Dave Moulton

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Thursday
Jul312008

Critical Mass: Stop now before someone dies

There were two serious Critical Mass incidents last Friday evening; one in New York, and one in Seattle. In New York City a cop was video-recorded knocking a cyclist from his bike, later the video appeared on U-Tube.

The incident in Seattle, I think is far more serious, but it has been overshadowed by the one in New York. I wasn't in Seattle so I don't know the details or who started it, but the facts appear to be that a car had its windows smashed, tires were slashed and the driver was attacked.

If someone runs over a cyclist by either by accident or deliberately, he can be prevented from leaving the scene until the police arrive. However, it is not okay to vandalize his car and hit him over the head with a U-lock; this is mob violence of the worst kind.

Critical Mass in the US needs to cease, it no longer serves any useful purpose. If there are more incidents like the one in Seattle, eventually someone is going to die. If a member of the public is beaten to death by a mob of angry cyclists, there will be a backlash against all cyclists, the like of which I find hard to even imagine.

There are enough people out there with a strong dislike even a hatred for cyclists, one that is bubbling just beneath the surface; the death of what would be perceived as an innocent citizen, and no cyclist would be safe anywhere in the US. It would be open season for bike riders on our roads.

The problem with Critical Mass is that it has no organization; it is a spontaneous form of protest. The danger is, with no one responsible for the behavior of individuals, violence can become just as spontaneous.

If no one is responsible, then everyone is responsible. It is time to protest against Critical Mass, to urge people not to participate. The idea has run its course and is no longer valid. It is no longer cool to be a part of a lawless mob that disrupts the normal way of life, pisses people off, and worst of all perpetrates violence.

I could maybe have a little more sympathy for the New York cyclist if he was not taking part in a Critical Mass ride, not my favorite organization. (Or rather disorganization.) I could also have a little more sympathy if it were not for the Seattle incident.

What I saw on the U-Tube video before the cyclist was taken down was a large group of cyclists taking up the entire street unnecessarily; they could have made the same point using half the street. What I saw after was no different from what I can see any evening on the TV program “Cops.”  People suspected of wrongdoing are knocked down and handcuffed all the time.

I keep reading wonderful things about New York City and the efforts they are making to accommodate cyclists. I am left to wonder what are these people protesting against, when NYC is really trying to improve the cyclist's lot.

Do you think maybe that same thought was going through the cop’s mind, just before he took out the cyclist?

 

Monday
Jul282008

You only know if you’ve been there, and done that

An Article in the LA Times last Friday by Joel Stein, titled "Taking all the fun out of Cycling.” Subtitled “Why would you watch the Tour de France without the doped-up athletes?

It is satire, even though labeled "Opinion." Good satire, is so subtle that you don’t recognize it as such until you read the whole piece. The result was that many cycling fans got bent out of shape, and probably after reading half of the article, sent off angry comments.

I saw the article for what it was, however, I did pick up on this single sentence in the first paragraph where Stein said:

I've been following cycling since 1994 and have learned to appreciate the subtleties of team strategy, drafting, counterattacks and a 20-cyclist crash down a mountainside.

I doubt that. Joel Stein like many journalists probably doesn’t have an inkling what it takes to even compete in the Tour de France, let alone win. To know that you have to at least be a cyclist, and one that can ride a road bike at a certain level.

That would be, one who has reached at minimum a level fitness and expertise to ride in a pace line, following a wheel within a few inches. A person can read, or listen to experts commenting on the Tour de France, who will tell you how drafting behind someone you are using 15% less energy than the leading rider.

Sounds easy, but only those who have been in such a pace line with riders who are fitter, and far stronger than they are, really know just how difficult and physically painful this can be. To appreciate what an extreme endurance sport bicycle racing is, it has to be experienced at some level.

In the late 1960s I held a Category 1 Racing License in the UK. There were three categories at that time, and to become a Category 1, a rider had to win or place in a certain number of races, and maintain that level. Early in 1968, I went to France with two other riders from my club to compete in a weekend two-stage race.

This was my first and only trip to race on the Continent of Europe. It was both a revelation, and a humbling experience. One that quickly made me realize how far superior the racing cyclists were on the Continent at that time.

Saturday’s stage was a 100 km. event (62 miles.) held on a circuit barely five miles around. In England road race fields were limited to forty riders. (Sixty in some larger events.) In this event in France there were 120 riders riding on narrow country lanes barely 12 feet wide. This experience alone was overwhelming.

The pace was extremely fast right from the start; I kept expecting things to settle down after a short while, but the pace never relented. I found myself near the back of the peloton, and had enough experience to know this was not a good place to be.

With so many riders on roads this narrow there were very few gaps for a rider to squeeze through to move forward. It was a matter of, seeing an opening, sprint through, and then wait for the next opening. All this while riding at a pace that was only slightly less than my maximum speed.

It took me two complete laps of the circuit, about ten miles riding at maximum effort, just to get from the back to the front of the field. Once there I found one of my team members who told me the field had split, and about 30 or 40 riders were somewhere out in front and already out of sight on this twisting narrow circuit.

By this time I was so exhausted it was all I could do to maintain my position and finish the race. The next day’s stage was a 185 km. (115 miles.) road race over hilly terrain; I was determined to do better than the day before.

There was a break early on in the race, and I decided not to chase. The problem was I did not know the course or the other riders; I had no way of knowing if the break was significant or not. However, after about two thirds of the distance covered, when a chasing group of eight riders formed, I followed.

I think I rode harder that day than I had ever ridden in my entire cycling career, but I was out classed in every way. I finally blew up completely, was dropped, swallowed up by the peloton, now moving at a pace similar to the previous day’s event.

Like a dose of salts, I went through the bunch and out the back. Struggling along on my own just trying to finish, came the final humiliation. I was caught by a rider with a flat rear tubular tire, going bumpedy-bumpedy-bump along the road.

I worked with him for a while, but when we came to a significant climb, he rode away from me. Yes, with a flat tire. I realized that weekend, the only way to compete at this level, was to move to France and race and train with these riders on a regular basis. This was not an option for me as I was married with two small children.

I never went back to ride there again, there was no point. I was in my early thirties probably at the highest level of fitness I would attain. These were French amateur riders, holding down day jobs, and training in their spare time. I found it difficult comprehend the level of the European Professional Riders.

When I read something by a Los Angeles journalist who has probably never ridden a road bike say, “I understand the nuances of bicycle racing,” I have to say, “I’m sorry but you only think you know what cycle racing at the Tour de France level is all about.”

I have been trying to think of another sport that calls for maximum effort over and over during the course of a day's riding. Then the riders rise the following morning to do it again, and again for about four weeks. This is the Tour de France; there is no other endurance event like it.  

         

Friday
Jul252008

A good reason not to ride on the sidewalk

An acquaintance recently started riding a bike. When he told me he was riding on the sidewalk, I explained this was not a good idea.

Most bicycle accidents occur at intersections and riding on the sidewalk actually increases the risk of being hit, because the cyclist is less visible to drivers of motor vehicles.

He said he was afraid to ride on the road because he might be hit from behind. I told him that car drivers will not hit cyclists as long as they can see them. I could tell at the time he was not convinced, and I warned him to be extremely careful.

About a week ago he was riding his bike on the sidewalk, going in the wrong direction; a car was stopped in a parking lot a short distance back from the road. As he approached, the car suddenly shot forward.

In all probability the driver was looking in the direction of traffic, saw a gap and drove forward to merge into traffic, not expecting a cyclist to be coming along the sidewalk from the opposite direction.

He didn’t actually hit the vehicle, but a combination of braking hard while trying to swerve around behind the car, sent him flying over the handlebars landing heavily on his back.

Police and paramedics were called and he was taken to a local hospital. He has severe bruising, and has since had to return to the hospital and have blood and fluid drained from a large swelling on his back.

He contacted a lawyer who checked the local city laws, and surprise, surprise, it is illegal to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk. He has no legal claim what-so-ever.

So, even though motorists will constantly yell at you to get on the sidewalk, and even though police will usually ignore you and not stop you riding there; it is not a good idea to ride on the sidewalk.

Besides being extremely dangerous, if you are involved in an accident, in most cities you are breaking the law and you do not have a legal leg to stand on. Insurance companies are not going to pay, and you may even find that you may have to pay damages.

Or, as this person has found out the hard way, in addition to his pain and suffering, he will now have to face some hefty medical bills.


 

Wednesday
Jul232008

Off to the Races

Up until the mid 1960s many cyclists in England did not own a car; to get to a race they had to ride their bike. Just like the cyclist in the picture above, sprint rims and tubular tires (Sprints and Tubs.) were too expensive for everyday use, and were reserved for racing only.

Training and commuting to work were done on HP tires. (Clinchers.) The racing wheels were carried on two wheel carriers attached to the front wheel axel; the wheels then fastened to the handlebars with a pair of toe straps. These wheels and tires were only used for the duration of the event.

Time-trials always took place at the crack of dawn, so it was usually dark when the cyclist left home; the rider above has a battery lamp clipped to his handlebars. Also note the bike has mudguards and a rear luggage rack; these would be removed before the race, and re-fitted after for the ride home. Below is another innovative way to get to an event.


The pictures are from the Bernard Thompson collection. Bernard, who died in recent years, was a freelance cycling photographer whose pictures appeared in Cycling Magazine, from the 1950s through the 1980s. More great photos can be seen on CyclingInfo.co.uk/blog.

Bernard Thompson probably made most of his income selling prints to non-famous club riders. There would be 120 riders in most open time-trials; his strategy was to stand at a point where riders slowed to do a u-turn in the road and had to call out their race number to an event marshal.

He took a picture, noted the rider's race number, and then got the rider's names and addresses from the race organizer. Sending out a mass-mailing, he probably sold close to 120 prints every weekend. It was special for a regular club rider to get a nice picture by a professional photographer.

The picture above is of me riding in the National Championship 12 Hour Time-Trial in 1953. You won't find it in this collection, but it is a Bernard Thompson photograph. It is one of the many thousands taken by him over the years.
I remember Bernard Thompson taking that picture as clear as if it were yesterday. I was about an hour into the event and this was the first turn. (On the Great North Road somewhere near Biggleswade, I think.) I was out of the saddle picking up speed again when I saw him take the shot.
Right after he took it, I nodded and gave him a little smile. I had no idea who he was, so I was thrilled the following week when I got a note in the mail from Bernard Thompson, the famous “Cycling” photographer.

Saturday
Jul192008

Welcome to Dave’s New Blogsite

 MovingNewSite.jpg

All the 274 posts from the old blogger site have been copied and transfered over here, along with the comments, so they are in both places. However, comments have been discontinued on the old site, but you can comment on old posts over here. And of course new posts will be added over here, there will be no more on blogger.

This site has my extended bio on its own page; there is also a “Discussion” page where you can post comments or questions about this new site, or on just about anything bike related. The links are top, left.

There is an “Archives” page and later I will categorize every post by subject. Also, as time permits and I learn how everything works, I will add a “Picture Gallery” page for bikes, and there will be a page where you can upload and send me photos and files.

Please remember to switch to http://davesbikeblog.squarespace.com in your RSS feed and those who linked to me on your blog please make the change. At the time of writing this I am still in the process of tranfering my links over.

Moving is a lot of work, even if it is just a virtual move.

Udate Monday 21st

I couldn't have picked a worse time to switch. After working all weekend to get the site looking the way I liked and transfering all the previous posts over from Blogger; early this morning Sqarespace, (My new host.) changed over to a new and improved version, and now I have to start over again and create a new layout.

Oh well, whoever said life was easy, please bear with me, and normal service will be resumed shortly, I hope.

Dave