Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Holocaust and Bicycling Heroes

The last few years around this time I launch into teaching a unit on Anne Frank, the Holocaust, Genocide,  and tolerance.  It is one of my favorite lessons because I find the history so compelling, the evil perpetrated so hard to convey and comprehend, and the heroes of this era so extraordinary in the face of those evils.  In particular, I always take my students on a symbolic "death march," stripping away, at their rights, possessions, loved ones, to give them some small sense of the inhumanity of that time (and still goes on today).

I'm also delighted when I can bring in a few bicycle touchstones of the era (I can't help myself) such as the right to bicycle being taken away if you were Jewish or bikes coming to be known as symbolic of the Resistance in World War II (in some ways I could argue that bicycles are still seen as "resisting" the status quo).  So I was delighted to see this piece on Gino Bartali, Tour de France and Giro winner, being honored for helping to save Jews during the Holocaust.   Something more to pass on to my students.  I particularly love the quote at the end: "Good is something you do, not something you talk about."
Tributes have been paid to cycling great Gino Bartali, with evidence now showing that he helped save the lives of up to 800 Jews during World War II. The Yad Vashem Memorial in Israel is looking into giving him the title "Righteous Among the Nations", a term used by Israel to describe non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from extermination by the Nazis. 
The details about the Italian's actions in the 1940s have only just recently come to light, through a university study. His son, Andrea, has continued the research along with the Jewish community and journalist Laura Guerra. 
“In 1943 Bartali, who had already won the Tour de France once and the Giro d’Italia twice, was assigned to the traffic police by the fascist regime, before leaving the job on 8 September,” according to the UCI. “That was when he went underground, choosing to help persecuted Jews by smuggling identity photos to a convent that produced counterfeit papers. 
“As far as the soldiers who guarded the road between Florence and San Quirico, near Assisi, were concerned, Bartali was merely on a 380-km training run. In fact, valuable documents were hidden inside the frame and saddle of his bicycle.” 
Bartali remained modest about his actions, not even telling his wife. His own public comment was “Good is something you do, not something you talk about. Some medals are pinned to your soul, not to your jacket.”

Monday, January 30, 2012

Bicycle Tripod

For every hundred "concept bikes" I run across there are probably 99 that are pretty useless and one worth investigating.  This one probably slides into the useless category.  Bike doubling as a tripod?  Why not just get a camera mount for your handlebars?

That being said, I've been tempted recently to get one of those "Gopro" or whatever they are called, HD video cameras for outdoor adventure.  Really, I'm just thinking I could use it more for getting some cool footage of the students when my school bike club hits the trails.  The commercials for them are a little to "rad" for my tastes but it might be a useful accessory for the right application.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Good Morning Sunshine

I always enjoy the sunrises on my ride into work but I rarely actually stop.  Yesterday I couldn't help myself and quickly snapped this with my phone.  No justice here but you get the idea.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Bicycle Storage

I think one of the reasons I find myself kind of obsessed with the various ways of storing bicycles that seem to be proliferating the scene is that they mostly cater to the idea of living in smaller, more urban spaces.  And, they underscore the idea of the bicycle being right at hand as you head out the door of your apartment or home to run errands, head to work, etc.

With that in mind this is a pretty nifty design if you have a smaller space that you're living in that requires a more vertical storage solution.  I particularly like the cubbies on the right side.  But before you get out that credit card it is probably a good idea to go get some wood or ask that friend of yours who is a carpenter to help you build your own.  Apparently this is supposed to run over $3000.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Disappearing Bicycle

This video has been making the rounds of a bicycle locked outside in NYC and watching it be cannibalized over the course of 365 days using time-lapse photography.   Frankly, I'm surprised that the bicycle lasted as long as it did.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Bicycles Are Good For Business

A great illustration that auto parking needs to be balanced with plenty of bicycle racks.
Here is a nice piece on the benefits of promoting cycling for businesses in Long Beach. There are some good testimonials from small business owners regarding the benefits of cycling infrastructure for local economic development. It shows what the commitment of a community can do, from the Major, but more importantly, the community members themselves, to make their towns and cities more bicycle friendly.  This is something I hope Reno businesses and those involved with the economic development of Reno will bear in mind in the downtown and up and coming Midtown areas in particular.

Perhaps most innovative has been the city's effort to establish bike-friendly shopping districts -- the first in the country, officials say -- engaging local merchants by showing them how, contrary to common belief, biking can actually bring more customers and vitality to shopping districts. 
"The math is pretty simple," says April Economides, the principal of Green Octopus Consulting and the leader of the city's outreach to local businesses. "You can park 12 bikes in the amount of space it takes to park one car. And someone who shifts from owning a car to a bicycle tends to have more discretionary income, because, for a commuter, the typical cost of a bicycle is $300 a year, compared to $7,000 a year for a car." 
Economides, a vivacious 36-year-old whose family owns one of the best-known restaurants in town, describes herself as a "social change agent" who leverages the power of small business. "At first, most merchants didn't think about bikes or even had a negative view of them," she says. "My job was to educate them about how biking can put more money in their pockets."

Monday, January 16, 2012

Scorched Earth Bike Ride

I hadn't ridden along the Steamboat Ditch trail after the Caughlin Fire until yesterday (although I did walk the dogs a few times up there.   Nice to get the 'cross bike out on a combined road/trail ride on the last day before winter kinda/sorta decided to arrive for the Truckee Meadows.


Friday, January 13, 2012

The Snow Bike of All Snow Bikes (if we actually had any snow)

I always thought the Surly Pugsley was the snow bike to end all discussions but this thing, designed to traverse Antarctica looks pretty unstoppable.  Although I have to wonder if that little rear derailleur is going to make it.  It sure looks flimsy compared to the rest of this beast.  Full story here:

Snowdrifts, blizzards, rutted ice, altitude sickness, frostbite and snow blindness. They're hardly the odd speed bump, tree root or wayward pedestrian a cyclist usually faces on a bike ride, but this isn't an average journey. 
Blue Peter presenter Helen Skelton is hoping to become the first person to use a bike to reach the South Pole. She is attempting to travel 500 miles (805km) across Antarctica and will cycle for large parts of it, as well as snowkiting and walking. She hopes to complete the trek for Sport Relief in 20 days. 
At this time of year, the average temperature in Antarctica is -25C, but can drop to -50C. Severe coastal winds come from cold air flowing down off the interior ice sheet. Wind speeds can reach up to 125mph (201km/h) and average about 80mph.

The challenge

Trek starts at 83 degrees south
Will cover 500 miles (805km) to reach South Pole
Will be travelling for up to 14 hours a day
Will cover anything from eight to 40 miles (13 to 64km) a day
Will have to climb to altitudes of 3,000m (9,840ft)
Will burn up to 10,000 calories a day 
In addition, she will be dragging 12.9st (82kg) of equipment and supplies behind her on a sledge. 
It's no average ride and she is not using your average bike. The specially-built Hanebrink "ice bike" took designers in Los Angeles three months to finish. Dan Hanebrink and Kane Fortune have been building all-terrain hybrid bikes that can be used in all environments for many years.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Cycling Cuts Emissions...but What Else?

This article from the Guardian about a study of carbon emissions caught my eye.  Apparently if we all cycled as much as the Danish we would cut our transportation based emissions by as much as 25%.  Important to note that it is not overall emissions, just from transportation.  But still, it is nothing to sneeze at.  The article later notes that the estimates might be underplaying the amount cut:
This figure is likely to be a significant underestimate as it deliberately excludes the environmental impact of building road infrastructure and parking, or maintaining and disposing of cars.
These kinds of studies are interesting in and of themselves but I prefer to think about the overall impact of cycling if we up the amount of miles on foot and by cycling over using motorized transport.  It seems like the larger health and quality of life issues are far more important in the long term.  I mean that if, as the study says, the average Dane cycles 600 miles a year, what are the far reaching effects that would have on the mental and physical health of Americans if they adopted cycling for an equivalent amount of transportation miles?

It also points to the example of cities such as Seville in Spain, where the construction of segregated bike lanes and other policies saw cycling increase tenfold in just three years.
"It is possible," said Ferguson. "It just takes a bit of political will and a good dose of cultural change."

Friday, January 06, 2012


I was going to suggest that this trash can could double as some sort of basis for a bike/basketball game to replace the NBA since they couldn't get their acts together to avoid a shortened season.  Then it occurred to me that nobody actually seemed to miss the NBA except the millionaires/billionaires that play/own the teams.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Pedal Savvy Fashion Show

2011 Pedal Savvy Fashion Show from SF Bike Expo on Vimeo.

A pretty nicely produced video highlighting the fashion show at the recent San Francisco Bicycle Expo.  If you know what I look like and pay attention you might see a glimpse or two of me taking photos in the front row.

I had a really good time at the SFBE but in hindsight and from watching this video I kind of wish the hip and lovely models used could have included a few people a bit older to demonstrate that bicycling for transportation is something that not just the young and fit can do.   This was a fashion show, yes, but it was supposed to demonstrate functionality in cycling clothing as well.   It's an easy trap to fall into.   Here's a great example of just such an older person using the bicycle for every day riding.

I'm sure my reaction to the bike expo vid has been tempered a bit by watching too many Portlandia videos recently but if you had to choose between hanging out with Bill Cunningham or this guy, who would you choose?

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

The One Mile Bike

Over the years I've used my bikes for everything from commuting, centuries and adventure riding, bike touring, trail riding, and errands.  But in recent years I've seen a gradual decrease in my use of the bicycle for the errand running that I used to do.  Considering that I live so close to downtown and a variety of other regular stops this is kind of a dumb and lazy on my part.  Using a car for these trips is wasteful, expensive, and just plain unhealthy.  

One of the best pieces of advice I've seen for people trying to lessen their use of the auto and move towards a healthier lifestyle is to take a map of where they live and draw a half, one, or two mile radius circle with their residence as the center.  Anything that falls within the circle that is a destination (groceries, entertainment, coffee shop, bookstore, etc.) then becomes a primarily a place that you choose to walk or bike to rather than hop in the car.  Especially since these short trips in a car are the least economical uses of a motorized vehicle and maybe very well not be any faster in an urban environment.  I've certainly given this advice to others over the years but it seems I need to improve on this myself.

So with that in mind I'm going to add the increase of these short trips to my regular bike riding as a New Year's resolution.  It's not like you need a special bike to do this but I happen to have a perfect choice for this short range type of riding.  It's an old Bridgestone MB-3 I picked up a few years ago from the Reno Bike Project.  Not a bike that I'd actually use for riding offroad but certainly solid mechanically and with no need for special pedal/shoe combinations.  Add to that the semi-slick Specialized Armadillo tires and you've got a bike that is almost bullet proof and will require virtually no maintenance.  For that matter, those tires are so stiff you could practically run them without air and they'd still be rideable. Another bonus is that it's a bike that I never have to really worry about keeping secure.  A little cable is plenty if all I want is to grab a cup of coffee or run into the grocery store.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Bicycle Manga

A few years ago I was asked by some students to be the faculty representative for a new club at my school for Anime, Manga, and Cosplay.  I knew what anime and manga was but had never heard of cosplay so I had to do a little research to find out what that was all about.  The artwork in this genre can be quite interesting and some of the graphic novels I've read in this style are certainly worthy literature.  But it's hard not to be a bit creeped out by the some of the depictions of woman/child characters.   I agreed to be the advisor for the group as much because if ever there is a time in a person's life where they need to have a connection with others it is in high school (I didn't have much of one until my senior year) and if ever a group of students needed some place to find a "home" it was the group of "island of misfit toys" that came to my room for that first meeting during lunch.  I mean that in the kindest of possible ways because those "kids" were easily some of the most interesting people I encountered teaching high school.

Anyway, I happened across this artwork from a Japanese book via another bicycle site and I thought I'd pass it along.  I've clipped a couple of the more interesting pieces of art but if you'd care to see more you can go to this link (with the caveat that it is marginally NSFW).  The website notes:
“Bicycle Life with Kawaii Girls” is an excellent collection of gorgeous art work from some of the top manga artists and illustrators working in Japan right now as they pay tribute to the popular bike culture in the country.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Favorite Music of 2011

Every year I look forward to reflecting on the best in music (and sometimes film) that I've encountered.  In no way is this an exhaustive list and their are plenty of other lists out there that will tout the benefits of listening to Adele (I seem to be about the only person that thinks 21 was overrated).  And I could have added a number of other obvious choices like Bon Iver or Wilco.  But here are a few recordings from a stellar year in music.  Quite an amazing range of my favorite artists put out worthy additions to their catalogs this year.  And, it is worth noting, that I finally got to see one the single greatest artists of our times in concert.  Leonard Cohen wrapped up his world tour with a couple of shows in Vegas and played a three hour set that I would have been happy to see go longer.  So here is to 2011, may 2012 be as amazing musically in its own way.

In no particular order:

Charlatans at the Garden Gate - Tristen

If there was a better pop record released in 2011 I didn't hear it. Tristen, an Illinois native transplanted herself to Nashville, and spent the last few years writing and performing, performing and writing, until she came up with just the right concoction of hook-laden pop gems. The time and attention to detail paid off. From the opening track, Eager For Your Love, to the final song, Save Raina, Tristen demonstrates an uncanny ability to weave clever and memorable melodies throughout. It seems that when listening to her songs just when you think you're noticing one catchy melody she throws in yet another dazzling hook. All this could be too musically syrupy if not for her ability to write biting lyrics that cut to heart of the emotional intricacies of human relationships. Whether she is writing about the enabling girlfriend of a drug user boyfriend in Baby Drugs, or of keeping "her thin and hungry" in the aforementioned, Eager For Your Love. When critics review a debut record this strong there is an annoying tendency to be implicitly dismissive by calling an artist someone to "watch in the future." Tristen is certainly someone to watch. But in a year full of great albums, right here and right now, Tristen released one for the ages.

FOMO - Liam Finn

Neither as raw or exuberant as Finn's, I'll Be Lightening, Fomo still showcased some great songwriting.  The production was lush and verged on Finn's elder statesman father's territory of hooky and subtle pop song writing.  From the XTCish, Reckless, to the swoony guitars in Chase the Seasons, this was a great 2nd outing from Liam.

Let England Shake - PJ Harvey

Shake is on a lot of best of lists and for good reason.  The two-time Mercury Prize winner put out one of her best collections in a career full of amazing records.  Thematic, raw, riveting, are all words I would use to describe this album.   It's one of those records that reveals itself over repeated listenings.  I'm not sure Harvey has written anything as haunting as the beautiful, On Battleship Hill.

King of Limbs - Radiohead

Underestimate Radiohead at your own peril.  The band keeps putting out unexpected collections taking a strange turn with each new work.  The hypnotic, electronic, rhythms of Limbs were quite a surprise after In Rainbows.  But again an album that could be dismissed if the band wasn't so formidable in the complexity of their songwriting.   This is a band that is so far removed from The Bends at this point that I'm at a loss when I hear people complain about the lack of guitars and anthems on their records.  They, and we, are far better for having followed them as they evolve.  Bonus points for their wonderful stopover on the Colbert Report.

Move Like This - The Cars

The Cars will never get their critical due but this collection is as fine an example of pop new wave songs as you are likely to hear.  Ocasek and company are masters and maybe few people missed them being on the music scene but I for one felt like they make songwriting look easy.  

All You Need Is Now - Duran Duran

I know, I know, this is looking like a list of 80s throwbacks but DD returned with a near great record that made folks who remember how fun they were realize what a void in pop for this splashy new wave sound.  Don't expect Simon Lebon's lyrics to be any better but do expect the album to confirm suspicions that John Taylor really is one of the most interesting bassists out there and Nick Rhodes still has a knack for swirling, atmospheric synth sounds.

Hot Sauce Committee Part Two - Beastie Boys

At some point this last year it occurred to me that out of all of the concerts I've been to I've never seen anybody as much as the Beasties (3 Times!).  It's almost inadvertent since I caught them at a couple of festivals along the way but I still consider the crowd reaction to their performance of Sabotage to be one of the most incredible concert experiences I've ever had.  Who would have known that after seeing them on the License to Ill tour that three decades later they would be putting out such great, fun, and important albums.   Sidenote: is Elijah Wood the coolest actor working today or what?

Bad As Me - Tom Waits

Another solid collection from Mr. Waits that leaves most other artists in the dust.  Yet the album feels somehow a lesser work than Real Gone, his last masterpiece, and certainly not as great as Bone Machine.  But one can hardly complain.  It is still better than 99% of what other artists are putting out.  I guess that makes Waits one of the 1%.  His songs however, capture the assorted tales of the least in our society better than anybody.

Pajama Club - Pajama Club

Unlike most people who think of Neil Finn as "that guy from Crowded House," I look at him as one of the great songwriters of the past 30+ years who has had various side projects along the way from Split Enz, CH (mark 1 and 2), to the new Pajama Club album.  His solo record, Try Whistling This, is still one of the best crafted pop albums of the last 15 years.  Where does Pajama Club fall in his body of work?  Certainly it's an amusing detour but I hesitate to call it a trifle simply because he definitely pushed himself out of his comfort zone.  That it isn't as riveting as some of his more notable records doesn't discount the merit of him trying something new.

50 Words For Snow - Kate Bush

I'm waiting to play this song cycle from Kate when it actually is snowing outside.  Judging from the extended forecast I may be waiting awhile.  50 Words is one of the most gripping things she has done in years.  Is it up par with any of her first five albums?  Probably not.  But it's a welcome addition to her canon and it proved that she still is an artist worth paying attention to.

Collapse Into Now - REM

2011 marked the end of an era for many people of my age with the disbanding of REM.  I'll always remember driving around listening to Reckoning in high school and being dismayed that New Adventures in HiFi never seemed to get the credit it deserved as one of the best albums in an impressive career of classics.    Collapse is a worthy way to end their run and showcases the range of songwriting they could achieve when they put their minds to it.  They went out on their own terms with a quality record and not many of the great bands can say that.

Zonoscope - Cut Copy

This is a late addition to my list.  Sounding somewhere between OMD, Thompson Twins, and New Order (I realize this will likely not sell you on the record) it is a great, playful album that elevates itself beyond just an 80s homage.  I can't seem to stop playing this and every time I pick up something interesting that I hadn't noticed before.