Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

21 November 2014

Fifty Years, And Still No Bike Lane

"Are we there yet?"

Just about every kid who's ever gone anywhere with an adult has whined that line.  I include yours truly.

"Is it done yet?"

Just about every kid has moaned that one when his or her mother or grandmother (or the equivalent in the kid's life) was cooking or baking something.  As adults, we intone it when we're waiting for a repair, a project, or something else to be finished.

(Asking that question is also the easiest way to annoy an artist--or to reveal yourself as a philistine to the artist.)

The first time I uttered the question the way an adult would was in my childhood. (Was I a precocious child?)  In my early years, I witnessed the building  of what I still consider to be one of the most beautiful--and exasperating-- manmade structures in the world.  

It opened to the public fifty years ago today.  By now, you might have figured out that I'm talking about a bridge. I am:  specifically, the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, which opened to traffic fifty years ago today.

The span, photographed by the Wurts Brothers when it opened fifty years ago today.  (From the collection of the Museum of the City of New York,)

At the time it opened, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world. It's still in the top ten, I think.  It's so long that engineers actually had to take the curvature of the Earth into account in designing it.

Please indulge me for a moment if I sound like a sexist male.  (Some things aren't cured even with years of hormone therapy and surgery!)  I have long thought its towers looked like long, elegant goddesses rising from the waves of the inlet of the Atlantic Ocean for which the bridge is named.  The lady is serene on days when sunshine refracted through high cirrus clouds glints on waves; she is looks dramatic, even stern, but still beautiful as clouds gather and storms brew in those waves.

All right:  Some of you are might think I'm more guilty of bad poetry than sexism in that passage. Fair enough. My talents, such as they are, can only accomplish so much.

Anyway, I have pedaled (and, on occasion, walked) under the bridge any number of times and have never grown jaded to its majesty.  Monsieur Verrazano (He was Fiorentino but sailed for le Roi Francois I.) would be honored to have the bridge, and the body of water it spans, named for him.  But the fact that I'm always pedaling underneath the bridge is precisely what exasperates me about it.

You see, the bridge has never had a bike or pedestrian lane.  In a way, it's not surprising, given that the bridge was the last major work of Robert Moses, whose mistakes have been replicated by urban planners all over the world for decades.  Through most of his career, he showed a complete disdain for anything that didn't have an internal combustion engine.  It's especially odd when you consider that he built the Kissena Velodrome near the World's Fair site just a few thousand pedal spins from my apartment--and that he himself never had a driver's license. 

There has been a movement (in which I am playing a small role) to have a bicycle-pedestrian lane added to the bridge.  Many people say it would encourage them to use their bicycles to commute or simply travel between Brooklyn and Staten Island, and would link a number of already-existing bike routes in the two boroughs, which in turn would make parts of New Jersey more accessible to cyclists in the Big Apple.

I would like to have the same thrill I knew as a child when I saw the bridge under construction.  I would also like to experience the same thrill I had when I rode across the bridge the only times it was possible:  during the Five Boro Bike Tour, when the lower deck of the Verrazano is closed to traffic. 

Note:  The "Verrazano Narrows Bridge" link in my seventh  paragraph will take you to an excellent article on The Bowery Boys, one of my favorite non-bike blogs.

20 November 2014

To The Moon

What do you see when you look at the moon?

We have all heard of, if not seen, the "Man in the Moon".  Some cultures have mythologized "him".

Even if you are the most hard-core rational empiricist, it's not hard to understand why people would see "him":  The lights and shadows, at times, do bear a resemblance to a face.

Modern psychology has confirmed something artists, poets and philosophers have long understood:  We are tend to find the familiar in the unfamiliar, to find meaning and shape in the seemingly-random and formless.  So it's really not so odd that someone might think, for example, that he or she has seen the face of Elvis in a potato chip.  This phenomenon is called pareidolia.

Thus, other cultures have myths that acribe a handprint (India), tree (Hawaii) and, yes, a woman (New Zealand).  And people in some East Asian cultures see a rabbit in the moon.

Somehow I always liked the idea of a rabbit in the moon.  Apparently, illustrator Claudia McGehee does, too.

I love this.  I'll love it no less if I find out she created it after watching E.T.

19 November 2014

Crankin' Up The Insanity

Back in the good ol' days--the '90's--it seemed as if every twenty-something dude in California whose father had a lathe in his garage was making bike parts. Most of them were intended for mountain bikes, but a few were made for road and fixed-gear bikes, which were just in the process of being discovered by the hipster-equivalents of that time.

A few, like Chris King and the makers of Paul components, still make superb, if pricey, stuff.  However, a number of would-be challengers to Shimano (and, later, SRAM) fell by the wayside--some deservedly so.  It seems that some of the more notable and spectacular casualties are those who tried to make the lightest cranksets they could.

One such misguided attempt was the original Kooka crank.  Back in my off-road riding days, I knew a number of riders who rode--and broke--them.  But, hey, they were the hippest and lightest things available.  And they were available in all sorts of color combinations, including some that were conceived by folks who smoked things not made by RJ Reynolds and Philip Morris:

and some of them weren't even Rastafarians:

(My dear Bob Marley, I mean no disrespect to you or any other Rasta!)

These cranks had an alarming habit of breaking on where the spider attached to it, or around the square axle mounts or the holes into which pedals are installed.  The latter makes sense, as those are the weaker areas of the cranks.  But the for a spider to separate from an arm means that--well, it wasn't attached very firmly in the first place.  In the case of those early Kooka cranks, only a set screw held them together.

I mean, it had been known for much of the history of cycling that a crankset is stiffer and stronger when the spider arms are integral with the drive-side crank arms.  On the best cranks, they are cold-forged; on less-expensive but still-serviceable cranks, they are melt-forged.  On still less expensive cranks the spider is swaged (pressed) to the arm.  Still, I know of many people who rode the latter kind of crank, as I did, for many miles without any problems.

But, oddly enough (Well, was anything really odd when it came to these cranks?), axle-mount failures usually came on the non-drive side, where there is supposed to be less stress.  The reason, it seems, is that the spider was actually designed to reinforce the drive-side arm, which was otherwise identical to the non-drive-side arm.

Even though I would have loved to get the "ultra violet" finish, I had my doubts about their strength even before some of my old riding buddies trashed theirs.  I'm glad I listened to those misgivings.

Kooka later redesigned their cranks in a more traditional way, but the damage to their reputation was done.

Another example of how, in spite of what Robert Browning wrote in Andrea del Sarto, less is not always more, can be found in the Topline cranks of that era.  To be fair, the few people I knew who rode them on the road had no problems with them.  But some off-roaders had failures similar to those on the Kooka cranks--though, again to be fair, they weren't just riding the local trails.  

Like Kookas, Toplines were redesigned after a few years and became part of the Cook (no, not Koch) Brothers' line of components. That is probably what kept them in the marketplace, as CB had by that time established a reputation for sound, reliable design.

 Oh, but I love that purple.  I really do.  But not enough to pay $350 on eBay.  Believe it or not, people are actually paying even more for the original Kookas!