Friday, February 25, 2011

Cum Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc

Near-perfect correlations exist between the death rate in Hyderabad, India, from 1911 to 1919, and variations in the membership of the International Association of Machinists during the same period. Nobody seriously believes that there is anything more than a coincidence in that odd and insignificant fact.

-David Hackett Fisher


That cycle training may be offered more in environments that are hostile to cyclists does not mean that cycle training is the cause of that hostility, or reinforces it in some ill defined way.

Here endeth, &c.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Rivendell Day - Sort of.

I seem to have been posting and tweeting about Rivendell Bicycle Works a lot today.

Still, some more won't hurt.

Interview with Grant about the company;

“When I’m interested in something and want to know about it, or at least want to, or need to, get a good one — whatever it is — I want to talk to somebody who knows everything about it. Specs don’t tell me that, but the guy who sells them, or has sold them for 20 years, or the guy who repairs them — he knows. And I want to know what he does. Who doesn’t?”

It's from a "Peeking through the Knothole" post that seems to have been deleted, sadly, as it was interesting (about the idea of Artificial Scarcity) and bigged up Surly bikes, which is no bad thing.

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From Sports Scientists Blog: Floyd Landis, spoof emails and the cycling comedy carousel

The problem for Landis, of course, was always going to be credibility.  Having spent millions of dollars and much time crafting his passionate defence, his admission of doping undermined his own argument, and the easiest response for everyone concerned - Armstrong, Bruyneel, the UCI included - was to dismiss him as bitter, vengeful and lacking morality.  Pat McQuaid's own words show this: "Unfortunately my initial reaction to someone like that is to discredit them..." (note that there was no desire to discredit the allegations or the content of Landis' emails, rather the person)

It also doesn't make it easy that Landis brings news that people don't really want to hear - finding out that their heroes have feet of clay, or the inevitable negativity that resonates through Landis' allegations would make any messenger unpopular.  The fact that it was Landis, a self-confessed doper who found himself in the impossible Catch 22 of revealing himself as a liar by claiming to tell the truth, made it even easier to resort to the all too common defence of "leave cycling alone".

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The Smiths in Unexpected Places - Part One of a Very Occasional Series

I don't follow Coronation Street - BUT I did recognise the tune that was playing when the "Tyrone" character;

(yes, this chap) was doing his washing (it is a Soap Opera, after all).

It was "The Smiths - How Soon is Now".

Now The Smiths are a Manchester band, but I've always thought of Tyrone as more an Ocean Colour Scene sort of a chap, myself.

Is this writerly shorthand for things being pretty bad for the lad, I wonder?

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Jack Russell: Dog Detective

How I found this is quite a long story.

I'm the owner of a Jack Russell (or part Jack Russell, to be accurate). My dog was ahead in the queue when they handed out handsomeness and loyalty, but towards the back of the "Brains" queue.

Things my dog has detected:

1) Empty Tuna Cans with just enough tuna in to make it worth flinging them around the garden.

2) Left over rice. (He loves rice).

3) Something interesting behind the stacked paving slabs in the yard.

4) Toys he buried in the garden (as long as they were buried more than a year ago).

The Jack Russell in this series is certainly a far better detective (I reckon my dog would be in with a chance on the case of the Buried Biscuits, mind).

More information here I particularly like the French version, "Jack Russell: Détective Canin".

Written by Darrel and Sally Odgers, the series is published by Scholastic.

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office-space and beyound

office-space and beyound

hello out there... this is Don Kenn speaking.
I have an exhibit of all my post-it notes comming up this thursday. If you happen to be in Copenhagen, come take a look.!/event.php?eid=135089869890724

posted by john kenn at 11:19 AM

Not sure whether I have any followers in Copenhagen, but Don Kenn's amazing Post-It monsters are being exhibited there.

If you can't make that, follow his blog for regular small scale monsters.

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From the Cycling Silk: Update on assault and threat to kill

I only wish that half the effort into investigating and pursuing police staff who have made a mistake, went into the investigation and pursuit of the assailant. It is of course only right that complaints against the police are taken seriously, but I am left with an uncomfortable feeling that the police involved have come off worse than the man who actually attacked me. This feeling is reinforced by the fact that, rightly, I was given the identity of the police officers involved as soon as I asked; whereas the identity of my assailant has just this moment, many weeks after my request, been revealed to me.

Do read the whole thing - it's interesting that this happens to someone used to dealing with the "system" and with a degree of clout within it - it rather makes me wonder what would happen to any of us in a similar situation. Mr. Porter also offers some commentary on the "One Show" piece in which he featured.

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

From the Epicurean Cyclist: 10,000 Mile Review: Acorn Boxy Rando Bag

10,000 miles! That's quite a long term test.

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From Urban Velo: Sign-O-Bike


The bicycle indicator pops up again!

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(Don't) Manchesterize

Here in Greater Manchester, we see an innovative approach to tackling the winter cold that puts so many commuters off taking to their bicycles.

Local petty criminals have enhanced this shared use facility with a small fire, the ashes of which can be seen (just) to the right of the thoughtfully provided shopping trolley (should anyone on their way to or from the nearby Sainsburys need somewhere to put their "Bags for Life", perhaps). The fire provides not only much needed warmth and light in the dingy tunnel, but also an opportunity for the daredevil cyclist to practice riding through flame, perhaps with a view to setting up a travelling bicycle stunt show.

Don't Manchesterize the planet, for pity's sake, and have a lovely day.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Treachery! Infamy! They've all got it in for me...!

I mentioned something a while back on another blog (might have been "At War with the Motorist") about feeling, just occasionally, that as an existing utility cyclist, I was viewed as "the enemy" by some advocates.  And by utility cyclist, I mean someone who uses a bike to travel to places where I have things to do, as opposed to (purely) for the fun of it, and who wears cycling gear for longer rides.


I don't mean to single him out, but this post (at the excellent 42 Bikes) is a case in point;


I have just witnessed a classic way of making cycling appear unattractive to – well to anyone really.

The trick is to arrive at a busy Costa in a nice town on a cool but otherwise pleasant Saturday afternoon wearing lycra padded shorts, a muddy waterproof jacket and of course your cycling helmet on. To complete the image make sure that you are alone and that your legs are as unattractive as possible.

All those people wearing comfortable clothes and enjoying each others company will look at you and wish they had come shopping by bike – not!


We've no way of knowing what the object of the blogger's ire had been up to - he/she might have been in the saddle for hours, treating him/herself after a hard training ride, or fortifying ahead of one.  Hell, he/she might just find bike kit more comfortable for riding around in.  Does he/she somehow have a responsibility to sacrifice his/her comfort and enjoyment for some nebulous greater good, I wonder?


As a frequently linked post by Dave Moulton points out, there are good reasons to wear modern bike gear - and for some things, it's difficult to argue that anything else is better. The argument that people "wore regular clothes for long journeys in the past" is a flawed one - "racing" gear then was expensive, and difficult to care for, making less practical (in this sense) alternatives essential. 


I can recall other campaigners on the "hard" end of the utility advocacy side chuckling at cafés that refused to serve people in bike gear, and it's from this sort of post that my unease stems, because I can't help thinking that being on a bike *at all* is worth something over here.

I'm uncomfortably reminded of the "That Was the Week that Was" sketch;

Roadie: "I look down on him", (looks snootily at utility cyclist), "because his bike weighs more than mine."

Utility Cyclist: "I look down on him" , (looks snootily at roadie), because he wears cycling gear."

And some drivers don't look *at all*, as my scars testify - if you want to be angry at anything, I'd suggest that's a better target than other cyclists.


All of which is just a re-write of this, really. But there you go.

(By way of recompense to 42 Bikes, whose blog I like, I should point out that I'd not have read this Sheffield University presentation without him, it's very interesting.  I also very much enjoy his cargo bike tales, which feature a Larry vs Harry Bullitt).

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Friday, February 11, 2011

From Kitsune Noir: Cliché!

A charming little video (click the link) by French animator Cédric Villan - France, Seen from Abroad.

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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

One Person's Practicality...

Just as those at the extreme of the "Roadie" spectrum fetishise the reduction of weight, and addition of crabon to the bicycle and its components, to the point that it makes less and less sense[1], so the extreme utility cyclist values "practicality" above all other considerations.

This is, however, a very specific brand of practicality.

I was musing on this following a recent discussion on internally geared hubs (hereafter, IGH) which are valued variously for their minimal maintenance requirements, ease of shifting (the chain does not have to be in motion to change gear[2]), the fact that "roadies" don't use them (a somewhat spurious contention, given the reception given to the Shimano Alfine equipped Cotic Roadrat and On-One Pompetamine among certain sections of the lycra wearing fraternity) and their presence on the archetypal "Roadster" type bike (although some argue that this is a single speed, with a coaster brake).

As Bike Snob NYC once pointed out, there can be a tendency to define a quality in terms of its opposite.  Don't like the stripped down, narrow tyred, mudguardless road bike? Then ignore the in-between options and ride a heavy, Dutch style city bike! (BSNYC actually uses the word "Tank", as I recall - unfairly, as there's a real pleasure in this type of bike, in the right situation). 

To me, "practicality" is more than the opposite of what the "sport cyclist" is up to.  Grant from Rivendell wrote an interesting piece on hub gears last year, when answering some reader questions - you can read the whole thing here.

As he points out, if you genuinely have no time for, or no interest in, maintaining a bicycle, or ride in really appalling conditions, a hub gear can make sense.  The latter is, I think, why an IGH is great for a Brompton - the drivetrain is so low, thanks to those 16" wheels, that is gets really filthy, really quick - on a 700c, or 26" bike in normal conditions, I don't think that applies.  With IGH, you can also do nifty things like adding a chain case, which means you no longer have to tuck your trousers into your socks, a huge sartorial gain, so long as you wipe any muck off your chaincase, I guess.

Of course, there is a trade off - you add a piece of complex machinery to the bike that, should it go wrong, needs specialist, probably expensive, attention from someone who knows what they're doing.  You also complicate one of the most simple repairs anyone can do on a bike, namely that of fixing a puncture.

The trade off for the derailleur geared bike is an increased level of care (wiping the chain with a rag & re-oiling after riding in the wet - although I have to do this on my IGH equipped Brompton too, as the chain is exposed) and some attrition of components.  I think the latter is overstated - the older systems (6 - 8 gear) last a good many miles and are cheap (Mrs Monkey's 7 speed transmission seems to have lasted forever, so my experience of buying 7 speed components is limited) 9 speed is durable enough, with chains costing, say £5 more, depending on what you buy - I'd balk at 10 speed, personally, for reasons of durability and cost (reduced, and increased respectively, not the right way round, surely!)  Maintaining the derailleurs themselves amounts to giving them a squirt of GT85 now and then around the pivot points, and maybe a yearly change of cables.

As I've said before, bikes are mechanically simple, and this is part of the joy of them. That one can generally see anything that goes wrong, and fix it is surely a contributing factor to the independence that a bicycle gives the commuter (or shopper, or well, insert other use here).  We don't have to worry about the black box somewhere inside our vehicle freezing up and stranding us on the way to work or to see Auntie Doris, waiting impotently by the road for the AA (or your favoured motoring organisation) to turn up.  Or leaving us stuck in the top gear of the hub, honking away like we're on a mountain time trial when just trying to move away from the lights. (Long story).  At least with a broken bike, you can push it to the destination, or use it like a Dandy Horse I guess, rather than waiting for a lone cyclist to offer to help push your stranded SUV out of the junction (another long story).

Which brings us back to practicality - it's a word that can, perhaps should, have a different meaning for all of us.  For me, it means things I can understand, maintain easily in minimal time, and repair or bodge easily in order to continue riding - in these straitened times, it also means things I don't need to employ a specialist to work on.   I trade off some other attributes to get that, in the same way that the rucksack using commuter favours a sweaty back over having to attach and detach luggage from his or her bike (not a trade off that makes sense to me, but there you go).  Similarly, I have a colleague who trades off a reduced likelihood of getting punctures, for the inability to remove his tyres without 30 minutes of swearing and 2 or 3 broken tyre levers.  On the Brompton, I trade some of the attributes of my full size commuter for the ability to get any train (even the ones where the bike spaces are full of luggage, of which there are a great many lately), take a bike where I can't be sure there'll be decent bike parking, and so on.

Practicality and utility aren't, I'd argue, one size fits all definitions - think about what makes your cycling life easier, and define them yourself.

[1] Some savings being equivalent to emptying your bladder before a ride- a measure that should also be far cheaper, and make the ride more comfortable into the bargain.

[2] A mixed blessing - grand if you're in the right gear before starting a hill, but if you choose wrongly, leaving you with a significant loss of momentum half way up, as you struggle to unweight the pedals enough to allow the change of gear, without losing too much forward/upward motion, on a Brompton at least.

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From Urban Velo: The Long and Triumphant History of Women in Cycling

Links to a piece on Streetsblog on the effect of the bicycle on women's lives at the turn of the last century.

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