Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Indignity of Commuting by Bicycle: Sounds, Sasquatch, Stupidity, and Specters

Clearly, we're living in tumultuous times. Cops are tackling cyclists. Riccardo Ricco is not only confessing that he took EPO, but he's also outraged that he didn't fail more tests. And methanogens with cytochromes have considerably higher growth yields and threshold concentrations for H2 than methanogens without cytochromes. Whatever the hell that means.

I don't have an explanation for all of these things, but I can explain what's happening in New York City. Simply put, it's hot. Riot scene in "Do The Right Thing" hot. The kind of hot that creates the moist, tropical conditions in your underpants that are ideal for fostering new life forms. So as you'd expect, people are getting angry out there. And when people get angry, things get ugly.

I was pondering this very thing as I propelled myself to work today, only to be torn from my reverie by an urgent horn-honking. It was the kind of honking you hear from team cars as they try to make their way through the peloton to their riders in the break, and it was coming from a large van of the sort upon which you don't go knocking if you see it rocking. It was easy to imagine that inside it might contain an array of bean bags, or a rotating bed, or B.A. Baracus, or possibly all three, and its pistons snarled angrily like Mr. T himself used to while he pitied fools. I couldn't figure out why the driver was honking at me though, and I confess that this combined with the heat made me irritable. So as he passed I kindly told the driver to "Shut up," only I also included a bad word for emphasis. I didn't say it particularly angrily, mind you. Instead, I said it in the same way you'd say it to your friend towards the end of the ride after he's made fun of your Pentabike socks for the millionth time. But yes, I said it, and there was no taking it back.

"I'm just trying not to hit you, dumbass!," he replied.

This threw me for a loop. You'd think there were other devices in the vehicle that he might have employed more effectively if his goal was not to run into me, but apparently by simply sounding an alarm he thought he was doing me a favor. After a brief exchange that was actually fairly civil (apart from the fact that every sentence finished with the word "dumbass") I reflected upon the incident. An then it hit me. Some people are actually so stupid that they think horns make things happen. They actually believe their car comes with a magic button in the middle of the steering wheel that can change reality. Suddenly, I became aware of the constant chorus of beeping all around me--the kind that's always present in a big city, and the kind you simply tune out like you do crickets in the country. In every case, I realized the drivers stuck in traffic all around me were using their horns not to communicate information but simply in a vain attempt to change what was happening to them. It was as though they thought sitting in congestion was a bad TV show, and that by honking they might somehow change the channel and be transported to a clear roadway. I'm not sure where this notion comes from. I don't think there's ever been a traffic jam where somebody beeped and the thousands of others also caught in the traffic jam suddenly realized, "Hey, he's right, we can all just go!" and it was over.

Similarly, honking at me isn't going to change the fact that I'm there, and it's not going to somehow transform me into an ethereal presence that can ride straight through the row of parked cars besides me. Hopefully, someday soon, more people will realize that horns do absolutely nothing except turn people into bleating sheep. Maybe we can get Ralph Nader on the case and he can get horns out of cars the way he got seatbelts into them. The only time a driver ever needs to use his horn is when he's waiting at a light, the light turns green, and the driver in front of him doesn't notice. Then, and only then, a horn is useful. But you don't even need it then. In the horn-free future I think if a driver is stuck in that situation then it's perfectly acceptable after a polite length of time to inch forward and nudge the other person's bumper. Quieter, and way more effective.

My fantasy of a horn-free world almost made me forget the heat, until I was dragged back to reality yet again, this time by a Subaru wagon weaving more erratically than a drunken seamstress. As it forced me towards the sidewalk, I looked over, only to see something horrifying hanging out the passenger window. At first I thought maybe it was a hunk of smoked mozzarella cheese that had been rolled around the floor of a barber shop or something, but on closer inspection it turned out to be the shoulder of the shirtless passenger. Sickened, I realized I had seen something even rarer than a fixed-gear pie plate. I was actually within vomiting distance of the sweaty torso of Sasquatch himself. As the bile rose in my throat, I reached for my camera, but as I withdrew it the car containing the great beast lurched forward. I immediately set off in pursuit, but no thanks to an unlikely--dare I say supernatural--string of green lights I was unable to catch up with it before it escaped into the Holland Tunnel. All I managed was this shot of it careering back out of the bike lane before making a right hand turn from the left hand lane:




I know there's not much to see in this photo, and I know my story is suspect, so I can only assure you that I saw what I saw and leave the rest to you. Note also the Alabama plates. I realize the Sasquatch is supposed to be a Pacific Northwestern phenomenon, but I posit that what I saw was an even rarer Appalachian strain. It's much shorter and squatter (as you can see from the passenger silhouette), and while its fur is sparser than that of it's Pacific Northwestern cousin it is still quite thick I can assure you. And, most horrifically, I think it may have been female.

No sooner had I recovered from the disappointment of missing out on the shot that would have made me world-famous than I encountered yet another heat-addled moron. As I rode in the bike lane, a GMC SUV with Jersey plates pulled over in front of me, stopped, and began backing up. Naturally I assumed I was under attack, and fortunately I was able to escape by weaving around him. Once I stopped however, I realized I wasn't the target. I had actually simply had the misfortune of being too close to the parking space the driver wanted. Only another ape-like creature could be capable of this sort of stupidity, so in hopes of finally getting Bigfoot on film I walked into the space and took a picture:




Note the look of slack-jawed indignation on the driver's face. There may actually be a string of drool hanging from his lower lip as well, though it could also be a trick of the light. Here's a closer look:


As soon as I took the picture the driver and his passenger emerged from the car and demanded angrily to know what the hell I was doing.

"I'm working on a project," I explained. "I'm taking photos of people who almost kill me."

This sent the driver into an agitated state just a few degrees lower than a full boil. As I sat casually on my top tube, he explained some things to me. Firstly, he explained that I was stupid and that while he was doing something important I was out "playing games" on my bike. This upset me. I mean, sure, I had been playing "Flat Out: Ultimate Carnage" on my handheld game console while I was riding, but that's not a game--that's a way of life. He continued his diatribe. He said I wasn't "from Manhattan" but he was. I wasn't sure what this had to do with anything nor what led him to that conclusion. I was about to ask him if being born right across town in Beth Israel Medical Center counted as being from Manhattan but then he finally arrived at his point. "This is the most busiest place in the world and you're riding around on a bike being stupid." The use of "most busiest" in the sentence he used to call me stupid stopped me like a stick in the spokes. All I could do at this point was repeat "most busiest" over and over again like a shock victim. Finally he concluded his speech by telling me that I should thank him for protecting me from getting hurt. I suppose he had a point. I had been quite lucky to have been on the receiving end of so many favors this morning. First a guy in a van beeped at me so he wouldn't run me over, then a guy from Jersey who says he's from Manhattan tried to back into me. Still, I didn't feel lucky. I just felt angry. I told him that he had indeed hurt me and that my brain was now smarting from his retardation. Something told me he wasn't taking that well though, so as it sunk in I opted to ride off before he figured it out and started swinging.

At this point I had no doubt I was running the gauntlet through a mad world driven even crazier by the heat. I only had one goal at this point--to get where I was going as soon as possible without getting into any more trouble. Carefully I made my way along the bike lane, only to encounter a police car parked in it. The officer, clearly driven insane by heat herself, was quite literally staring into the middle of the empty street and writing a ticket to nobody. Here's a picture if you don't believe me:


I was no longer hot. I was no longer irritable. I was terrified. I felt like that guy in "28 Days Later" when he realizes everyone in London has become a flesh-chewing zombie. Note the manic glint in the officer's eye as she spots me. I didn't know if I was about to be tackled or eaten, and I wasn't about to find out either. I put my head down, pedaled hard, and made straight for the nearest air conditioner.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Highbrow vs. Lowbrow: Lost in the Intellectual Spectrum of Cycling

In response to yesterday’s post, one commenter said:

Get over yourself. It was an unprovoked assault by a policeman in uniform. Real funny. Must be 'cause everyone except you is stupid.

In all honesty I’d hate to think I gave anyone the impression that I side with officer Pogan. Rest assured that I think he’s a disgrace to Patrick Pogan, Sr., he’s a disgrace to Massapequa Park from whence he hails (as well as to neighboring Massapequa), he’s a disgrace to Nassau Community College where he probably majored in homophobia with a minor in snacking, and he’s probably going to be a disgrace to the strip club where he will ultimately wind up working as a bouncer because his only asset in life is his oafishness. More importantly, I’d really hate to think I gave anyone the impression that I think I’m smart. Please know that I’m as stupid as I come, which is what allows me to recognize stupidity when I see it. Trust me, the only reason I know the people on the iPhone lines are idiots is that my first impulse is to stand in that same line for 45 minutes until it finally occurs to me to ask the person in front of me, “Hey, do you know what this line is for?” I’m only human after all. I’m sort of like the “Dexter” of idiots, in that I criticize stupid people not because I’m better than them, but because I’m one myself. All I’ve got going for me is that I’ve come to learn over the years that if I want to do something, there’s a good chance it’s stupid, so I should probably think for awhile before I do it.

But there is a bright side to being stupid. As I said yesterday, stupidity loves crowds, and when you’re stupid you’re never lonely. And if you ever want to see a crowd of people operating in a bovine fashion that’s exquisite in its stupidity, come to New York City and watch pedestrians in Midtown. Here you can watch herds of people walk out into the middle of the busiest streets in North America despite the fact that they don’t have the light, and then express surprise when they’re subsequently flattened by wheeled traffic. All it takes is for one idiot to start walking, and then the rest follow. They’re like cattle who don’t realize they’re in danger until the bolt actually shatters their skulls. If you’ve ever seen the way sharks trick schools of fish into swimming themselves into one giant fish ball, and then simply take bites out of that ball like it’s an apple or something, you have some idea of what I’m talking about. And the stupidest thing about them is that they don’t even realize why it’s happening to them, as you can see in this (ahem) hard-hitting article from the New York Post. “Ever try to cross Sixth Avenue at lunchtime?,” the writer, Andrea Peyser, asks. “It's like human pinball. You get more warning before a lightning strike.” Actually, Andrea, you do get a warning—you get a red light and a giant electric sign that says “Don’t Walk.” I think it’s safe to say Andrea Peyser is a fellow stupid person.

Speaking of stupid, that creepy guy Rod Stewart who looks kind of like Barbara Walters once sang either “Every picture tells a story, don’t it?” or “Every picture’s of assorted donuts.” Because I’m stupid, I'm not sure which. But assuming it’s the former, I’m inclined to agree:







Both of these pictures tell the story of one of my favorite phenomenona in cycling, which is the bike with one part on it that costs more than the rest of the bike put together. In the first example, submitted by a reader, the carbon fiber Zipp wheel is the obvious standout. It fails to tie the rest of the bike together much in the way that the hardware store chain does. (A diligent thief could cut through that chain with a pair of toenail clippers.) In the second example, submitted by me, the Brooks saddle is so dear compared with the rest of the bike that the owner has elected to lock it instead of the front wheel. (The bike also sports a pie plate larger than the charger upon which John the Baptist's head was served to Herodias.)

However, when you're stupid, cycling isn't always easy to appreciate. For example, I recently received the following request from a reader:

I know we are a fringe element and hardly worthy of mention, but you seem to be holding back with respect to the randonneuring community. I feel slighted. I mean think of the opportunities. Generators. Fenders. Berthoud bags (not to mention the arcane world of decalaurs.) Where else do you find silly people riding through the night, in storms, on fixed gears, in the mountains for fun? So the Cascade 1200 isn’t hard enough? Go ride that 2000K in British Columbia.

If I seem to be holding back, it's not because randonneurs are a "fringe element." It's because the whole thing goes way over my head. I followed one of the links included in the email and the first thing I saw was a "call for poets." Frankly, I avoid poetry and anything that inspires poetry. I don't want to smell wet wool, nor do I want to read poetry about the smell of wet wool, and I have a feeling the randonneuring community's capacity for pretention may be as capacious as their saddlebags. Also, I love long rides, but I have no interest in excessively long rides, or in rides that involve sleeping in a bed other than your own. I avoid touring and 24-hour mountain bike races for the same reason. I don't believe in doing anything for more than five hours at a time, whether it's cycling, or working, or reading, or even watching TV. (I do however consider riding for five hours and then watching TV for five hours a day well spent.) I also avoid sleeping in strange places because when you do and you wake up from nightmares involving geese it can take awhile to re-orient yourself and figure out where the bathroom is.

Another thing that goes over my head is philosophy. Sure, I suppose I can be philosophical myself, but sometimes I have trouble discerning where philosophy leaves off and marketing begins. Take "Rapha Continental:"

The Continental is about participation, exalting any and all who endeavor to ride with passion and heart. Central to the project is our desire to discover the places and people that do and have done the style of riding that we’ve only just begun to call – Continental.

I'm going to be completely honest here--I spent a decent amount of time studying this site (though naturally less than five hours, in accordance with my rule) and I still don't know if this is a line of clothing or a team or a philosophy or what. Every time I think it's something I click on another link that tells me it's not what I thought it was. For example, for awhile I thought it was a team, but then I read this:

The Rapha Continental riders are not a team. At least not in the typical sense, or the racing sense. We are a group of individuals united in effort and focus, and we do cooperate.

Eventually I gave up. I feel like something tremendously important may be going on here, but I also feel too dumb to understand it. I get confused by things that say they aren't what they appear to be. It's like looking at a Magritte painting--which, I might add, I also don't understand.

Fortunately, there are people out there dumbing it down for us stupid folk. Sure, sometimes this can be dangerous, like the King Kog Crass t-shirt (sadly no longer available), which may appear to be easy to understand, but is actually quite insidious in that the design was stolen and wearing it can actually make you look dumber than you actually are. But there's also more straightforward stuff you can purchase in order to appear countercultural, like the Pentabike, which has a similar fixter appeal but also has a tidy backstory and doesn't appear to have been stolen from anybody except the Wiccans. (Perhaps someday soon we will see products being sold as "Certified Pop Culture Plunder-Free.")

But what if your sensibility lies somewhere between metal and Magritte? What if you're just looking to inject a little pop art and whimsy into your ride? Well, if this is you, soon you'll be able to lock your bike to a David Byrne bike rack:





Ah, yes. Clever and ironic, but not intellectually challenging. It's the perfect lukewarm pool for the masses. Sure, David Byrne may have gotten all flustered while trying to explain the process of powdercoating, and sure, it may have taken the reporter and him a full hour to make the six-mile journey to Brooklyn. But until Rod Stewart designs an "assorted donut" bike rack, or until Letle Viride weighs in, I can safely say that these giant tie pins are some of the best bike racks ever designed by a pop musician.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Surly Cross-Check: Cranky Cop Coldcocks Critical Masser

By this point most people have seen the footage of critical mass cyclist Christopher Long getting tackled by NYPD officer Patrick Pogan. This is a classic example of the eternal conflict between the younger, more progressive generation and the older, more conservative one—except of course that the rider was 29 and the officer was 22. But as we all know, in the gentrified neighborhoods of our nation’s cities 30 is the new 20, and in 2008 calculating someone’s age is sort of like calculating “dog years,” except instead of multiplying by seven you subtract 10. So really, the rider was 19 in “hipster years,” and as such the officer was probably enraged by the sight of a teenager having a good time and flew into a jealous rage.

Similarly, the standard of what constitutes heroic behavior is also lower in 2008. The bike-tackler, Patrick Pogan, is a third-generation police officer. I wanted to know more about the Pogan family, so I strapped on my “investigative journalist” helmet and Googled vigorously for almost two full minutes. I finally uncovered this New York Times article from 1991, and since I’m not a real journalist nor am I bound by any real journalistic responsibilities, I will go ahead and assume that the Pogan mentioned herein is the bike-tackler’s father, as the bike-tackler himself would have been only 5 at the time (or negative 5 in “hipster years”):




So it would seem that tackling someone riding his bike is in 2008 what rescuing someone from a wrecked subway train with the jaws of life was in 1991, because Pogan Sr. not only stands by his son (as you’d expect him to) but is also proud of him for what he did:

"He's my son. I'm proud of him. He's third-generation that's been serving the city," said Pogan Sr., who was at home in Massapequa Park, LI, today and said he had not seen the video. "These people are taking over the streets and impeding the flow of traffic. Then you gotta do what you gotta do," said Pogan, 51.

I’m not sure what’s causing both maturity and heroism to recede so quickly. Maybe it has something to do with global warming. In any case, it would seem that Long and Pogan were two melting icebergs on a collision course—though in fairness to Long it would appear that he did try to avoid the other iceberg, which proceeded to topple him from his bicycle in a decidedly un-iceberg-like fashion.

Yet try as I might, it’s hard for me to feel outrage. The world can often seem vicious and arbitrary, and this video would seem to be a good example of that. However, while you can’t account for everything, there are some immutable truths in this world, and knowing them can give you a significant advantage. And one of the most important truths I’ve learned is that where there are crowds there is stupidity. When large numbers of people get together, stupid things happen, and you’re almost always better off simply getting as far away from the crowd as possible.

For example, I regularly pass an Apple store, and for the last few weeks there has been a line around the corner. As you probably know, this line consists of people who are waiting to purchase the new iPhone. Many of these people not only own iPhones already but actually use them while they’re waiting on the line, presumably to tell their employers that they will not be getting any work done today because they are waiting to purchase an item designed to help them be more efficient. Apparently, they’re not aware that Apple is creating these lines on purpose, and they’re unwitting participants in what is actually a giant Apple commercial. Instead, they think that despite the iPhone’s popularity Apple might suddenly decide to stop selling the phone forever, and that if they don’t wait on line today they’ll never, ever own one.

And that’s just one benign example. In that case all that happens when you get to the front of the line is someone gives you a phone in exchange for the full retail price, hours out of your life, and a sizeable chunk of your dignity. Stupid, sure, but better than a kick in the teeth. But most crowds are even worse. Beyond over-hyped products, other things that draw crowds are fires, mass suicides, genocides, riots, parades, and Bon Jovi concerts. All things you’re better off avoiding. In the best case scenario, you see or receive something awful. In the worst case scenario, you get hurt.

One of the things that make cycling so great is that it enables you to avoid crowds and pointless delays. Few things are more satisfying than effortlessly weaving your way through a traffic jam. So while I’ll begrudge nobody his or her Critical Mass, personally I don’t understand the appeal of forming a crowd and creating a pointless delay. And it is a delay, whether you’re in a car or on a bike. I once accidentally got caught in a Critical Mass ride while out riding. I felt like a dolphin ensnared in a tuna net. One second I was sailing along, and the next I was trapped among a bunch of people with rickety bikes rolling on wobbly, rusty brown steel rims on the verge of collapse. It was like watching a Beatles “Yellow Submarine”-esque cartoon LSD sequence where all the bicycles were rolling on pretzels. Sure, they had taken back the streets, but I wish that as a cyclist they might have saved a small sliver for me so I could get to where I was going.

People do need to see other people out there on bikes. They need to become accustomed to them so they learn to respect them, and they need to see how practical and effective they can be so they consider riding them themselves. Many cyclists illustrate this day after day, not only by riding their bikes to and from work during rush-hour but also by using them for recreation and even racing on them. A driver who sees you zip past as you ride your bike to work, and then sees you riding your bike to dinner later with a date, and then sees you going for a road ride that weekend doesn't realize he's seen only one rider—as far as he knows he's seen a bunch of riders, and he sees them using their bikes successfully. Effectively, you’re a Critical Mass of one. Meanwhile, a mob of people on crappy bikes blocking traffic one day a month isn’t a “mass” at all. At best it's a party. At worst it’s effectively just one big stupid person.

Stupidity breaks out in groups, and when people gather expect stupid things to happen. You may or may not encounter a stupid person or stupid thing individually as you go about your day, but you’ll definitely encounter one in a crowd, and Christopher Long encountered one in the form of Patrick Pogan. On the other hand, intelligence travels alone, but it travels swiftly, and consequently it's not only more effective, but it also generates much better word-of-mouth.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Crisis of Faith: Bidding a Bittersweet Adieu to the Tour

Well, the Tour de France is now over. I admit I approached it with cynicism in the beggining, but after three weeks it's become a part of me, and now the place where it once was tingles like a phantom limb. Every time the mainstream media flashes a brief picture of Sastre atop the podium in between news of bank implosions and Christian Bale attacking his mom, a small, nostalgic lump rises in my throat, right around the place popcorn kernel husks tend to lodge themselves. But there are some aspects of the Tour I'll miss more than others. Here are the things I'll miss most:

Those Cervelo Commercials

Cervelo is to bicycles what Sub Zero is to refrigerators, or what Viking is to stoves, or what Weber is to gas barbecue grills. That is to say, they're expensive, well-engineered, professional-quality items which are bought by people who have little or no clue how to operate them and will never know their true potential. You can ruin a meal just as badly on a GE as you can on a Viking, and you can get dropped just as quickly on a Scattante as you can on a Cervelo. And despite what you may think, you don't look any better or "pro" on a Cervelo than you do on a Scattante either. In fact, it only serves to throw the chainring tattoo on your hairy leg into sharper relief.

So as the Breitling of bikes you'd expect Cervelo to have very serious--almost intimidating--TV ads. Maybe a baritone narrator intoning statistics as molecular structures and formulas flash across the screen. Instead, Cervelo's ads are mostly just those two Canadian guys who make them talking about their bikes in an endearing lilt. It's almost hard to imagine that people with accents like that could even be precise, let alone produce a full line of performance bicycles. It's like if Cooter from the "Dukes of Hazzard" was the BMW spokesperson. Those Cervelo commercials were the closest thing I've seen in awhile to the "Great White North" (only with less belching), and I for one am hoping Vroomen and White become the new Bob and Doug McKenzie.



Those Versus Workload Statistics

I've got to admit that Versus really upped its game this year. Not only were more riders hooked up to heart rate monitors (which I suppose may be interesting if you're a health care professional, but which I find pretty boring), but they also calculated the percentage of work each breakaway constituent was contributing to the move by counting how long each rider spent at the front. While I question the accuracy of these statistics (they didn't seem to account for the relative sizes of the riders, for example, and a large guy pulling for 30 seconds would arguably be contributing more to a breakaway than a small guy pulling for 30 seconds), I like the concept, and I'd like to see it used in other aspects of cycling as well. For example, if we take the Versus workload approach and apply it to cycling subcultures and their relative contributions of absurdity, it might look something like this:





Fixed Gear Freestylers: 32%






Recumbent riders: 37%





Triathletes: 31%


Before you quibble over these percentages, keep in mind that: 1) it's just an example; and 2) while it may seem conservative to say that triathletes only account for about one-third of the total ridiculousness here, they also only ride their bikes one-third of the time, so their contribution is actually quite formidable. And furthermore this goes to show that while statistics can be fun, they can also be misleading and difficult to interpret. Not everything can be easily quantified. (Though in the absurd FGF/bent/tri breakaway, I think it's safe to say that they've got a nice gap and are rotating smoothly. If the triathletes don't take everybody else down they may stay away until the finish.)


Matt White and Jonathan Vaughters in the Garmin/Chipotle Team Car

Some people may have watched the Tour for the bike racing, but I watched it for the precious moments when Versus would cut to the Garmin/Chipotle team car. Watching Vaughters and White in that car giving their riders useless advice in a dull monotone was nothing short of captivating. "Keep riding, Christian." "You can do it." "Only 5K to go." It was like a buddy comedy without the comedy, or a police drama without the drama. I'm sure there were more spirited exchanges, like when Vaughters told Millar that Vande Velde's raise would actually be coming out of Millar's salary, or when they pulled into a drive-thru McDonald's and White forgot to order Vaughters a thick shake, but for the most part Vaughters and White simply cruised around with the studied detachment of two guys "flossing" in South Beach in their parents' station wagon, looking for a nightclub that might let them in or some women who might talk to them. Between White's bleach-blond locks and sunglasses and Vaughters's sideburns it was like watching a slightly cheesier version of "Night at the Roxbury."


But the Tour also brought heartache, and nothing made my heart ache more than the positive drug test of my favorite rider.

Years ago, when I was merely a child, I had a baseball card collection. Even then, I had no interest in baseball, so my collection consisted entirely of players with funny names. And there was no card in my collection that I valued more than my Johnny Wockenfuss card:




I didn't know who Johnny Wockenfuss was. I didn't even know where the card had come from. I did know that the card was worthless, both because Johnny Wockenfuss wasn't a particularly good player and because the card was badly creased. But I cherished it anyway, and in moments of doubt I would withdraw it and gaze upon it like I was a penitent and it was a picture of the Virgin Mary. And that card inspired me. It may not have inspired me to be a better person, or to accomplish anything, or even to try at anything, but it did inspire me to laugh at his ridiculous name, and in many ways that's what made me who I am today.

Well, Dmitri Fofonov was my new Johnny Wockenfuss, and you may recall that he was instrumental in helping me maintain my faith in the Tour. Unfortunately, though, like Job my faith has been tested as Fofonov just became the fourth rider to test positive for a banned substance in this year's Tour. I was shocked and appalled to receive this link from a reader. Actually, I was confused before I was shocked and appalled because the story was in French, but I did run it through a translator:

L' information; Equip: The Kazakh runner of Crédit Agricole Dmitri Fofonov, 31 years, was controlled positive with a stimulant in Saint-Etienne, with l' exit of the 18th stage of the Tour de France. Fofonov, 19th of the final classification, explained to its formation to have taken a product against cramps bought on Internet. "C' is a non-observance of the elementary rules, declared Roger Legeay, general manager of l' equip French, which immediately suspended its runner. A runner cannot take any drug, without authorization of the doctor of l' equip, without him to have spoken about it. (...) C' is a proven individual fault. It is known that can arrive but this n' is not pleasant."

I had been ecstatic over Fofonov's finishing the Tour in 19th place on the GC. As a pass/fail racer unable to take anything seriously, a top-20 finisher with a funny name is far more exciting and inspirational to me than a first-place finisher with a regular name like Sastre. So to be cast down from such dizzying heights by this news was nothing short of devastating. To paraphrase a well-known poem, they came first for Beltran, and I didn't care because he didn't have a funny name. Then they came for Moises Duenas, and I didn't care because his name wasn't that funny either. And so on. Then they came for Fofonov. But by then it was too late. Because the Tour was already over and he's probably halfway to Almati on a team-issue Look by now.

Anyway, thanks for ruining the Tour for me. I had faith in you but I guess you were just foffing me off. But I should also thank you for teaching me a valuable lesson. And that lesson is that a man only has two things in this world: himself, and his Wockenfuss.

Friday, July 25, 2008

BSNYC Friday Fun Quiz!

School may be out, but knowledge is always in! And nothing's cooler or more enjoyable than taking tests. So in the interest of helping keep everbody in style, I've put together a little pre-weekend wit-sharpening quiz. As usual, study the question and choose your answer carefully. If you're right, you'll see the item (or something close to it). If you're wrong, you'll see a PSA for cheese.

Good luck, and ride safe this weekend.

--RTMS




These geese in Prospect Park are:

--Holding an early-season cyclocross clinic

--Holding a demonstration for legal, state-sanctioned same-sex Anserinae marriage

--Planning to launch a violent yet downy attack on the next pie-plated rider they see

--Just honking, defecating, and generally nibbling themselves




What's going on here?

--The Discovery Channel is promoting "Shark Week"

--The Discovery Channel is promoting the "BSNYC Summer Live-Blogging Spectacular!!!"

--Two aspiring actors have bartered away the last remaining bits of their souls

--Both A and C






Why doesn't Cadel want anybody touching him?

--His collarbone, like his spirit, is so brittle it could crumble under the slightest pressure.

--He's not made from the steely stuff of champions. He's made from the fissiparous stuff of Wheaties, the breakfast of champions.

--He's tired and cranky from a day of wheelsucking and he just wants some warm milk, a massage, and some snuggly-wuggly time with his stuffed lion.

--All of the above



There is such a thing as a "Suitcase of Sausage:"

--True

--False





This picture depicts:


--A reader-submitted photo of a pirate bike rack in action

--The latest in fixter streetwear

--An ill-advised bike shop sidewalk display ("I'm slashing prices on fixed-gears with my hook hand and menacing blade!")

--Pake's pun-tastic new pirate-themed ad campaign: "Arrrrr ye Pake?"


Who is this?

--The star of a new urban bicycle-themed sitcom

--The star of a Mission Bicycles testimonial

--A motorcyclist being interviewed about the deafeningly loud straight pipes on his Harley Davidson softail

--The star of Specialized's new Langster TV ad campaign






What's on top of the car under the curtain in this Volkswagen ad?

--A Trek Madone

--A trackstanding fixter

--A brace of fixies

--Vern Troyer riding a Dahon folder on rollers

Thursday, July 24, 2008

BSNYC Product Review: King Kog Crass T-Shirt

After tagging Trackosaurusrex in yesterday’s post, I clicked on over there to see if they had picked up the questions and run with them. Unfortunately they hadn’t (at least not last time I checked), but I sure was glad I stopped by. Because if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have learned that a new King Kog t-shirt had “dropped.”

This latest t-shirt is based on the Crass logo. If you don’t know what Crass were, here’s a gross oversimplification: Crass were basically to anarchist punk what John Coltrane was to jazz, or what Kiss were to schlock rock, or what the Grateful Dead were to being really stoned and smelly. Take every anti-establishment sentiment you can think of, multiply it by a self-righteousness factor of 30, and then play it through a bullhorn at a protest. So naturally as a fiercely anti-consumerist and anti-commercialist enterprise their logo is an obvious choice to place on an American Apparel t-shirt promoting a bicycle fashion boutique.

Looking at the King Kog t-shirt immediately transported me back to my youth and evoked fond memories of bringing home my first Crass record. I knew immediately I had to have a Crass record, not only because their logo was much more enticingly esoteric and knotty than the logos of other bands like the Dead Kennedys, but also because the people who wore it seemed themselves somehow more esoteric and knotty. (Though that was mostly because of their dreadlocks.) Sure, I had no idea what Crass were about, and there was no Wikipedia to tell me, but I sensed I was on to something. This notion was immediately validated for me when I opened the record, which was wrapped in a poster of a badly burned baby or something. Paydirt! I put it on the turntable and was suddenly transported from my bedroom to a squat in England somewhere. Crass seemed to be very upset about the Falklands War. Did I know anything about the Falklands War? Not really. Did I know what they were fighting over? Something to do with sheep, though that might have been a metaphor. Did I know where the Falklands were? Well, I had thought it was that place in Jersey where the Giants play, but if that was the case I wasn’t sure why Crass were so angry about it. Did I know anybody who had been in the Falklands War, or who had been killed there? No. Did I have any idea the Falklands War had actually ended years ago? Nope. Did I like what I was hearing and did I draw their logo on my pants? Absolutely. Did I do my homework that night? Absolutely not. How could I? People were dying in the Falklands!

So needless to say, I was grateful for the opportunity King Kog was giving me and the rest of the cycling world to once again celebrate cluelessness. “Will I pay $22 to own a t-shirt that has been egregiously appropriated from an icon of my youth I didn't adequately understand in the first place?,” I asked myself. And the answer came back, “Yes sir, I will.”

Excitedly, I slipped it on and straddled the orange julius bike with the intention of parading my affection for both Crass and fixed-gear bicycles all over Brooklyn, but I realized right away that this was not like other garments I own. It was ironic, sure, but not in a good way. My Iron Maiden Vans are ironic, but it’s that kind of tongue-in-cheek irony that ridicules both the band and the wearer. “Sure, Iron Maiden are patently absurd,” they say. “But I’m not afraid to be absurd. I’m stupid, Iron Maiden is stupid, and so what! Let’s party!!!” My UNDFTD World Champion/Cinelli/Eddy Merckx/Black Flag/who-knows-what-else rip-off t-shirt is also ironic, but that’s also tongue-in-cheek irony. The notion that I’m a world champion is as patently absurd as Iron Maiden, Cinelli is a cool old-skool company to which I want to give mad props, Eddy Merckx is another cool old-skool company and also a guy from the 70s who rode a fixie sometimes, and Black Flag were mostly about suburban alienation, drinking, and puking, which is also what fixed-gear bikes are about now. Even my Major Tailored hat is ironic in a fun way. Sure, it might be a brazen misappropriation of a sporting icon’s name and a tasteless attempt to make money off of somebody who died without any himself, but it’s also a great pun and a tight hat. (That's "tight" as in cool--it fits fine.)

But the Crass shirt just wasn’t working for me. It wasn’t making fun of something stupid, because while Crass may have taken themselves extremely seriously they weren’t stupid. Also, it wasn’t an homage to cycling’s past, because really Crass don’t have very much to do with the history of cycling. Instead, I kind of felt that wearing a copy of the Crass logo on a t-shirt advertising a boutique was somehow offensive—like I had slipped a pig’s knuckle into their vegan broth. I also felt that the act of purchasing and wearing this t-shirt professed not a familiarity with and an understanding of Crass but rather my own ignorance as to what it is they actually represent. It was like wearing an "I'm With Stupid" t-shirt that points to yourself. Sure, maybe Crass themselves might consider this t-shirt an homage and an expression of the DIY ethic. They may even approve of someone wearing it while making metal horns in order to sell it. Still, I felt like that friend of a friend you meet at a bar who can lecture you about politics, 70s punk and French cuisine with equal superficiality, and then move on to tell you everything that’s wrong with the beer you just ordered.

Of course, if you’re one of those people, the King Cog Crass t-shirt might be for you. But it wasn’t for me.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Rack and Opinion: The Future of Bike Parking in NYC

One of my favorite things about New York City is that it always manages to outdo itself. A mere 24 hours after surrendering the bike lane to a yogurt-slurping cab driver, my progress was again impeded, this time by a Departent of Sanitation worker who cavalierly dropped two full bags of garbage right in front of me:

DOT workers are colloquially known as "New York's Strongest," though in this particular instance a different superlative came to mind. In the time it took me to get over my shock, withdraw my camera, and set up my tripod, he finally deigned to remove them, which is what you see him doing above. Nonetheless, it was a poignant reminder of where I stand in society's transportation heirarchy.

Nonetheless, even the relentless flow of smelly, slippery garbage water cannot erode my faith that things will get better for us. It just so happens that the ten finalists in the Department of Transportation's CityRacks Design competition have been announced. Certainly, cleverly-designed racks are just what this city needs in order to improve its cyclists' quality of life, though I must confess I was disappointed by the designs they chose, since most of them seem to put form ahead of function. Lowlights include:

This One



Brilliant. Fortunately, New York City bike thieves have yet to unlock the mystery of the quick-release skewer, so a bike rack to which you can only lock your front wheel should prove highly effective;

This One


This one bothers me because they failed to take the design all the way:



By stopping with their "Almost-spoke" concept, the designers missed the opportunity to seize upon something truly great. Personally, I'd like to see a variety of bike racks throughout the city based on various stupid wheel designs --sort of a real-life Retarded Wheelset Hall of Fame;

This One


I'm beginning to detect a theme here, and that theme is "front wheel locking only." Is there some sort of conspiracy going on here? Granted, I guess it is possible to lock both your frame and your wheel to this particular rack, but it's also possible to do that with a street sign. So basically this rack has all the disadvantages of a regular pole (ugly, room for only two bikes) with none of the advantages (conveying to the public useful street-cleaning information).

The fact is that the judges would have been well-advised to take the many designs I submitted a bit more seriously. I mentioned a few of them not too long ago, my favorite being the pirate rack, which Erik K was kind enough to render as it would appear if it were installed in front of the Chowdah Shop:

Besides those, I also proposed using real-life ex-cons to guard people's bike:


Not only are ex-cons intimidating, but many of them are looking for ways to re-integrate themselves into society, and I think it's more socially responsible to offer them gainful employment than it is to spend money fabricating inanimate objects and bolting them into the ground. Also, tattoos and body piercings are so hot right now. (This particular individual has a bright future ahead of him as an urban bike polo player, according to the guidelines put forth by John Kennedy of the U.S. Bike Polo Association.)

I also provided my "spin" on more traditional designs, like this one:





Sure, at first glance it might look like a giant hairball, but upon closer inspection the advantages of this design are obvious. Apart from its superior capacity, it also rotates, so you don't have to walk around and around it looking for your ride. It's sort of a hybrid of a berry tree and a tie rack.

Whatever. I'm not one to cry over spilt garbage water. I've got more pressing concerns, chief among them the fact that I've been "tagged" by Fat Cyclist, whatever that means. I guess it's a "thing." My first impulse was to just ignore it, since I'm generally not into "things." Also, I figured if I'm going to play tag now I might as well play the way I did when I was a kid, which is to give the tagger a dirty look and just stand there. But in many ways Fat Cyclist is the Patron of cycling bloggers, so I figured I should play along for my own good. Not only that, but I kind of wanted to answer some of the questions. So I figured I'd do it, but I'd do it my way. And since my way involves doing things late and half-assed, I'm only going to answer a few of the questions like a day and a half after he tagged me. So here goes:

If you could have any one — and only one — bike in the world, what would it be?

A custom steel five-person tandem road/mountain/track/cyclocross/commuter bike. Then I'd saw it into five bikes. Ha! In your face!

Do you already have that coveted dream bike? If so, is it everything you hoped it would be? If not, are you working toward getting it? If you're not working toward getting it, why not?

Dream bikes are for dreamers and work is for suckers. I'm a realist and I'm not working towards anything. All my bikes are reality bikes. And they're all I hoped they would be, which isn't much.

If you had to choose one — and only one — bike route to do every day for the rest of your life, what would it be, and why?

Around and around Prospect Park, because thanks to the local race schedule that seems to be what I do anyway and I don't think I'd notice.

Do you ride both road and mountain bikes? If both, which do you prefer and why? If only one or the other, why are you so narrowminded?

Both. I prefer mountain bikes though, because even though mountain bikes are no good on the road the last time I took my road bike through a rock garden I really regretted it. Also, there are roadies on the road.

Suppose you were forced to either give up ice cream or bicycles for the rest of your life. Which would you give up, and why?

Ice cream is the world's most overrated food. I could take it or leave it. In fact, I'd give it up for nothing if you asked me nicely. Ice cream is for people who are easily amused. Sure, it tastes slightly better than some other foods, but when you're a true crank like me it takes more than some frozen lactose to make things tolerable. I'm not lactose intolerant, but I am lactose indifferent.

What is a question you think this questionnaire should have asked, but has not? Also, answer it.

This is more of a personal question, but I recently saw the movie "Teeth," at Stevil of HTATBL's recommendation, and, uh, well...can that really happen? I'm really hoping the answer is, "No."

Okay, now I'm supposed to tag three other bloggers, so I've chosen three of my favorites:

The Climb

Cycling WMD

Trackosaurusrex (home of the 1:1 word/exclamation point ratio)

I now feel like taking a scalding hot shower and scrubbing the "dork" off me with steel wool. Of course, if you have a blog feel free to join in, and all the best to FC.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Indignity of Commuting by Bicycle: Art, Affluence, Acidophilus, and Ascots

Commuting by bicycle puts you in touch with your surroundings like no other mode of transport can. Unfortunately, being in touch isn't always a good thing, and sometimes you just want to turn the phone off and pretend it isn't happening. (Especially when it's really hot out.) Notheless, I decided to take the call this morning on my commute by firing up the old Instamatic. Here's what the city had to say for itself:


As I rode along the approach to the Manhattan Bridge bike path, I was moved by this little bit of found art: a lone, wayward derailleur pulley juxtaposed with a painted yellow line tarred with the skidmarks of a thousand errant fixies. To me, this expressed beautifully the feeling of isolation and despair that only the geared urban rider knows as the new generation of fixed-gear rider passes him by on a yellow brick road to nowhere. I stopped briefly to capture this stirring image, then picked up the pulley and put it in my non-collabo, non-messenger bag. So if you lost a derailleur pulley on the Brooklyn side of the Manhattan bridge and you want it back just let me know. Otherwise I'm going to run a shifter cable through it and wear it around my neck, both as a testament to the versaitility of geared drivetrains and as a whimsical little bauble to complement my bangles.


As I crossed the span of the bridge, this serendipitous bit of art still fresh in my mind, I came upon some "real" art in the form of the New York City Waterfalls. If you're not familiar with them, they're basically scaffoldings that spew water, they're the work of some Danish artist named Olafur Eliasson, and there's a bunch of them in the East River now. This one happens to not be working at the moment, but I assure you they're no more impressive when they are. They look like something you'd use to wash your boat. (In fact, some kayakers were dumb enough to try, which leads me to believe that kayakers may be the fixed-gear riders of the seas.) Anyway, thanks for nothing, Olafur.


With summer comes a decrease in clothing, and with a decrease in clothing comes unwitting underwear exposure. I will never understand why cyclists cannot get it together to keep their posteriors covered. Either it's some guy on a road bike in the park with translucent shorts worn to cheesecloth, or it's some triathlete in a full aero tuck wearing go-go bikini bottoms, or it's some fixed-gear rider whose decorative belt does little to keep his pants above his waistline. This morning I was confronted with the latter. The picture is blurred so as not to unduly shame him, but in the few minutes I spent riding behind him I learned more than I wanted to know--mainly that he wears pink underpants, and that these pink underpants are separating from their elastic waistband and are in dire need of replacement. (Also, they do not match his aero rims. If you're going to ride around with your underwear out, at least color-coordinate.) So please, let's all of us as cyclists make a concerted effort to pay as much attention to what's behind us as we do to what's in front of us.



I'd only just recovered from the fixed-gear rider's decaying pink underthings when my progress was obstructed by a Town Car in the bike lane. I thought to myself, "Well, there must be an incredibly important personage in that car if the driver needed to stop in the middle of the bike lane in order to disgorge that personage." Sure enough, the passenger was incredibly important: she was a wealthy middle-aged woman who, judging from her bag, had been shopping at Gracious Home and was no doubt about to further stimulate the economy by distributing some more of her wealth throughout SoHo. Certainly in these dire economic times we should be happy to surrender our bike lanes to people like these, as we should do nothing to impede their spending. After all, aren't bike lanes just train platforms for the rich?



Brimming with goodwill for the wealthy, I rode around the car for a look at the driver, who it would seem had not read that Globe and Mail article about "awkward bunching" in the "crotch area." Furthermore, I had an uneasy feeling that he might be Fofonov behind the wheel. This revelation put a whole new spin on his passenger's presumed endeavors, and also explained her easy and carefree gait, her apparent solvency, and the way she shook her sensible haircut.



Just as I had resigned myself to a future in which bike lanes are simply places for rich shoppers, foffing off, and illicit sexual liaisons, I came upon what appeared to be justice being served. Clearly, the taxi had been idling in the bike lane, and the police were giving him a ticket. In fact, the driver appeared to be getting his license and registration in order.



As I passed, though, I realized I had been mistaken. The cab driver was simply pulling the foil top off a container of cool, delicious yogurt. Which leads me to believe that in addition to everything else that's happening in bike lanes, they're now also places for cab drivers to have breakfast with police protection. They really should change those painted stencils of cyclists in the bike lane to cabbies shoving mouthfuls of yogurt into their faces. It would be much less confusing for us cyclists.



As joyful as riding a bicycle in New York City can be, is it any wonder that clothing stores like Brooklyn Industries would try to sell the concept of it to people? I've got to hand it to them, though, they've really nailed it here. Nothing says "cycling in 90 degree weather" like jeans and a scarf. Looking into this window was like looking into a mirror. I doffed my felt fedora to my inanimate counterpart, adjusted my scarf, pulled down my pants to expose my lime green underpants, straddled my ironic orange julius bike, and moved on, confident in the knowledge that my lifestyle had been validated.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Read All About It: Bikes Both Fun and Useful, Media Reveals

The Tour de France may be on a rest day, but the rest of the cycling world has not been idle. In fact, so much is going on that the mainstream media is bursting with bike-related news like a commuter's fanny pack. Here are just a few stories from the past weekend for your enjoyment:

First is this story about bike polo from Sacbee.com, which a reader posted in the comments to last Friday’s post. At first I thought a Sacbee was something you might get from riding your bicycle in hot weather while wearing jeans, but it turns out it’s simply the Sacramento Bee newspaper’s website. This article was full of informative tidbits. For example:

There are two strands of bike polo, Kennedy says. The first is played on grass with mountain bikes and wooden mallets. The other is a street version that has been adopted by bike messengers and serious road cyclists, played on asphalt or concrete, generally on fixed-gear track bikes and with mallets fashioned from ski poles or metal crutches and PVC pipe.

I was grateful to know there are two strains of the disease so that I can do my best to avoid both, though I’m more than a bit skeptical about the writer’s claim that “serious road cyclists” are playing any form of bike polo. If this woman can find a “serious road cyclist” who will ride anything other than a road bike for any purpose outside of training or racing—much less risk exposure to cigarette smoke, wear cutoff jeans and chase a ball around while doing it—she deserves a Pulitzer. The whole point of the article seems to be that bike polo is "fun," and roadies consider any riding that is "fun" to be junk miles. And in the roadie cult junk miles are not kosher.

"Bike polo players probably have more tattoos and piercings and drink more beer than the equestrian riders who drink white wine and champagne," Kennedy says. "And the urban bike polo players have more tattoos and piercings and probably drink more beer than the grass bike polo players."

This is an important distinction. In the vast and disparate world of cycling it can be hard to know where you belong. Fortunately, though, people like John Kennedy of the U.S. Bicycle Polo Association are keeping track of everybody’s tattoos, piercings, and drinking habits so the uninitiated can slot themselves right into a cycling subculture. Hopefully we can use this information to come up with a more rigorous set of guidelines, similar to the USA Cycling race category system. I’m no expert, but I’m thinking it would look something like this:

0-1 tattoos, 0-1 beers a month: Road Cyclist
1-3 tattoos, 1-2 beers a day: Offroad Cyclist
3-5 tattoos, non-earlobe piercing, 1-2 beers an hour: Urban Fixed-Gear Cyclist
5-8 tattoos, multiple non-earlobe piercings, 12 beers an hour: Messenger, Polo Player, Marijuana Salesperson
8+ or tattoos above the neck, multiple piercings in the crotchal region, 1-2 bottles of isopropyl a day, bedbugs: Tall Bike Rider, Squatter
Fake tattoos, faux-hawk: Euro-pro, e.g. Damiano Cunego

Then again, I watched the video accompanying the article, and despite Kennedy’s claim that urban bike polo players have lots of tattoos and piercings very few were evident. Could it be that sweeping generalizations are not always accurate? Shocker. Maybe Mr. Kennedy should be a little more open-minded. I for one abhor sweeping generalizations, and there is absolutely nothing worse than making assumptions about people based on their clothing or body modifications. On the other hand, I did see a sandal in the video, which can only mean one thing: the wearer is a dirty hippie.


The players are mostly part of a tight-knit fixed-gear community in which inner tubes are shared like french fries and bikes are sources of pride.

As I’ve written before, I’m apparently not a part of the “bike culture,” and I certainly know ostracism’s cruel sting. However, I was not aware of just how cruel that sting was until I read the line above. I had no idea the “bike culture” were exchanging inner tubes so freely! Of course, somehow I think “cold sores” might be a better analogy than “french fries,” but then again this is a fluff piece.

And finally:

Daniel Borman, 23, spent thousands of dollars and more than a year to build his lime-green track bike piece by piece. He once suffered about $100 worth of damage in a collision with another player.

Ah yes, time and money well spent.

Of course, while a bicycle is primarily a fashion statement and a social networking tool, it turns out that you can actually use it for transportation too. In fact, the New York Post reports that an increasing number of people are actually riding what Vogue calls “this summer’s hottest accessory” to and from work. While I was pleased to read a relatively encouraging (if cursory) news story about different people from different age groups with different professions all enjoying the practicality and fun of riding their bikes to work, I was puzzled by the writer’s claim that bike commuters were “once an easily stereotyped, homogeneous collection of death-wish daredevils.” I don’t think there was ever a time in any city where bike commuters were seen as “death-wish daredevils.” That’s like implying there was once a time when Hassidic Jews were seen as scantily-clad sex symbols, or when drivers of German luxury cars were seen as practical and modest individuals with no genital-based insecurities whatsoever, or when Vin Diesel was seen as a good actor. That said, I wish there had been a time when commuters were seen as “death-wish daredevils,” because then maybe bike commuters would have had their “Quicksilver” movie equivalent. It probably would have starred Matthew Modine and involved lots of scenes of him dodging cars on a hybrid while wearing khakis and pant cuff clips and a striped polo shirt with sweat-drenched armpits. In the end he’d probably have incapacitated the villain by blinding him with an LED light and then fastening him to a lamppost with a bunch of bungee cords. (All while wearing his helmet backwards, of course.)

But while bike commuting has heretofore been mercifully free from the whims of fashion, with more and more people hopping in the saddle you can expect that to change. A reader alerted me to this article in the Globe and Mail (warning--this is a Canadian periodical and as such contains gratuitous usage of the letter "u") about the increasing pervasiveness of what I call the "Beautiful Godzilla" phenomenon. In case you didn't know, bikes are now "so trendy and so hip and so 2008." And because of this, people are waking up to a whole new set of important considerations, chief among them being "awkward bunching" in the "crotch area." That said, I actually learned a lot from this article. I particularly appreciated this useful bit of advice:

Don't wear chunky bangles. They will hit your hands as you are braking. Ouch!

I must confess this has been a problem for me, so this morning I didn't put my bangles on until I arrived at work, and I'm pleased to report that my hands do feel a whole lot better. Thanks Globe and Mail! (I do miss the pleasant jingling sound though.) My only concern here is that this article could result in some unfortunate trends down the road. Thanks to the fixed-gear trend men are already wearing skin-tight capris with abandon, and it's only a matter of time until they become emboldened enough to make the move to skirts. (Due, of course, to the superior crotchal ventilation.) Hey, I think everybody should be free to wear whatever they want, but as one of the interviewees in the article points out about riding in a skirt, “You have to be careful about flashing.” And let's face it--there's good flashing and there's bad flashing.

Lastly, yesterday the New York City triathlon took place. Apart from being the best place to see aerobars set higher than saddles and flat pedals bolted to carbon fiber cranks, it was also apparently the best place to leap into a polluted body of water filled with stinging jellyfish. In fact, conditions were so brutal that for the first time in the event's history a competitor actually died during the competition. Obviously there is nothing funny about somebody dying, but there is something abjectly horrible about triathlons--especially ones that include jellyfish attacks. If you're still not convinced that triathlons should be avoided at all costs, perhaps this will help persuade you. It's almost enough to make bike polo seem attractive.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Old Whine, New Bottle: Embracing Mediocrity

Recently I was thumbing through a cycling magazine during my morning visit to that last bastion of print media when I happened upon the following ad:

"Introducing the racing bottle for the 21st century. The revolutionary Podium(tm) Bottle combines the innovative self-sealing Jet Valve and a high flow rate in a squeezable bike bottle. With the Podium, drinking is effortless; no more "bite to open, hip-slap to shut." The Podium's proprietary TruTaste(tm) material eliminates plastic aftertaste. And embedded anti-microbial technology ensures your bottle will stay clean and fresh. Own a bottle as advanced as the rest of your gear."

I'm a huge fan of both the raise-your-hopes-quickly-then-dash-them approach (as in: "You're pretty smart--for a complete idiot;" or "You're a pretty good bike handler--for a triathlete") as well as the advertisement that insults you and the products you're currently using. I'm also all too aware of the shortcomings of my current bottles. Indeed, the "bite to open, hip-slap to shut" approach has taken its toll on my weary carcass over the years--my incisors now protrude from my mouth like a rodent's and my hip is so brusied and pockmarked that I can barely walk. Yet before I saw this advertisement it had never occurred to me that there might be an alternative. "That's just the way it is," I'd think to myself resignedly as I flossed my unsightly beaver teeth and thumbed through medical supply catalogs looking for artificial hips. (Sure, I could wear a hydration pack, but ever since my tragic beer-funneling incident I've had a terrible fear of drinking from tubes.) So needless to say I was thrilled to discover this product. CamelBak have not only succeeded in reinventing the lowly bidon, but they've also managed to rename various parts of it ("Jet Valve" and "TruTaste(tm)") in tremendously exciting ways. Even more exciting, it's also the official bottle of the Saunier Duval team, who were one of the top teams in professional road racing until yesterday morning. All CamelBak forgot here was a homing device, so that the riders who jettison their bottles pro-style on the last lap in the local Cat 4 races can find them again afterwards. Despite this ommision, I think I may actually be ready to accept their challenge and "Step up to the podium." (That's another good advertising tactic, by the way--dare the buyer to use your product. Much more effective than some creepy copy about the bottle nurturing you like a mother's teat or something and the Jet Valve beckoning your lips like an expectant nipple, which you'd probably get if this were made by an Italian company.)

Speaking of Saunier Duval, I've already gotten over any disappointment I may have felt about their leaving the Tour. Doping in bike racing is simply the gift that keeps on giving, in that you not only get the excitement of watching the finish, but you also get the additional excitement of a revised podium a few days later. How many other sports give you double the number of winners for your money? Also, I'm happy as long as Dmitry Fofonov stays in the race. It's important in any Grand Tour to have at least one rider whose name sounds like a suggestive verb when it's mentioned by Phil Liggett. To me his name sounds like something a parent might accuse an adolescent of doing if he's been in the bathroom too long. "Are you Fofonov in there?" [Sound of zippers and rustling clothing.] "Uh, no. Leave me alone!" Most importantly, I'm one hundred percent convinced that the "biological passport" will eradicate doping from the peloton once and for all. Of course, I'm not sure what a "biological passport" is, but if I understand correctly it's basically just a wadded-up used Kleenex. (The kid Fofonov in the bathroom probably has a bunch of "biological passports" under his bed.)

Despite the fact we're still in the middle of the Tour, the fact is that road racing season's basically over anyway. The astute rider has already written it off and begun focussing his or her attention on cyclocross. The key to a successful racing season is to always live a minimum of four months in the future, mentally-speaking. That way you can dismiss your poor performances as simple preparation. Sure, you may not get anywhere near the front of the pack in a road race this summer, but you're just trying to get some intense mileage in so you'll be ready for cyclocross season. Poor mountain bike racing is even easier to rationalize--you're just doing that to improve your bike-handling. And of course once 'cross season does begin, you're still under no pressure to get results because, really, you're just doing it to maintain your form during the off-season. With the right attitude, you can surf an entire year of racing like a great big wave of mediocrity. Winning is for dopers and sandbaggers.

Of course, as a lousy bike racer and an involuntary New Yorker I've grown accustomed to mediocrity. Forbes Traveler recently announced the top ten most bike-friendly cities in North America, and New York City only managed eighth place. (At least we beat Minneapolis and Chicago.) No prizes for guessing which city came in first, but if you still need a hint here are three: it's wet, it's in the Pacific Northwest, and it's not Seattle. Sure, they may have been a shoe-in (or, more accurately, a sandal-in) for victory, but I still would have liked to see a dark horse nip them at the line. The last thing their bike community needs is more ego-stroking. And perhaps one day, New York will know what it's like to occupy a podium spot. Until that day comes, though, I will expect mediocrity from everything except my water bottles.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Digging Deep: Turning a Positive Into a Positive

Like many of you, I was deeply troubled by Riccardo Ricco's positive test result. But unlike the rest of the cycling media, instead of sitting back and waiting for answers from the team and from the Tour organizers I've taken it upon myself to launch an independent investigation into the affair. My sincere hope is that by understanding what has happened we can put the Cobra Clutch on doping. And I'm pleased to report that in less than 24 hours I've uncovered some vital information.

Firstly, no criminal acts alone, and in this case it seems Ricco may have had help from his bike supplier. As one commenter already pointed out, Ricco rides a Scott Addict Ltd. Just like a human addict, the Scott Addict is scary-light and will also suck the money right out of your wallet, and Scott even has the audacity to acknowledge on its own website that the Addict is "the lightest road frame in the world." This of course means that every other frame in the peloton is heavier, which would give Ricco an unfair and unethical advantage. Furthermore, the Addict is riddled with stuff like "IMP" and "CR1." Scott are keeping mum as to exactly what IMP is, saying only that it's a "top secret process." My guess is it's simply a newer version of CR1, and as such is the CERA to CR1's EPO. And if all this weren't enough, Ricco's bike even has a picture of a cobra on it. Come on--it might as well have a jet engine attached to the chainstay! They didn't even try to cover it. This is unfair and simply has to stop. We can no longer have a peloton riding at two speeds. I say either everybody gets cobras on their bikes, or nobody does.


Even Daniella Levi, whom Ricco is fictionally rumored by me to have engaged in his defense, seems to have been in some drug-related trouble of her own.



Indeed, an incredibly astute reader has unearthed this shocking 1993 New York Times article and brought it to my attention:



Sure, I'd expect this sort of thing from a professional bike rider, but if we can't look to a personal injury lawyer as a paradigm of virtue and propriety then what hope is there?

Finally, most troubling of all is this YouTube video, which someone posted in the comments today over at NYVelocity:



I'm not sure how relevant this is to the Ricco situation in particular, nor do I understand any of the lyrics, but it's troubling nonetheless.

Fortunately, there is hope. While professional cycling may be a rolling chemistry lab, it seems that bicycles can be used to combat drug use as well:


Yes, according to today's Times, Seattle is getting rid of its automated toilets, which have become havens for drug use and prostitution, and it appears from this picture that cops on bicycles have been employed to aid in the cleanup. If you're wondering just how bad these toilets have become, this should give you some idea:

“I’m not going to lie: I used to smoke crack in there,” said one homeless woman, Veronyka Cordner, nodding toward the toilet behind Pike Place Market. “But I won’t even go inside that thing now. It’s disgusting.”

Yes, I think it's safe to say that when a bathroom is no longer fit to smoke crack in that it's time to get rid of it, and I'm just glad that bikes are helping. Also, according to the article the city has put the restrooms on eBay, with starting bids of $89,000 apiece. Maybe Ricco should buy one. It seems like a perfect place to inject his CERA while he prepares to dominate next year's Etape.

This Just In: Tour de France Riders Find Drugs Helpful


Like many of you I awoke to the news that Saunier Duval rider, Tour de France sensation, and Giro d'Italia first loser Riccardo "The Cobra" Ricco has failed a drug test.  (Actually, I awoke to the sound of drag racing--best $22.95 I ever spent--but found out about the Ricco thing shortly thereafter.)  The test showed he was taking erythropoietin, but it was CERA and not EPO.  If I understand it correctly (which I'm sure I don't), EPO is like regular Coke and CERA is like Diet Pepsi Max.  While this is certainly disappointing and bad for the Tour, it's hardly surprising--it's kind of like discovering the Beatles may have been experimenting with LSD during the recording of "Sergeant Pepper," or that your favorite porn starlet may have had a breast enhancement.  I mean, the guy carries a picture of Marco Pantani in his jersey pocket.  He wanted to get caught!  Nonetheless it's certainly yet another setback in the Tour's attempt to change its image.  It also raises more questions than answers, chief among them:

--Ricco has a naturally high hematocrit level already, so isn't this like a sex addict taking Viagra?  (Or more accurately Cialis, the Diet Pepsi Max of erectile dysfunction medications?)


--Is there any truth to the rumor that a movie version of the scandal is already in the works, and that The Cobra will be played by "G.I. Joe" arch-villain Cobra Commander?



--Will the Tour organization, the cycling press, and the public at large have any patience for the vigorous denials sure to follow this positive test result?

--Has Ricco already engaged personal injury attorney Daniella Levi, who has obtained millions of dollars for her clients over the years?




--Have Astana been vindicated, and will a smug Johan Bruyneel be played by John Travolta in that same movie?


--Will Jonathan Vaughters and team Garmin/Chipotle, who test themselves once every 14 days, be able to contain their own smugness?

--Between AFLD testing and their own tests, how is it even possible that the Garmin/Chipotle riders have any blood left?  Could this be an elaborate subterfuge, and could bloodletting in fact have performance-enhancing benefits that the rest of the sporting world has not caught on to yet?

--Should the ASO just allow doping at this point and implement a Maillot Dopage for the highest-placed drugged rider?

The answers to these questions of course are: yes; doubtful; maybe; no; probably; hopefully; absolutely not; absolutely; and definitely.

At any rate, without Ricco's explosive (if drug-addled) riding we can look forward to a docile paceline the rest of the way to Paris.