Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The News Cycle

"This is not my beautiful car" (so I'm trading it in for a bike).

Are the media excited about cycling or David Byrne's authorial skills? Whatever the answer, biking has grabbed some headlines recently, thanks in part to the man who famously asked, "Why the big suit?" In his new book, Bicycle Diaries, David Byrne, lead singer of The Talking Heads and master of the arts, chronicles his extensive two-wheeled travels. I haven't read the book, but book reviewers Krista Walton of The Washington Post and Geoff Nicholson of The New York Times did, and published reviews in their Sunday editions.

Nicholson examined the book with a more critical eye than Walton, but still with a relatively light touch. Both provided a similar summary: David Byrne rides a folding bike in the United States and through parts of Europe and Asia. The written record of his adventures, as captured in "Bicycle Diaries," extends beyond cycling as he shares humorous anecdotes, cultural observations, his personal philosophies, and expounds on global concerns, like sustainability. I'd read Byrne's diary just to get to a line that resonates with me and was quoted in the Times: "You don't really need the spandex." In fact, if one of the book's aims is to encourage cycling, I think that that simple statement should have been the title. The book's list price is $25.95, but is available from Amazon for $16.52.

When Being Hip Requires a Living Will

On Monday, the Post ran an article about fixed-gear bikes, or fixies ("Look Ma, No Brakes!" Style, 28 September 2009). Long the choice of couriers (those crazy skinny guys that weave through city traffic, putting their life on the line in every possible way, to deliver packages to office buildings), fixies are now the symbol of hip urbanism and a renegade spirit. Frankly, this description intimidates me, and I can't imagine my scooter-skirted self barreling to the library on a bike with no gears and no brakes.
That's right - no gears and no brakes. Scary. But the lack of hardware creates clean, unobstructed lines and a bike that is sleek, simple, and beautiful.

A fixie has only one speed. No downshifting to tackle the big hills. And it lacks a freewheel, which means it doesn't coast. The pedals and chain directly power the rear wheel, so if the bike is moving, the pedals are moving. It lacks brakes, and for people like me who value the ability to stop easily and often, this is a major drawback. Simply pedaling more slowly will ease the bike to a stop. Obviously, perfecting this slowing method takes practice and planning.

A skid stop lets you stop quickly and look death in the eye at the same time. It involves standing on the pedals, leaning forward to relieve the pressure on the rear tire, raising the rear tire ever so slightly, and then using your leg muscles to lock the pedals in a horizontal position.

If neither of these stopping options offers you the security you crave, I'd suggest installing handbrakes, but that, of course, would ruin your reputation as an urban hipster or edgy, brooding punk. I'm going stick to my dowdy comfort bike because I value my reputation as a safe, suburban, risk-averse mom.

On an unrelated note. . . As I typed "how to stop a fixed-gear bike" into the search field, the Google pull-down menu suggested I select "how to stop a fixed cat from spraying." It sounded interesting, but somehow not germane.

Making Cities Bike-Friendly

I am a faithful reader of Walter Scott's Personality Parade because I care about the number of new network shows due out this fall and how many will last, in Mr. Scott's opinion. I also wonder if Jared, Subway spokesman and famous dieter, is still, technically, dieting. And for catching up with my childhood stars, Valerie Bertinelli, David Cassidy, and Eve Plumb, no other publication tops Parade. This past Sunday, however, I ventured beyond page one. I overlooked the piece about Drew Barrymore ("America's Perkiest Star"), skipped the recipe for Confetti Cornbread ("the color comes from diced peppers!") to read an article about bike-friendly cities.

"A Free-Wheeling City" , by Bill Donahue, focuses on Columbia, Missouri's efforts to promote cycling and profiles the city's cycling mayor. It also describes similar pro-cyclist/pro-pedestrian campaigns in Minneapolis, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, and Marin County, California, all of which, including Columbia, are sharing $90 million in federal funds to make these jurisdictions more friendly to pedalers and walkers. Other cities, such as New York and Louisville, are taking steps to get people out of their cars and cabs.

Mr. Donahue interviews recent biking converts and reports on a new transportation bill in Congress that could designate up to $1 billion annually for cycling and walking projects. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Jim Oberstar (D., Minn.) but decried as a pet project by Senator John McCain (R., Ariz). Well, you can decide for yourself.

No comments:

Post a Comment