Tuesday, April 14, 2009
The Indignity of Commuting by Bicycle: The Increasing Dignity of Commuting by Bicycle
A voice of the youth one sang that "The Times They Are a-Changin'." That voice was of course the Insane Clown Posse, and the words are as true today as they were when they were first rapped poorly back in 1994. They're especially true for cyclists, as we've seen more than our share of changes over the years. Steel gave way to aluminum, which in turn surrendered to crabon. Eyewear shrank considerably. And the bicycle saddle as we know it has been completely redesigned and as such rendered totally irrelevant.
But cycling technology isn't the only thing that's changing. Cycling is changing the urban landscape as well. A reader was recently kind enough to send me some photos of the new bike racks that have been appearing in downtown Manhattan:
I'm pleased that New York City has been taking these steps towards increasing bike-friendliness. And we're not alone here, either. Other cities, such as Boston, appear to be doing so as well. Still, I can't help but feel that in this case the city is trying a little too hard. If I were to come across this and there were no bicycles locked to it I would honestly have no idea what to do with it. I'd probably just assume some geek had parked his "Star Wars" Landspeeder replica on the sidewalk.
I suppose it's somewhat hypocritical of me to criticize this structure. After all, I constantly complain about the indignities to which I'm subjected as a New York City cyclist. Shouldn't I be pleased that the city is not only adding bike parking, but that they're also incorporating benches where people can sit down while they change from their cycling shoes to their street shoes like Mr. Rogers and neatly stow their locks, helmets and outer garments inside their hand-sewn cycling bags while they make friendly chit-chat with each-other? I don't know. What's wrong with a bunch of these? Being coddled like this makes me feel unsettled. It's the bicycle equivalent of installing coffee machines next to all the car parking spaces.
Also, I worry that maybe all of this bike-friendly stuff is happening a little too late. It was only relatively recently that the city could actually build structures like this, since before "gentrification" people would have just moved into this thing. In the age of the $1,000 Bushwick studio it may seem hard to believe, but trust me--with the simple addition of a tarp that bike rack could easily sleep four adults. ITTET it's only a matter of time before people are once again forced to take to the streets, and we may have finally gotten our luxury bike parking only to have it swiftly commandeered by homeless investment bankers.
Yes, the fact is you can't account for everything. Take these protected bike lanes the city is now building:
I'm a bike lane fan. As I've said before, I'm happy to ride anywhere on the street, but the bike lane is my "comfy chair" and as such I like that they're there. So when the protected bike lanes started appearing, I was pleased to see them. But then I tried them out. First of all, the bike lane itself also incorporates the left-hand turn lane for motor vehicle traffic. This means that, instead of just going around traffic that's waiting to turn left as you would on an old-fashioned street, you've got to wait at your very own bicycle-specific red light. Sure, it's not a big deal if you're not in a hurry, and it's probably a good thing for people who are uncomfortable riding in traffic and need traffic signals to tell them what to do, but it is a bit frustrating nonetheless.
More irritating though are the factors they almost certainly didn't account for when they designed these lanes, such as bike salmon. I have noticed a significant uptick in the number of bike salmon in these lanes, and it's clearly because they feel much more comfortable salmoning without the presence of cars. In that sense, I suppose the cars were bears, and now that the salmon's natural enemy is gone the salmon population is exploding. And I like bikes, but I do not want to live in a world of salmon. Moreover, it's one thing to encounter a salmon on an old-fashioned street; it's quite another when you're trapped with them in a lane that's only about ten feet wide.
The other thing they clearly didn't account for is that non-cyclists would also annex these protected bike lanes. It's like the sidewalk is the 19th century United States, the new bike lane is the western frontier, and suddenly all the pedestrians have been smitten by Manifest Destiny. However, instead of saddling up their horses they're leashing up their dogs. Here's a typical sight along the Trail of Terriers:
So when it comes to bike-friendliness, we're seeing overwrought bike parking and bewildering lanes, but we're not seeing any financial benefits--at least not yet. A reader forwarded me this article, which indicates that we've still got a ways to go in that department:
I suspect that perhaps tax incentives for bike commuters could be something else that sounds good in theory but in practice results in a bunch of unforeseen side-effects. For example, people seem to be complaining that you can only get a rebate of $20 a month for commuting by bike. But let's just say the government reimbursed you for your bike-related costs proportionally to your actual spending, provided you commuted by bike. Sounds great, doesn't it? But what about people like Bart Kaufman, owner of the World's Greatest Madone? That's about $10,000 right there. And once you factor in bike shop labor and clothing and new tubular tires every time he punctures it's not hard to imagine that annual figure ballooning into six figures. It would only take a few Bart Kaufmans to cost the government millions of dollars. And who's going to pay for that loss of revenue? Before you know it we'll all be living in bike racks alongside our Madones. Maybe David Byrne can design us some bike racks with plumbing.
By the way, if you're getting $20 this month for commuting by bicycle, be sure to spend it on some Total Polo Laboratories mallet plugs:
I'm not much of a bike polo fan (I prefer bike lacrosse) but my understanding of the "sport" was that people made their own stuff, used beater bikes, and generally did it on the cheap. Clearly, though, that understanding was wrong, and it is now entering the "purchasing advantages" phase. And it doesn't stop there. Once you've installed your lathe-turned high-density polyethylene mallet plugs, be sure to have your favorite wheelbuilder lace you up a pair of Velocity Chukkers:
While I've been critical of both fixed-gear freestyling and bike polo in the past, I have to admit that they've progressed a great deal in the last couple of years. Of course, I don't mean "progressed" in the sense that they've become more interesting; I mean "progressed" in the sense that you can buy increasing amounts of stuff in order to do them. I wonder if these rims would also be good for bike lacrosse; after all, it's a "Velocity Deep V on steroids," and bike lacrosse is bike polo on steroids. (Though it should not be confused with regular polo, which is like bike polo on steroids and horses.)
Still, it was inevitable that Velocity would introduce a new Deep V. Clearly people are demanding stronger rims, and there's certainly nothing wrong with satisfying that demand. Furthermore, Velocity's urban fixed-gear market supremacy was being challenged by H+Son and their own idiotic deep-section rim:
Be the new kid on the block throwing down the hottest S#@& all year. You may have seen these H Plus Son rims spring up on places like Tokyo fixed the last couple months, but now they're here rocking the states! Unlike anything else out there, the H + Son Formation Face rim has a true V shaped wall and absolutely no provisions for running a brake. The side of the rim has a completely even surface. It looks like a wall. Oh, and it's 42mm deep. Deep V's are a comparatively diminutive 30mm. Lastly, they're substantially lighter than their Velocity counterpart.
Not Compatible with brakes, so man up!
700c and 650c available 32 hole non machined only
black (anodized), silver (anodized), gold (anodized), white (powder coated)
At first, I wasn't convinced, but between their promise that I can be the "new kid on the block throwing down the hottest S#@& all year" and their admonition to "man up" it's clear that I need to get a pair (and grow a pair, apparently)--though I am somewhat reluctant to take "manning up" advice from a website that is afraid to spell out the word "shit."
And while the times may be a-changin', they're also staying the same. The fact is people were wrecking wheels playing bike polo out in the Rockaways way back in 1902:
One can only imagine how differently things might have turned out if the polo players of yesteryear had had access to the Velocity Chukker.
Then again, perhaps it's a good thing they didn't.