Monthly Archives: August 2012

The 10 best books about bicycling

Bicycling and books are two topics that I can get pretty excited about. So a combination of the two is sure to catch my attention.
Such an instance is an online compilation by the editors of Bicycling magazine of the 10 best books about bicycling.
Topping that list, at No. 1, is a book by a friend, David Herlihy, Bicycle: The History, which Bicycling called “a comprehensive guide to the early evolution of the bicycle.”
David’s book, published in 2004 by Yale University Press, has proved to be an excellent reference for posts in this blog.
He is also the author of the 2010 book The Lost Cyclist: The Epic Tale of An American Adventurer and His Disappearance, about which I’ve written in this blog.

David Herlihy

Here’s what Bicycling magazine had to say about Bicycle: The History:
Filled with anecdotes from the late 19th and early 20th century, along with hundreds of photos, drawings and catalog excerpts, this is a book that can be consumed in bits, browsed or read with careful attention.
Herlihy examines not just the machines and riders, but the changes in society and the world brought about by “the poor man’s horse.” The marketing of bicycles, the role of the machine in liberating women from the confines of Victorian society, the development of paved roads, and other tales fill more than 400 pages, yet the book does not drag or feel padded.

Thomas McCall on his rear-driven velocipede in 1869. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

While Herlihy’s history gives context to our current age, those looking for details on modern developments had best look elsewhere. No single book can adequately cover so broad a subject with such a long and rich history, so Herlihy has wisely chosen to focus the bulk of his energies in examining the first 50 years of bicycling.
Here’s the rest of the list of Bicycling’s 10 best books:
The Dancing Chain: History and Development of the Derailleur Bicycle, Frank Berto
Full Tilt: Ireland to India With a Bicycle, Dervla Murphy
Ghost Trails: Journeys Through a Lifetime, Jill Homer
Joyride: Pedaling Toward a Healthier Planet, Mia Birk
Major Taylor: The Extraordinary Career of a Champion Bicycle Racer, Andrew Ritchie
Need for the Bike, Paul Fournel
Park Tool Big Blue Book of Bicycle Repair, C. Calvin Jones
Slaying the Badger: LeMond, Hinault and the Greatest Ever Tour de France, Richard Moore
The Wonderful Ride: Being the true journal of Mr. George T. Loher who in 1895 cycled from coast to coast on his Yellow Fellow wheel, George T. Loher


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Filed under Americana, Literary musings, Travels

A pretty new link on the Trinity Trails

Boston architecht Miguel Rosales and Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price cut a ribbon to officially open the Phyllis J. Tilley Memorial Bridge over the Clear Fork of the Trinity River.

An elegant little bridge, a new landmark for Fort Worth, opened over the weekend, and cyclists are hurrying to try it out.
A group of Night Rider friends and I rode our bikes on Saturday morning to the dedication of the Phyllis J. Tilley Memorial Bridge across the Clear Fork of the Trinity River.
The bridge, for cyclists, walkers and joggers, is a key new link in the Trinity Trails network. It connects to a new trail on the east side of the river and provides easy passage between downtown and the museums of the Cultural District.
I rode to the bridge again on Sunday morning with our neighborhood biking group. And the Night Riders, who ride on Wednesdays and Sundays, tried out the bridge on Sunday evening.
Already, it’s becoming a magnet for cyclists.
Mayor Betsy Price, an avid cyclist, City Councilman Joel Burns and other local dignitaries officially opened the 386-foot span on Saturday morning as spectators released dozens of green and blue balloons into a sky that threatened rain.

Cycling friend Paul Halicki (right) and I at the Phyllis J. Tilley Memorial Bridge. Photo by Scott Strom.

The gleaming white span, just south of the Lancaster Avenue bridge, is named for Phyllis J. Tilley, a founder of Streams and Valleys, a nonprofit organization “committed to saving, sharing and celebrating the Trinity River in Fort Worth.”

Robin Glaysher, owner of Fairmount Bike Taxi, carries dignitaries across the new Phillys J. Tilley Memorial Bridge in one of her pedicabs.

Streams and Valleys raised about $200,000 in private donations for the $3 million project. Funding also included federal grants administered by the Texas Department of Transportation and bond money from the city of Fort Worth.
The design of the arch-supported “stress ribbon” bridge, said to be the first of its kind in the United States, was a collaboration of Fort Worth engineering firm Freese and Nichols, transportation architects Rosales + Partners of Boston and the structural engineering firm Schlaich Bergermann & Partner of Stuttgart, Germany.

Some members of our neighborhood bike group on the Phyllis J. Tilley Memorial Bridge on Sunday morning.

Before the bridge opening, bicycle commuters on the west side the river could ride to the confluence of the Clear and West forks of the Trinity at the northern edge of downtown and climb a steep hill on North Taylor Street to reach most downtown workplaces. Or they could cross into downtown on the West Seventh Street bridge, a heavily trafficked thoroughfare for motor vehicles.
Now, commuters coming from the west side of the river can cross the Phyllis Tilley Bridge, take a left onto the new trail along Forest Park Boulevard and ride to West Fifth Street for safer and easier access into downtown.
Downtown Fort Worth, of course, is on high ground above the river. So there is still a climb up West Fifth Street from the river, but it’s much more gentle than the very steep climb up North Taylor.
So get out on your bike and try out the new bridge. It’s pleasing to the eye and a nice new way into downtown.

Night Rider friends Dave Hickey and Mark Troxler outside Stir-Crazy Baked Goods on the Near Southside where our group stopped for refreshments before riding to the dedication of the Phyllis J. Tilley Memorial Bridge.


Filed under Americana, Cool stuff, Environment, Texana, Urban cycling

The sad endgame of Lance Armstrong

I wanted to believe.
As a bicyclist, I considered Lance Armstrong
one of my personal heroes. He was right up there with Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals, whom I revered as a kid.
I knew that throughout his celebrated career as a professional bicycle racer, Armstrong was dogged by allegations of doping.
Sour grapes, I figured, particularly when the French were doing the finger pointing. A Frenchman, after all, hadn’t won the Tour de France, bicycling’s premier event, since Bernard Hinault won his fifth Tour in 1985.

Lance Armstrong indicating his record seventh victory in the Tour de France in 2005

It was just beyond comprehension for some, I thought, that Armstrong, who nearly died in 1996 of testicular cancer, could go on to win the 1999 Tour de France, arguable the world’s most grueling sporting event, without the help of a needle. And then he did it six more times, the last time in 2005.
Winning the Tour de France seven consecutive years ranked as a sporting feat as difficult to match as Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak for the New York Yankees in that magical pre-war season of 1941 or swimmer Michael Phelps’ total of 22 medals — 18 of them gold — in the summer Olympics in 2008 in Beijing and this year in London.
Armstrong, I reasoned, was a wondrous freak of nature, blessed with a body and psyche designed for bicycle racing — a wiry build, a prodigious lung capacity, a resting heart rate of 32 to 34 beats per minute, a remarkably high tolerance for pain, a ruthless competitive spirit and an indomitable will.
His successful struggle with cancer and his recovery, recounted in his 2000 autobiographic book It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life, allowed him to rebuild his ravaged body into an unbeatable racing machine.
During my time on the editorial board at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, before retiring in 2008, I wrote a total of nine editorials around Tour de France time praising the feats of this remarkable Texas athlete and wishing him well in an international competition that had long been dominated by Europeans.
Every year, Armstrong’s quest to win the Tour de France became almost a fixture of the summer, like ballgames and barbecues, scorching heat and fireworks on the Fourth. And it was very pleasing to see American and Texas flags waved by crowds in the French countryside along the route of Le Tour.
It was an annual story that transcended sports and tugged at the emotions of us all. Even Americans who had only a passing interest in bicycle racing could root for a guy who came back from a devastating affliction to achieve dominance in one of the world’s toughest athletic endeavors. Every person who was ever stricken with cancer or had a loved one with the disease could fix on Armstrong as a symbol of hope.
My feelings about Armstrong became ambivalent a couple years ago when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began looking into doping among professional cyclists in the wake of allegations by former Armstrong teammate Floyd Landis. Landis, who was stripped of his 2006 Tour de France victory after a positive drug test, accused Armstrong of doping and blood transfusions.
But Landis had already been proven to be a liar. Why believe what he had to say about Armstrong?
Then along came a story in the Jan. 24, 2011, issue of Sports Illustrated that convincingly outlined the case against Armstrong, fueling speculation that federal indictments could be handed down at any time. But in February of this year, federal prosecutors dropped their investigation without charges.
Armstrong’s “vindication” was short-lived. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency took up the case and in June began legal proceedings against Armstrong. After bitter legal wrangling between the cyclist and the USADA, Armstrong threw in the towel on Thursday night, saying in a statement that he’s “finished with this nonsense,” but insisting that he’s innocent.
The USADA plans to impose a lifetime ban on Armstrong participating in any sports that abide by the code of the World Anti-Doping Agency and strip him of all his cycling victories from Aug. 1, 1998, including his seven Tour de France wins.
So this is the sad end of the career of Lance Armstrong.
Is he one of the most remarkable athletes who ever lived — one who first defeated testicular cancer that had spread to his brain and lungs and then went on to own perhaps the world’s most grueling sporting event for seven straight years? Or is he a fraud whose extraordinary powers were enhanced by some substance injected by a needle?
Some see his statement as an admission of guilt. Others argue that Armstrong was the subject of a witch hunt, that all professional cyclists use performance-enhancing drugs and that he was still the best among his peers. As one cycling friend put it on Facebook: Doping or not, Armstrong is still one badass dude on a bicycle.
As for me? I wonder if I was too naive in believing in Armstrong when I wrote those editorials for the Star-Telegram. I wonder if I should have exercised more skepticism, part of the unwritten creed of journalism.
I guess I wanted to believe. But I can’t anymore.


Filed under Americana, Texana

New Yorkers learning to like bike lanes

Sign designating a bike lane in Lower Manhattan. Shot on a recent visit.

New York is a notoriously tough town to try out anything, whether it be a Broadway play, a comedy act – or bicycle lanes.
Everybody’s a critic.
Such was the case in 2006, when the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced plans to greatly increase the number of traffic lanes designated for bicycles instead of motor vehicles.
The decision prompted a lawsuit by some residents of Brooklyn’s Park Slope, who argued in part that bike lanes reduced space for cars; some merchants claimed that the lanes impeded truck deliveries; others grumbled generally about government overreach.
But now, six years after the city has added about 255 miles of lanes previously used only by motor vehicles, New Yorkers seem to be coming around to the idea that bike lanes aren’t so bad after all, judging from a survey published Wednesday in The New York Times.

“When asked simply whether the bike lanes were a good idea or a bad idea, 66 percent of New Yorkers said they were a good idea,” the Times reported, citing a poll conducted by the newspaper.
“A majority in all boroughs said they thought the lanes were a good idea, with support highest in Manhattan.
“Twenty-seven percent of residents called the lanes a bad idea, and 7 percent had no opinion or did not answer,” the Times said.
“The poll results suggest that residents have gradually become accustomed to bike lanes, which have been frequent targets of tabloid ire and are already emerging as a flash point in the 2013 mayoral race.”
New Yorkers who told pollsters that they favored the bike lanes “cited environmental, health and safety benefits, as well as the addition of more space for bicyclists to ride. Some respondents said they were simply happy that the lanes had encouraged bicyclists to stop riding on the sidewalk.”
The Times said the poll of 1,026 adults was conducted Aug. 10 to 15 using landline phones and cellphones. The poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
So there you have it. To paraphrase the Frank Sinatra song “New York, New York,” if bicycle lanes can make it there, they can make it anywhere.
We hope, anyway.


Filed under Americana, Cool stuff, Politics, Travels, Urban cycling

Cars and bikes must coexist

Bicyclist Zac Ford, who was struck and left for dead on Aug. 8 while riding at night on a major Fort Worth thoroughfare, says cyclists and motorists had best learn to share the road because cyclists are growing in number day by day.
“Cycling in the past 10 years, in DFW and around the U.S., has grown exponentially,” Zac wrote in an op-ed piece in today’s Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
“Both the Lycra-clad road cyclists and now the commuting cyclists are becoming ever more frequent road users. Sure, they ride on the trails and paths, but they also ride on the streets in and around our cities and suburbs. It’s where they are supposed to ride, by law.”
Zac, a friend and fellow blogger on bicycling, was left unconscious and bleeding along Camp Bowie Boulevard on the night he was struck from behind. After two days in a hospital, he’s recovering from a concussion and severe road rash. The driver is still at large.
Since the accident, Zac wrote, he has seen an “amazing outpouring of sentiment from our community.” And he offered some advice on how bikes and cars can coexist on the nation’s roads.
“It is every cyclist’s responsibility to ride correctly and within the laws of the road,” wrote Zac, who was wearing a helmet and had lights on his bike front and rear. “It is also every motorist’s responsibility to drive correctly, signal properly and, when confronted with the sight of a cyclist in front of their vehicle, to pass properly and safely.
“We all share these roads, and as the years go on it will only get worse — or better,” he wrote. “We all have to learn how to share the streets. Bike lanes are great, but in a perfect world we wouldn’t need them. We could all ride and drive beside each other, safely.”

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A hometown hero, long forgotten

Little did I know, until I made the acquaintance of author David Herlihy, that one of the pioneers of long-distance bicycling was from my hometown, Alton, Ill.

David Herlihy

Although I fancy myself a history buff, I had never heard of William Sachtleben as I was growing up in Alton, on the Mississippi River just upstream from St. Louis.
Herlihy wrote about Sachtleben in his 2010 book, The Lost Cyclist, which takes its name from the mysterious case of Frank Lenz. Lenz, of Pittsburgh, was bicycling around the world east to west when he went missing in 1894 in a lawless area of eastern Turkey.
Sachtleben, who had just completed a round-the-world cycling trip in the opposite direction with Thomas Allen Jr., was dispatched on an unsuccessful mission to find Lenz by Outing magazine, which had been publishing reports from Lenz on his journey.
Now, Herlihy has written a magazine piece bout the globe-girdling trip of Sachtleben and Allen, fellow graduates of Washington University in St. Louis who became national heroes just as the “golden age” of cycling in America was about to begin.
“The day after graduation, in June 1890, the men boarded a train to New York City, and thence a steamer to Liverpool, England, where they promptly purchased a pair of Singer safeties, with hard tires,” Herlihy writes in the August issue of Washington, the magazine of Washington University.
“They intended merely to spend the summer tooling around the British Isles. But they enjoyed that experience so much that they resolved to continue pedaling eastward, taking ships only when necessary, until they had completed a global circuit.”
The most arduous leg of that trip was the passage across Siberia and northern China, including a trek through the Gobi Desert. The journey was chronicled in their book Across Asia on a Bicycle: The journey of two American students from Constantinople to Peking.
The pair had with them a newly introduced Kodak film camera, with which they chronicled their travels photographically. David said in a message exchange today that UCLA is scanning some 400 nitrate negatives shot by Sachtleben and Allen and hopes to have the results in about a month. I’ll certainly post some of the best.
Sachtleben and Allen, unfortunately, are little remembered today in their hometowns.
Allen, who lived in the St. Louis suburbs of Ferguson and Kirkwood, became an engineer. Sachtleben eventually settled in Houston, where he was the longtime manager of the Majestic Theater.
The house of Sachtleben’s youth still stands in Alton, on the corner of Seventh and Langdon Streets in an old neighborhood dotted with beautifully restored Victorian homes that the town is noted for.
Born in Alton on March 29, 1866, of German parentage, Sachtleben graduated from Alton High School, the cross-town rival of my alma mater, Marquette High School. His house, which I photographed on a recent visit, was only a few blocks from St. Mary’s Catholic Church, which was called “the German church” when my paternal grandparents were married there in 1907.
Both Alton and St. Louis had thriving communities of German immigrants at the time.
Shortly before his death in 1953, Sachtleben paid a visit to his old hometown and stopped in at the Alton Evening Telegraph on Oct. 28, 1952, for a chat with editor Paul Cousley, whose family still owned the newspaper when I worked there part-time as a college student in the 1960s.

The Sachtleben house, Alton, Ill.

“‘I have often thought of Alton,’ the eighty-six-year-old confided to Cousley, Herlihy wrote in the prologue to The Lost Cyclist. ‘Of my loving mother, also born here, who left us children so early in life, and of my self-sacrificing father, who said to me as we walked down the hill to the Chicago & Alton railroad station the day after my graduation from Washington College: “Well, son, stay away until you get your fill.” Added the aged adventurer with a sly smile: ‘I reckon I did just that.’”
In Sachtleben’s youth, the exploits of globe-trotting bicyclists were much like those of pioneer aviators in later generations. They were national figures on a par with a Charles Lindbergh or Amelia Earhart.
But when the aging Sachtleben dropped in to visit Cousley in 1952, he was largely forgotten, even in the town where he was born and raised.
“Time was when Will Sachtleben was a popular hero in Alton, known to everyone,” the editor wrote in his newspaper with a tinge of nostalgia the day after his meeting with Sachtleben. “His fame was nationwide, and wider still, because of his daring deeds.”


Filed under Americana, History, Journeys, Literary musings, Travels

Why is the cyclist the villain?

This really chaps my hide.
A bicyclist – who happens to be a friend
and fellow blogger – was riding his bike at night on a major Fort Worth thoroughfare, Camp Bowie Boulevard, wearing a helmet and with lights front and rear, when he was hit from behind by a motorist and left for dead.
The good news is that the cyclist, Zac Ford, is recovering nicely after a couple days in a hospital with a concussion and severe road rash on his back and the left side of his body.
“Whoever hit me didn’t stop and didn’t even know if I was alive or dead,” Ford, 26, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “It just kind of blows my mind.”
The bad news is that the motorist is still at large and probably will remain so unless he or she has pangs of conscience and goes to the police.
And perhaps even worse news, for the future of cycling in Fort Worth and car-centric America at large, were some of the online comments posted in reaction to the Star-Telegram story.
The story, of course, prompted the usual back and forth between motorists and cyclists about rights on the road.
Some drivers suggested that roads are for cars and trucks, not bicycles, that cyclists should ride into traffic so they can see what’s coming, or ride on the sidewalks or on those bike paths that government has so frivolously spent tax money on. Even on the trails, one commenter said, cyclists “knock down people walking and run over puppies.”
But some of the comments by motorists, among the 154 posted on both sides of the issue as of this writing, were downright scary. Others were deleted by the Star-Telegram, apparently because they were so over the top.
“These bikers want all the respect but refuse to obey traffic laws as they are supposed to,” wrote a driver with the handle HonestTX_Proud. “I had one turn into my vehicle. They all lied and said I hit him. He scratched his elbow. 6 weeks later here comes the lawsuit for $75K. Insurance gave him a few thousand to go away. If I’d known they were going to do that I would have hit the punk. And backed over him a few times. Want to ride with the traffic? Obey the laws and be courteous.”
Added a critic with the Internet moniker RonRico: “It will be interesting to read the future story about the cyclist who ended up like a bug on a windshield. Au revoir…”
RonRico, who apparently fancies himself as oh-so-clever, couldn’t resist jumping into the comment thread time and again. There was this gem: “Common sense for cyclists seems to be trumped by reduced bloodflow due to those gay spandex riding suits they wear.” And this one: “Ahhh… I see. Go figure… another victim who helped himself to victimhood.”
I liked this bit of idiocy from Obama_Hoax: “If Obama’s re-elected we’ll all be on bicycles!”
Wouldn’t that be great!?
But perhaps most disturbing in the series of comments was the seeming sympathy for the driver, despite the fact that whoever hit Zac Ford left the scene without checking whether he was hurt and failing to render aid. The driver probably would have been pilloried had he or she run over a dog sleeping in the road. But hitting a cyclist and leaving the scene seems to be OK with some folks.

By all accounts, Zac Ford was doing nothing wrong. His bike had a headlight and a red taillight. He was wearing a helmet and he was riding in the right lane of a boulevard that has two lanes of traffic in each direction. But many motorists see him as the villain of the piece, apparently because he was riding a bicycle.
Damn, some people are sick!
But a friend and fellow cyclist struck an optimistic note in a comment on Facebook:
“The only consolation I have is knowing those fat bozos that want to run down cyclists for putting them out 30 seconds and wish their death is knowing we are making this city better for future generations, empowering all sorts of people to take back their streets. Not just by typing at a keyboard, but by getting out there and doing something.”
Amen, sister!


Filed under Politics, Texana, Urban cycling