Monthly Archives: January 2012

Glimpses of Taiwan’s cycling scene


I’ve been rummaging through the hundreds of photos that I shot last summer during a visit to South Korea and Taiwan, and found that I have several that provide a glimpse of Taiwan’s cycling scene.
The two-wheeled vehicle of choice in that island nation is still the motor scooter. The scooters are ubiquitous. They speed through the congested streets like swarms of killer bees. Hundreds more are parked on the sidewalks, blocking pedestrian traffic.
But use of bicycles has increased over the past few years as Taiwanese authorities have built thousands of kilometers of paved, illuminated trails and other cycling infrastructure.
In one respect, the effort to promote cycling in Taipei, a traffic-clogged, polluted metropolitan area of nearly 7 million, has been a victim of its own success — as I wrote in a March 11, 2010, blog post with help from my oldest son, Ben, who lives and works in Taipei.
Here are a few of the bicycle-related photos that I shot in Taiwan last August.

Bicycles available for rental as part of Taipei's bike-sharing program, begun in the spring of 2009

A section of trail along the Xindian River in Taipei

A cyclist waits for the light to change in Taipei

A bike lane in central Taipei

Sign for a "cyclist rest stop" in Danshui (sometimes spelled Tamsui), Taiwan

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Helping change the commuting culture


The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, my former employer, editorialized this morning in favor of the City Council’s plan to build five showers for City Hall employees who commute to work by bicycle or jog during lunchtime.
The decision, approved in December and reprised in a report last Sunday by the newspaper’s “watchdog,” had fomented a tempest in a teaspoon. It pitted some angry taxpayers who thought the showers were an outrageous waste of money against cyclists and other health-conscious folks who figured they made pretty good sense. (See previous blog post.)
The Star-Telegram came down on the side of the latter.
“In recent months, the city has created more than 10 miles of bicycle lanes as part of its Bike Fort Worth plan to help change the commuting culture,” the newspaper said. “It makes sense to provide employee conveniences that might encourage others to use bicycles as a safe alternative to the automobile to get to work.
“To bring about this change, bike commuters need a place to change.”
Thank you, Star-Telegram!

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A kerfuffle over City Hall showers


FORT WORTH — It could be expected that a City Council decision to spend about $50,000 on showers for City Hall employees who ride their bicycles to work or jog at lunchtime might raise a few hackles in this very conservative city.
That it didn’t raise much of a public clamor at the time of the decision early last month was perhaps a hopeful sign of changing attitudes as Fort Worth pushes ahead with its comprehensive bike transportation plan and goal to make the city a “bicycle-friendly community” in the eyes of the League of American Bicyclists by 2015.

Mayor Betsy Price on Fort Worth's Trinity Trails

But a story about the City Hall showers in Sunday’s Star-Telegram by Dave Lieber, the newspaper’s “watchdog,” and the online comments that followed indicated that cyclists have a long way to go in persuading car-centric Fort Worthians that bikes are a viable means of transportation.
That news of the City Hall showers seemed to slip under the radar, even though at least two local TV stations reported on the plan Dec. 6, was indicated by the opening of Lieber’s piece: “A Fort Worth City Hall employee tipped The Watchdog that the city is spending almost $50,000 to build five showers so city workers can clean up after biking to work or exercising at lunchtime.”
Lieber outlined a pretty good case, in my view, for City Hall providing five showers for its bike commuters, including quotes from Mayor Betsy Price, an avid cyclist, and City Councilman Joel Burns, whose District 9 includes downtown.
“We all need to focus on health and wellness,” said Price, a Republican. “This is a small step to help move that forward.”
Added Burns: “I had a number of employees say repeatedly they wish they had this type of facility. It’s a customer service issue. … Part of my support for this is we, as an employer, ask our employees to be healthy because we are self-insured. … It’s not an opulent health club. We’re just providing the means to clean up and have a professional appearance after heeding our request [to exercise] and help us reduce the city’s healthcare cost.”
One of the sillier online comments in response to Lieber’s piece: “Those employees that want to be healthy — give ’em an outdoor job with the parks department. No shortage of physical labor there. And if you want to shower, get the maintenance guys to leave a hose hooked up outside city hall. Either that or gather up all the folks who wanted the shower and ask them, ‘Which two of you want to be fired so we can pay for this silly idea?’”
Another critic asked: “Would McDonalds or Best Buy or any profit making organization do this? Of course not. There are health spas everywhere. Use one of them. Don’t waste my tax money.”

Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns (left) and former Mayor Mike Moncrief cut a ribbon on June 30, 2011, officially opening the city's downtown bicycle lanes

I was pleased to note that one of my friends and fellow cyclists responded to that remark: “Well, yeah, actually my employer did exactly that … I sometimes ride my bicycle to work, 17 miles each way, and my employer provides showers.”
I had a similar experience. Before I retired from the Star-Telegram in June 2008, when I was training for various long-distance cycling events that culminated in a ride across the United States in the fall of 2009, I rode my bike to work about three times a week.
When I asked about the possibility of shower facilities, the powers-that-be afforded me access to a shower and lockers in the maintenance department. That arrangement worked out fine, but I suggested that any future renovations at Star-Telegram facilities include a few showers for bike commuters.
As a cyclist and Fort Worth homeowner, who this very day paid a significant chunk of tax money for city and county services, including for schools and hospitals, and, presumably, a few pennies for those showers at City Hall, I applaud the City Council for trying to improve the lot of cyclists and for providing those shower facilities. I hope that other employers follow that example and do the same.

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‘A ride for the rest of us’


I’ve done the Bicycle Tour of Colorado five times in the state’s mountainous west, but I may be getting too old for a sixth time. So I was pleased to note that a more level Colorado ride is being planned for later this year.
Gov. John Hickenlooper calls the three-day trek through Colorado’s Eastern Plains “a ride for the rest of us.”
Its official name is Pedal the Plains, to be held Sept. 21-23.
“Pedal the Plains will be a one-of-a-kind cycling event celebrating the agricultural roots and frontier heritage of the Colorado Eastern Plains,” Hickenlooper was quoted as saying in a Jan. 18 story on the website of The Denver Post.
“And, maybe most importantly, this event is a ride designed for riders of all speeds and sizes.”
The event is a partnership between the Post, the governor’s office and Viaero Wireless, based in Morgan, Colo.
The route and registration details are to be announced in the spring. The Post story said the ride would cover 30 to 100 miles per day and be open to cyclists of all ages and abilities.
Frank DiRico, president of Viaero Wireless, said the ride will ‘‘showcase the hidden beauty and economic vitality of the Eastern Plains of Colorado.”
The Denver Post has long experience in organizing bicycle rides. For 26 years, the Denver Post Community Foundation has organized Ride the Rockies in Colorado’s high country. Last June, the six-day, 412-mile ride drew more than 2,000 cyclists.
The Bicycle Tour of Colorado, which I did in 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002, is comparable in distance and terrain but is limited to 1,500 participants.
Rockies.com, a website focusing on tourism in the Rocky Mountains, says the Bicycle Tour of Colorado “is generally accepted as the most difficult of the Rockies road cycling tours.” Last year’s tour was over seven days and covered 463 miles.
I’d probably agree with the assessment of Rockies.com, and I’m not sure that this aging body could be whipped into good enough shape for another Bicycle Tour of Colorado, which this year heads into neighboring Wyoming. So maybe the “ride for the rest of us” is one to plan for this year.

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‘The whole thing was surreal’


I’ve never been to New Zealand, but I’ve imagined it as an idyllic sort of place at the antipodes, full of snow-capped mountains, sheep stations and civilized folks. Judging from an incident involving a pair of touring cyclists whose travels I’ve been following on their website and Facebook, I guess, like anyplace in this world, New Zealand has its share of assholes.
Russ Roca and Laura Crawford, who have been touring New Zealand on British-made Brompton folding bikes, encountered one of that country’s ilk on Tuesday as they were riding single file just south of Wellington on the North Island.
A motorist passed them dangerously close, stopped his car up the road and came back to push Roca off his bike and punch him in the face, according to a report in The Dominion Post.
“The whole thing was surreal,” Roca was quoted as saying.

Russ Roca and Laura Crawford. Photo by Kent Blechlynden/Fairfax NZ

“Roca said they had been warned before they came to New Zealand of the country’s ‘crazy drivers,’” the report said.
“Last year German cyclist Mia Susanne Pusch, 19, blogged about the perils of cycling on New Zealand roads, describing Kiwi truck drivers as ‘beasts.’ She died after colliding with a truck and trailer near Bulls.”
Patrick Morgan, a spokesman for New Zealand’s Cycling Advocates Network, said the attack on Roca was embarrassing to New Zealand.
“This assault is unacceptable but unfortunately … not rare,” Morgan said.
In a report in The New Zealand Herald, Roca was quoted as saying:
“It seems like such an isolated experience — it is not going to put us off touring or riding the trails of New Zealand.
“I don’t want to diminish it, because it was absolutely awful, but it was a fluke thing — I don’t think anyone should take it as a reason not to cycle.”
I had a chance to meet Roca and Crawford on April 28, 2010, when they gave a presentation at a Fort Worth bike shop on their bicycle travels around the United States. (See April 27, 2010, blog post, “Nomads on two wheels.”)
Here’s hoping that their continued travels in New Zealand are asshole-free.

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A winter reading list


It’s cold and rainy today in North Texas, a crappy day to be out on a bicycle. For a retired guy like me, it’s a fine day to tuck into a good book.

Photo by April Streeter

So I’m pleased to report that April Streeter, who writes and blogs on bicycling and environmental issues in Portland, Ore., has put together a list of 10 relatively new books on biking for just such winter days as today.
The eclectic list, on the Treehugger website, includes an urban cyclist’s survival guide, a book of 50 essays on how “the new bike culture can change your life,” and three books on the history of early cycling, including a children’s book and one on “how women rode the bicycle to freedom.”
The only book on Streeter’s list that I currently have is one of the three on cycling history, The Lost Cyclist by David V. Herlihy, which I’ve already read and reviewed. (See March 26, 2010, blog post, “The search for the lost cyclist.”)
So I guess I’ll spend a chunk of the day re-reading John LeCarre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy in advance of seeing the new movie based on the book.

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‘The long ride toward a distant dawn’


A French documentary about the grueling Paris-Brest-Paris bicycle race is delightfully quirky in its production, shifting abruptly, for example, from interviews with participants to snippets from such classic bicycling films as Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and the “Bicycle Repairman” sketch from Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
The interviews, most of them in French with subtitles in fractured English with creative spelling, provide a look at some of the more eccentric cyclists who take part in this now-quadrennial event — a bike ride from just southwest of Paris to Brest on France’s Atlantic Coast and back to Paris, a total of just over 1,200 kilometers that has to be completed in 90 hours.

Screen shot of Jeremy Shlachter being interviewed

But the best part of the documentary, made by Poisson Lune Films and called Paris Brest Paris: The long ride toward a distant dawn, is an interview about 3 minutes and 14 seconds into the film with Fort Worth cyclist, bike builder and longtime friend Jeremy Shlachter.
Just over a minute later in the film, Jeremy shows off the stainless steel bike he built especially for his participation in the Paris-Best-Paris event, which began on Aug. 21. (See Aug. 21 blog post, “An epic ride dedicated to Mom.”)
The course is equivalent to more than 745 miles, nearly the distance between Chicago and New York. Jeremy finished in 78 hours and 31 minutes, well within the 90-hour time frame, and got his name listed in Le Grande Livre (“The Great Book”), an enduring chronicle of all those who have completed the ride within the required time since the first P-B-P event in 1891.

Screen shot of eccentric Brit being interviewed

Another interview in the 46-minute film, which comes shortly after the interview with Jeremy, is with an Englishman togged out in vintage bicycling garb and goggles. He shows off his steed for the ride, a 1900 Peugeot bike that he found in a barn in Brittany. Then he displays a copy of the bill of sale for the bike and says he tracked down the great-great-great granddaughter of the original owner.
“I always ride stupid bikes,” the mustachioed Brit tells the interviewer as he is about to embark on his sixth Paris-Brest-Paris ride.
I reckon it helps to be a bit crazy to participate in this event.

PARIS BREST PARIS The long ride toward a distant dawn from Poisson Lune Films on Vimeo.

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