Saturday, March 20, 2010

Talk radio may be bad for your health.

What would happen if a syndicated radio talk show host advocated intentionally running into bicyclists with your car? Of course, that wouldn't happen. No one would say that, especially on the radio. It would be silly, actually, to think that it could happen.

Oh, but it did happen. It has happened in the past. Clear Channel stations have had controversy over their radio show hosts doing just that. Just this last week, it happened again. If you want to read about it, google "bike hate" and you'll get some stories about it. Lance Armstrong's fans made him aware of this and there was pressure from them for him to confront the talk show host. You can find the broadcast and listen to it yourself. I'm not saying the name of the radio guy because I don't want to be part of his publicity team. Personally, I am very angry at this poor excuse of a man and cannot fathom that he is allowed to spew his hate on the airwaves.

Now, how did Lance do? Did he give this guy a piece of his mind? I guess not. I listened to his exchange as it was played on the radio and it was mamby pamby and nicey nice. Evidently, they had had a previous conversation where the radio guy had apologized. So........Lance and radio guy had a nice conversation that didn't have any meat to it at all with regard to cyclist/motorist relations. I'm sure Lance did his best. He defended the wearing of cycling specific clothing. He is more well spoken than I would have expected. Radio guy asked him questions about why he came out of retirement. I'd like to speak up for keeping perspective. Lance is talking to this guy because he badmouthed cyclists and egged on his listeners to hit cyclists! There is no way this guy and Lance should have had a chummy conversation. I wish Lance had kept radio guy on topic.

The best question was one asked by radio guy. He asked Lance why motorists don't like cyclists. He mentioned that Lance, in the previous conversation, (evidently not aired) had said something about other slow vehicles, horses, animals in the street, etc. and the fact that motorists don't seem to get as upset by those other obstructions to their hasty travel. Lance did good. It is good that he pointed that out.

Evidently, he hasn't thought about the real reasons behind the animosity some motorists show toward cyclists. Here it is in a nutshell, and you can quote me on this, but give me credit because I have it figured out. Gasoline makes people stupid. Well, it's deeper than that. When people get behind the wheel of a car, they are empowered. They are in control. King of the world. It is as if their progress, to their gasoline addled minds, is mandated by the heavens. To let a "lesser" vehicle get in the way of said forward motion is an action that they cannot abide. Humility is not a quality that is revered in our society. On the roadway, it could make things so much better. It is all but unheard of there.

On the roadway, there is a hierarchy of size. Car drivers don't complain about being stuck behind a cement truck because a cement truck is bigger than they are. I have heard motorists exclaim how ludicrous it is for a smaller car to claim its right of way due to the size "advantage" their car has over the small car. I'd be surprised if you can't think back and remember hearing the same thing from the driver of a large vehicle. Where does that leave the cyclist? We are using the same space as cars are. But we are the easiest member of the wheeled road users for any car driver to imagine him or herself having the power to push around. If we ride with respect for the law, yet confidently, we are often accused of "riding as if we think we own the road". We are expected by some motorists, those who say that, to mind our place and preferably, they'd like it if we were on the sidewalk. Ironically, most motorists don't know the rules of the road, especially, the bicycle's place in the scheme of things.

I like driving cars. I would say that in my more than forty years of driving cars, I've been delayed no more than 10 minutes by cyclists. I really think it has been less than 5 minutes but I say 10 so I know I'm not exaggerating. I have waited hours and hours in traffic jams because of things other motorists have done or not done. Tailgaters and people who do not use their turn signals are responsible for a majority of accidents on freeways. Why isn't the radio guy complaining about tailgaters? Non signalers? Think he's ever had a show with a theme of running into them? I don't. Why wouldn't he? Why don't motorists tell you about that? They surely tell you about the time cyclists held them up in traffic; don't they?

Go easy on the car drivers. Remember what gasoline does to them.


Friday, March 19, 2010

He had a great influence on bicycles, (and me).

In 1970, I was working for the Upland/Ontario (California) Boy's Club. I had befriended another young man named John Bianchi. John worked at Bumstead's Sporting Goods in Ontario. In the back of their shop, they had a small bicycle shop. John was the bike shop guy. He had told me about some new hubs that he had been hearing about. Wood hubs, he told me, were being made by some guy in California. They were supposed to be really great hubs. I had asked how wood hubs would work. You see, the guy's name was Wood, Phil Wood. Oh.

Within a few months I had a set of those hubs. I built my first pair of wheels on them. I still have them. Eventually, I met Phil Wood. No movie star could hold a higher place in my esteem than Phil Wood. He was a regular guy. He reminded me of the guys I had worked with in my first job, which was new kid at a machine shop. He was so great because he made clean sheet parts for bicycles. If he'd been some cocky braggart, I'd have been crushed. He was the opposite of that. I was the opposite of crushed to have met him.

Over the years, I've bought and sold Phil Wood parts with pride and confidence. Some years ago, Phil retired and sold the business to the employees. The new owners are cool in the same way as Phil was. The parts remain as good as they were when Phil was there. It takes a strong leader to set a culture that changes little when the business changes hands. I'm glad for that culture. Not everybody gets a pair of Phil hubs or a BB, but if you need it, it is there.

I read tonight that Phil Wood had died. I am saddened by knowing he isn't in this world any longer. I wish his family the best and I wish him Godspeed. And I am glad to have met him and to ride the hubs he designed. 'Bye Phil.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

They ride like they think they own the road!

"They ride like they think they own the road!" This is a common criticism of bicyclists. What does it mean? Look closely at the person who says that. If you have a mirror, offer it to her. She is saying that it is really she who owns the road and how dare cyclists ride with their own interests in mind!

Now, you may notice I used "she" instead of "he". I'm under the impression that this remains the fair way to write things. I'll even it up when the opportunity rises. My hope is that it satisfies those sensitive to those kinds of things without being too contrived. Now, on with my diatribe.

First, I should say that it is very clear that not all cyclists are angels on the road. Soon, I will link you to an article that has more to say about all this, and the author is much better at this than I am.

I've thought a lot about the car/bike relationship on the road. Maybe I should have said the rider/driver adversarial relationship on the road. One observation that I've made is that car drivers think they have "authority" over us cyclists. In a way, they do. If we collide, it is us who will suffer more. Drivers of cars are acting on a hierarchy of size. That is, they think they have authority over us because they are "bigger" than us. They think they are the "mommies and daddies" and we are the "babies". This is a manifestation of "might makes right", which is a deeply ingrained principal in our society. By writing this observation here, I am not excusing it as a way of behaving. It is an attempt at understanding the bike/car relationship, and if it is a correct understanding, to put it out there so others can think it over and decide if it is the way motorists react to us or not.

Here, I'll give you the link. This is worth reading.

Only by understanding the environment of traffic and acting as informed road users, can we better our chances of survival.

Remember that the underlying thought pattern of most motorists, most of the time, as they make decisions is "will I be hurt by this action?". They decide based on that subconscious reasoning. Ride accordingly.


Saturday, March 6, 2010

Some rememberances of an old friend, Mario Confente

In 1973 and 1974 I worked at Masi in Carlsbad, California. I can't tell you in words how formative that time was for me. Imagine a young car guy being offered the opportunity to work at Ferrari. To us bicycle guys who worked at Masi, it was just as rich and validating an experience. I remember the first day at Masi. That day could make a story in itself. Everybody who worked there left an impression on me.

There were three Italians who I worked with and they all are remembered fondly. Masi. That name can be a sentence, can't it? Faliero Masi was at the factory for some of the time I worked there. He was a dignified sort of man. Aurelio Fantoni was a frame filer, imported from Italy. He looked like Jack Lemon and we lived in the same neighborhood. Sometimes, we'd ride to work together. He was a crack up. Every few pedal strokes on his Raleigh three speed, he'd pause, pull up his pant leg and resume pedaling. Mario Confente had an apartment down the street from where I lived and it was there that Aurelio lived. Mario's frames are legendary today. People pay the big bucks for them and as far as I know, most of them are collected and ridden rarely. It is Mario who this piece is written about.

Mario was a super talented craftsman. He would come to work in wool slacks
and one of those almost girlie t-shirts that Italian guys wear so
successfully. By the end of the day, I'd look like I'd been dragged through
the dirt and he could wash his hands and be ready to go out for dinner!

He taught me about brake lever positioning on the bars, that is, putting
them a little lower than most people did to make them a good place to hold
onto while climbing out of the saddle. He also would show me to ride out of
the saddle while climbing in a more relaxed way. His way of showing that was
to splay out his ring finger and pinky while loosely holding on to the brake
lever. I hope that comes across OK. It left an impression on me.

It seems people want to know more about Mario. He had us over for dinner a
few times and he would cook up a pot of that spaghetti that comes in the
blue paper wrapper and pour on Ragu sauce. For real, that's what the Italian
Stallion ate for dinner. Ragu, folks, it's the real thing (evidently).

Each employee got to have his own frame made at the factory and we got to
buy the frame for the cost of a set of tubing or we could add on the parts
to make it a complete bike at cost. I won't tell you what those prices were
because they were so low it would sound funny in terms of what that stuff is
worth today.

Mario designed the frames for each employee. Mine is a 56.5cm. The frames
could be painted colors that were not available on a stock Masi. Also, most
of them had some sort of custom part or configuration. Mine has vertical
dropouts and a special fork crown and recessed brake bolts which were a new
thing at that time (1974). I think at least one employee got his bike with
stock dimensions instead of having Mario design his bike custom. My friend
Morgan still has the figures that Mario wrote down on a paper in the process
of designing his bike. Morgan's is a beautiful bike and hasn't been ridden
since it was made. In other words, it is like new. The figures are very
interesting as Mario didn't measure the top tube center to center.

In 1977 or 1978 Mario came to my shop and told me he was striking out on his
own. I think he felt betrayed by Bill Recht and felt that his friend, a Mr.
Ferrari was a true friend and a "simpatico" guy. I bought one frame from
Mario, I think it was one of the first he made when he decided to go out on
his own. I don't know if it was made on spec or a custom order that someone
backed out on. It was a 58 or 59 and I sold it to my customer and riding
buddy Bruce Colby. I ordered a frame for myself with a $350.00 deposit and a
final price of $750.00 upon receiving the frame. I was excited at the
prospect of representing Mario's frames at my shop and Mario seemed excited
as well. He seemed to me to be a stand up guy and though, few, our business
dealings were done on a handshake. He died before my frame was made.

It was a shock to learn of Mario's death. He was so young and seemed so
healthy. To this day I remember the irony of Lisa having finally gotten the
love of her life and having him taken away so soon and so suddenly. Some
things are so hard to reconcile in one's mind.

The frame I sold to my friend Bruce had a problem within a very short time.
The seat stays both came loose from the seat lug. I had been representing
Jim Merz frames and had him fix the frame so that there was a recognizable
name attached to the repair. I gave Bruce full credit toward a Jim Merz
frame which was a super nice and beautifully built frame. Bruce rode that
Merz frame for many years until he drifted away from bicycle riding. I have
no recollection of who finally bought the repaired Confente frame. It is one
of the first and last of that last era of Mario's frames. If you know who
has it, it would be cool to know how it is.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

A fixie night out on the town

HooWah. Last night Gretchen and I had a wild night out. We had heard about a fixie event in San Diego at the Embarcadero. Our friend Luke had told us about it and I asked him for particulars as to where the event was and where to park. He said he parks in the parking lot across from the "Star of India" and rides to wherever the event is being held. Our main reason for going was to see our friend Luke in the Drag Race they were having. We had told Luke we'd look for him at the event.

As we pulled into the parking lot, a car behind us flashed its high beams at us and as I looked at my mirror, I said to Gretchen that it looked like Jens. Sure enough, it was Luke and Jens. We ended up riding with them to the site of the event. I won't tell you we had a hard time finding it but, we couldn't get a bead on where it was. Gretchen ended up asking the right person and at about that time we saw a couple of other people on bikes that looked like they were going to the event. We followed, and soon got to the gathering.

Soon after we got there a man named Anthony came up to us and introduced himself to us. He was very nice. I think he was involved with putting on the event. In back of us, a short girl in army looking boots that went to her knees was cussing up a storm about how if you saw her beating up someone, you should know that she'd found the person who'd stolen her bike. Gretchen, being the kind soul she is, said some supportive things. Meanwhile, I was looking for a place upwind of the cigarette smoke she was exhaling. There was a concrete area that was full of young people mostly on fixed gear bikes and they were doing tricks. They were posturing and practicing for their upcoming "tricking" event.

Nature called. When I took my leave from the group for a bathroom break, I went into the "ride in" bathroom. It was a secure feeling to have the bike inside instead of out by the door where it could be stolen. Just before I left, someone came into the next stall. There were no doors on the stalls and as I left, my peripheral vision caught the fact that it was a female. At the doorway, I looked at the signs again and realized I'd misunderstood them and had been in the women's bathroom. I was so embarrassed and said "sorry!" loud enough to be heard from inside the loo.

Soon after I got back to the group, Luke entered the first of his three events of the evening. It was called "Foot Down". We had thought that that would be a track stand type of event but it was more like what I know from mountain bike events as "Death Cycle". The idea is to stay on the bike but either knock or intimidate others off their bikes. If you put your "foot down", you're out. Since he didn't understand the event, Luke didn't last long. I should mention that there are a lot of really big guys who were out there on the court.

Hey cool! We saw our buddy Ryan and his friend Scott after we had been there for a while. Ryan is a good vibes guy and his Mother in Law had just bought him a Brooks saddle from the shop. That happy event happened so close to his departure time that he didn't get to put it on his bike for the big fixie night out.

An ongoing theme for me was trying to balance watching the events and finding air I was happy breathing. Unlike most physically challenging activities, fixie riding seems to attract smokers.

Next event: "Track Stand". Luke went out there and did himself proud. He hung in there until there were only ten riders still balancing on their bikes. Instead of just seeing who could do the longest track stand and leaving it at that, they called out specific moves for the participants to do. One hand. No hands. Stuff like that. Very cool, I wish I could do a decent track stand. Anyway, Luke made it until they called out "one foot". The other foot goes on the front wheel. Luke said he had been working on that trick but hadn't quite gotten the hang of it. Top ten, not bad.

Our bikes had been relaxing on the grass as we watched the events. Soon it was time to get back on them and ride over to the starting line of the next event; the drag race. Overheard, about that time: a young woman said, "When I'm sixty, that's the kind of bike I'm going to ride," referring to Gretchen's bike. Gretchen told her, "I'm only 45." She said they weren't being mean, but were quite nice. Gretchen also told me that she had heard the same group of friends talking about an "old grey haired guy". I looked around. I didn't see him.

The next event up was the Drag Race. Jens went to a spot near the finish line to watch and Gretchen and I went to the start line. Luke had left his helmet with Jens and I fetched it for him. When his heat went off, he didn't get into his toe clip on one side. Luke's gear ratio is too high for an optimum quick start. Still, he was third out of four. He actually beat out a guy who is very notorious in the Southern California fixie world.

A woman shouted out "How 'bout a women's drag race?" Good for the event organizers. They went ahead and made a call for women who wanted to drag race. Gretchen raced in the event just so they would have enough women. She's such a good sport.

We left the drag race area and went back to wait for the "trickers". That was the main event of the evening. Luke is "up" on what is going on, and who's who in the world of trickers and kept us apprised of what was going on. Of course, I was noticing the details of the bikes as much as the tricks themselves.

As that event was winding down, we headed back to the cars. Ryan and Scott headed back to their cars at the same time so we got to ride together for a while. It's really fun to ride in a city at night. After we got back to our cars, Luke and Jens rode their bikes and Gretchen and I followed them around in the Vanagon to try to find a place to have some Pizza. It was clear that the bicycle is the superior way to navigate a city! The Pizza was good. The conversation was good. Gretchen was tired. We called it an evening. We got home at 1:30AM. It was a late night out for the old folks. We enjoyed every minute of it. A tip of the hat to Luke, Jens, Ryan and Scott. Thanks Dudes!


Sunday, January 31, 2010

Helmets, are you man enough?

A friend asked recently what my ideas are regarding helmet use and fixed gear bikes. Would you guess that I'd have an opinion on that?

First, to me there is no difference between fixed or any other kind of bicycle as far as helmet usage goes. Secondly, it is legal for those over 18 years old to go helmetless while on bicycles. I recognize that but, it doesn't modify or lessen my personal opinion on helmet use.

To decide to not wear a helmet on bicycles is a fashion decision. It's a bad decision in my opinion and usually that decision is dressed up as something else. I say that most who do not use a helmet are afraid. They are afraid of what other people think of them. I see that as an inner weakness. That's right, my view is that it is clearly a bad decision to not wear a helmet while riding and, a sign of weakness. A person with a strong self image cares more about his/her safety than whether he looks "geeky" or "uncool" or whatever. Wearing a helmet is a way to "be your own guy".

People have told me that they wear their helmet for certain kinds of rides. They say they use them when they go on longer rides or on the road but not off road or when riding hard but not while just jetting down to the store. My experience tells me that you don't know when you're going to crash so how does that decision make any sense? Maybe they think it makes sense because on some types of rides they won't be around as many cars. Most of the time, it's the street that does the damage to your head and you never know when you'll make a mistake and just eat some pavement. I'm saying that as good a rider as you are, you can still make a move that doesn't work out and hit the deck in an instant. Just because you've crashed lots of times without hitting your head doesn't mean that all accidents will be like that. Some crashes happen within a framework of speed that allows human reactions to control some aspects. Others happen in more of a "slam" fashion and basically put you down so fast and hard that your reactions don't come into play.

Changing someone's mind to the point that they make a better decision about helmet wearing is probably not going to happen in more than a smattering of cases. I'd like to think that people will read this and say to themselves that the only smart thing to do is wear a helmet for cycling; every time they ride. It would be nice if it gave someone the social independence to say "I don't care what others think" and wear that helmet. I doubt that will happen but in reality, it is not dorky to wear a helmet. Not once, never, has anyone ever said anything to me regarding my helmet. I have an idea what my response would be if they did and I'll just let you imagine how much my feelings would be hurt if someone did say anything to me about it.

In closing I'll say that women look better in helmets when they're on a bike. There's something fundamentally appealing about someone who is realistic enough to know that not everything is within their control and cares enough about her self to mitigate the negative consequences if something bad does happen. Yes, I'm saying that helmets appeal to my inner caveman.

Riding a bicycle involves a risk. Take the risk but stack the cards in your favor.


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Some of my favorite parts.........older ones this time:

Over the years, many bicycle parts have had an effect on me. Some were on my bikes. Many more were on bikes I repaired. I'll not speak here and now of parts that have made a bad impression on me, but rather, the ones that have earned a place in my heart. It is a simple mind that is fundimentally satisfied by well designed and executed bicycle parts. With that in mind, here we go.

There is a part that, more than any other in the bicycle world, is regarded as the very best of what it is. Far from exotic, but neccessary it is; the rim strip. It's job is to protect the inner tube from hostile nipples (I just wanted to see how that looks in print: "hostile nipples") or the sharp edges of holes drilled in the inner wall of double wall rims. In spite of constant attempts to better it, the Velox Rim Strip is the rim strip by which all others are judged...........and found lacking. You can't do better, and it costs only $3.50 each. Can life get better?!?

Running a close second in the category of being universally regarded as being the best of its class is the Chris King headset. Grant Peterson doesn't like them. Hah! That's more for me. They are the best and they are made in the USA. On a bicycle tour of the California Coast in 1977, I stopped into Chris King's shop, which was in the back of the legendary Hendrickson's Bike Shop in Santa Barbara, to meet Chris King and see his operation. Standing ankle deep in glorious aluminum shavings, he was engaged in making, not headsets, but a flute out of a piece of electrical conduit. My shop had a couple headsets on order from him, and I was patiently waiting, because at that time, they were hard to get. I now understood why. I wondered if he could play the Kinks' "Tired of Waiting" on that flute? After all these years, they're still the best.

Campy Nuovo Record derailluer. I'm not going to argue that it's the best, but it is one of my favorite parts. I remember the first time I held one in my hand. I'd seen them on bikes. I'd held many common derailluers in my hand but had only seen Campys on bikes. Bud, from Bud's Bike Shop in Clairmont, Ca. handed me one to show me how light it was. I was bedazzled. When I got my first bike with one, it shifted better than any other I'd tried. I still love them. They are iconic. They are one of the most beautiful bicycle components ever made. Sometimes I feel like a pirate with a treasure chest full of booty because I've got lots of them. A close second place, and much less available is the Huret Jubilee. The lightest ever made and it also works great.

Campy Nuovo Record seatpost. The old two bolt type. By today's standards, very heavy. By today's standards, there isn't anything else that will hold a seat more securely. Also, the ingenious micro adjust capability is second to none. If you're curious, come by the shop and ask me and I'll show you how it works. Tighten the front bolt and loosen the rear bolt and it will lower the nose of the saddle by however much you want; literally by the width of a hair if you so desire. It won't slip. But, it's not easy to set up. The bolts you turn for that adjustment are on top. Access is difficult because the seat hides them from you. Modern seatpost that has most of the good qualities and is easy to set up and adjust: the Salsa seatpost. I know it has a clever name but I can't think of it right now.

More later.