and gather along the highways and byways where laughing, chaffing, free and happy columns of wheelwomen fly by, they will surely return to the land of shadows with feelings of regret that their lot was not cast in an era when women find more healthful means of employing their time than the laborious and confining duties of the old-fashioned home life. That the change is vastly for the better even the most disgruntled and cross-grained critic of the up to-date womanhood will admit. Instead of the pale-faced, narrow-chested woman of the wheel and distaff era, the spectator who chooses a front seat to view the passing show of Thanksgiving day '97 will see a long procession of rosy-cheeked, lithe-limbed, happy, healthy and wholesome specimens of femininity that speak contentment in every action.

"American Girl" & Thanksgiving - 1897 (detail)
Bicycling "American girls" - to be thankful for on Thanksgiving

There is a certain polemical aspect to this that speaks to the power relationship between men and women at that time which I think it is possible to separate from the way that women and and cycling are portrayed. In other words, trying to say that women are don't need emancipation because they enjoy the benefits of cycling is not a terribly good argument against emancipation, but the way women and cycling in 1897 are described here (aside from the period writing style) tells us that cycling was in fact a change for women at that time. Just not the last change . . .

Get the Kids Riding

Low Rider
Happy rider - moving along steadily

This is from a few weekends ago - this young rider from the neighborhood is making his way up the trail alongside "Lucky Run." Apparently he enjoys having a distinctive bike. It isn't clear how much the "chopper" design changes the dynamics of how the bike rides - the combination of a very long wheelbase considering the low position of the rider and the small head angle and the amount of trail. (See this for some explanation of bicycle geometry.)

Observing him ride up the slight hill, my sense was that the bicycle frame design wasn't an issue so much as the single speed aspect - once the hill started getting even slightly (but not very) steep, he got off and walked. Fortunately it is mostly pretty flat around here . . .

Saturday, November 23, 2013

"Make Us Bicyclists Look Good"

Last Monday I took the day off - as the end of the "leave year" (accumulated vacation time) is approaching, I have more than I can "carry over" so I am having many three day weekends. The weather was slightly odd for November since it got up to 70 degrees (F - around 19-20 C). I did a counterclockwise circuit, riding north along the Potomac and then heading up near Rosslyn on a trail that runs along I-66. In Rosslyn while waiting at a light to cross, I looked down and found the stenciled message below.

"Make us bicyclists look good"
This means you!

This is an area that I am not crazy about riding in, but since it isn't a very long part of what is otherwise a ride I enjoy, no worries. The reason I don't like it is that after miles of riding on trails, here it is necessary to ride on the sidewalk - although there aren't many pedestrians. This location, where Lee Highway crosses Fort Myer Drive, feels like as a cyclist one is intruding on the automotive bliss (or hell) the the drivers are experiencing. Because of a curve in the road for the oncoming one way traffic, a person would be crazy to venture to cross three lanes of traffic that can come zipping out of D.C. So there is time to contemplate this statement painted on the sidewalk.

I have blogged about my views on the "cyclists should model model behavior" before. I don't care much for it as a priority - to summarize my thinking.

Make us bicyclists look good
Another Flickr user in DC has a similar photo

To me, this statement - "make us bicyclists look good" - begs the question, look good to (or for?) who? (Or whom, I suppose.) And for what purpose? Make us bicyclists look good to the motorists so they will respect our law-abiding nature? (And not run us over.) Really? Keep in mind almost all of these same motorists are from time to time committing all sorts of small traffic infractions (exceeding posted speed limits, not making full stops at stop signs, talking on cell phones, texting, on and on).

The classic Disney cartoon portraying motorist behavior

This 1950 Disney cartoon, with Goofy portraying the crazed "Mr. Wheeler" when behind the wheel and the calm "Mr. Walker" while on foot, demonstrates the reality I see - most drivers, looking for an advantage in getting down the road more quickly themselves, aren't spending mental energy toting up a positive karma scores for cyclists when they see one who is 100 percent law abiding. If you get in their way, they'll remember that - not in a good way, of course - but if you stay out of their way, they are down the road. Bye!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Super Cargo Bike ~ of 1898

Paging through issues online of the 1898 "Cycle Age and Trade Review" I found in the November 10, 1898 issue a remarkable article with two illustrations of what seems to be a monster cargo bike - but alas, by this time, this "cycling" journal was starting to include articles about various motorized vehicles as well.

Pope Cargo Trike Motorized)
The eye-catching cargo trike - with gasoline engine, it turns out

Pope Cargo Trike Detail
Detail view, that hides the engine from inspection

Pope Mfg. Co. of Hartford, Conn., has published a pamphlet describing the carrier vehicles shown in the accompanying illustration. The merchandise capacity of the vehicle is rated at 500 pounds under which it will give its regular speed and power. The structural strength, however, is sufficient to permit a load of 600 or 650 pounds, although under this extra weight the motor will not develop its normal speed. The form and design of the carrying bodies are not necessarily as shown, but may be varied to suit different requirements. The two styles illustrated show wide variation between a light motor truck wagon and a closed-up affair such as would be suitable for a dry goods establishment. The motor is a specially designed gasoline engine for which no water jacket or other cooling device is necessary, thereby saving many complications and much weight, says the company. A supply of gasoline which is sufficient for about 100 miles travel is carried in a tank attached to the frame between the boxes. Like all gas or gasoline motors, the first explosion must be obtained by physical effort, and bicycle cranks and pedals were adopted to give the desired result in the easiest and most satisfactory manner. By the attachment of a clutch with chain and sprocket to the shaft of the driving wheels, foot power may be used to assist the motor when on steep grades, obtaining higher speed than the auxiliary low gear of the motor would normally produce. When the cranks and pedals are not in use they remain stationary. The normal weight of this carrier vehicle is given as 750 pounds.

Pope was the manufacturer of Columbia bicycles (I was not familiar with this identity, "Pope Motor Carriers") and I had not realized the degree to which some of their motorized products were hybrids with their products as this one is. Of course this may only have been a design prospectus and never produced or sold.

It's an interesting idea, to have the pedals used for the kickstarter function to start the gasoline motor and then as a supplementary power source when useful.

Modern day cargo trike, in Portland Ore (naturally), with an electric assist motor

Sunday, November 17, 2013

"Dangerous States" Where Insurance Companies Hope to Sell You Coverage

Hope to sell you policies and make bigger profits.

Insurance Business America, on online publication, has an article, "The Most Dangerous States for Cyclists" - it's a little strange to read.

Florida is the most hostile state for bicyclists, with 6.56 cyclist fatalities per million people in 2011, according to data from the US Department of Transportation. Louisiana and Oregon follow close behind, with 3.93 and 3.87 deaths per million.

This publication is arguing for special bicycling insurance policies - "For cyclists in these states, certain insurance policies are vital." They even get the League of American Bicyclists to provide an endorsement: ""Claims against any of your existing policies may result in an increase in premiums," said Scott Williams, membership director for the League. "But filing bike-related claims under a bike-specific policy may protect you from rate increases—and provide additional, supplemental coverage." Plus the national authority on bike law, Bob Mionske - "And cyclist insurance isn’t just for people who bicycle professionally, says bicycle attorney Robert Mionske. Producers would do well to recommend cyclist insurance to all clients who regularly ride a bike and don’t have proper coverage elsewhere."

Comprehensive cycling policies are only $250 to $300 a year for most riders, this article says, and concludes that, "there is a "big movement" in the insurance industry for bicycle coverage, which may pay off handsomely for producers in at-risk states." Yay, more profits for insurance companies!!

Probably it is better if people outside of an industry don't read these sorts of things.

bicycle Insurance Ad in Paper
Bicycle insurance was around before there were cars, as a matter of fact

Ad from the Evening star. (Washington, D.C.), 15 Oct. 1895.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Why They Were Called "Safety" Bicycles

The first popular bicycles were so-called "ordinary" bicycles - the rider sat high atop a single large wheel that had pedals attached directly to it with a single wheel that trailed behind. It was not easy to mount, it was not easy (apparently) to stay balanced, and since there were no brakes as such, stopping could be difficult - but if you hit the wrong sort of obstacle, you could come to a sudden and unexpected stop, pitching forward.

Recently I found two different booklets available online, both published in 1881 in Boston, that make the dangers of the ordinary bicycle quite clear.

Over the Wheel
As with all the illustrations in this little instruction manual, at first things seem manageable . . .

These two illustrations are from "Over the Wheel" - well, with a title like that, perhaps the emphasis on mishaps is not surprising.

Over the Wheel
As usual as portrayed in this booklet, the rider ends up in an accident

Another booklet in a similar vein is "The Illustrated Bicycle Primer" that similarly features illustrations with cyclists crashing in various ways.

So, once the bicycle as we know it today apppeared in the late 1880s, with similar sized front and back wheels and a chain drive system, it is hardly surprising it was distinguished from its predecessor, the "ordinary" as being the "safety bicycle."

First Safety Bicycle
An early "safety" bicycle

After not a very long time, the "ordinary" bicycles disappeared and the word "safety" to designate a bicycle also went out of use.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Negotiating for Cyclist Safety - the NYTimes Editorial View

Today the NYTimes has an opinion piece titled, "Is It O.K. to Kill Cyclist?" It takes a meandering approach to the subject, so summarizing it accurately isn't something I am going to try to do, but a few aspects jump out at me.

It's a step in some direction (whether forward or back may vary depending on one's perspective) that someone has published something in a broad circulation publication that says we have a car culture that tolerates cyclists getting killed on a pretty regular basis with no legal consequences for motorists who are at fault, unless the motorist flees (hit-and-run) or was drunk. And he ties this to the obvious point that in car-cyclist crashes, "only cyclists have much to fear." The apparent answer to the question in the title of the piece is, "yes, generally it is OK to kill cyclists with your car." That's radical, even for the NYTimes.

In fact, it reminds me of one of the reoccurring rants from Bike Snob NYC, who in recent months has revisited the lack of culpability for motorists who kill cyclists often. But Mr. Snob brings approaches the subject with several differences that I think are significant.

For one thing, Mr. Snob usually brings in the pedestrians, and points out that the better way to think of this problem isn't "all powerful (and protected, in several senses) motorists vs vulnerable cyclists" - he adds in the vulnerable pedestrians. Because when you look at the highway statistics, what you see is that motorists kill a lot more pedestrians than cyclists. The way to look at this is to use the "Complete Streets" model - not reducing the conversation to "a vs b" when it really should be a discussion of what serves all the road users so that none are at high risk is better, and to his credit, that is the way Mr. Snob approaches it (even though he is not particularly pedestrian oriented otherwise).

I find it exceptionally annoying that the NYTimes' author drags into his discussion that he sees cyclists routinely "ignore traffic laws" - that much of the problem must come from that. This seems to come up all the time - those scofflaw cyclists, it's all their fault. Strictly speaking, the scofflaw aspect only means that the cyclist is at fault when the cyclist (let's say) doesn't stop for a light and gets into an accident. That one breaks certain laws from time to time and then is in an accident that is the motorist's fault does not absolve the motorist because the cyclist can be presumed to have been breaking laws frequently elsewhere.

Cyclist middle of 14th
Under the NYTimes writer's logic, this dopey cyclist who is "running" (slowly) a red light is inciting motorists

This fixation on getting cyclists to "obey the law" can be seen in news publications often - yesterday, for example, the "Kearney View" (of Nebraska) has an opinion piece Follow Safety Codes Bicycling on City Streets that is a very politely stated reminder from a motorist that cyclists have rules that they need to follow - but based on the two-times wrong statement that "unsafe cycling puts everyone on the road in danger." Uh no - it isn't all on the cyclists and it isn't the same risk for everyone.

The NYTimes writer closes with this: "So here’s my proposal: Every time you get on a bike, from this moment forward, obey the letter of the law in every traffic exchange everywhere to help drivers (and police officers) view cyclists as predictable users of the road who deserve respect. And every time you get behind the wheel, remember that even the slightest inattention can maim or kill a human being enjoying a legitimate form of transportation."

For me, this "we cyclists can (or gotta, more like it) earn the motorists' respect!" approach is just baloney. The only legislative change advocated for in the piece, stronger penalties for motorists who kill cyclists, is made dependent on that "obey laws/earn respect" mantra.

I am reminded of the Norwegian video that looks at motorist-cyclist interactions that I blogged about recently. The video carefully avoids strong suggestions of fault and rather draws out the often ambiguous nature of cyclist-motorist interactions. It is a "be careful out there" message without the "be legal" argument thrown in.

If we want to focus on passing laws to improve this situation, I think budget laws that direct more resources to Complete Streets style infrastructure is more important long term. And short term.


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Soviet Kid with Bike Mystery Photo

Taken during the mid-1970s, somewhere near Leningrad

I have digitized slides and photographs from when I was in the Soviet Union in the mid-1970s, but in some cases I can't figure out exactly when and where they were taken. Like this photo of this Russian boy with his bicycle. I am puzzled by the monastery or whatever it is in the background - where is this?

The boy has what seems to me for the time and place to be a decent bicycle, for a child who is fairly serious about riding a bicycle. I like the tool bag attached under the top tube and the place for a pump behind the seat tube.

It is somewhat surprising that there is such a photo (to me) since I was not particularly interested in bicycles at the time. Also, one really didn't see that many people in the city riding bikes. But then this isn't in a city.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Kickstarter Your Way Out of Sweating

One of the "problems" that apparently needs solving is to create a bicycle that requires less effort to pedal. One doesn't want to "break a sweat" after all.

Electric bikes have been increasingly popular worldwide - even (or particularly) in places where bicycles are a more serious form of everyday transportation than in the U.S., such as the Netherlands.

"Smart Wheel is a pedal assist which means it helps you ride your bike effortlessly. The motor turns on when you start pedaling and begins accelerating to your desired speed. It stops when you stop. It saves you time by getting you to your destination faster and gets you there without losing your breath or breaking a sweat. There’s no need to worry about what to wear to that business meeting or 8 o’clock date."

The clever aspect of this Kickstarter, which is aimed at urban residents who already have a bicycle but aren't always interested in using it as much as they perhaps hoped and for any one of several possible reasons don't want to buy a purpose-built electric bike, is that it supports an easy and not too expensive conversion of an existing bike to an electric bike. In fact, one can easily switch back and forth by swapping in the standard rear wheel or the e-wheel! Oh and the whole shebang is controlled by your smartphone that you attach the handlebars. And a smartphone recharging system is helpfully part of the deal.

Of course the only fun in looking at Kickstarters like this is in critiquing them. Yeah.

* Purpose-built electric bikes are typically heavy. This wheel weighs only 9 pounds and has both the motor and the batteries in it - in fact, nothing more is required than the smartphone to control it. So leaving aside the phone, it only adds 7-8 pounds to the previous weight of whatever bike you use it with. But a reason that electric bikes are heavy is not just because their electric bike specific components (batteries, motors, controls) add more weight (than this one) but also because the whole bike is built up to support heavier loads since the force propelling it is now not just your legs. In particular, the brakes of your average bike intended to be ridden around at 9-10 mph are going to be working hard to stop a bike that now weighs 1/4 to 1/3 more that is routinely going 15-20 mph. So you would likely end up having more maintenance issues with a bike not designed with such use in mind and some safety issues with stopping, at least potentially.

* Carrying the bike up stairs - an obvious advantage for urban residents in apartments is a bike that isn't so heavy that you can't easily carry it up stairs. Arguably taking the typical bikes they are showing that weigh 25-30 pounds as manufactured and then adding 7-8 more pounds will result in a bike that can be carried easily by some people up stairs but by others not so much.

* Smart phone controlled - OK, I'm not strictly speaking a Luddite but the idea that I need to manage my bicycle through my smartphone takes away a considerable amount of the elegant simplicity of what a bike is. However since many if not most people now have some such device with them anyway, avoiding the extra weight of a specific control system for the e-wheel makes sense.

* The smart phone charging system - the cell phone charging system relies on a wired connection to a type of generator that is still used in Europe but is not very commonly seen now in the U.S., where a small wheel presses against the tire and drives the generator - a so-called dynamo generator. I had one of those on a bike when I was a teenager! On some level, given the rest of it, the thing is charmingly retro. I guess. But arguably it is a necessity only because your bicycle, with this wheel, requires your working smartphone and that in turns requires it is juiced up. So one is stuck by extension with providing an independent charging source for the smartphone.

* Anti-theft system - locking the wheel. Uh, they must be kidding. You would still need to lock this thing up, and in NYC that would require a locking system that weighs as much or more than the wheel. (In fact, a bike like this would be a high theft target, with its exotic wheel.) While in a certain way it may be helpful to have the GPS to find it when it is stolen, this is a poor substitute generally for not having it stolen in the first place.

* The gearing - in response to a question on this point, it says, "Smart Wheel is actually fully compatible with multi-geared bikes since the rear gear cassette gets removed together with your old rear wheel once you replace it with the Smart Wheel. This of course turns your bike into a single-speed bicycle but we don't see that being much of a problem since shifting is no longer necessary beause Smart Wheel is already doing most of the work for you." Leaving aside a bike with a front derailleur (that would remain and could presumably still be used) it appears that the e-wheel has 18 teeth, so in order to ride the bike with its pedal assist at 20 miles per hour you would have to maintain a pretty high cadence (how fast you turn the pedals) even if you aren't using much force to do so. This assumes that smart phone control aside that "pedal assist" means that in order for the motor to apply force, you have to be pedaling.

* Riding in the rain - the photo in the Kickstarter shows a woman riding a bike with no fenders, just of those plastic things that sticks out vaguely over the rear wheel. What one learns after riding a bike with properly fitted full fenders is that it is really the front fender that does the most useful work, keeping your feet dry by keeping water from flying from the front wheel into the frame of the bike and then down onto your circling feet in a more or less continuous stream as you ride. This isn't so much a drawback of it being an e-bike, but it would seem to me that in order to have a good example of an all weather bike they should have shown the rider in rain with full fenders.

But no worries - this thing is well over-funded by folks looking forward to early delivery of their own one of these things from the Kickstarter store as a Kickstarter "reward."

Interestingly while is now all about their Smart Wheel for bikes, they have also worked on e-motor scooter development as evidenced by photos of the things in Flickr. Good e-scooters would seem in some ways more helpful for society since the gas powered scooters that are increasingly popular around here with folks who can't afford cars and don't want to use transit seems problematic in various ways, some of which would be addressed by a electric version.

FlyKly's e-scooter - now past?

I guess that's enough for this for today . . .