Monthly Archives: January 2011

Cowboys, culture … and football!


Preparations for Super Bowl XLV are in full swing in Fort Worth, so I hopped on my bike and rode downtown several times this week to see what all the hype is about. It seems like a pretty big deal, judging from the transformation of Sundance Square into what some artists in hyperbole are calling the center of the sports universe for the coming week.
The cable sports network ESPN selected Sundance Square in downtown Fort Worth to anchor its broadcasts during Super Bowl week, which starts Monday. ESPN will begin its 80 hours of live radio and TV broadcasting at 5 a.m. Monday from an outdoor stage erected this past week in a Sundance Square parking lot between Houston and Main streets.
Fort Worth is playing host to the Pittsburgh Steelers, American Football Conference champions, and Dallas is hosting the Green Bay Packers, champions of the National Football Conference. It’s another demonstration of the longtime rivalry — or the new buzzword “regional cooperation” — between the two North Texas cities.

Sundance Square getting ready for prime time


The Sundance Square cattle drive mural with my bike in the foreground

The hype will climax Feb. 6 when the Steelers and Packers clash at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, which is actually quite a bit closer to Fort Worth than to Dallas. But geography-challenged sportscasters persist in saying that the Super Bowl is being played in Dallas.
ESPN has positioned its Fort Worth stage so that the network’s cameras capture as a backdrop a mural depicting a cattle drive and two downtown skyscrapers, the D.R. Horton and Wells Fargo towers. On Main Street, a streetwide football field has been laid out on a raised platform, presumably to serve as a set for ESPN talking heads to analyze the Steelers’ and Packers’ offenses and defenses.
In Sundance Square near the ESPN stage is a huge, seven-ton sculpture/trophy — I’m not sure what to call it — fabricated by Fort Worth-based Thornton Steel. The “Cradle of Champions” monument is intended to honor Texas high school football players who went on to play professionally. The structure is made from steel recycled from the old home of the Dallas Cowboys, Texas Stadium in Irving, and bits of steel donated by high schools around the state. Did I mention that football is a BFD in Texas?

The Cradle of Champions sculpture

City officials have been touting Fort Worth’s mix of western heritage and world-class art museums — “Cowboys and Culture,” they say.
I wonder how many of the Super Bowl visitors will take in the exhibits at the Kimbell Art Museum, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art or the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. My bet is on the downtown nightspots, such as a newly opened Mexican-themed sports cantina called Ojos Locos (Crazy Eyes), where waitresses called “chicas” serve cold beer in 60-ounce or 100-ounce cyclinders called “balons.”
See you there!

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Biking in the Buff


One of my bicycle-related gifts this Christmas past was a curious garment called a “Buff” — a tubular length of microfiber that can be worn as a scarf, skull cap, headband, balaclava, facemask or wristband. It probably has other uses, as well.
I wasn’t aware of the Buff’s multiplicity of configurations and uses until I spotted a video about it on Facebook. Hey, I’ve got one of those things, I thought.
It turns out that the Buff has been around since 1992. It was developed by Joan Rojas, a textile manufacturer and avid trail biker from the small Spanish city of Igualada, in Catalonia about 37 miles from Barcelona.

Joan Rojas during his days as a trail biker

Rojas — “Joan” can be a male name in Catalan — has been a biker since the early 1970s and resorted to some makeshift neckwear during frigid days on the road.
“I was wearing some military briefs around my neck to protect me from the wind and the cold and I got the idea to improve them because they were itchy and looked pretty ugly,” he says on the Buff website.
So in 1991, he began working on drawings and conducting tests in the family’s textile factory until he found a way of manufacturing a seamless, tubular garment out of microfiber.
“At first I just gave them to my kids and to my friends,” he said.
“He also promoted them among ski instructors and in shops,” the website says. “In 1992 he launched the first collection. Three years later, he began to market them abroad, mainly in France, Switzerland and Germany.”

The many uses of the Buff

All of the tasks to bring the Buff to market — design, production, printing, publicity and packaging — are carried out by a staff of a little more than 50 at the small factory in Igualada. About 80 percent of the sales are in exports to more than 60 countries through exclusive distributors. The company opened a U.S. sales office in 2003 in Santa Rosa, Calif.
Anyone who has watched the CBS reality series Survivor may have seen participants sporting Buff headwear.
Check out the video below for a demonstration of the Buff’s many uses.

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Hard-core commuting


Bicycling magazine posted on its Facebook page Thursday morning this photo of a hard-core bicycle commuter on Ninth Street in Brooklyn, New York. It was too nice not to share.

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A proliferation of bike lanes?


We wish!

Some good news for cyclists in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex: The three major cities in the United States’ fourth-largest urban agglomeration either have ambitious bicycle transportation plans in place or have plans in the works.
— The City Council of Fort Worth, where I live, approved last Feb. 9 a “comprehensive bicycle transportation plan” that aims to attain for the city “official designation as a Bicycle Friendly Community through the League of American Cyclists” by 2015.
Fort Worth has long had an excellent network of paved trails, mostly along the Clear and West forks of the Trinity River.
The council-approved comprehensive plan, “Bike Fort Worth,” calls for expansion of the bike transportation network to nearly 1,000 miles, including off-street trails, dedicated on-street bike lanes and shared-roadway bike routes, over the next couple decades.
— On Thursday night in Dallas, bicycle activists packed the City Council chamber for the third and final public meeting on that city’s bike transportation plan. The Dallas Morning News reported that “the plan would cover 770 on-street and 418 off-street miles of bike lanes” and that it “would be rolled out over 10 years as a revision of the 1985 city bike plan.” The council is scheduled to vote on the plan April 13.
“We’re going to transform this city,” said council member Angela Hunt, an advocate of the project. “Ten years from now, it’s going to be a different one than you see today.”
The Morning News quoted Andy Clark, president of the Washington, D.C.-based League of American Cyclists, as saying that implementation of the plan would send a positive message to the rest of the nation.
“People have the idea that Dallas is the quintessential automobile city and it’s huge and it’s sprawling,” Clark said. “You are going to help set the standard for a new generation of cities.”
— In Arlington, a city of about 380,000 between Dallas and Fort Worth, plans to make this huge swath of urban sprawl more bicycle friendly are not on such a firm footing. On Wednesday, the city’s planning and zoning commission held its first public hearing on a “Hike and Bike Master Plan” and a related “Thoroughfare Development Plan.” A loose group of cycling advocates, Bike Friendly Arlington, organized a ride to Wednesday’s P&Z meeting to demonstrate support.
“We had a good showing of supporters and some great speakers who made rational, positive comments,” Bike Friendly Arlington said on its blog. But it noted that “there was also a force of people speaking in opposition to both plans.”
The P&Z commission decided to postpone a decision on the plans and scheduled another public hearing for Feb. 2. If the commission approves the plans, they would go before the Arlington City Council on Feb. 22.
“Dozens of residents and business owners appeared to weigh in on the plans, which call for adding more than 100 miles of bike lanes throughout the city,” the Fort Worth Star-Telegram said in a brief report on the P&Z meeting. “Some supported any effort to make Arlington more bike and pedestrian friendly, but others said they were concerned that roads would become more congested and less safe.”

The safest way to add bike lanes

It’s worth noting that Arlington is the largest city in the United States without public transit, even though it is home to the Texas Rangers ballpark and Cowboys Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys football team and the venue for Super Bowl XLV on Feb. 6. A vocal minority has helped defeat every initiative to bring mass transit to the city.
Most of the opposition to Arlington’s bike and hike plan has been organized by Buddy Saunders, owner of Lone Star Comics, a comic book store franchise. Saunders’ organization, called “Save Our Streets Arlington,” echoes Tea Party rhetoric in describing the plan as a “traffic congestion-creating, job-killing, tax-raising disaster for Arlington.”
So we wait to see what will happen in Arlington and cautiously hope that one day a cyclist will be able to jump onto a bike in downtown Fort Worth and ride the 30-plus miles to downtown Dallas on a seamless network of paved trails.

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London’s cycle superhighways


“We want generally to see a London where motorists feel that they can find cyclists on any road.”
Boris Johnson, mayor of London

Urban cyclists certainly benefit when their city’s mayor is a “passionate cyclist.”
That’s how Mayor Boris Johnson
is described on the website of the Greater London Authority, the governmental entity that Johnson has overseen since he was elected mayor of London in May 2008.
Since taking office, Johnson has been fomenting a bicycling revolution in London, Europe’s largest city, with a population of about 7.5 million.
He has launched an annual end-of-summer event called the Sky Ride. Last Sept. 5, a Sunday, more than 85,000 cyclists took part in what organizers called the biggest mass participation cycling event ever held in the United Kingdom.

Mayor Boris Johnson

Led by the mayor, actress Kelly Brook and British Olympics track cyclist Sir Chris Hoy, the cyclists rode a 15-kilometer (9.32-mile) route past such iconic London sights as the Tower of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace.
“The sight of hordes of cyclists pedaling their way along traffic-free roads past some of London’s most glorious landmarks, and in the midst of a truly carnival atmosphere brought joy to my heart,” Johnson said at the event. “We are bringing a cycle revolution to the streets of the capital and I am sure that today we persuaded thousands more Londoners that pedal power is the way to go.”
Johnson has also launched a 30-member “police cycle task force” to crack down on cycle theft and vandalism, has greatly increased the number of bicycle parking spaces and racks and implemented last July a bicycle-sharing system with about 6,000 bicycles available from 352 bicycle docking stations in central London.
Johnson’s latest brainchild is a network of cycle superhighways — bicycle lanes from outer-London neighborhoods and suburbs that lead into central London like spokes on a wheel. The aim is to encourage more Londoners to ride their bikes to work along safe, direct pathways with a width of at least 1.5 meters. Two of the bright-blue lanes opened last July and 10 more are planned by 2015.

Cycle Superhighway 3

The first route, labeled CS7 — or Cycle Superhighway 7 — starts in Colliers Wood, an area of south London, and travels 8.5 miles to the city center along a busy commuter route. The second one (CS3) runs from Barking in east London to Tower Gateway, a light-rail station near the Tower of London.
The two pilot routes are used for about 5,000 bicycle journeys each day; the mayor hopes that the planned network of 12 cycle superhighways will be used by about 120,000 cyclists per day.
Despite these improvements in bicycling infrastructure, London is still not as friendly to cyclists as, say, Amsterdam or Copenhagen. But London has come a long way in bicycle-friendliness from when I lived there for more than six years in the 1970s.
“It is difficult to imagine just how dire cycling was in London less than a decade ago,” wrote one blogger. “Anyone seen around town on two wheels was viewed even lower down the social scale than a Bus Stop Johnny. Cycling wasn’t cool — it was the form of transport for the have nots, the losers, the weirdoes.”

The Metropolitan Tabernacle seen from a bus at the Elephant and Castle roundabout. Photo by David Boyle/Public Domain

I wasn’t a serious cyclist during my time in London. But I did own an old city bike of the sort that students used to ply the streets of Oxford and Cambridge. I used the bike, acquired from a neighbor, mainly to get to work in the Fleet Street area when British Rail workers went on strike, which was a frequent occurrence.
Our house in West Dulwich in southeast London was about four miles from the center of the metropolis. On my ride to work, I tried to stay off major thoroughfares and navigate through less-traveled back streets. But I found it hard to avoid a gigantic roundabout at Elephant and Castle, where the double-decker buses and lorries, at a time when bicycle commuting was a novelty, took no prisoners. I was always thankful to get out of the roundabout alive.
But I usually made it to work by bike in under 30 minutes — certainly faster than a bus, but not as fast as British Rail, which took 12 to 15 minutes from the West Dulwich station to either Victoria or Blackfriars station.
“Cycling is the healthiest, cheapest and fastest way of travelling in London,” says the Greater London Authority website. “An average journey of four miles in Central London would take a cyclist an average of 22 minutes — whereas travelling the same distance by car would take almost twice as long — 40 minutes. Cycling also beats driving in terms of financial and environmental benefits.”
A look at the route map of Cycle Superhighway 7 through south London indicates that it would be of only limited use to me if I still lived in West Dulwich. It appears that I’d be able to pick up CS7 somewhere around Brixton, a neighborhood north of West Dulwich, and ride it to Southwark Bridge across the Thames. Then I’d have to backtrack west along the river to get to Blackfriars and Fleet Street. But it seems that Cycle Superhighway 7 offers one very good feature: a safe way to bypass that hellacious roundabout at Elephant and Castle.
Check out the video below on how the cycle superhighways work.

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Inspiration on a trike


“I don’t have Parkinson’s when I’m on my bike.”
— Larry Smith, an avid cyclist who has had Parkinson’s disease for 19 years

A puzzling aspect of Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system, is that it might seriously impair some motor functions, such as walking, but leave intact another, such as bicycling.
A story in The New York Times last March described the case of a 58-year-old man in the Netherlands who had been afflicted with Parkinson’s for 10 years. As related by Dr. Bastiaan R. Bloem of the Radboud University in Nijmegen, the man could walk only a few trembling steps before falling, but he could ride a bicycle with no visible signs of his disease.
Bloem made a video and took photos of the man trying to walk and then riding his bike. The photos and video were published in the April 1 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

Larry Smith

That, apparently, is the nature of the illness of Larry Smith, a retired police captain, avid cyclist and bakery proprietor in Vermillion, S.D.
Smith, 61, who has had Parkinson’s for 19 years, “bikes to work every day and this summer will be cycling 300 miles across his state to speak with support groups about the benefits of cycling, staying active and keeping positive,” said an e-mail I received on Wednesday from Andrew Rubin, a San Diego-based filmmaker who is co-directing and producing a documentary on Smith and his planned ride.
“Larry says that when he rides his bike he doesn’t have Parkinson’s,” Rubin wrote. “He can ride up to 30 miles a day but often can’t walk across a room unassisted.”
Rubin said that his film, Ride with Larry, aims “to put a human face on the day-to-day fight against Parkinson’s.” A main focus of the film, he said, will be the benefits of cycling for Parkinson’s sufferers.

Larry Smith's ride

Smith rides a bright-red, three-wheeled recumbent Catrike and is a familiar sight on local roads as he spends afternoons tooling around rural South Dakota, the trike’s orange pennant flying in the breeze. The recumbent doesn’t require balance and allows the rider to rest on the road when needed.
In June, Smith plans to ride about 280 miles from Aberdeen, in northeast South Dakota, to his home in Vermillion, in the southeast corner of the state. The website for the ride said that Smith will speak at each day’s stop along the route to a support group of the Parkinson Association of South Dakota.
“During each visit, Larry will share the joys and benefits of cycling for Parkinson’s sufferers with extra trikes available for trying out,” the website says.
Catrike, the company that made Smith’s bike, is to donate a trike as a gift to a Parkinson’s patient chosen at random during the event.
“The original idea was for Larry to bike across the United States,” his niece and one of the filmmakers, Katie Skow, told Jill Callison of the Argus Leader newspaper of Sioux Falls, S.D., in a story published Thursday. “The condition he’s in and the stage of his Parkinson’s, it’s not realistic. But he’s going to ride South Dakota, which for someone like Larry is a huge, huge undertaking.”
See how to support the ride through KickStarter.com, a funding platform for creative projects around the world, and take a look at the trailer for the film Ride with Larry.

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A footnote to film history


“Since you won that Italian bike, man, you’ve been acting weird. You’re really getting to think you’re Italian, aren’t you?”
— Moocher (Jackie Earle Haley) in the film Breaking Away to the lead character, Dave Stoller (Dennis Christopher)

I learn something nearly every day as I work on this blog. The latest bit of useless trivia to clutter my untidy mind cames from a regular reader of Jim’s Bike Blog who tipped me off to the real-life inspiration for the film Breaking Away, which I wrote about on Tuesday.

Running of the Little 500

The classic 1979 coming-of-age film, as I wrote, is set in Bloomington, Ind., and culminates with the running of a bicycle race at Indiana University called the Little 500.
The Little 500 is, indeed, a real race, held annually at IU’s Bill Armstrong Stadium. Riders compete in teams of four, racing relay-style for 200 laps (50 miles) along a quarter-mile cinder track. The race was founded in 1951 by Howdy Wilcox Jr., executive director of the university’s Student Foundation. He modeled it after the Indianapolis 500, which his father had won in 1919.
In 1962, the star participant in the Little 500 was an avid cyclist from Speedway, Ind., named Dave Blase, who had worked with Italian doctors at a medical center and became interested in and influenced by Italian culture. Like the main character in Breaking Away, he affected the language and mannerisms of Italian cyclists who had dominated the cycling events in the 1960 Olympics in Rome. He was even known to sing opera in Italian while riding his bike.

The real Dave Blase (with sunglasses) in the real Little 500 in 1962

Blase, recruited by the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity team, dominated the race by riding 139 of the 200 laps himself, including the final victory lap. An alternate member of the team that year was a Serbian-American Russian-language major named Steve Tesich, who 17 years later wrote the screenplay for Breaking Away and won an Oscar for his work.
So it’s no coincidence that the first name of the film’s main character is Dave. The character’s last name, Wikipedia says, came from team manager Bob Stoller.
Blase, who continued his friendship with Tesich after college, played a cameo role as an announcer in Breaking Away and has been a fixture at Little 500 races through the years.
“I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about [my story] but I can understand why it appeals to people on so many different levels,” Blase, a retired public school biology teacher who lives in Indianapolis, told the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel in 2009, 30 years after Breaking Away hit the movie screens.

Dave Blase in 2009

“It just so happens that a bicycle was the vehicle in this. Really, it’s a lot more about the problems and the insecurities for people growing up from youth to adulthood and how they find themselves and how they overcome problems and insecurities. Everybody can relate to those kinds of things.”
He told News-Sentinel sports writer Nick West why he adopted an Italian persona in his bike-racing days:
“It’s sort of like how somebody wants to copy an NBA player. If they have aspirations to be a basketball star and like somebody, they’ll copy their habits and style. For me, my dream world was this Italian thing.”
In another interview in 2009, Blase told Jennie Runevitch of Indianapolis TV station WTHR/Channel 13: “I was lucky enough to have been selected as the inspiration for the story, but I’d like to think that anyone who’s ever ridden in the race, it’s their story.”
So now you know at least as much about the background of the film as I do.
Check out the video interview of Blase at the 2009 running of the Little 500.

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