Monday, June 19, 2017

Washington Post "Bicentennial of the Bicycle" piece

Washington Post short visual feature covering the highlights of the 200 year history of the bicycle.

The presentation in the print edition of the Post was a little more easy to digest than the online version - online the "trends" that are to the right are more difficult to connect with the "turning points" that are to the left (assuming I am understanding the approach correctly).

It may or may not be that the people who prepared this knew much about the subject, but the emphasis on "firsts" means that the main trends are obscured. The Rover of 1885 is not that significant itself but rather as an early example of a bike that is more recognizably similar to a modern bicycle and the kind of bike that led in the U.S. to what was generally considered a "bicycle craze" in the 1890s. The 1890s bike craze itself is not mentioned. However the authors get it right when they characterize the following decade in the U.S. as "the automobile rises, the bicycle falls." It would have been good to mention however that the League of American Wheelmen along with the bicycle industry of the 1890s pioneered the "good roads" movement that gave way to advocacy for highways and so on for motorists.

The "correct" position for riding
A cyclist and his typical bike of the 1890s that is much similar to a modern bicycle

One of the authors is named Pope but amazingly (or is it ironically) there is no mention of Colonel Albert Pope, the most well known manufacturer of bicycles in the 1890s who then moved on to try to succeed as a maker of automobiles (which didn't go so well). His "Columbia" brand for bicycles in particular still exists; the company claims some derivative connection to the original Pope Manufacturing Company.

Pope Mfg Co booklet back page
An ad in an 1890 booklet for Columbia bicycles manufactured by Pope's company

The most surprising omission is the development of well-organized and reasonably funded bike share systems in North America in the 21st century, following their introduction elsewhere in the world. Washington's Capital Bikeshare is a leader in this area, in fact.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Four Mile Run Renewal

Four Mile Run new asphalt
This "intersection" has been widened

This can be a complicated spot for cyclists and pedestrians to negotiate when several come together at once going in several directions. As part of a project to improve the area along the nearby stream, the asphalt was completely redone here.

I was glad to see that a segment of fence was moved so that it was no longer aligned with the concrete walkway. Previously when riding towards the concrete walkway from the asphalt while turning to the right the end of the steel fence could be something a rider could end up crashing into if anything went wrong. That risk is now reduced - good!

Four Mile Run new asphalt
Fence has been moved away from concrete walkway

Oddly though gentle curve of the asphalt edge along the right is straightened out for about the last two feet. A reasonable principle of road design is that the curve of the roadway should be consistent and predictable - it seems neither of those that it straightens out. Now of course this is in plain sight, but when riding and paying attention an oncoming bicycle and possibly walkers or runners, it is better if the edge of the path is laid out predictably, not oddly.

It almost certainly looks like a small thing, but over almost twenty years of commuting and other riding, it is just this kind of thing that I have negotiated poorly, leading to dumb falling accidents. Now the asphalt part of the intersection is much wider, but when turning to the right the concrete walkway is just the same relatively narrow width as it was before and a rider will naturally gravitate as far as possible to the right while making the turn when there is an oncoming bicycle.

Asphalt curves to right but straightens last two feet or so for no obvious (good) reason

It's great that there is more asphalt to help reduce some of the difficulty navigating this intersection and that the fence was moved, but the one detail could have been better. Well, in my view anyway.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Ask a Pro (Book Review)

Ask a Pro: Everything You Should Be Scared to Know about Pro CyclingAsk a Pro: Everything You Should Be Scared to Know about Pro Cycling by Phil Gaimon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Phil Gaimon is a retired pro road cyclist. In general I don't read about current pro road racing any more (for example, it has been years since I killed time looking at VeloNews online) but I read Gaimon's "Pro Cycling on $10 a Day" and liked that, so I thought I would give this a try.

This turns out to be a collection of Gaimon's Q&A columns published in VeloNews. This are arranged in the book over the years when he was riding and writing them, which means his experience and some of his views expressed evolved over time.

The sub-title is "Deep Thoughts and Unreliable Advice from America's Foremost Cycling Sage" - this gives you a sense of his occasionally ironic and mostly sarcastic and self-deprecating tone.

One doesn't really know the nature of the typical questions he received but many he chose to answer are from aspiring racers, which I suppose isn't that surprising, and occasionally the answers he gives might be useful to those folks. From a general reader's perspective the Q&A approach means the flow is mostly random in terms of topics covered, but the entertainment value makes up for that I guess.

Gaimon writes well in terms of producing something that is amusing and engaging and also (this I consider a good thing) a quick read. But if you aren't at least somewhat interested in modern bicycle road racing, there is no point in picking it up much less trying to read it.

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Saturday, June 3, 2017

Merckx: Half Man, Half Bike (Book Review)

Merckx: Half Man, Half BikeMerckx: Half Man, Half Bike by William Fotheringham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

During the height of Lance Armstrong's successful run of Tour de France victories, I began to watch a some professional bicycle racing on TV and the Internet. I even watched a criterium in Arlington where I live in person. But once the doping aspect became more obvious, I lost interest in current bicycle racing. I guess I couldn't tell you the name of three people who will be racing in the Tour de France this year, as one example of my lack of present interest.

I am still interested in cycling generally however, even if my main association is as a bicycle commuter 20 miles each workday. And I find that I still like reading about older bicycle racing if the book is well written - pretty much when Greg LeMond is done and Lance gets starts is when I lose interest.

William Fotheringham, a British author, has written a number of biographies of 20th century cycling figures, including Tom Simpson, Fausto Coppi, Luis Ocana, and others. I thought I would try this one about Merckx who is arguably the greatest all around road cyclist-racer of all time. I found it a very enjoyable read.

Merckx was nicknamed "The Cannibal" and was famous for his unrelenting approach to bicycle racing. Some of the time it would have seemed more sensible in terms of preserving himself long-term or short-term (or both) to have eased back in some situations, but he almost never employed any strategy other than to attack, to push for the lead, to strive to put himself out in front in order to win the sooner the better.

As a biography, the author works to associate some of Merckx's personal story and background with this unrelenting approach, but this isn't don't so heavily as to be annoying. Fotheringham has a good approach to relating accounts of the different road races described. As a sign of my interest, I read this from cover to cover without some long pause, distracted by some other book(s) in my "to read" pile.

I have read enough before about bicycle racing after WWII to the end of the 20th century that many of Merckx's competitors described in the book were familiar to me, but enough detail about them was supplied that it wasn't necessary in order to enjoy the book.

YouTube videos of documentaries referenced in the book:

Merckx is featured but did not win this race

A biographical documentary about Merckx covering the 1973 racing season

Merckx was the winner

These are all about 90-110 minutes in length.

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