Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

22 October 2014

Will Danes Go Dutch On Bike Parking?

In previous posts, I've lamented the bike-parking situation here in New York and in my own neighborhood of Astoria.  But, I must say, our problems pale in comparison with those in Copenhagen:

I don't think I've seen anything like that here.  Penn Station, on its busiest day, has nothing like the cluster of bikes in front of the Danish capital's main rail terminal:


You might say that Copenhagen has become a victim of its own success as a bicycle-friendly city:  In a city with more bikes than people and more than half of those people pedal to work.  Moreover, about 41 percent of those who commute from homes outside of the city to jobs in it arrive at their workplaces on their cykler.

But many cyclists are frustrated by the lack of good parking spaces.  At the same time, some non-cyclists are upset because bikes are sometimes parked randomly on sidewalks, blocking entrances to stores and people's homes.

City officials are looking all over--especially to bike-friendly cities in nearby Holland--for ways to solve the problem. One includes converting disused automobile parking spaces in residential areas to bike ports.  Another is the building of bicycle storage facilities like the one that can hold 10,000 bikes under the train station in Groningen.  It's watched by a guard day and night.  In Utrecht, three floors above the rail terminal offer parking for 4300 cycles.  Soon there will be another facility east of the station, which can shelter 12,000 velocipedes.

What officials are dealing with in Copenhagen is, I believe, one of the last major hurdles in turning cities into places where it's more feasible for most people to ride bikes than to drive or even take municipal buses or trains.  If the folks in the Danish capital can work it out, I think we'll see bike commuting grow exponentially in a number of cities around the world.


21 October 2014

Going (Wing) Nuts

These days, when I hear the word "wingnut", I think of Rush Limbaugh, Fred Phelps, Jerry Falwell and Sean Hannity. 

Now, some of you may have decided to stop reading this post--or my blog--having read that.  But, hey, we have our differences, but we all love cycling, right?

Anyway...I am old enough to remember (There I go again!) when the term "wingnut" actually denoted a specific bicycle part.  And, I actually used a pair on one of my bikes.  You may have used--or still be using--them.

I had a pair that looked something like these on one of my bikes, long ago and far away:

Mine were chromed.  But they were shaped like those and indeed made by Huret in France.  I never saw the bronze version until I went to France.  At first, I thought they were corroded, as it's not unusual to see French people--especially in the countryside--riding bikes as old as they are.  Even if they (I'm talking about the wingnuts now!) were corroded, they would have been lovely.

Actually, I don't think I've seen a bike wingnut (as opposed to a right-wing radio talkshow host) that wasn't lovely.  Maybe it's not possible to make one that isn't attractive.

Of course, with good cheap quick release skewers available, there is little practical reason to use them today.  In my opinion, they should never be used on a rear wheel unless the rider is very light or weak and never rides uphill, into the wind or out-of-saddle.  But, I guess if you have a bike with solid axles and want to make the front wheel easily removable--say, for transport or storage--a pair of wings on the front is a good, and less expensive alternative, to replacing your axle or wheel.

And, of course, you can give your bike a little more style or enhance a "retro" look.  In addition to the Huret, I particularly like these from GB:

and from Gripfast:

I would trust the Gripfast ones because I've used their track nuts, which are solidly made and lushly chromed.  I never had any problems with my Hurets.

If you prefer something more modern, check out the ones from Velo Orange:

They're almost Bauhausian, at least to the extent that a wingnut can be Bauhausian.  Plus, they're made of stainless steel.  The only reservation I'd have about installing GBs on a bike I'd actually ride (as opposed to one that would hang on a wall) is that old alloy can be brittle.  That's a reservation I'd have about almost any old alloy component; it's not a commentary on the item's quality, as GB was making good stuff during the time those nuts were manufactured (1940's-1960's).

Here are some more examples of vintage wingnuts.  Have a good time looking for them on eBay!


20 October 2014

"The First Brakes That Worked"

If you have any Peugeot--or most other French bikes (Motobecane being one of the notable exceptions) made before the late 1970's, you are riding them.

No, I'm not referring to those plastic Simplex derailleurs or the longer-lasting but worse-shifting Huret models.  Unless you acquired a bike that was never ridden, you've probably had to replace your shifters by now.  Even If you didn't need to, you might have.

On the other hand, there's a good chance you're still riding your Mafac Racer brakes.  You might have replaced the pads and cables--actually, you should have because even if the bike wasn't ridden, the cables were probably corroded and the pads hardened.  If you did, and your brakes are adjusted, they work as well as--or even better than--most available today.

I am mentioning them because, for about two decades, they achieved a distinction very few other bike parts held:  They were used on bikes at all price and quality levels, from the machines ridden by Tour de France winners to the most utilitarian city and town bikes.  Some time in the mid-1970's, Mafac came out with the "Competition", which was really the same brake with a shorter reach.  Later, it was cleaned up and polished (and still later offered with gold anodizing).  A longer version of the Competition --i.e., one with the same reach as the Racer--was also marketed.


The one other difference between the "Racer" and "Competition" was the straddle cable:  The one on the Competition had double ball ends, while the Racer used what was essentially a shorter link of derailleur cable (with the barrel-shaped end used on Campagnolo and Simplex shifters) bolted into hex-shaped ends.

While some may see these brakes as anachronisms, they have an important place in cycling history. Some cycling historians say they were "the first brakes that actually worked".  That is almost not hyperbole:  There seemed to be a mentality among brake-makers (at least those that made brakes for road bikes) that was expressed by a Campagnolo representative at a training session:  The purpose of the brake is not to stop, but to decelerate.  Some would argue that notion gave the brakes of the time too much credit.

(When I first got serious about cycling, there was a joke that the Universal 68 side-pull--commonly supplied on bikes that were otherwise all-Campagnolo--was a "courtesy" brake.)

One reason for Mafac's superior power was the way the brake block attached to the arm:  through an eyebolt.  This allowed a far greater range of adjustability along the vertical and horizontal planes.  This was particularly important with rims like the Constrictor Asp, which did not have flat parallel sides.

(The Asp seems almost like an embryonic version of today's V-shaped "aero" rims!)

Another advantage offered by the "Racer" brakes was that the length of the straddle cable could be adjusted to optimize the mechanical advantage of the brake.  This allowed the brakes to work well with a variety of different levers, as well as with the pads set all the way up or all the way down--or anywhere in between--on the brake arm.

Now, you might be thinking that the first working center pull--and the one on which others were based, at least in part--is not so important because sidepulls have advanced so much, and so Mafac has been relegated to la poubelle de l'histoireWell, even though Mafac hasn't been in business for about three decades, their place in cycling history is sure because of the very first product they made, about seven years before the "Racer" was introduced.

Their cantilever brake, introduced in 1946, remained in production throughout the company's history (about four decades).  It's not the first of its type.  But, compared to the ones that had been made before, it was easy to set up and use, and was more powerful.  For as long as Mafac made them, nearly every lightweight tandem was equipped with them.  So were many high-quality bikes made for fully-loaded touring, and most cyclo-cross racers.  For the latter, cyclists often brazed the necessary posts to old racing frames to accommodate the cantilevers which, in addition to offering superior stopping power, were not as easily clogged by the mud that is an essential element of any cyclo-cross race.

The early mountain bikes also used Mafac cantis.  When Dia-Compe and Shimano made their cantilever brakes that appeared on off-the-shelf touring bikes (and second-generation mountain bikes) sold in the US, their designs were basically adaptations and refinements of Mafac's.  Weinmann also more-or-less copied Mafac cantis and, apparently, bought Mafac's tooling and continued making cantis, in steel as well as alloy, until their own demise in the 1990's.

Many of us still use cantis today.  Those of you who use V-brakes also have to thank Mafac, because Vees were developed from cantis.  And even those of us who use dual-pivot sidepulls owe a debt of gratitude to Manufacture Auvergnoise de Freins et Accessories pour Cycle for developing the centerpull that helped to make it possible!

For me, it's interesting to recall that Frank Chrinko, the proprietor of Highland Park (NJ) Cyclery when I was working there, would not ride any brake but Mafac.  In fact, he put a set of Competitions, along with a mixture of Campagnolo and top-shelf French and Japanese parts, on a frame that was built custom for him.