Thursday, 27 November 2008

A Solution to the Automobile Industry Crisis

Keith Knight offers a brilliant solution to the auto industry crisis. For those of us who like to ride on trains and are aging baby-boomers, it looks great!

(Click on the image for a larger view, in case you have forgotten your reading glasses, ahem.)

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Revealed: Dark Secrets of a Growing Cult!

"Roadie:" A Book Review

Depending on where you live, the amateur racing season is drawing to a close but there must be a lot of people wondering about the irresistible lure that takes their loved ones out on the open road, oblivious to all else. As I turned the pages of Jamie Smith’s entertaining book, Roadie, it slowly dawned on me just how strange the increasingly-popular pastime of bicycle racing must appear to outsiders. Mr. Smith provides a capsule description of a bike race, which indicates the tone of the book and its essential truthfulness:

A bike race is like a chess game, a boxing match and a stampede disguised as a sport, encompassed by a life-style, and surrounded by a community on a never-ending road trip to the brink of bankruptcy.

Offhand, this does not sound like the kind of summary that would necessarily attract newcomers to a sport, but this is precisely the intent of this book. Mr. Smith, an experienced cyclist and race announcer, decided to write it to explain bike racing to friends, colleagues and families of cyclists—people to whom this sport, which has stature in Europe, is an alien and exotic transplant in North America. He has succeeded with his light and amusing style and his ability to convey the joy of the sport with an unblinking eye. Has anybody else ever written about how roadies wear out their shorts without noticing it? They do.

The life-style of a road cyclist is so peculiar that it is worth the one-quarter of the book that Mr. Smith (a fellow blogger) devotes to it. The fact that the average roadie owns eight bicycles—Mr. Smith does too—is apparently something unusual to non-racers. Besides our obvious obsession over equipment, the author touches on the other idiosyncrasies of cyclists, such as our unwillingness to move very much when off the bike. The truism of “never stand when you can sit, never sit when you can lie down and never, ever walk” is actually good advice to help in the recuperation process but must seem strange to people who think that athletes should be, well, more athletic.

Getting into the riding itself training rides, outdoors and indoors, are discussed. The need to put in the mileage, typically 100-400 per week, is unquestionable but not always easy to explain to family members or acquaintances who would consider this a significant drive, let alone riding it. Perhaps if non-cyclists appreciated what goes into all this training they might be a little more inclined to leave some space for that cyclist they see when they are out driving on the road.

The chapter on tactics is very clear and should be helpful to neophytes but it is followed by a chapter on that very real and very unpleasant aspect of cycling: crashes, although Mr. Smith does say that he wishes he could ignore it. The fact is that if you are a racer sooner or later you are going to be involved in a crash. Improving your odds comes about through experience and upgrading your skills but it still happens to professionals. At least he speaks plainly so people are aware of this real risk.

Races are categorized into criteriums, road races, time trials and stage races, with a chapter devoted to each and not failing to note that there is not much in the way of money for any. Taking my favourite—time trialling—as an example, the account of what it is to ride one and what it looks like to a spectator (pretty undramatic) is very accurate. The author even mentions that fact that you need additional special costly equipment, which just makes it all that much more attractive. Here is an excerpt on time trials:

Once under way, a racer only needs to ride fast and avoid crashing into things. That may sound simple, but the one thing that makes the time trial such an intriguing event is the one thing that heightens the danger: concentration. A rider who is so sharply focused on riding can become blind to the most obvious things. For example, curves in the road.

Ahem, guilty.

So does this book meet its goals? It certainly would entertain any experienced cyclist, the kind of person who sits together with other roadies in a café after a ride and earnestly discusses tire brands, but would it be good to buy for a friend or family member curious about this bike racing thing? There is no question that in its breezy yet comprehensive way it will be able to keep the interest of someone new to the sport strong enough after 206 pages to watch a bike race and get something out of it, and, just possibly, become a convert and go for that first of eight bicycles themselves. Recommended.

It would be remiss not to mention the charming illustrations by Jef Mallett, who, unlike fellow-artist Toulouse-Lautrec, knows what a bicycle chain actually looks like. His work adds greatly to the liveliness and accessibility of this book.

“Roadie—the Misunderstood World of a Bike Racer”
by Jamie Smith, VeloPress 2008, illustrations by Jef Mallett
256 pp.
ISBN-10: 1934030171
ISBN-13: 978-1934030172
Suggested Price: $21.95 (but cheaper you-know-where)

Monday, 24 November 2008

The Decline of the French Cafe

A zinc-topped bar and a coffee...
photo: Cafe Vaudeville by Malias, Creative Commons

What with all the cheerless news about the economy, the last thing anyone needs to read about is the decline of yet another institution. But according to the New York Times, the stereotypical French cafe is vanishing as customers are worried about the economy or have to go somewhere else to smoke or are nervous about the police picking them up for drunk driving. Social mores change as well and apparently young people don't drink during the day.

What is most disenheartening is that with no money or time for meals, the French, as the story reveals, are reduced to eating like les Anglo-Saxons!

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Trek brings back chainless bicycles...sort of

Trek District

Well, here we go: before I can finish the very interesting article on the history of chainless bicycles for my blog, which has been in progress for some time, Trek Bicycles have jumped the gun and are bringing the chainless bike back to the mass market. Of course they have a long history, falling out of favour due to the additional cost of the shafts and perhaps extra weight. But, in fact, what Mr. Trek is offering is nothing like Col. Albert Pope did back in the days of the Columbia Bicycle Company empire but rather a conventional bike that uses a toothed belt instead of a chain.

It is apparently a newsworthy story as Associated Press came out with the piece below, datelined today in Richmond, Virginia for some reason. I will still do my post when I have worked it into shape but at least you can be entertained in the meantime. Although I am not sure why Mr. Felberbaum thinks internal hub shifting systems are not geared, which of course they are.

Trek introduces chainless bicycles

By MICHAEL FELBERBAUM Associated Press Writer

If you've ever been riding down the street and had your pants cuff ripped asunder, there may be a revolution at hand.

Trek Bicycle is part of a movement to bury the finger-pinching, pants-munching, rust-prone sprocket and chain, and usher in an era of belt-driven bikes that might have the inventors of the self-propelled transportation Schwinning in their graves.

Wisconsin-based Trek is introducing two models this holiday season that are chainless, instead using technology most often found in things like motorcycles and snowmobiles. While some smaller custom bike makers have used them before, Trek is the first to use the technology for mass-produced bicycles.

The nation's largest domestic bike manufacturer is hoping to capitalize on a new group of urban pedal-pushers who are trading their cars for a more low-tech way to get around because of gas prices as well as health and environmental concerns.

The U.S. bicycle industry was a $5.4 billion industry in 2007, including the retail value of bicycles, related parts, and accessories through all channels of distribution, according to research funded by the National Sporting Goods Association. More than 43 million Americans age 7 and older were estimated to have ridden a bike six times or more in 2005, the industry group said.

"People are really finding bicycles to be a very simple solution to some very complex problems that they face every day," said Eric Bjorling, Trek's lifestyle brand manager. "Anything we can do in our design to really help them and help them live that lifestyle is probably better for both the consumers and us."

Bjorling said the new belts are a low-maintenance solution to a chain, which has roughly 3,000 parts including all the links and connectors.

Aside from the whisper-quiet ride, the lighter and longer-lasting carbon-fiber composite belts won't rust, can't be cut, won't stretch or slip and won't leave grease marks around your ankles. A guard over the belt-drive and the construction of the system makes getting your pants stuck an unlikely scenario, Bjorling said.

One version of the chainless bike, called the District ($930), is a single-speed, complete with a silver body, orange accents and brown leather seat and handles. The other, called the Soho ($990), is an eight-speed bike that uses an internal hub to adjust the speed rather than gears.

Bicycles have come along way from the "boneshakers back in the 19th century," said Orin Starn, a professor at Duke University who teaches a course on the anthropology of sports. Some companies have used direct drive or drive shaft bikes that provide some of the same benefits as Trek's chainless bikes, but those models have yet to replace the age-old chain.

"Certainly for the last 40 or 50 years we have this iconic image of the traditional bicycle that includes the chain," Starn said. "We've seen this evolution in different styles and stuff, but the chain has been a cultural constant."

Bjorling admits chain-driven bikes are still efficient, but said an urban rider won't have to worry about greasing or cleaning the chain. The belt can be cleaned with a normal cleaning agent and rag, and the bike sprocket is designed to push through any snow, dirt or grime. And one belt will typically last three years -- the life span of three chains.

How riders will take to the new bikes remains to be seen, since they are not out for sale yet. The District model will go on sale in December, followed the next month by the Soho. There may be those in the biking community that may take issue with swapping bike chains with newer technology.

"Bike purists are going to take a look at it and say 'oh, you know it's another option to a chain,'" Bjorling said. "Are we going to see a ton of people switching from a chain to a belt drive? I think in some urban environments yes, but it's definitely not the coffin that's gonna bury the chain."

Over the years there have been many changes in the bike industry, specifically materials that have made products lighter and stronger, said David Oakley, a manager at Agee's Bicycles, which has been in business in Richmond since 1910.

While some may question the chainless bikes, Oakley pointed to the initial skepticism, and eventual success, of mountain bikes.

"We all know that putting gears on a beach cruiser to be able to ride back up the hill turned out to be a pretty good thing," Oakley joked of the bike industry's most popular segment. Oakley said there's a general excitement behind the new technology, but cautioned that the notion may not ring everyone's bell.

"From a maintenance standpoint, it's huge," he said. "If this really, completely takes off, the lubricant industry is probably not going to be excited."

Friday, 14 November 2008

My Latest Review on Rouleur's 2008 Photography Annual

My latest book review about Rouleur Magazine's 2008 Photography Annual, appears on today's, the place to go for all your cycling information needs! Read and enjoy...

Monday, 3 November 2008

Italy: Land of Beer!

Campagnolo, Colnago, Masi, Cinelli, Pinarello--and now pilsener, if this article in the New York Times is an indication. Apparently a craft beer scene has arrived in Italy. So after riding the hills of Lombardy or Piedmont one can now celebrate with the beverage that is one with cycling. Hooray! So the only real advantage Belgium offers for cycling fans is being chipped away...

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Again: Beer and Bicycling

In his excellent blog, Gene Bisbee notes again the connection between beer and bicycling and includes an entertaining video of participants at the New Belgium Brewery Tour de Fat quaffing at the finish line. Nice.