Thursday, January 25, 2018
From Flickr, user Vanil-Noir
Apparently there is a sub-category now of cycling literature, the "I was a great bicycle racer, but then somehow I became a doper and it all went to hell" tell-all, as-told-to-someone-who-can-write memoir. We have Tyler Hamilton's "The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups, and Winning at All Costs" (2012) and then there is David Millar's "Racing Through the Dark" (2011). Mr. Dekker is a little late to this activity, since all three are reporting on much the same period of doping, but Dekker attempted to continue his career later than the other two so only got around to publishing this late in 2016 (in Dutch; the English version was published in the US about a year later).
As a highly successful Dutch bike racer in a land of cyclists, Dekker was presumably as much of a name there as Lance Armstrong had become here. In Dutch, the title of his book was "mijn gevecht" which apparently translates to "My Fight" (or maybe "My Struggle"?). With himself, I guess.
I thought that to be clever they used "descent" as the title in the English version since cyclists who win typically have to be good at descending mountains as well as racing up them, to give the title kind of a double meaning, but in reading it I eventually decided that was just coincidence. The cover of the Dutch version has Dekker in 3/4 profile, looking as come-hither as a sanctioned cyclist-doper can for his Dutch admirers. It's a little . . . odd.
I gave this two stars because . . . well, I didn't really like this book. It was pretty depressing, in fact. The main plus is that it is just over 200 pages with fairly large print - it is a fast read.
Tyler Hamilton's book was not so heavily focused on doping, he talked a lot about racing. The discussion of doping was mostly amusing since it became clear that he ran into problems largely because the team he was on after being with Lance Armstrong didn't spend the kind of resources organizing doping and that Hamilton realized eventually that poorly organized doping is not a good idea once he accidentally ends up with someone else's blood transfused into his system instead of his own. Oops! David Millar's book is hideous because it talks way too much about David Millar - but even he has more blow-by-blow description of races he was in than this book. "My epic fall from cycling superstardom to doping dead end" means you read far more about doping as well as drugging and drinking and sleeping with hundreds (his word) of women than about any races he was in. One wonders why VeloPress thought it was publishing a book about cycling. There are endless examples of how he wasted money, giving Euro values in most cases - 25,000 Euro for this evening, etc. Ugh. Simply ugh. (The apparent need to list his Euro salaries for all the different years he worked is just plain weird. I half expected him to say how much he got for writing this book.) And there is certainly far more detail about the mechanics of doping as he practiced it, and a fair amount of description of how members, managers, and others of his now defunct Rabobank cycling team supported his and others' doping.
I read to the end - now not sure why. Does he make some statement or apology at the end that redeems himself at the end? Spoiler alert that probably isn't a surprise - no, he doesn't.
I might have felt better about investing the time to read this if I had come away with some understanding (or feeling of understanding) of why someone would do this, why he did this. This is almost entirely missing, other than that it was the culture of the team and (in effect) "everyone did it" (although he does mention at least one other rider who didn't, but who only had moderate results). He describes the trip down but makes no attempt to explain what we might be able to learn from this from his perspective.
Saturday, January 20, 2018
"Collecting mail, U.S. Post Office"-digitized short film shows a few bikes in street traffic
This short movie from the collections of the Library of Congress shows two post office boxes on a street corner and was apparently intended to show how the Post Office employees serviced them. Separately the video shows something of what street traffic was like, including persons on bicycles, which from my perspective is far more interesting. (The video is not identified with any tags or other access points suggesting cyclists are part of this. Typical.)
First cyclist enters screen from left at around 15 seconds, riding parallel to a streetcar
The first bicycle rider shown looks to be an adult man riding at a moderate pace, likely to get from one place to another - bicycle as transportation that is faster than walking and less elaborate than using a horse-drawn carriage.
At about 20 seconds, second cyclist appears in upper middle of screen as traffic clears, riding across intersection from cross street
Much like the first bicycle rider, bicycle as transportation. I was amused by the man walking across the street in another direction, who ambles rather casually.
At 28 seconds, third cyclist appears from left, who has a boy sitting on the handlebars as a passenger
All the cyclists shown are traveling at a moderate pace. If you look closely, you can see the rider here pedaling steadily. It is almost certainly a single-speed bike.
At 32 seconds, fourth and last cyclist appears from right, cutting through the intersection
A little hard to tell, but this appears to be a younger rider, moving at a faster (but not that much) pace. He seems to ride in front of two women who are going to cross the street. He has a bag of some kind in his hand held to the handlebars.
No bicycle shown here, but you can see four different horse-drawn carriages at once near this Washington DC intersection in 1903
Most of the "traffic" shown during the video consists of horse-drawn carriages. Two different streetcars pass, one in either direction. There are a moderate number of pedestrians, and then the four cyclists, one with passenger. All the traffic is moving at a moderate pace - the horse-drawn carriages in particular. Most of the pedestrians are shown walking briskly and enter the intersection without pause - one suspects that absent many cars, concern about entering intersections was much more casual.
One assumes that this was shot during the middle of the day and that the various traffic elements are representative. The use of bicycles looks pretty high. Interesting.
Thursday, January 18, 2018
LimeBike dockless bikeshare bikes "parked" on National Park Service land near the Jefferson Memorial
In yesterday's blog post I had a video about how to park a dockless bikeshare bike produced by LimeBike for its users.
Over the last three days, during which there was some snowfall, I have seen these same three LimeBikes parked in a row near the Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC. First they were parked on the sidewalk, all standing up. Then after the snowfall they were all laying on the sidewalk where they had previously been standing. This morning someone had stood them back up but then on the way home someone else (one assumes) had tossed them over the chain-fence so that they were lined up as shown on the grass, laying there in a row. I suspect the National Park Service would not approve.
This parking arrangement of course does't follow the advice in the video, where they are particularly critical of laying bicycles on the ground. Because so far there are far more of these bikes than available bike rack slots at the locations where people seem to want to take them, I would say I have never seen so many bikes laying on the ground before the introduction of dockless bikeshare bikes.
Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Let's just make a joke out of it then it will be ok
The LimeBike people seem to think this is a helpful gesture towards getting their users to park their bikes appropriately. It includes several "do this" and "don't do that" points.
It is worth noting that the LimeBike User Agreement has this minimalist statement: Upon conclusion of your ride, the Bike must be parked at a lawful parking spot, i.e. the Bike cannot be parked on private property or in a locked area or in any other non-public space.
The video suggests that what is needed beyond "lawful" parking is to show good "parking etiquette." For example, do not lay the bike on the ground, but do park at a bike rack. Do not block driveways or pedestrian paths, do park "in this zone" - which is shown as the parking strip next to the roadway that in residential areas in particular is often grass or dirt. Do not park at bus stops or street corners, but do park next to a bus stop.
After listening to this the two main characters launch themselves into the sky leaving their bike on the path - whether this falls under "blocking a pedestrian path" or not is unclear. The don't stay to clarify.
In Washington DC at least, some of this gets a little ... complicated. What is a lawful place to park? Since I have observed the U.S. Park Police carrying away dockless bikes parked up near the Washington Monument (before it was recently closed off to everyone) apparently they aren't too thrilled with them on NPS territory, period.
The kind of "zone" that is shown as ideal isn't necessarily all that common around here. What is best is to park them at bike racks, but there simply aren't enough of them.
Saturday, January 6, 2018
Trailer-like video for the re-release of a restored version of this 1948 movie in 2014 - embedded video starts where cycling is featured
Jacques Tati was a film director and actor in France after World War II up through the early 1960s. His films are quite remarkable, making certain social commentary in films that were mostly physical and visual humor (although it is more complex than that).
His first 1949 full length film, Jour de fête (or The Big Day), centers on a postman in a French village who spends much of the film making deliveries (although I have only seen snippets, not the entire thing). Wikipedia has a short summary of the plot. Apparently the thought was he should perform more like the (then) super-efficient United States Post Office.
Two minute clip where the postman joins French racing cyclists on the road
It is not clear to me in the above scenes how he manages to appear to maintain such a high rate of speed; perhaps the playback is sped up somehow, although it doesn't look that way when he is with the other riders. Sitting bolt upright as he is, it would be hard to maintain such speed, particularly given what seems to be a single-speed bike and how it appears to be geared.
The postman chases his bicycle that travels a considerable distance without a rider
Again, I don't know how they did this - keeping the bike rolling for these distances without falling over. I like that the pedals keeping going around, as they would on a fixed gear bike.
Friday, January 5, 2018
A point of comparison - 15 years (or so) of mobile computing devices
One reason I appreciate bicycles is that a good basic bicycle can be highly useful even if only slightly evolved from what was in use over 100 years ago.
By comparison, we have mobile computing devices, which are disposable units (although we see uhm I forgot to dispose of several) that provide useful service for at best four or five years. Further, while mobile commuting are evolving, not all the evolution is in a positive direction for many users. The 2001 (or so) Palm Pilot M105 was a cheap plastic device that required docking with a PC in order to upload/download messages but it weighed almost nothing and having no glass, was difficult to break (and if you did, it was so cheap, it didn't matter that much). I was actually fairly good with the "shorthand" to enter text with a stylus. The next step, a "traditional" 2005 or 2006 BlackBerry, was much more truly a mobile computing device but best for doing email with its "real" (tiny) keyboard - the size of the screen made Internet browsing painful - but then, that wasn't the point. Then we have a now-old(ish) iPhone 6 - the main thing I use it for is email, for which the keyboard is not great (for me; I realize some are good at it). The browser is good but not the main reason I have this device. And compared to the Palm Pilot or the BlackBerry, it is heavier as well as fragile with its sheet of glass. (Alas now I find it necessary some of the time to have both a work phone and a personal phone and the two of them together weigh 5/6 of a pound, which is annoying.)
Most importantly the two older mobile devices are simply unusable due to obsolescence. There is no comparison with a good bicycle!
A 1982 Bridgestone bicycle that I ride thousands of miles a year to and from work
About six years ago I bought the frame and fork for this Bridgestone on eBay for a little over $100 including the shipping. I then spent another ~$400 on a combination of used and new components to make it into an outstanding commuter bike. Other than the brakes I chose, which are a design introduced in the 1990s, nothing about the bike now represents a technological improvement over the bike as originally sold in 1982. I would be fine with riding the bike to and from work with the components that it had originally - that is, there is no way to regard any aspect of this bike as sold 35 years ago as obsolete. No one gives a second glance to this bicycle as they would if I tried to use my plastic Palm Pilot at a meeting at work, for example, or to use a different example, if I drove around in a 35 year old car.
Another ageless bicycle, a 1995 Trek SingleTrack
I purchased this bike two years ago from a bike repair "collective" (http://velocitycoop.org/ that had too many bikes and was selling excess - it cost $60 more or less as shown, except it was missing a saddle (seat) and only had one pedal. Well and it was incredibly filthy. I added a pedal and saddle and cleaned it and it was immediately ridable. While at the time this was a "low end" Trek bike, it was still significantly more expensive than many similar looking bikes one sees for sale today - the difference was that this bike was made with well thought out double butted chromoly tubing for the frame that means it only weighs 27 pounds (which is good). I have put studded tires on this for winter and it is a great bike for icy conditions!
My one perhaps mistaken concession to modern bicycle technology - sort of
I did buy this bike new in 2007 - it is a carbon fiber road bike and I ride it in good weather. Avoiding rain reduces maintenance and the bike doesn't have fenders anyway. It is nice, weighs just under 20 pounds, or about five pounds less than the Bridgestone above. The "technology" that is advanced for this bike is the use of carbon fiber for the frame, which at the time had a certain appeal to me that I still understand, but I wouldn't do it again. Carbon fiber is simply nasty to dispose of, although apparently the bike frame is unlikely to wear out - but eventually someone will dispose of it. And creating it in the first place was not a green process, either. Carbon fiber bike frames didn't render my steel bikes obsolete for commuting!
I doubt I will ever buy another new bicycle. New to me, perhaps, but not new-new. New technologies for bicycles are largely optional (if not also perhaps highly attractive/sexy to some people) such as hydraulic brakes or electronic shifting. No thanks.
Thursday, January 4, 2018
Telegraph messenger, Berlin - during WWI
http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ggbain.19641 persistent link to this Library of Congress collection item, a digitized Bain News Service photograph.
Bicycle messengers in the US 100 years ago or so were usually teenage boys, hardly old enough to serve in the army, but apparently in Berlin this was not the case since with the men off serving, this woman was a bicycle messenger. Her attire, with long skirt, is not particularly practical for this activity (but it could have been worse). Her single-speed bicycle with a simple spoon brake with a step-through frame is probably not inferior to a mens that would have been used for this purpose at the time.
Presumably this photograph was taken before the United States joined the war against Germany.