no one line

Anarchism in Practice, in Bikes
February 2, 2010, 7:11 pm
Filed under: politics

I’d like to direct your attention to a post over on the Spooky Bikes blog called Why Bicycling [Magazine] is Evil. Doubtless, the author’s use of that mag as a punching bag – and he pulls few – will cause consternation to some. Put that aside, go down to the comments, pretend for a moment that you won’t add anything unnecessary to the conversation, and read this, posted by author, the owner of Spooky Bikes:

We are currently 1/2 through a development project for a fully integrated commuter bike that will be made 98% within 90 miles of our factory. Fenders will be rolled by the people who used to make fenders for Columbia. Lights will be stamped and formed 5 minutes from our shop, wiring harnesses will be made 2 doors down from us, tubes will be made at a family-owned mill in CT that Cannondale abandoned- CNC parts will be made by a family shop up in the Hilltowns. Everything except what comes from Michelin, DT or Shimano will be made here, by family owned businesses. We are trading- not exploiting- and we all need each other, like each other, and have complete control over what we do. That’s Anarchism in practice, and we are fucking proud of it!

It’s really lovely to realize that there are places where radical politics overlaps with conservative values, and that that place is not the festering swamp of libertarianism. Politics are a ring, mired in jingoism that forgets the effects of words and actions in favor of climbing any and every visible rung.

Me, I’m just glad that I have a bike from a company with its head screwed on, that trying to do good things in its economic ecosystem. Now, this isn’t exactly a review of my Spooky Skeletor, which I’ve been riding happily for a few weeks, but it will have to suffice for now.

Marco Pantani’s Bianchi – 1998
February 2, 2010, 3:20 pm
Filed under: politics, pro crap, the cycling world, Tour de France

Last spring, at the Trexlertown Velodrome Swap Meet, I came across an unusal score – a Selle Italia Flite embroidered with a cartoon Marco Pantani’s face. It read, “The Pirate.” What was remarkable was not necessarily the rarity of this item, but the fact that my pal and colleague, Ethan (of the fine clothing company Laek House) had told me, just a day or two earlier, how long and hard he had looked for this odd end of the bike part spectrum. I, feeling generous, called him from in front of the busy vendor’s table at the swap meet and told him that I was bringing him back a present.

Today I stumbled upon a cyclingnews feature on Marco Pantani’s 1998 Bianchi race bike, the adjective-stricken “Mega Pro XL Reparto Corse” (custom, of course). That year, Pantani won the Giro d’Italia, and put nine minutes into Jan Ullrich in one stage of the Tour de France on his way to becoming the first Italian in thirtyfour years to wear the Yellow Jersey on his way into Paris.

Twelve years doesn’t seem like a particularly long time, but the article reads like a piece of paleontology – “Look at what we unearthed, signs of a forgotten people and their strange customs: alloy rear derailleurs, Campagnolo 9 speed, 1″ nonintegrated forks!” The author seems to forget that Campagnolo used square-tapered crank interfaces until only a few years ago, that a twelve-year old bike would be competitive even today, and that the thousands of dollars a rider might spend on aerodynamics wanders deep into the terrain of diminishing returns. Bikes, even racing bikes, can still be fairly simple machines.

There are unusual parts to the bike. In an era when compact geometry crept into bike design for reasons varying from “stiffer and lighter” to “fewer stock sizes, cheaper to produce,” Pantani’s bike had a remarkably traditional geometry, with a handlebar height from the era of downtube shifting. And, though you’d imagine a climbing specialist to have gears for climbing, his bike was outfitted with an 11-23 and, stunningly, a 54/44 up front. It’s easy to forget the superhuman attributes of world class athletes – even ones tattooed with track marks.

Pantani was a tragic hero – tangled up in EPO use behind the Lycra Wall of Silence (if I am the first to use this term, please, cite me), a national hero stuck between between celebrity and depression. His last great win was arguably spoiled by some big dumb Texan running his mouth about ‘giving’ Pantani the win on top of Mt Ventoux. I prefer to think that Armstrong was spent from his attack that bridged up to Pantani, and had nothing left at the end.

He died of a cocaine overdose five years ago.

He is, perhaps, a tragic example of the difficult transition that cycling has been making through levels of acceptance of doping: from open acknowledgement, to pervasive but hushed, to a peloton that grimly defended its practices by shunning anybody who exposed them, through doping convictions and bans, to clean teams, and on its way to a hopefully cleaner peloton. In the intermediate stages, when everything was torn asunder, it’s no wonder that the upheaval has caused collateral damage, and it’s no great stretch to speculate that Pantani’s overdose, his depression, was linked to his controversy-stunted career. He was known as a quiet, private person; in his diary, he wrote,

For four years I’ve been in every court, I just lost my desire to be like all the other sportsmen, but cycling has paid and many youngsters have lost their faith in justice. All my colleagues have been humiliated, with TV cameras hidden in their hotel rooms to try and ruin families. How could you not hurt yourself after that?

Here’s hoping that cycling has moved past leaving victims in its wake as it pursues cleaner, more honorable competition. When I consider the need to keep heroes despite condemning doping practices (Anquetil’s comment on “mineral water” and Coppi’s crack about only doping when necessary come to mind), I wonder if perhaps what cycling needs is an amnesty, a time of truth and reconciliation that will allow former dopers to admit to past practices without shame, guilt, or punishment, before the whole sport moves forward.

Pantani’s bike, above, is from the year of the Festina Scandal.

As we bundle up in the winter and click newslinks with daydreams of spring classics still months away, here’s hoping that the pursuit of clean racing doesn’t ruin more lives.

This post started being about the odd, foreign tone of the Cyclingnews bit, but morphed into what will be, I hope, my last comments on doping for a while.

This Month In Doping
February 1, 2010, 2:53 pm
Filed under: politics, pro crap, the cycling world

When I wrote that cyclists “need to acknowledge that there are gracious and honorable ways” for Pros to deal with doping allegations – a quote plucked and quoted by the subject of that post – I left unclear the ways that professionals might accomplish that feat, or the standards by which us, the deskchair jury, might decently judge their conduct.

I think that coming up with such things might be very difficult. However, in light of Ricardo Ricco being back in the news (for something that his partner, not he, did – a fine display of Italian and American newsmedia), it’s fairly easy to start pulling together a list of don’ts – by relying only on what Ricco managed to say about his girlfriend’s positive test:

People know I don’t like her racing, you can imagine what I think about her taking anything. Cycling isn’t for women, it hurts too much.”

As if that weren’t eye-bugging enough, he went on to say, “The thing that bothers me is what people will think.” Yeah, Ricco, your partner was using PEDs. Whatever will they think about you now? Recall that this is the guy who was popped for doping at the 2008 Tour de France when he tried to flee doping control but was caught in traffic… and then went on to win a hilltop stage anyway. If you’re going to go out, go out grand, boy – with rumors that you’ve been doping since you were a junior racer following you all the way out.

I’m loathe to write a post that can be grouped with the out-and-out condemnation of dopers – I simply don’t buy that that is a useful contribution to dialogue. But this is helpful. We all can look on future cases and think, Well, damn. At least they weren’t being all Ricco about things: petty, dishonorable, and outright idiotic.

On Doping, pt II
January 8, 2010, 4:43 pm
Filed under: politics, pro crap, the cycling world

With winter providing the time and necessity for tidying my affairs around the house, I bought a small netbook to replace my dead-and-gone laptop from years past, thus freeing up my sweetheart’s computer more frequently – no more secret fights about who would check their email first when we get home. I also set about updating my RSS feeds and organizing my info streams, which led me to be reading Cozy Beehive for a while as I stumbled across some interesting posts.

Most notable is a guest post from Joe Papp, on how pros defeat doping controls. Papp, years after his doping bust, seems willing to openly discuss his history and the issues and practices of doping in professional cycling.

I’ve written about doping before. Like talking about religion or politics (or worse, both) during family reunion, doping is a sticky topic. Make sure they’re your friends, not just your riding buddies, before the conversation becomes heated.

I remain somewhat agnostic, fiercely ambivalent, and I harbor a compassion for dopers. I can easily envision an all-encompassing, brutally demanding, utterly competitive culture of few rewards for the low-paid hardworking pro, where cheating is seen as the only way to stay afloat – and indeed, where the same holds true for team management of middling teams, with jobs and sponsorship constantly on the line, struggling to produce results.

Despite the fact that Papp was an experienced doper, he was dumbfounded by his initiation at Whistle. Soon after his arrival, he claims, Whistle personnel started him on a serious drug regimen, passing out a potent type of EPO. “I suspected doping would be part of the program, but I didn’t know how profound it would be,” says Papp.

Papp’s story tells of a long, dark rabbit hole, filled with damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don’t choices. This does not waive the role of individual responsibility, but it also informs the need for institutional responsibility, a doping control that does more than bust riders. And so we’ve seen Astana banned from recent Tours de France for institutional doping support, and we’ve seen teams like Garmin and Columbia take avowed, organizational-level anti-doping standpoints. Meanwhile, Shimano, drivetrain parts supplier to many teams, has publicly announced that it would demand the return of its parts from teams embroiled in structural or institutional doping allegations.

These recent steps are, I believe, far superior than the Salem Witch Trial approach of the past decade. However, more is needed. Cyclists, as a broad community, need to acknowledge paths of redemption for accused or convicted dopers, and they need to acknowledge that there are gracious and honorable ways for cyclists to admit their fault. To fire invectives and ruthlessly and bitterly cast aside dopers runs the risk of damaging the spirit of cycling as much as cheating. Most importantly, anybody willing to armchair-judge anybody caught up in scandal needs to acknowledge that were their roles reversed, they’d have no damn clue what to do or how to behave honorably.

This is nothing new. There’s no news here, but as we settle into the winter and face boring news when nothing is happening, as we settle into anticipating the spring classics and the grand tours, it’s worth keeping in mind.

27 times the opportunity
December 18, 2009, 3:52 pm
Filed under: General, politics

For all of the bike-nerd talking about materials, butted tubings, carbon weaves, integrated headsets, and aerodynamic wheels you’d think that this stuff was actually important in some way. Indeed, some people really think that bikes are a revolution of sorts, and the potential is there. While retrofitting American cities to be more conducive to automobile travel – in order to mitigate the inefficiencies and toxic effects of automobile reliance – is no doubt a way to bring this country into the 21st century, a very real, very immediate way that the presence of a bicycle can change a society can be seen in the Africa Bike project by BicyclingMagazing and Kona. Bicycles, as simple, reliable transportation in areas that are struggling to maintain and develop, can vastly increase the ability of health care providers to provide health care.

And while every classics season or Grand Tour I’ll eagerly click through whatever cycling-news venue is carrying the coolest pictures of pro rides sporting the latest industry developments, the really cool area of technological development of bicycles is in bamboo (interestingly enough, also present in pro racing). What’s the point of nonsense like this? Well, Bamboo bikes can have a significant impact on the developing world, and the mobility they afford can provide owners with 27 times the economic opportunity that they previously had.

The reason that all of this is compelling is the fact that bamboo, unlike steel, aluminum, or carbon fiber, is a frame material that can be locally grown. This drastically reduces the production overhead necessary to produce bicycles, enabling their production in developing societies. It’s the classic teach-a-person-how-to-fish scenario. Bamboo can bring bicycles, economic opportunity, and health care to the parts of the world where they’ll make the most difference.

Where bicycles actually are a revolution, not just a hobby or a way to feel ‘green.’ Kudos to the Bamboo Bike Project, to Calfee, to Bicycling Mag, and to Kona for their work.

Philadelphia and Fixed Gears
November 25, 2009, 5:55 pm
Filed under: accidents, fixed gears, politics

Warning: this post required that I lead with a picture that I found bu Google Image Searching “hipster fixed gear.” So I did. You’re forewarned.

Philadelphia is, apparently, seeking to fine people riding brakeless fixed gears. This article reads like a list of things I hate about journalists writing about fixed gears. It writes and perpetuates just about every fixed gear stereotype available to somebody who logged on to for the first time. Are there riders who are not good at riding or stopping their bike? Yes. Are all of them fixed gear riders? No.

Furthermore, this notion that out-of-control fixed-gear riders are a public menace is absurd considering the number of pedestrians and cyclists killed every year by automobiles and their drivers. In New York City, killing somebody with your car is the best way to get away with murder – it’s assumed to be the cyclist’s or pedestrian’s fault. Despite the law, cars have the right of way.

I’m not going to step up and defend fixed gears or the riders thereof. I just don’t care that much, despite the fact that one of my main rides is a track bike. Mostly, I hate the lazy, simple categorization (a shining example of expedient stupidity), demonstrated perfectly by author of the piece linked above. I hate the seasoned idiots who shake their heads at a broad class of newbies. And I hate the focus on it. I’m willing to step away from anticar rant to acknowledge that there are myriad bad bikers out there, and if anybody wants to correlate poor cycling with use of a brakeless fixed gear, well then, let me see some data, not anecdotal crap, backing it up.

And, for any driver that’s reading this and thinking I knew those cyclists were all bad bikers, please remember a few things: you speed, on streets and on highways. You know that light wasn’t still yellow. You know you cut off that person. You know you don’t use your blinker every time. Few people have a high horse in this argument, myself included. I consider myself a safe cyclist albeit one who runs red lights and does other scofflaw behavior. I will say this, though: the bike infrastructure improvements in New York City have made me a much, much more law-abiding cyclist. Go figure.

A far more level-headed approach to the whole debate/debacle was written in the Guardian’s Bike Blog a few weeks ago. It offers a perspective shift just in the title: “Antisocial Cycling Is Annoying, But Not Harmful.”

Annoying, not harmful.

Something to keep in mind, Philadelphia.

Opinions are like…
August 12, 2009, 2:23 am
Filed under: politics

Another NYTimes piece on cycling, this time on the Sands Street bike lane, and the comment section dissolves into one of those “Bad Bikers” sound-offs. It a tiring “blah-blah-blah-I-can’t-hear-you” situation, where folks with grudges against cycling or complete streets advocacy confound a pet peeve with a public safety issue. Yes, bikers shouldn’t ride on sidewalks. Yes, it’s really aggraviting.

No, it is in no way comparable to the hazard posed by city streets that cater only to automobiles.

A study dropped a few months ago, about how cyclists are scofflaws; I haven’t seen studies about pedestrians and I challenge any person with a grudge against bikers to ride down the bike lane on Broadway between Times Square and Herald Square and observe fewer than, say, two dozen pedestrians jaywalking and obstructing other traffic in the span of those eight blocks.

The bottom line is that mode-based orthodoxies are useless here. Almost everybody disobeys some public space law, etiquette, or right-of-way: drivers speed, blow red lights, and change lanes capriciously. Bikers lope through reds, hopefully after yielding to other traffic. And pedestrians walk where they please, when they please – they drift out into the street while waiting for lights, they walk in the bike lane, they jaywalk, they step out from between parked cars.

What’s important is bringing order to the madness – prioritizing more efficient, clean, and safe forms of transportation into the center of a dense city. The notion of “complete streets” isn’t about a powerful cycling lobby, it’s about trying to divvy up public space so that we don’t have to grab and grapple over what remains after the cars get their share.

Hopefully with that process underway, we all can start to be programmed to yield to each other a little bit more frequently, and to tolerate each other a bit more, with the knowledge that finally, we’re not putting each other in danger all the damn time.

On Doping / Millar’s Story
January 17, 2009, 2:53 pm
Filed under: politics, the cycling world

Everybody knows that there’s doping in cycling. There always was, and while there may not always be, it’s not just some modern evil. After all, Tom Simpson died on the road up Mt Ventoux (partially) because of amphetamines and alcohol.

Via VeloGoGo I stumbled on this short video bit on David Millar. As contemplative music strums in the background, he tells the story of his entry into professional cycling as a 19-year-old, of rapidly fulfilling his dream of not only riding in the Tour de France, but winning a 16k time trial – beating Lance Armstrong by 2 seconds and getting to don the yellow jersey.

He then tells of burnout, being underconditioned (perhaps overtrained, I wonder?), and having his team take his hand and lead him toward doping. He is regretful.

It’s obviously a marketing piece for Slipstream, but I really enjoyed it. It personalizes doping in the context of an extremely demanding sport. One of the things that bothers me most about doping is the witch-hunt element of it. I could barely stand the Tours de France of the past two years – I wondered if, by the time the race got to Paris, there would be any riders left after the organizers’ purges. Doping may not be right but it seemed that the cure was worst than the disease. Even worse are those in the peanut gallery who take the opportunity to scream “Doper!” at the slightest provocation. I watched with dismay as a talented local racer was given a 2-year suspension last year – an ingredient in a supplement he took had just been added to the list of banned substances. Regretable, and then came the jerks sitting at their computers, firing off invectives, and generally acting as if taking supplements is worse for the spirit of the sport than being an out-and-out asshole.

“Millar’s Story” is a bit of humanity in the circus. Watch it for yourself – Part 1 and Part 2 – and let me know what you think.

The Finest Gear That Money Can Buy
October 3, 2008, 2:46 pm
Filed under: politics, road bikes, the cycling world

It’s been interesting reading reportbacks from Interbike, the cycling industry’s annual convention. I wasn’t there, as I’m just a lowly enthusiast – in the world, not of it, as the saying goes. But the messageboards and blogs get all fired up with reactions to the new lines of gear, the new aerodynamic improvements of this and that, everybody gushes about the photos of the new technological bit or piece… and then some people buy some stuff, some people forget about stuff, everybody goes about their business. I go back to searching eBay for “Campagnolo 9 speed;” occasionally I might see somebody out in the park, or up on 9W, with a fancy bit of new gear. I saw Campagnolo’s 2009 brake/shifter lever bodies a few weeks ago, and they do look and feel lovely. Of course, for a while I’ve been seeing SRAM Red make the rounds (there’s a big display in the window of the bike shop across the street from the building I work in). I wonder how long until I see a Campy-rigged bike with those new shifters and realize that that rear end goes to eleven; or until I see the SRAM-esque hoods of Shimano’s electric group, Di-2.

It’s an interesting time for the cutting edge. Though the importance of aerodynamics in cycling has been acknowledged by manufacturers since the 80s, aerodynamics seem to be on the rise again – I’m seeing more and more deep-dish carbon fiber rims , even underneath people who seem to be somewhat casual riders. SRAM’s entry into the transmission market a few years ago has obviously prompted Shimano and Campagnolo to change the direction of their improvements. Shimano went toward electronics, and Campagnolo, seeking ways to make shifting even faster, wound up with eleven cogs on the rear.

And so, as others have noted, bicycles are getting more expensive. “Cycling is the new golf,” say some, noting a rise in boutique, custom bicycles for wealthy amateurs. Meanwhile, bike shops this summer had a hard time keeping anything on their shelves as everyday citizens bought bikes, possibly in response to rising fuel prices.

The surge in the popularity of bicycles, be they for racing or for transportation, is not surprising. It coincides with rising cost of automobile use and a revitalization of American cities, factors which contribute to an argument that bicycles can be used as reliable transportation in many of the country’s densest areas. Many of the major companies are making more and more commuter-oriented models, all-purpose bikes, or simple and affordable single-speed/fixed gear bikes. Worldwide, bicycle sales are through the roof, far outpacing the declining automobile sales. Locally and even nationally, cities are in a position to encourage, incentivize, and plan and prepare for transportation choices of the upcoming generations that could dramatically address issues of public health, air pollution, and city traffic congestion. By making dedicated bike facilities – racks, bike lanes, greenways, and traffic enforcement that doesn’t just try to keep cars moving as fast as possible – cities can ensure that with increasing the safety of city cycling, they’ll increase the number of citizens traveling by bike, therefor decreasing reliance on automobiles.

I can’t help but wonder if all the glitz and glamor of the high-end racing market helps or hurts this need for policymakers, urban planners, and the population at large to consider the bicycle as an important part of the transportation network. Is it a sign of misplaced priorities, focusing so much glamor on the wealthiest elements of a sport that so few people understand, anyway? To so many, bikes are just flimsy-looking things ridden by pale, skinny guys on the side of the road wearing tight and ridiculous clothing. On the other hand, generating an economy of wealthy amateurs buying high-priced goods enables these corporations to engage in philanthropic efforts that can indeed support the cause – Trek has supported some significant innovations here in New York City that help raise the visibility and priority of bicycles in the transportation network. Furthermore, these huge companies probably need the credibility that comes with being competitive at the top of the market in order to be able to produce reliable midrange gear, especially considering the technological developments that, in the course of a couple of years, trickle down from the high-end lines to the mid-range equipment.

There are pressing needs around the world that are being addressed by some significant players in the cycling industry. Craig Calfee has done interesting work developing bamboo bicycles that can be used in rural African areas; Kona’s BikeTown project has designed and built bikes that can be used by African health care workers to visit more patients – a unique intersection of transportation and public health, which has been addressed by smaller organizations in the past.

The bicycle is as inherently political as anything else in this world and I urge riders to make the leap from love of the bicycle to an evangelism of sorts. Use what you love to change the world for the better. Support efforts to provide bicycles – a reliable, sustainable, transportation method – to areas and societies that most desperately need them. Support companies engaged in philanthropic work. Support local nonprofit organizations that seek to improve the quality of life in our cities in this area where transportation, public health, and public space policy intersect.

We know how much bikes can change us. Let’s find out how much bikes can change the world.