Sunday, March 20, 2016

Young Woman Cyclist in Painting in Paris

Leon-Francois Commere, Bicyclette au Vesinet

While visiting the Petit Palais in Paris, I came across a painting by Leon-Francois Commere, Bicyclette au Vesinet. 1903.

A nicely realistic painting - of the bicycle, anyway.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Predictable-Alert-Lawful on Your Trail, in Your Neighborhood

The "be a PAL" bike trailer of Arlington VA
The PAL campaign mobile unit-the bike trailer has a 20 inch wheel on each side

On my way home Thursday, it was surprisingly windy given that suggested a SSW wind of 10 mph. I was surprised to find the young woman above walking her bike that has a PAL - predictable, alert, lawful - billboard-trailer. Apparently despite the holes cut in the fabric to let the wind through, it doesn't do well in a crosswind. If the thing blows over, she would get pulled over too, so she was walking. I guess she does this as a volunteer? Or someone pays her to ride around Arlington trails with this thing? This isn't the first time I have seen her, just the first time I have seen her walking. One odd aspect is that when riding along and seeing her coming the other way, or passing her, there is no time as a cyclist to read her trailer-billboard. So I sort of don't understand it.

I don't know if other jurisdictions have this PAL slogan and campaign or not. Somehow to me it comes across as a little too focused on illegal cyclist behavior or that assumption that if only cyclists would clean up their act everything would be fine. They endorse the following PSAs.

Makes the point that cyclists are the ones who die so they should avoid breaking laws

The problem I have with this logic is that the parallel would be that since motorists have pretty good protective metal boxes around them, it's OK to be a little free and easy with the obeying the traffic code.

Illustrates the classic "right hook" threat to cyclists from motorists

It's interesting that even the demonstration of how it should be done, turning behind the cyclist, results in the car rushing up directly behind the cyclist in a way that would not be great to experience. Better than being cut in front of, yes, but not great.

Motorists in cars should look before opening the driver's side door

These PSAs make good points, but for me there is usually something off about them. In the last one about avoiding getting doored, the third scenario suggests that in the end you should ride in a bike lane well away from the parked cars, presumably because the motorists may well not check before opening a door. In other words, in the end it is all on you Mr. or Ms. Cyclist.

And for whatever reason I end up grinding my teeth a bit whenever I see reference to this PAL campaign (which fortunately isn't often - they seem to have taken the ads for it off the County transit buses). "Predictable" is fine as advice, although it is clearly more about cyclists than motorists. (In fact, most of the predictable motorist behaviors are the ones we don't want, like opening doors without looking or cutting off cyclists with right turns.) "Alert" seems to be because they needed a vowel. Because otherwise, duh. Alert. Yeah. But it is the "lawful" that annoys me most, but I suppose as much as anything because it makes no grammatical sense. What they mean is "law abiding" but I guess that is two words.


ADDENDUM: BikeArlington read this and says: I also saw your latest post on the PAL trailer. While [the PAL trailer-bike and rider] does ride on the trails, her primary focus is to connect with motorists. She’s frequently camped out along the Mount Vernon trail to interface with traffic moving slowly on the GW Parkway.

The idea behind the PAL campaign is that it’s designed to be targeted towards all mode of travel. We recognize that pedestrians jaywalk, that people on bikes will run red lights, and that motorists will speed and text. We don’t assign blame to anyone in particular, but rather just point out that if everyone travels in a manner that is predictable, alert and lawful, that we would have much less conflict on the streets.


Thursday, March 10, 2016

Arlington Makes the Trails Smoooooth

Looking towards the south end of National Airport along Four Mile Run

Concrete trail areas and where such trails meet asphalt can have problems - a typical quick response is to fill in with asphalt. Often the results do not make the situation better and may make it worse. In this area where several bridges cross over the concrete trail along Four Mile Run, there were several such asphalt repairs that were not very well executed. There were also several places where concrete blocks did not meet evenly (but were not filled in with asphalt). Today Arlington County had these problem repaired by grinding down the concrete to create smooth concrete! Yay! Well done!

The example shown in the photograph above was dangerous for inexperienced riders - the raised concrete running in the direction a rider was heading could easily result in a crash if someone tried to go across the imperfection when passing someone, for example. This is a lot safer and better. There were about a dozen spots along here where such fixes were made today. Really nice.

Monday, March 7, 2016

"Bicycles Are Prohibited Off the Mount Vernon Trail"

Bicycles are prohibited off the Mount Vernon Trail
This sign, and another pointing the opposite direction, appeared Friday

In the past year or so, it has become popular for cyclocross type cyclists to ride along near the trail, but not on the trail, near Gravelly Point. (This sign is stuck in the ground right next to it.) The regular riders have created a kind of dedicated rut-trail that winds around under the railway bridge away from the asphalt trail. The people look like they are having fun. Apparently with the onset of better cycling weather, the National Park Service has decided to put a stop to it. I am not going to look up the Code of Federal Regulations 4.30, but really? It covers this situation? Hmmm.

What surprised me most today was that the two signs were still there! No one pulled them out of the ground and tossed them into the Potomac (or elsewhere).

I would be a little more sympathetic if the Park Service had done even a little trail maintenance in the last five years or so. Or did anything during snow.

BikeArlington read this and wrote me: . . . last fall, a group of cyclocross racers met with NPS who were concerned about the trail sections that came dangerously close to the GW Parkway (literally cornering at speed just a few feet from traffic). And while NPS is open to the idea of using that space, because it is federal parkland, an environmental study needs to be conducted before the NPS can officially condone such use. Unfortunately, that study . . . takes quite some time. . .

Saturday, March 5, 2016

My Choices for Three Significant Bikes

I was talking to someone at work who explained his thinking about significant bikes - ones that can still be owned and that a person can ride even today. "To the general public the most popular styles of bicycle, and bikes I’d like to ride, I would argue, are the three I mentioned earlier - roadster, ten speed, and hybrid." So he has acquired and had restored and rides a Rudge Sports roadster, a Schwinn Paramount ten-speed road bike, and a Bridgestone X-O hybrid. Pretty nice!

I have three bikes that I ride, but my approach is far more . . . . . well, I'm cheap, for one thing. And since I commute in all kinds of weather, I take the approach of having three different bikes that are suitable for different conditions. (I am not a one-type-bike-fits-all-situations person.) I don't concern myself with the historical accuracy (period correctness) of the components on my 1982 Bridgestone, for example, which has brand new wheels (that aren't the right size, in fact) and only use period components where more or less required (and cheap! did I mention cheap?), like the handlebar stem.

Still, I was thinking about what three bikes I consider most significant even if I wouldn't want to own ridable (or just viewable) examples of them. I guess I would choose an 1890s Columbia, a 1930s Schwinn with balloon tires, and a 1980s Specialized mountain bike. I regard all these bikes has having significance both good and bad, which I'll try to explain. (Keep in my these are just my ruminations, I am not a bicycle historian of some sort.

Columbia Catalog 1900
Columbia single speed bicycle in 1900, with a brake only as an option

The catalog page above is for a somewhat later version of the bike I have in mind from Columbia, but in 1900 it is mostly the same. This was the kind of bicycle that was common during the "bicycle craze" of the mid-to-date 1890s in the U.S. - a fairly utilitarian and simple bicycle, with fixed gearing - you could only coast by putting your feet on small posts on the side of the front fork - and a true brake as we understand them today was optional equipment. The combination of fixed gear and lack of a brake made such bikes more difficult and perhaps thrilling to ride than a typical modern bike even though visually they look much the same.

Bicycling For Ladies - Cover
Bicycling for ladies : with hints as to the art of wheeling, advice to beginners, dress, care of the bicycle, mechanics, training, exercise, etc., etc. / by Maria E. Ward. Published 1896.

Such bicycles were significant in providing opportunities for American women to develop greater independence. The above image is from the cover of a book at the time to provide women guidance on riding bicycles - the rider has her feet up on the fork, coasting dramatically at high speed. These bikes were what made this all possible.

At the same time, there was a serious drawback, which was that these bicycles were marketed with single-tube tires and rims intended for single-tube tires that were tedious to repair when flat. It quickly became clear that there were better approaches for consumers but manufacturers were more interested in keeping their coasts low. It does not seem likely that the difficult-to-fix tires did anything other than work against the interests of consumers to buy bicycles, and then of course there was the introduction of the automobile . . . . .

Schwinn Balloon Tire Ad 1933
1933 ad for Schwinn's new balloon tires (bike included)

This business with tires is why I would suggest this somewhat odd Schwinn from the 1930s was the next significant bike I would choose - it has balloon tires with inner tubes that were far easier to maintain. It took an absurdly long time, but a bicycle manufacturer finally broke the pattern of offering consumers mostly bicycles that had a serious built-it problem in terms of tire repair. And in fact the balloon tires meant a bicycle owner could have a more casual attitude towards maintaining tire pressure altogether.

Early Schwinn Aerocycle from Natalie Wilkie

The drawback of this bike, however, was that it was a diversion of the bicycle manufacturers into a focus on bicycle as toy, or anyway, of bicycles as something to market to people who couldn't yet drive (and their parents) in ways that were not, unlike the balloon tires, particularly utilitarian but rather about marketing. In a way, this was running up the white flag to the auto industry.

Early Stumpjumpers
Early Specialized Stumpjumbers from Hugo Cardoso

My third choice of a Specialized Stumpjumper is not based on any particular fondness for or interest in Specialized or that bike, but according to a Wikipedia article this was the first mountain bike, so we'll take that as sufficiently authoritative. For me personally, the appearance and my eventual recognition of the existence of mountain bikes was not on that they were mountain bikes but rather that there was this alternative to road bikes, which eventually got me back to riding a bicycle as an adult. Road bikes (this is amusing for me now) held no attraction, largely because I seemed to have thought they could or should only be ridden on roads which I didn't want to do. A fellow where I worked who lived nearby rode back and forth most days on a nice mountain bike (mostly on paved trails) and I was inspired by his example to do so also. I'm still not sure what would have happened if he had been doing this on a road bike.

Trek Singletrack 1995
My 1995 Trek Singletrack - a mountain bike, sort of, that that I recently acquired (but don't ride on mountains, or even gravel)

So I think that the mountain bike, and the many variants that have appeared since, have helped to get more people riding. This is mostly good. I kind of feel however that there is a downside in that the bicycle manufacturers now seem to see the creation of new bicycle "types" as their salvation for sales. For example, so-called "gravel bikes." I mean, I know there really are "gravel cyclists" but uhm not so many to support all the gravel bikes being produced, I suspect. Or say fat bikes - I recently went to buy something at a nearby REI and the fat bike near the entrance, front-and-center, struck me mostly as a tedious example of marketing wishful thinking and certainly not as an attractive bicycle - here "attractive" meaning "I'm gonna buy one."

And here we circle back to the 1890s, because in fact already at the height of the bicycle craze, the problem the manufacturers were facing was how to come up with new designs - a Columbia bicycle model of 1898 that was significantly different from the Columbia model for 1897 that would generate ever more sales of new bicycles. (I am not much of a friend of the bicycle manufacturers these days since I only seem attracted to used old bikes.) In fact, in 1900, the bicycle shown at the beginning of this blog post was offered as the inferior option when compared to the shaft-drive bike that was new(er) technology that they were insisting was better. (It wasn't better. Do you see anyone riding a shaft-drive bicycle? No, practically never.)

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Pre-treating Trails in Arlington VA

Trail along Four Mile Run near where I live

Tonight snowy weather of some sort is promised and Arlington has pre-treated the trails with some sort of fluid. That is what the parallel dark lines are. Pretty nice!

I confess I am not sure how much this pre-treatment helps. I live down the street from a high school in Arlington and they do it on our street assiduously before every storm, but once the snow starts to fall - hmm. Still, it is great to see the county government providing good service for trail users (including but not only cyclists), and they have done a good job with plowing trails too.