Some Early Spring Hudson River Views

Looking northward to the GGBFollowing many days of late winter gloom and cold winds off the Hudson River where I regularly ride my bike things brightened up a bit today. With temps edging over 50 degrees and light to moderate winds, I wasn’t forced to don the usual gear I’ve been wearing on my rides since the fall. More lightly clad than usual, I pedaled north along the river, stopping for a break about even with 140th Street. Perched atop an old picnic table I read my current book, Heretics: Adventures With the Enemies of Science by British journalist Will Storr; phoned my sister to wish her a happy Passover; and took these pics of the Hudson and the Jersey side of the river. Even with the noticeable warming, there were still a lot gray, glowering clouds hanging low in the sky, but maybe now we’re in for a spell of fair weather. Please click here to see all photos from my bike ride.

Riding My Repaired Bike Up the Hudson After a Snowfall

Broken forkBike Fork

Readers of this blog may have seen a post I put up last Monday, after the front fork of my bicycle failed and I luckily averted a spill and injury. At my bike shop, Champion Bicycles on Amsterdam Avenue, I consulted with owner Marcos and mechanic Teddy and checked all the other welds that could possibly give way on my old Trek bike. They all  appeared quite sturdy, with the original steel (not aluminum) tubing and double-lugging solid throughout. As I could see on examining the broken fork closely, it takes the most stress and pounding, without benefit of nearby supporting joints, as is true everywhere else on the frame. So, I asked them to order a new fork. With the holiday last week it took several days, but it did come in before the week ended. I had them install it and also replace the front brake. This incident has made me begin seriously thinking about the time when I do finally get a new bike. But given the fact we live in a Manhattan apartment, once I replace the old Trek–a bike I bought as a gift to myself in 1982, the day after I’d buried my dear old black Labrador, Noah–I’ll probably also have to let it go completely and quit even housing it here.

My wheels had been unavailable for almost a week, and despite the cold I would’ve been riding given the opportunity. Upon picking up the bike Saturday, I took my favorite ride up the Cherry Walk along the Hudson, and here a couple of pictures shot during my jaunt. Thanks to many friends on Facebook who gave me good counsel on why suffering a broken fork needn’t signal the end of a bike’s useful life, even while other friends suggested it could be a sign from the bike gods that it’s time for a new set of wheels.IMG_1373IMG_1370IMG_1369

Averting a Serious Bike Accident, by Luck

Had a helluva scare yesterday when I went out for a bike ride, one of my usual routes up Riverside Drive toward upper Manhattan. Shortly after setting off from my block, 102nd Street, at around 116th Street, I noticed a tugging against the front wheel of my Trek, a bike I bought June 5, 1982, as a present to myself shortly after saying goodbye to my longtime black Labrador, Noah, whom I’d buried the day before, June 4. I later read that this was the first year Trek began selling their bikes widely across the country, and it’s always been a tremendous ride for me. I thought the rubbing must have been the saddle bag I’ve long hung over my handlebars, so unhooked it, and wrapping it up with bungee cords around the trap above my rear wheel, I set off again. However, then I noticed my brake pads were rubbing on the front rim. I could scarcely pedal anymore, there was just too much resistance and drag. I turned around and began walking the bike to my bike shop, Champion Bicycles at 104th Street and Amsterdam Avenue.

When I got in to the shop, Jose, grown son of the owner Marcos, asked me what was going on. I told him of the drag on my front wheel. He immediately pointed to the front fork and said, “Your fork is broken.” I was shocked to notice what I had overlooked until just then, and stunned I hadn’t realized it myself. Jose added, “Good thing you quit riding. You could have eaten it.” I understood what he meant. If this failure had occurred while I was, say, riding as I often do, at 20 mph along the Riverside Drive viaduct at 125th Street, the whole bike could have crumpled to the street, and me with it. I could have been seriously hurt. Also, as the photos below show, bad as the fracture was, it did not snap completely in two.

Marcos said he can probably find a new fork for the Trek, though it’ll take a couple days. I asked him to thoroughly check the bike for any other signs of metal fatigue and stress. I’ve been riding the bike in NYC since moving here in 1985, and the potholes and broken pavement are often jarring, so I wonder if there might be other parts about to give way. I’ve never stinted from regularly maintaining it, also retrofitting it to make it better suited to use in the city.  It started out as road bike, with drop handlebars and appropriate gearing, and I basically made it into a modified hybrid over the years. I’m very attached to the bike, for sentimental reasons and because the frame fits me so well. I hope it can be made road-worthy once again. If not, I’ll be soon shopping for a new ride. I left the bike behind and walked home in some shock. Here are two pictures I took before leaving the shop. IMG_1362IMG_1364

Windy Hudson River Bike Ride Photos

I shared a couple of these photos on Instagram earlier, but here are two others. They were all taken on a break during a very windy bike ride this past Saturday. Standing on a bluff above the Hudson River as as an intense, dramatic sunset glowed across the whole skyline, I am in upper Manhattan at about 165th Street, looking south down the river back toward the city. Though I’ve often ridden in strong wind along the Hudson, the gusts usually come from one direction. Saturday, they swirled and came from all points of the compass.

Alexander Moulton, 1920-2012, Innovative Bicycle Designer

Although Englishman Alexander Moulton (pictured here) was trained as an automotive engineer his most lasting professional contribution was as the designer of the first mini-bicycle, the forerunner of today’s folding bikes. The fascinating NY Times obituary details the moment when

“Moulton began toying with a small-wheel design for an adult bicycle in the late 1950s. His interest was partly spurred by gasoline rationing in Britain during the Suez crisis, which began when Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal, an act that threatened to halt oil shipments to Western Europe from the Persian Gulf.

But the design was also fostered by his own engineer’s determination to make things better: ‘The Moulton bicycle was born out of my resolve to challenge and improve upon the classic bicycle,’ he said.

His idea was to create a more efficient, all-purpose vehicle, suitable for errands and commuting at least as much as for recreation. He wanted it to have substantial carrying capacity, to be maneuverable in traffic, to roll smoothly and to be pedaled easily.

He came up with a bike with wheels 16 inches in diameter, high-pressure tires for minimum rolling resistance, front and rear rubber suspension systems for smooth riding on potholed or cobblestoned roads, and a step-through frame (that is, without the top tube of the traditional diamond-shaped frame) for easy dismounting (and more suitable for women wearing skirts). The small wheels left plenty of room for carrying briefcases, shopping bags or overnight luggage. The early bikes could easily be taken apart for convenient stowing, though they were not really foldable; still, the small-wheel collapsible bikes of today owe a debt to the original Moulton. ([The Moulton company] now makes foldable bikes itself.)”

I’ve owned mini- and collapsible bikes and didn’t know who’d invented them.  They are great city errand-running bikes. I also love the fact that they were invented as a response to a fuel crisis. Thank you, Alexander Moulton!

Who Knew? Paved Roads Were the Result of Lobbying by Bicyclists

This tweet by prolific travel essayist Taras Grescoe caught my eye.

I followed the link to a website for what turns out to be a forthcoming book titled Roads Were Not Built for Cars, by Carlton Reid. At the site I found an interior spread with a cover and author info.

I had not really thought about it much before, but what I’ve read here reveals the author’s revisionist thesis that while Henry Ford and his ilk were eager to claim credit for the advent of paved roads in the 1920s, there had actually been a “Good Roads” movement harking as far back as the 1880s, when bicyclists began advocating for better riding surfaces. The writing and publication of the book has evidently been sponsored by bicycle makers in the UK and North America; with this underwriting it’s going to be a free, no-charge ebook download. I find what I’ve read in the spreads at the website reveals a fascinating, heretofore hidden aspect of modern transportation history–the development of decent roads not only made travel more enjoyable for individuals in all kinds of wheeled vehicles, it also enabled farmers and tradespeople to bring their goods to more readily bring their goods to market, spurring economic growth. If you’re interested in reading more on this topic I urge you to go to the book’s website and leave your email address so you can be notified when the book is ready.

Now that I think more about this, I’m reminded of a historical point raised in Alex Shoumatoff’s superb book, The Mountain of Names–a history of kinship that I had a chance to republish in paperback in 1995–which reported that the appearance of the bicycle in rural villages of Europe in the 19th century overnight extended the “courtship range” of male suitors  to a great many more miles than had ever previously been the case. I’ve previously blogged about Shoumatoff’s book in relation to the Mormons’ practice of posthumous baptism, which the late Christopher Hitchens tartly dubbed “a crass attempt at mass identity theft from the deceased.”

Riverside Park, post-Sandy

In Friday’s New York Times, I’d seen an article with updates on the condition of the city’s parks, post-Hurricane Sandy. My own nearby park was listed like this:

RIVERSIDE PARK Large areas of the park, which stretches along the Hudson River on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, were under four feet of water after the hurricane, according to the Riverside Park Fund. Dozens of trees were destroyed, and hundreds of others damaged. Some paved walkways were washed away, and falling branches damaged park lights, playground equipment and benches.

The article went on to say that many of the city’s parks would officially be reopening Saturday, though I was not sure they’d be able to open Riverside. Checking the NYC Parks Dept. website Sunday I see that Central Park has re-opened, but the part of Riverside Park nearest my Upper West Side apartment is still closed, especially the stretch between 116th and 125th Street. Sunday and Monday I took my first bike rides since the hurricane, and found evidence of the storm’s prolific destruction. These photos show a tree care crew cleaning up from a really big oak, originally standing in the grove to the right, that fell across the paved path in the center. The butt of the fallen tree is impaled on the black iron fence bordering the path. It’s going to be a long while until our parks are back to anything like they were before the storm.

August Sign-off

Bye, bye August, it was nice knowing ya.

The George Washington Bridge, aka The Great Gray Bridge, taken during a bike ride along the Hudson in upper Manhattan, August 30, 2012.