Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Indignity of Commuting by Bicycle: Innovation and Intimidation

Now that October's here, the temperature is finally dropping in New York City, which is good news for the many thousands of crotches that commute by bicycle here every day. And already the colors of autumn are beginning to show themselves--at least in the form of odd behavior. But while commuting is certainly becoming more pleasant from a groinal perspective, it is not without its perils. Here's the current climate out on the streets:

Not every bicycle industry innovator goes to Interbike. Here we see an entrepreneur field-testing a helmet phone prototype in Prospect Park. My guess is this product is in the very early stages of development, since it appears only to be compatible with flip-phones, and the helmet itself only offers limited ventilation. Hopefully by the time this comes to market it will incorporate such features as helmet mirror caller ID display, a handlebar-mounted QWERTY keyboard, and an integrated microphone/motocross chin guard.

As we all know, bicycle companies never die--they just change hands. Witness quintessential American bicycle manufacturer Schwinn's current incarnation as the nostalgia arm of Dorel Industries; pioneering BMX manufacturer Mongoose's position as the BMX and crappy department store mountain bike arm of, uh, Dorel Industries; and the graveyard full of living-dead brand names that is It's surprising then that we have yet to see the return of Ross, since resurrecting their coveted Apollo (pictured above) seems like a no-brainer. (And by "no-brainer" I mean you'd have to be completely bereft of brains to do it.) Sure, it's not as impractical as the Raleigh Chopper, but it's close. In fact, shortly after taking this photo I considered liquidating all my assets (I'm invested heavily in Pistas and Chris King headsets) and purchasing Ross myself, since the name seems to be languishing in Farmingdale. Ultimately, though, given the unstable financial climate at the moment I decided against it. Though I am making some tentative forays into mountain bike pie plates.

Everybody seems to have decided that I'm Jewish (even though in reality I practice my own religion which is a combination of ancestor worship and Scientology peppered with Jainism), but I'll just say that you don't have to be Jewish to be moved by the dulcet sounds of the Shofar (a.k.a. the "Jewish Kazoo"). Indeed, seeing as how it's Rosh Hashanah (a.k.a. the "Jewish New Year") traffic in New York has been pretty light and the horn-blowing of cars has been replaced by the horn-blowing of the faithful. The young men pictured above were channeling their inner Sonny Rollins by playing their horn out in the street, and I was even inspired to make two Jewish New Year resolutions: 1) stop taking photos that list towards the left; and 2) record an album entitled either "Shofar Colossus" or "Shofar, So Good."

I held true to my resolution just a few blocks later when I took this relatively level photograph. Ironically, there's been a real explosion in the number of SUV clubs in New York lately, despite the fact that we're in the middle of both an energy crisis and a financial crisis. This seems kind of like starting a competitive eating club in the middle of a famine. Even more ironically, this particular member of the SMASH NYC SUV club is neither driving an SUV nor is he even from NYC. (At least according to his license plate.) Intrigued, I made a point of visiting the club's Myspace page, where I learned the following:

1) They have an aversion to haters:

2) They have an affinity for posteriors:

(censored version)

(artsy sepia version--censorship not necessary)

If you share these sentiments and you're interested in joining, you might want to drop them an email and find out if SUV ownership is indeed a prerequisite.

Sadly, the sense of well-being I felt after hearing the Shofar was short-lived, as I was nearly taken out by a truck full of haterz. "U-turn" doesn't adequately describe what this truck did, since it sounds too benign. "Ü-turn" does a slightly better job, not only because the umlauts give it that heavy metal menace, but also because if you imagine me as one of those dots then the "Ü" is a pretty accurate diagram of what almost happened. Having narrowly survived, I turned in order to see who had tried to kill me and took the above (level!) photograph. As you can see, there was a wild breakfast party taking place in the cab.

Also, a closer look reveals a Nonplussed Truck Driver Looking Straight at BikeSnobNYC:

At this point I think it's worth taking a look at how the people I've encountered over the past week have been reacting to me, as you can see from this Nonplussed Triptych:

This triptych is in chronological order from left to right, and you'll note that as we move into the present the discernible consternation seems to increase. I take this to mean that my presence is only becoming more infuriating to the rest of the world. This conclusion is also reinforced by the fact that the most recent Nonplussed person I encountered did indeed try to kill me with a truck. I can only hope I live to be scowled upon another day (much less to ring in another Jewish New Year).

My faith shaken, I abandoned my Jewish New Year resolution and went back to taking photographs that list to the left. This particular rider caught my eye because of the messenger bag, which I was surprised to see still in use. I immediately grew nostalgic for a time when and competed to deliver pretty much anything to your home via bicycle--including DVD players and pints of ice cream. Suddenly, the streets were full of messengers with health benefits and stock options, and a short-lived Courier Renaissance ensued. Shockingly though, despite the public's insatiable appetite for DVD players and ice cream, this business model didn't work, and both companies went out of business. (In retrospect the real reason for the failure was that, while both companies could provide you with everything you'd need for a night of pot smoking, neither was legally able to sell you the pot itself.) Personally, I think it's a great tragedy that both companies died before the Fixed-Gear Era, as they doubtless would have found an eager new labor pool of Pista riders. Alas, all that remains for these Pista riders to deliver is business correspondence, food, and, of course, pot. (When it comes to bicycle delivery, pot is an evergreen.)

Having gotten that ticket not too long ago, I can vouch for the importance of both following traffic laws (at least when cops are around) and not carrying illegal substances with you, for had I been holding any "Wednesday weed" I might have received more than just a summons. On the other hand, perhaps if I were to ditch the Ironic Orange Julius Bike in favor of a motor scooter, I could ride with impunity. Especially if I were to adopt the cunning "stolen plate" ploy. This particular rider was flouting traffic laws with abandon, and the only limiting factor was her 49cc engine.

Of course, her engine was the only thing that was small, and I have a feeling that even without an SUV she'd find herself more than welcome at the SMASH NYC SUV club.