Monthly Archives: February 2010

Like a comfortable old boot

“While most cyclists swear at their saddles, Brooks’ cyclists swear by them.”
— Motto on a Brooks catalog

I’m a big fan of Brooks English-made leather bicycle saddles, manufactured in pretty much the same way in the British West Midlands since the company was founded in 1866.
I have Brooks B17 saddles — the classic model — on both of my touring bikes. I used one on a transcontinental bike journey from San Diego to St. Augustine, Fla., last fall. My nether regions never required such ointments as Boudreax’s Butt Paste or DZnuts. (See Jan. 31 post, “Soothing the sores,” and Feb. 5 post, “To protect the junk and the hoo ha.”)
So I was delighted, though a bit surprised, to see a photo essay on the making of Brooks saddles in the Gadget Lab blog on the techie Web site,
One hardly thinks high-tech in discussing the manufacture of Brooks saddles, which were the brainchild of John Boultbee Brooks.
In 1865, Brooks left his hometown of Hinckley in Leicestershire with just 20 pounds in his pocket, says the Brooks England Web site.
“He headed for Birmingham, where in 1866 he established a business in horse harnesses and general leather goods in Great Charles Street under the name JB Brooks & Co. In 1878, the unfortunate death of Mr. Brooks’ horse led to a stroke of inspiration. Unable to afford another horse, he borrowed a bicycle in order to commute to work. But he found the seat so
uncomfortable that he vowed to do something about it.”
Brooks filed his first saddle patent on Oct. 28, 1882, the Brooks site says. “Waddling cyclists everywhere threw their hats in the air and the new product was a roaring success.”
Some, including my three sons, are hard to persuade that a Brooks saddle, which appears as hard as wood, can provide a comfortable ride. But the pliable leather molds to a rider’s posterior like a comfortable old boot to a foot.
The Gadget Lab blog, in a Feb. 26 post, said that one of its readers, Graham Glen, “was lucky enough to get a tour of the Brooks factory” in Smethwick in the West Midlands and “snapped some photos of the goings-on there.”
Take a look.


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Filed under Cool stuff, Cycling across America

Where bicycles hang in trees

A bicycle tree in Switzerland

A perennial problem for American bicycle computers is what to do with the bike once they get to work.
Sidewalk bike racks, if available, are exposed to the weather and vulnerable to determined thieves. Employers might not be so accommodating as was mine, which raised no objection to me parking my bike beside my desk when I was riding to work about three times a week. And, generally, U.S. employers have been slow to provide amenities for employees who ride their bikes to work — secure bike storage, showers, lockers.
One of my sons, who lives in Taipei, Taiwan, and has traveled extensively in Asia and elsewhere, called to my attention some novel ways of storing commuters’ bikes in other countries.

Bicycles at train station in a Tokyo neighborhood where a son used to live

One of the most ingenious and elaborate was invented by the Japanese steel company JFE. It’s a fully automated bike storage system somewhat like those mechanical devices at dry cleaning shops that whisk your newly cleaned clothing to the counter from the innards of the establishment.
In Tokyo, cyclists pay a montlhy fee to use the JFE bike garages, which began operating in 2007 and are spreading throughout the metropolis.
The bikes are registered and provided with electronic tags. When a cyclist places the bike’s wheels into a groove, a computer reads the owner’s information on the tag and mechanical arms pull the bike into a cylindrical well to take it to the storage racks. To retrieve the bike, the owner swipes a card and the system plucks the bike from the racks and brings it back to the owner within about 30 seconds.
Some of the Japanese bike garages hold several hundred bikes; others can store more than 6,000.
A similar system, called the “bike tree,” operates in Geneva, Switzerland. A cyclist swipes a smart card at a bike tree on the street and places the bike’s front wheel onto a hook. It is then hoisted up the “trunk” of the tree into a dome that protects it from the weather and from thieves. And the bike tree operates on solar power.
Check out the videos below:

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Poetry in motion

Through the Tejo you go to the World.
Beyond the Tejo is America
And the fortune you encounter there.
Nobody ever thinks about what’s beyond
The river of my village.

Fernando Pessoa, Portuguese poet, 1888-1935

Cyclists pedaling along a new bike path in Lisbon, Portugal, can experience poetry in motion — quite literally.
The paved path along the River Tagus — Tejo in Portuguese — is adorned with excerpts from a poem by Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa.
The poem, O Guardador de Rebanhos (“The Keeper of the Sheep”), was written in 1914 under the pseudonym Alberto Caeiro as an homage to the river in Pessoa’s hometown.
Thanks to Kami Kitchen, a fellow rider in our trans-America bicycle journey last fall, for giving me a heads-up on the bike path.
Take a look at the video by Abilio Vieira for a vicarious ride along the river that launched such celebrated Portuguese explorers as Vasco da Gama during Europe’s Age of Discovery in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Click on O Tejo in the line below.

O Tejo from Abilio Vieira on Vimeo.

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‘And now for something completely different …’

The strain of British zaniness that conceived the London Tweed Run, a bicycle ride on vintage velocipedes in tweedy togs, also brought to the world Monty Python’s Flying Circus. (See previous post, “From lurid Lycra to earth-toned tweed.”)
I first became acquainted with the BBC comedy troupe while living in London in the 1970s.
After 3 1/2 years in Moscow, where the state-controlled TV fare was stupifyingly dull, Monty Python was a blast of liberating air.
Its irreverent skits poking fun at British eccentricity, the monarchy, religion, government stodginess and a clueless aristocracy are as entertaining to me now as they were more than three decades ago. Most of them are as fresh today as they were in the 1970s.
So please indulge me if I post from time to time classic Monty Python skits. Some might even relate to cycling, like these two segments from a Dec. 7, 1972, show called “The Cycling Tour.” The second spoofs the late, unlamented Soviet empire.

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From lurid Lycra to earth-toned tweed

“Hundreds go for a ride in old-fangled garb, proclaiming the return of the dandy.”
The Washington Post, Nov. 16, 2009

Eccentricity seems to be contagious — at least among bicyclists.
Since cyclists in London staged
the first-ever Tweed Run on Jan. 24, 2009, similar rides have proliferated around the world, in such cities as Sydney and San Francisco, Toronto and Tokyo, Canberra and Cincinnati, Paris and Portland, Boston and Washington, Chicago and Durango. (See Jan. 10 blog post, “Tweed on a velocipede.”)
Describing itself as “a metropolitan bicycle ride with a bit of style,” London’s Tweed Run — has a prescribed dress code that has been copied by the other rides.
“Now look here, proper attire is expected,” its Web site cautioned wheelmen and wheelwomen who plan to take part in the second annual Tweed Run on April 10. “Tweed suits, plus fours, bowties, cycling capes, and jaunty flat caps are all encouraged. I hate to be a bore but please, no beastly denim.”
And, please, please, none of that lurid Lycra favored by many cyclists! Rummage through your grandparents’ attics and find some nice earth tones in tweed and polished leather, merino and meerschaum, corduroy and canvas.
An online forum for cyclists, London Fixed Gear and Single Speed, organized the first Tweed Run and the idea caught on.
In Los Angeles last November, for example, cyclists in the Tweed, Moxie & Mustache Ride pedaled past the surviving Art Deco structures in downtown LA and finished at Royal Claytons Pub to award prizes in such categories as best facial hair, best period outfit, best bike and tweed pairing and the most graceful mount and dismount.
The New York Times‘ Fashion & Style section took note of this “curious new movement called Tweed Rides” in a Nov. 11 piece headlined: “This Just in From the 1890s.”
The Times called the rides “informal gatherings of spiffily dressed ladies and gents cycling leisurely through town and disdaining finish lines.”
“Tweed Rides began in London earlier this year and have spread this fall to Boston, San Francisco and Chicago,” the newspaper said. “As the directions for this weekend’s Tweed Ride in Washington, D.C., put it: ‘Leave the fleece, Lycra and outer shell at home. This ride is for the dandy.'”
The Times quoted Eric Brewer, a gallery owner who founded Dandies and Quaintrelles, which organized the Washington tweed ride, as saying that the idea was not to come out in costume.
“There are all kinds of societies that are about dressing up in period costume and then going back to your oversize jeans the next day,” Brewer said. “This is about style as a way of being.”
The Washington Post, reporting on Washington’s tweed ride, described the phenomenon this way:
“This costumed lark may be a thread in a broader trend — a cyclical return to old-fashioned cocktails and chandelier lighting and waistcoats — that is nurturing a new brand of masculinity (rugged but elegant and old-world American) from the slick ashes of the European metrosexual.”
I’m not holding my breath about the tweed ride phenomenon catching on in Fort Worth, Texas, where I live. I fear that dandies might be frowned upon in these parts.


Filed under Americana, Cool stuff, Urban cycling

Molding young minds

“It takes more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.”
Mark Twain, 1835-1910

My cross-country bicycle trip last fall has got me a gig on the speaking circuit — a talk to a group of neighborhood Cub Scouts at their annual Blue & Gold banquet.
I can’t yet command the fees of a Bill Clinton or a Sarah Palin, but I had the gratification of speaking to a receptive audience of fresh-faced boys eager to hear about an adventure, even from someone as old as their grandfathers.
My pay was a fine sundae of my own creation from the dessert bar staffed by the Cubs’ moms — vanilla ice cream topped by chopped pecans, chocolate and strawberry syrup and maraschino cherries.
As the father of three sons who became Eagle Scouts, I attended several such banquets as part of my parental duties. But this was the first time I had ever been asked to speak to one.
A Blue and Gold banquet, by the way, is a birthday celebration for the Cub Scouting program, held during February, the anniversary month of the Boy Scouts of America, organized on Feb. 8, 1910. The Cub Scout movement was organized 20 years later in 1930.
The invitation to speak to Pack 21 of Longhorn Council was extended by Fort Worth neighbor John Key, the Scout master. His own adventures as a captain and paramedic with the fire department of the Dallas suburb of Irving would probably be more thrilling than a bicycle ride across America.

Advertisement from a 1930s Boy Scout Handbook

I was worried that I could hold the attention of a group of fidgety boys, but some show-and-tell props — my bike loaded with pannniers, my tent, sleeping bag, maps, flashing bike lights and a slide show — seemed to work far better than ponderous speechifying. And they elicited a raft of questions:
What was the most dangerous part of the trip?
Riding into Mobile, Ala., in Tropical Storm Ida on heavily trafficked roads with no shoulders.
Did you ever think about quitting?
Yes, several times.
Their interest seemed to endure right up until John called an end to the meeting because it was a school night.
One boy, with intense dark eyes full of conviction, told me afterward that he is going to do such a trip. I believe him. He was already trying to sell the idea to his parents.
Even if one of the young lads makes cycling a bigger part of his life than watching TV and playing video games, the talk was worthwhile.
I hope the boys enjoyed the evening as much as I did.


Filed under Americana, Cool stuff, Cycling across America, Journeys, Travels

Aerobics in the snow

“A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water.”
Carl Reiner

Not much biking gets done in 11 inches of snow — at least by me. So I’ve been getting my exercise the past couple of days by sawing up fallen limbs from the stately live oak tree in front of our house.

The carnage wrought by 11 inches of snow

The tree, Quercus virginiana, stands between the sidewalk and the curb, and its expansive canopy shades the front yard and overhangs the street.
For those in the North who may not be familiar with the Southern live oak, it’s an evergreen that never is without foliage. It begins to shed its waxy, elliptical leaves in late February and early March as the new growth comes in.

Our street

A fallen limb blocks the driveway

The heavy, wet snow of the past two days, caught in the dense foliage, weighed down the limbs and caused the lower branches to droop ponderously to the ground.

Bailey wonders: What is this stuff?

Many couldn’t bear the weight and snapped, some crashing to the ground and others still dangling high in the tree.
After several hours of sawing and schlepping broken limbs, almost as much foliage is now piled up beside the curb as is still on the tree. I fear it will look a bit naked once the rest of the broken limbs come down.
I grew up in Illinois and lived in Chicago, New York and Moscow, so I’m acquainted with snow. But it’s a novelty in Texas, and its folks, fauna and flora have trouble dealing with it.
An unsympathetic brother-in-law who lives in northern Illinois commented: “Eleven inches? That would be like 33 inches in real Midwest snow, right?”


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