Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

25 April 2017

Men On Mixtes--And Women's Bikes--In Mosul

I bought Vera, my green Miss Mercian mixte, from a guy who had it built for himself after a hip injury and surgery.  

Now, I know some guys wouldn't be caught dead on a women's or mixte bike.  I was one of them, but not because of my insecurity about my gender identity, ample as that was.  You see, I wanted to ride only "performance-oriented" bikes and believed that mixte and women's frames weren't as stiff or strong as diamond "men's" frames.  The "stiff" part may well be true, but I haven't had much opportunity to compare diamond-framed bike models with their corresponding women's or mixte counterparts.  One reason is that many--particularly high-end--models come only as one or the other.

One difference I can find between the two types of frames in general is that diamond frames are generally more stable than those without a horizontal top tube.  I've especially noticed this when I've tried riding women's or mixte frames with fixed gears.  

Of course, another difference between the two types of frames is that the women's/mixte varieties are easier to mount.  That was, I think, the original rationale for such designs.  Sexism might have been a motive:  Perhaps bike designers and builders believed that we needed easier-to-mount bikes because we're the "fairer" (translation:  "weaker") sex.  Another reason for the designs was, of course, that at one time women almost always wore skirts or dresses, which make it more difficult (especially if the skirt is not flared or falls below the knee) to sling a leg over a top bar.

There are men, though, who ride women's or mixte frames.  I often see them here in New York.  Some of those guys are probably riding a bike they inherited for someone or got very cheaply.  Others, I suspect, are riding them for the same reason men in Mosul are on them.

That reason has only a little bit to do with the fact that women simply don't ride bicycles there.  Even before the Islamic State (ISIS) captured the city nearly three years ago, it wasn't done, though what I've read suggests that women not riding bicycles was more of a custom rather than the reult of an outright prohibition.  

Rather, men say they ride women's bicycles because they're easier to handle in the city's potholed,rubble-strewn streets, especially when cyclists are transporting food, medical supplies and other items.  The shop Mohammed Sabah Yehia recently opened on the east side of town, in fact, stocks and sells nothing but women's bicycles.

Mohammed Sabah Yehia in his East Mosul shop.

The way he entered the velocipedic trade is emblematic of what has turned Mosul, which is bisected by the Tigris River, into a city of bicycles.  He used to sell motorcycles on the city's west (of the river) side, where there was a flourishing bicycle trade, until his shop was destroyed during the ISIS offensive.  Then motorized vehicles were banned because of gas shortages.  

A campaign to take back the city started in October has resulted in the liberation of the east side of the city.  Since then, traffic has returned.  But police have been stopping and confiscating motorcycles because ISIS members have been using them. As a result, many men are weaving their bicycles through the throngs of cars to find stores, pharmacies and other establishments that are open.

On the west side, on the other hand, cyclists ride on traffic-free streets.  But that is not a result of city authorities trying to make their community more "bike friendly". Iraqi and ISIS forces are still fighting, and the former have barred cars--which the latter use as suicide vehicles--and motorcycles. 

Some cyclists from the east side--like Yehia--don't want to venture onto the west side "until it's secure".  They also avoid riding at night, out of fear of remaining militant "sleeper cells".   Still, for the time being, it seems that for all of the hazards, cycling will be the best way to transport people and supplies in Mosul.  And men will be riding women's bikes. 

24 April 2017

Before EX, It Was CLB

In 1978, Shimano introduced its Dura Ace "EX" gruppo.  It was hailed (at least by Shimano's marketing department) as revolutionary.  Indeed, the gruppo included "innovations" that cyclists who didn't know much about the history of cycling (which would have included me) would have seen as world-changing.

As with most "innovations", they had been done before.  Features that distinguished this new gruppo, aside from its light weight and distinctive appearance, included "dropped" pedals with axles that were shorter but of larger diameter than others.  That was supposed to make the pedal/crank interface stiffer, and putting the pedal platform below the line of the axle was supposed to be both more ergonomic and aerodynamic than traditional setups.  I never tried it myself, for the same reasons most cyclists I know didn't:  Those pedals and cranks were not interchangeable with any others.  

Speaking of the cranks:  They were very nice, and included a one-key release, eliminating the need for a crank remover tool.  That is one "innovation" that has endured.  Another is one that many of us are riding today:  a "freehub" with a cassette carrier integrated into the hub body.  Until that time, almost every derailleur-equipped bike, as well as those with single-speed freewheels, used freewheels that screwed onto the hub body.  

Of course, the "Uniglide" hub, as Shimano would call it, was not a new idea.  SunTour made a hub with an integrated cassette carrier--the "UnitHub--a decade earlier; half a decade before that, Cinelli offered its "Bivalent" hub, which is often seen as the predecessor of modern cassette hubs.  But, in part through aggressive marketing campaigns, Shimano's cassette system is the one that displaced screw-on freewheels as the standard for bikes of any and all kinds.

One more "innovation" that wasn't was the brakes, which I liked.  The extension that held the cable adjuster and quick release was shortened, and a stiffener was added between it and the main part of the brake arm.  And the quick release was one most cyclists hadn't seen before:  It rotated and had fewer moving parts than the ones found on Campagnolo and other brakes.

CLB Professional

Surprise, surprise:  Three years earlier, CLB introduced their "Professional", a brake with a similar profile--and the same kind of quick release.  If I were a collector or simply wanted to build a bike strictly based on the "cool" factor of the parts, I would probably choose the CLB Pro.  It and the titanium-bolted Galli Professional, which came out that same year (as did the SunTour Cyclone derailleurs), were the lightest brakes of their time.

CLB Competition, c. 1950

Now, the few Americans who bought and used CLB (Charles Lozier Bourgoin, the founder of the company) Pros probably thought the quick release was novel.  Actually, CLB had been using it--though in less-refined iterations--as far back as the 1940's, when they first started making brakes.  Interestingly, the company's center-pulls--introduced  in the early '50's and based heavily on the Mafac's product--used cable hangers that included a very similar quick release mechanism.

What got me to thinking about all of this?  Well, I was looking for some parts on eBay when I came across this:

It appears to be a later or lower-priced version of the Professional.  What really struck me, though, was the "funky" (as the listing's copy aptly puts it) green and white finish. As far as I knew, CLB, being the very traditional and very French company that it was, never offered their components in color besides silver.  Actually, with the exception of the Professional, most of their brakes were, well, not finished at all, from all appearances:  They had a dull grey aluminum color.  Mafacs, by comparison, seemed like jewelry.

Although that green and white brakeset is probably 30 or more years old, it would fit right in with the graphics on many new bikes!

Apparently, CLB ceased to exist a few years after they were acquired by Sachs in 1984. Three years earlier, Sachs also bought Huret, Maillard and Sedis--three of the mainstays of the French bicycle industry.  While components were manufactured in France and marketed under the Sachs/Huret, Sachs/Maillard and Sachs/Sedis names for  a few years before becoming simply Sachs, the CLB name seems to have died not long after its acquisition.  

But CLB's designs live on, in other forms:  There are brakes with similar quick releases.  And the aerodynamic shapes of today's brakes owe something to the design of the Professional.

23 April 2017

If The Shoe Fits, Go To Woolloongaba

On my refriegerator, I don't have any kids' drawings because, well, I don't have any kids.  But I do have photos of my cats--along with cards for upcoming appointments with my opthamologist and dentist, as well as various notes to myself.  They're all held by magnets.  Some are souvenirs of places I've visited, like the mini-replica of a Paris street sign for St. Germain des Pres and a Mucha illustration from Prague.

One of those magnets, though, reads, "She who dies with the most shoes, wins."

In the early years of my life as Justine, I lived more or less as if that were true--at least, to the degree my budget allowed it.  These days, though, my shoe collection isn't nearly as expensive or flashy as it was then.  I am long past that stage of wearing high heels to go to the store for cat food, for one thing.  Also, I guess you could say that I simply feel more secure of who I am now.

But I must admit, I like to kick up my heels now and again.  I also like to see interesting unusual and beautiful shoes, whether or not they are practical.  Sometimes I'll go shoe "shopping" without any intention of buying anything--though, rest assured, I don't try them on unless I'm thinking of buying!

So, of course, a "shoe bike" is going to get my attention.

You might remember the closing ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics.  That shoe-bike, and others, accompanied the "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" float in the parade.

That shoe-bike, and one other, are for sale at an antique shop in the Brisbane, Australia suburb of Woolloongabba.  I mean, any place where such things would be sold has to have a memorable name, right?

Maybe I'll buy a lottery ticket and, if I win, take the next flight out.  Actually, I might be able to afford an actual trip to Australia, whether or not I win.  And I could even buy one of the bikes.  The problem would be in getting it home:  It would probably cost as much as the trip itself, maybe more!

Besides, I don't know where I'd keep it.  Max and Marlee won't question my buying another bike (They don't ask, "Why do you need six?"); they might even like curling up on it.  But   I would have to get rid of--my other bikes?  my books?  my bed?  OK, maybe the bed can go! ;-)  Or the sofa.

For the record:  Inside each of the "shoes" is a three-wheeled adult tricycle.  So, technically, they're shoe trikes, but it doesn't sound as catchy as "shoe bikes".