Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

31 October 2014

Fear Of Felines

Quick question:  What did Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Gengis Khan, Napoleon, Hitler and Mussolini have in common?

They all were ailurophobic.

(Hitler and Mussolini:  two ailurophibic who tried to take over  the world at the same time. Imagine that!)

I wonder what they did on Halloween.  They wouldn't have wanted to be with me on my most  recent Point Lookout ride.

It's a good thing I'm not ailurophobic.  I really, really had to go to the bathroom!

Happy Halloween! 


30 October 2014

1939 Suspended By Simplex

Some of my favorite civil structures are suspension bridges.  Perhaps my taste was developed by seeing the construction of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge--still one of my favorites (Would I feel that way if I had to pay the toll every day?)--as a child.  Of course, I also love the Golden Gate Bridge as well as the George Washington (I don't have to commute over it every day!).  The Bronx-Whitestone is also quite nice, in my opinion.

The Bronx-Whitestone opened in 1939.  Somehow it seems entirely appropriate:  There is a certain distinctive style--epitomized by that year's World's Fair in New York-- to the buildings, vehicles and much else from that year, and the bridge fits it perfectly.  It, like the exhibits at the Fair, was vaguely futuristic but harkened to the Art Deco designs that had recently been popular. 

So why am I giving you an entirely amateur history/critical analysis of the art, architecture and design of a year and a period?  Well, I recently came across a photo of a bicycle accessory.  Before I read the caption that accompanied it, something in my mind said, "This could have been made only in 1939."

And, indeed, it was.  Apparently, it was produced only during that year.  Now, given that it was made in France, the fact that production stopped probably had more to do with a certain event that started late that year than to any change in tastes.  Like so many other things that stopped because of the war, production of it never resumed.  Some things can't be picked up where they were left off.  But, in this case, I think that the real reason Simplex didn't start making it again when they got back to manufacturing derailleurs, chainrings and other components and accessories is that Simplex simply stopped making bottle cages altogether. Or so it seems.

It looks great with the rust and patina.  I can only imagine what it looked like when the steel reflected the sun and sky:  Somehow I imagine that seeing it would feel a bit like looking at one of those bridges as ripples of water flickered at its feet.

I'd bet that it made a bottle look like it was suspended from the bike--especially if it was mounted on a handlebar, as this double version of the cage probably was.

29 October 2014

Rough Stuff From The Brothers

Back when mountain bikes were new--well, they weren't.  Not really.

When Gary Fisher, or whoever, broke his twentieth or thirtieth balloon-tire bomber frame while barreling down the fire trails of Marin County and decided to fashion a lighter, stronger frame with the same geometry--and provisions for multiple gears, dearailleurs and cantilever brakes--it wasn't a radical new idea.

That's not to say that it wasn't important, which would be like saying that Levi Strauss has had no effect on the way people dress.  At the time Gary Fisher, Keith Bontrager and those mountain-bike pioneers were introducing their rigs, almost no other Americans--or, for that matter, people in other parts of the cycling world--had seen a bike made for the rigors of trail riding.

The idea of such a bike has been around since the dawn of cycling itself.  It makes sense, when you think about it:  When the first vehicles we recognize as bicycles appeared about 130 or 140 years ago, there were few paved roads.  Riding even those could shake one's bones even more than the "boneshakers" of that time.  Bikes at that time had to withstand being ridden over ruts, rocks and sometimes roots.

Some might argue that the velos a ballon one still finds in the French countryside are forerunners of today's velos a tout terrain. Other possible ancestors of today's mountain bikes could also include any number of wide-tired bikes used for transportation and even recreation in various parts of the world.

In England, there was a genre called the "Rough Stuff" bike.  Jack Taylor Cycles, most renowned for their tandems, actually used the catchy phrase as the name for  one model  of single-rider bikes they made. 

Rough Stuff

Isn't it funny how so many ideas that seemed so radical in the 1980's are present on a bike designed three decades earlier?  I'm talking about the sloping top tube, high bottom bracket and small (compared to a typical road bike) diameter wheels.  Also, this bike has the Mafac cantilever brakes and Specialites TA ProVis 5 (a.k.a. Cyclotouriste) cranks. 

Jack Taylor, Rough Stuff
Before the tries and cables were replaced.

The bike was first produced from drawings submitted by a nature photographer.  In the early 1950's, photography equipment was much bigger, bulkier and heavier than it is now.  The built-in rear rack, like the whole bike, is built to withstand the rigors of carrying such a load in the wild.

Here is a BBC documentary about Jack--and his brothers/fellow builders Ken and Norman--that aired in 1986: