Monthly Archives: March 2011

Petrol price drives bike sales


Icon for iPhone app to find cheap petrol

Skyrocketing gasoline prices in the United Kingdom are prompting Britons to ditch their cars and seek alternate means of transportation, such as walking (horrors!), public transport — and bicycling.
Americans have been complaining about the high price of gasoline, due partly to political turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa and demand in China. The current average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gas in the United States is about $3.60.
To provide some perspective, the price in Britain of petrol, as the Brits call gasoline, is about 6 pounds sterling, or about $9.60.
“The cost of fuel is a major factor in people’s decisions about making journeys,” Graham Smith of Trafficmaster, a company that provides real-time traffic information, told London’s Daily Mirror for a story published March 28. “There are now fewer vehicles on the roads. There is considerably less commercial traffic and in some cases people are finding other ways to get to work. They are also cutting down on leisure trips or driving to the shops.”
Added Adrian Tink of the Royal Auto Club: “We are seeing record numbers of people walking and biking. Evidence from the past couple of quarters is that the sale of petrol is dropping. A lot of people are combining journeys, making shorter ones and looking at alternatives such as the train.”
Sales of gasoline fell by 9.5 percent during the three months up to December, compared with the same period a year earlier, according to Britain’s Office for National Statistics.
Idealo.co.uk, a website that compares prices on a wide range of consumer goods, reports that rising fuel prices have led to a surge in interest in bicycles. Data from the site shows that searches for bikes were up by as much as 58 per cent in March. The site reports that electric bikes have seen a 175 percent surge in interest in comparison to the previous month and that mountain bikes, road bikes and hybrid bikes are also proving popular.
My wife and I and our three sons lived in London for more than six years in the 1970s. During the brief time that we owned a car in London, the price of gasoline, as I recall, was about $3 per gallon. Whenever we came back to the United States on home leave, I wondered why Americans were whining about the high price of gas when a gallon cost less than a dollar.
A store that sells activewear on London’s Carnaby Street, howies, has put up a clever storefront display that outlines a choice facing Britons because of the rising price of petrol: Bike good. Car bad.

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Filed under Environment, Travels, Urban cycling

Seeing with sound


During a rest stop near Vail on the Bicycle Tour of Colorado in 1997, I did a double take as I saw a spandex-clad man in sunglasses use a white cane to navigate among the throng of cyclists and clutter of bikes. He was dressed as a participant in that seven-day, 440-mile ride. But he was obviously blind.

Daniel Kish

How could this be?
It turned out that he was the “stoker,” the person occupying the rear seat on a tandem bicycle piloted by a sighted rider. And the blind man’s participation in that grueling ride, now in its 17th year, drove home to me that people with “handicaps” can do some pretty amazing things.
Now consider the case of Daniel Kish.
Kish likes to hike, write, read and make music. He’s also an avid cyclist. But he’s completely blind.
So how does Kish ride a bicycle if he can’t see? Guy Raz of National Public Radio posed that question in a March 13 report about Kish’s extraordinary talent on NPR’s afternoon news program “All Things Considered.”

Daniel Kish leads NPR's Guy Raz on a bike ride in Culver City, Calif.

The answer is “echolocation,” or, as Kish calls it, “flash sonar.”
“As he speeds along on his bike, he makes clicking sounds,” said the NPR report. “As the clicks bounce back to him, he creates a mental image of the space around him. He’s kind of like a human bat.”
Raz, weekend host of “All Things Considered,” accompanied Kish on a bicycle ride at NPR West, National Public Radio’s production center in Culver City, Calif. Throughout the ride, Kish made clicking sounds with his tongue and their echoes guided him along the route.
“It’s the same process that bats use,” Kish told Raz. “And it is literally a process of seeing with sound. So bats emit flashes of sound and those flashes go out as flashes of light would, and they return to the listener. And humans can do the same sort of thing by emitting flashes of sound and receive enough reflection of sound to be able to construct images based on the pattern of those reflections.”
Kish, who lost his sight as an infant, says he has been clicking to find his way as far back as he can remember. And he is teaching echolocation to blind children through his nonprofit foundation, World Access For the Blind, based in Encino, Calif.
But he told NPR that his work, ultimately, isn’t just about teaching echolocation or learning spatial awareness.
“It’s about a philosophy,” he says, “that we call no-limits philosophy, which challenges us to challenge what we think we know. To challenge every boundary, every box, every limitation that we’ve either put up ourselves or allow ourselves to be conditioned to accept.”

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Filed under Cool stuff, Urban cycling

I put away the champagne


Jim’s Bike Blog passed a milestone of sorts today — 100,000 hits since I launched this online journal on April 17, 2009, in advance of a trans-America bicycle ride in the fall of that year.
But the occasion passed without fanfare or celebration.
I’ve written previously that the hit count on a website is a phantom figure, that many of the hits are made by “netbots” that troll the Internet to do such things as track and analyze web traffic, that a compelling news story in print or online can attract more readers in a few hours than this blog will in a year, that a post on a celebritity blog about Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga might record 100,000 hits in a day, that regular readership on most blogs might boil down to a few friends and relatives, that millions of people who think they have something to say write blogs, and that blogging might afford satisfaction to the blogger but adds little to the world’s store of knowledge.

Hatch-chan the blogging house cat

“Most people have no idea that hits are meaningless,” says a website called mediacollege.com. “A ‘million hits’ does not mean that a million people visited a website. It doesn’t actually tell you anything at all about the volume of traffic — the real number of visitors could be close to a million or it could be less than a thousand. There’s just no way of knowing.”
But 100,000 hits must count for something. Right? A party? At least an occasion for some private revelry?
Then I read about a celebrity house cat in Osaka, Japan, named Hatch-chan, whose blog — in Japanese — is said to have a following of some 50,000 readers per day.
Of course, the cat, a former stray, gets out and about, meeting fans, making appearances at department stores and recording TV shows.
He’s also been the star of a movie, the subject of a calendar and the name behind a line of merchandise from stuffed toys to refrigerator magnets.
Cat blogs apparently are all the rage in Japan, and Hatch-chan’s photographer owner, Natsumi Fujiwara, documents his every move for each day’s blog post. His black-and-white mug is plastered all over the blog, engaging in such feline pursuits as peeking out of a cardboard house, chasing a ball of yarn, napping on a computer printer and licking his right forepaw.
But 50,000 hits a day for a blog by a cat?!?!
Maybe I should ask my dog to write a blog.
I put away the champagne.

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Filed under Blogging on the road

In the genes: II


Another of our Sunday morning bicycling group has biking in the genes — and he has the photo to prove it.

Bill Bowen

Bill Bowen, a former colleague at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram who lives a few streets away in Fort Worth’s Mistletoe Heights neighborhood, had read my March 26 post, “Maybe it’s in the genes.”
The post included two photos of one of my ancestors, Hendricus Antonius Maria Siewe, who lived in Amsterdam, riding a bicycle sometime in the latter half of the 19th century.
Bill said he had reconnected with relatives in Iowa before participating last July in RAGBRAI, the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. Among the artifacts in the history of the Iowa branch of Bill’s family was a photograph of his great-grandmother Lillie Koerner, as a young woman in 1900 standing beside a bicycle decorated with garlands of flowers.
Bill said that his family, like mine, has roots in Germany. Some of his forebearers immigrated to the United States and settled in Iowa in the 1840s.
“I saw your family photos and had to add this bike to the archives,” Bill wrote in an e-mail. Here’s the photo:

Lillie Koerner in 1900

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Filed under Americana, History

Wheels of change


Susan B. Anthony

“Let me tell you what I think of bicycling,” pioneer women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony declared in 1896 at the height of America’s craze for a new form of transportation and recreation.
“I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel.”
Those changes in society wrought by the bicycle — in social interaction between the sexes, in women’s clothing, in perceptions of women’s physical capabilities — are explored in a new children’s book by Sue Macy, Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way).
Published by National Geographic and issued Jan. 11, the book is aimed at children aged 10 and older and contains 25 color illustrations, some of which are shown in a slideshow below.
A mini-review of the book on the website grist.org cites this quote from Munsey’s Magazine in 1896: “To men, the bicycle in the beginning was merely a new toy, another machine added to the long list of devices they knew in their work and play. To women, it was a steed upon which they rode into a new world.”
From the publisher’s synopsis:
“Take a lively look at women’s history from aboard a bicycle, which granted females the freedom of mobility and helped empower women’s liberation. Through vintage photographs, advertisements, cartoons, and songs, Wheels of Change transports young readers to bygone eras to see how women used the bicycle to improve their lives. Witty in tone and scrapbook-like in presentation, the book deftly covers early (and comical) objections, influence on fashion, and impact on social change inspired by the bicycle …”

Annie Kopchovsky

Among the story’s in Macy’s book is that of a pioneer female cyclist whom I had written about previously in this blog, Annie Cohen Kopchovsky.
Kopchovsky, who used the name Annie Londonderry, was a Latvian-born Jew and the working mother of three who sought to escape her humdrum life in the tenements of Boston’s West End by setting off around the world on a bicycle in the mid-1890s. (See April 29, 2010, post, “Books about biking.”)
My wife is a librarian at a Fort Worth elementary school. Macy’s book would seem to be an excellent addition to the school’s library.

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Filed under Americana, History, Literary musings, Urban cycling

Maybe it’s in the genes


As I was doing some spring cleaning in the garage the other day, I came across a book that had been acquired and stored away some years ago. It was a history of my mother’s family in Germany and the Netherlands dating back to the mid-1600s.

Book by Peter Sieve

The book was researched and written by Peter Sieve, of Vechta in northwestern Germany, to whom I am distantly related. It was published as a paperback in 2003. Sieve — sometimes spelled Siewe in European renditions — was my mother’s maiden name.
I had heard of Peter’s research from two Sieve first cousins who were doing genealogical research on the American branch of the Sieves. Their findings dovetailed nicely with Peter’s, picking up in America where Peter’s research on the European Sieves left off. I emailed Peter, and he sent me a copy of his work.
According to a family tree in Peter’s book, the first Sieve to emigrate to the United States, in 1836, was Jacob Sieve, my great-great-great-grandfather, who settled in Cincinnati. In 1866, his son, Herman Henreich Sieve, my great-great-grandfather, headed west to Missouri and established a farm in the rolling foothills of the Ozarks in the Franklin County hamlet of Moselle, Mo., about 60 miles southwest of St. Louis. Sieve relatives still live in the area and others in St. Louis.

Hendricus A.M. Siewe

Peter’s book is in German, and my college minor in that language isn’t sufficient for a quick and accurate reading. So I looked mostly at the family tree and the photographs.
Among the photos are two of Hendricus Antonius Maria Siewe (1868-1942), described in German as an Amsterdam merchant. We have a common forebearer, Hermann Ruholl Sieve, who lived in the village of Ihorst near Oldenburg in northwest Germany in the 1600s.
The first photo, grainy and faded, shows Hendricus as a muscular young man riding a “safety” bicycle with an intent look as if he is racing. The second shows a dapper, mustachioed Hendricus, wearing a tie, jacket, knickerbockers and straw boater, riding a tandem bike with his wife, Johanna.
The caption under the first photo says that Hendricus was a “weilrenner in vrije tijd,” which translates from Dutch as a “cyclist in his spare time.”
Maybe this bicycling disease runs in the genes.

Hendricus and Johanna Siewe

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Spring has sprung


Spring is busting out all over in Fort Worth and North Texas. The annual ritual of bluebonnet spotting has begun as the state’s signature flower sprouts up along highways and bike trails.
I shot this photo today along the southwestern reaches of Fort Worth’s Trinity Trails on the Clear Fork of the Trinity River. The resting cyclist is neighbor and riding companion Steve McReynolds.

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