Monday, April 20, 2015

Monday Mailbox: Cycling Water Bottles and the Plastic-Avoidant

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I love your photos of twined stainless steel water bottles. But I also notice you use plastic bottles on your modern bikes. Is this a weight issue, or do you see another advantage to using them which outweighs concerns over plastics? 
I received this question over the weekend, just as I was going through my stock of cycling bidons. Giving a deep clean to the ones that needed it, I marveled at the residue that builds up in their crevices - a residue that is as gleefully resistant to ordinary dish soap as it is to the clumsy prodding of the sponge. So out came the baking soda and the cloth that I could wrap around my fingertip, as I probed the dankest crevices of the tortured plastic containers. "Jeez, should I just throw these out already?" I thought to myself as I scrubbed their aging surfaces. The fading logos of bike shops I am fond of shot me looks of betrayal.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Aye, Claudia! Fast Times with an Early Claud Butler Mixte

Early Claud Butler Lady Lightweight
"An unusual design of particularly rigid type and pleasing in appearance," boasts the 1936 Claud Butler Catalogue about their new mixte framed bicycle. Judging by earlier catalogues, a Lady Lightweight model had been on offer for at least three years by this time. However, its initial and rather unremarkable step-through iteration must have proven less than fully satisfying to the manufacturer. Enter this new "open-frame machine of rigid design" offering "strength in the right places, but with lightness and easy running." Indeed, this Lady’s Machine had "all the advantages of the Gent’s diamond frame type" whilst being "specially designed to be suitable for both rational costumes and skirts, absolutely rigid and comfortable." Amazingly, all of this was achieved “inside 26 lb."

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Bicycle Fit, Comfort, and the Ever-Changing You

Mercian in the Field
A friend had recently returned to roadcycling after an absence of several years. He bought a very nice secondhand bicycle, which was professionally set up for him by a bike shop. The bike seemed to fit him well and felt comfortable during an initial 10 mile spin down the road. Shortly thereafter I joined him on a 30 mile ride. Everything was grand at first. Then, around the half-way point, my friend began to experience discomfort. It started with soreness in the saddle. Then back pain. Then tingling and pain in the hands. As we continued to cycle, his discomfort grew from mild to unbearable, forcing us eventually to take a shortcut and shave some miles off the route originally planned. In the end my friend was crestfallen: The bicycle that at first felt so good had turned into a torture device. He started theorising about the fit issues that could be causing his pains. Should he alter his saddle's setback? handlebar height? stem length?

Monday, April 6, 2015

Goodordering: a Simple Handlebar Bag from London

Goodordering Handlebar Bag
Browsing the collection of colourful bicycle bags from the London-based Goodordering, I couldn't shake the feeling they reminded me of something. Something from childhood perhaps? At last it came to me: They reminded me of the schoolbag I used to own in grade school. I believe it was a Czechoslovakian take on a then-popular Japanese style, and it was bright peach, with white trim ...which was all well and good, except that I'd wanted the green one - a colour the shops were sold out of. Recollecting this nostalgically I scrolled down the company's product list, and sure enough - they offered almost the exact colour my 8-year old self had coveted!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Springing Forward

Swan's Way
I have only heard of this experience before, but have never gone through it myself until this Spring: That feeling of getting on a lighter, faster bicycle for the first time - after riding a heftier steed all winter.

For many roadies of prior generations the ritual of this seasonal change was standard practice. When winter came, cyclists would switch to heavier, fatter-tired, befendered "beater" roadbikes - in part as a training technique, and in part to save their nice (i.e. racing) bicycles from winter's ravages. Then, once Spring would arrive, the "nice" bicycle would re-emerge  - making the rider feel faster, lighter, freer.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Bicycle Safety Check: from Mnemonic to Automated Ritual

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If you've ever gone on club rides as a beginner cyclist in North America, chances are you have heard of the ABC Quick Check. Not sure whom to credit for its original composition, but I'll quote the League of American Cyclists:
A is for Air,
B is for Brakes,
C is for Cranks and chain,
Quick is for Quick releases,
Check is for Check it over.
This mnemonic is meant to encourage riders to get into a habit of performing a basic safety check on their machines before setting foot to pedal. But how many of us actually perform such a check? It took a rather disconcerting incident for me to realise that I do.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Studded Tires in March: A Cross-Atlantic Seasonal Summary

Nokian Hakkapelitta 650B Studded Tires
"You do not realise how good you have it there," I was warned as I packed for my flight apprehensively. And in a sense they all had a point: My current appreciation of springtime in Ireland is certainly enhanced by having spent the first half of March back in Boston, immersed in the sort of deep winter one might expect in January - and even then, only once in a great while. It was the sort of winter you'd tell your great-grandchildren about. And they would roll their eyes behind your back - because they'd only half-believe what you were telling them, and because you'd tell the goddamn story so many times. "It was a terrible, formidable winter indeed!..."

It was a winter that now stretched into March, ready to embrace me with its frigid open arms. Our landing was delayed at Boston Logan, the airplane forced to circle aimlessly while the runway was hectically shoveled again, as fresh snow had already covered it since the previous shoveling.

Monday, March 23, 2015

On Financial Incentives for Cycling and the Psychology of Compliance

This morning I came across a recent Atlantic CityLab article called The Problem With Paying People to Bike to Work. It interested me immediately, as just a few days earlier a friend and I were debating the effectiveness of UK's cycle to work scheme (which offers discounts and tax breaks when buying a bicycle for commuting). The CityLab piece, however, focuses on something a bit more radical: France's pilot program that pays employees to commute to work by bicycle. In case you've never heard of this, it was a 6-months trial in the course of which bicycle commuters were compensated roughly 43 cents per mile when cycling to work. The project received much fanfare at the start, but the results have been less than stellar. The author of the CityLab article critiques the program and offers two explanations for its limited success: the continued availability of cheap and free parking, and the "fixed" nature of commuters' habits. As this latter explanation is based on psychological studies and I happen to be a (former) research psychologist by profession, I offer another perspective for consideration:

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Toward the Self-Evident

Temple Project, Derry by David Best
Shortly after returning from freezing, snow-covered Boston (where I nonetheless managed to get around by bicycle with ease) I find myself marveling again at how difficult cycling in Northern Ireland is by comparison. These thoughts come as I push myself up the vertical Fountain Hill in Derry, my eyes nearly popping out of my head from effort and incredulity. I had never been up here before, had not even realised this city had such torturous inclines. At some point my ears pop.

At the road end, my map suggests a shortcut that ends up taking me through a housing estate covered with sectarian graffiti. I am too exhausted to worry about this, my legs delighted by the gentler gradient of the hairpin path that winds past the rows of terrace houses. I nod at a sleepy-eyed man who sits smoking a cigarette on his front steps, beside a sprawled bulldog tethered to the fence. He nods back. The bulldog inspects me with mild curiosity. A woman opens her door and peers out to have a look at me, then disappears back inside.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Everyday Pilgrimage

St. Aidan's, Magilligan
We live in an era when shops throughout much of the world are standardised to such an extent, and exported goods so easily available, that being asked to procure something "local and unusual" from one's neck of the woods for curious friends can present a daunting challenge. Luckily, in this remote corner of Northern Ireland I have a few tricks up my sleeve for such purposes. Pulling one of them out this windy morning, I set off to visit St. Aidan's Well.

Two miles down the main road from my house, a modest sign points to this local landmark. The back road it invites you to take then winds its way up the looming Binevenagh mountain. From this vantage point, the mountain has a stacked, tiered appearance - resembling a misshapen cake. First come the grassy tiers, then the forested ones, finally giving way to the flat-top cliffs. The well is located along one of the forested tiers.