Dave Moulton

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What’s wrong with this picture?

The above picture is from an article in the New York Times titled “Moving Targets.”

The piece focuses on the turf war on our roads and city streets between cyclists and motorists. Negative stuff, which I hate; however, the negativity is not all biased towards one side or the other.

As they say in show business, any publicity is good publicity; at least the press is giving considerable space to the subject and possibly, if we get enough of it, people will begin to see how ludicrous the whole “Us vs. Them” situation is. We are all just people trying to get somewhere or other.

With high gas prices, we are seeing more bikes on the road, which is a good thing. Or it would be, except we now have a bunch of people in the mix who often don’t have a clue. Look at the guy in the above picture.

The traffic light in the background is about to turn red, which means this person on a bike was trying to get across the intersection while the light was against him. His near side pedal is at the bottom, not up where it should be, ready to push off when there is a gap in traffic.

And look what he has on his feet, flip-flops. In the midst of his scramble to get across the street, he is likely to stub his toe or lose his footwear altogether.

(On a totally irrelevant side note, I’m curious, don’t young guys get in fights anymore? You can’t kick someone’s ass wearing flip-flops. You can’t back up, and you can’t run away; you are screwed all around.)

Behind the cyclist, a lady in red is down on her haunches taking a picture, in the middle of the crosswalk just as the light is about to turn green and the yellow car waiting is about to run her over.

Of course she is a pedestrian and they don’t follow to many rules, but when people get on a bike and act with the mentality and lack of responsibly of a pedestrian, they are a menace to themselves and everyone else on the road.

This is what we are seeing, just pump the tires up and off you go.

“You can’t ride a bike in the city as an adult the way you did as a 10-year-old in a suburban cul-de-sac,” he said. “I see people riding like children on a sidewalk, or going the wrong way down a street.” (Cyclists should ride with traffic, not against it.) Bike Snob NYC

Or they ride their bike as they drive their car, in other words paying little attention to what is going on around them.

“They pull out without looking at traffic,” she said. “They don’t signal.”

Well of course they do, this is how they drive a car.

A pandemic of obliviousness, ear buds, texting, further ramps up the tension. Recently, Steve Diamond, ride coordinator for the Morris Area Freewheelers, a New Jersey cycling club, saw what he called a trisect of irresponsible cycling: “A guy riding his bike without a helmet, talking on his cell phone, with his kid in the bike attachment behind him.”

Is there anything those of us who a serious about our cycling do, amongst all this craziness?  We could lead by example, and start by watching our own behavior.

"The ability of drivers and cyclists to trash talk and then disappear into the anonymity of traffic further poisons the atmosphere."

“Share the road” means just that. We all learned about sharing as a kid, if we are not prepared to share, how can we expect others to share with us?

I was out riding alone last weekend on a busy two-lane highway, with a shoulder. I dislike habitually riding on the shoulder; too many drivers have their wheels over the edge, while driving too close the vehicle in front. I was out in the lane where drivers can see me, and where they have to make a conscious effort to go around me.

However, at one point I could see traffic coming toward me, and was aware of a vehicle slowing behind me. I moved over on to the shoulder to let him pass; he was towing a large boat, and gave a friendly little “Beep-beep” as a thank you.

He had recognized that I had made an effort to accommodate him, and just maybe here is one driver who will see cyclists in a different light in future.

We none of us have control over how others behave on the road, be they cyclist, or motorist. However, as individuals we all have control over our own behavior. I always find I can be assertive as I ride, but still show respect for other road users. By showing respect, I get respect.

I am appealing at least for this time, that any comments on this post be positive. There was enough negativity in the NYT article, and we all have stories of how some Bozo in an SUV tried to run us down. The bike blogosphere is full of such stories.

What have you seen, or done lately that sheds a more positive light on this whole crazy situation? What ideas do you have to improve things? I don’t know about you, but I am growing weary of reading stories of cyclists being run down, attacked, etc. etc, etc.   


My Brooks Saddle: Butchered but not Blocked

My Brooks leather saddle now has over 1,600 miles on it and is extremely comfortable. When it was new, it was hard, like sitting on a wooden bench.

Even so, it was comfortable and there was no soreness after riding. I was just aware that I was sitting on something pretty hard. It probably took about 200 or 300 miles before the hardness wore off. Now when I ride, I am not even thinking about my butt on the saddle.

Having decided to keep it, I cut the back and the nose off, which is what we used to do back when leather saddles were the only saddle to ride, during the 1950s and before. We usually rode a B17 Standard, and had to hacksaw off the bag loops.

There are no bag loops on the Professional model, which I have, so it was an easy matter to take a sharp knife and slice the rear overhanging leather flush with the metal cantle. The cantle is the curved metal piece that is the back part of the frame where the leather top is riveted.

Blocking was the other practice when leather saddles were the norm; cutting the back off was a prerequisite to this, and was probably how it got started. A wooden block was cut on a band saw, with a concave curve. The shape of the metal cantle was then altered by turning the saddle over, and hammering it into the concave block.

The most popular hammer for the job was a Thor Hammer,  which has a copper face on one side and a rawhide face on the other. Great care was needed in doing this as it was easy to get the cantle and the frame bent unevenly, resulting in a lop-sided saddle that was difficult to correct.

I don’t recommend this practice. One of the reasons a Brooks saddle is so comfortable is because the back part is wide and fairly flat. This means it supports the two sit bones that are part of the pelvic bone, (Left.) leaving the softer tissue that is the perineum clear of the saddle.

Once the saddle is broken in, the leather conforms to the shape of the pelvis, giving even more support and comfort.

The problem with many modern road saddles is that they are narrow and curved in shape and the sit bones come outside the saddle. The result is the pressure is on the soft perineum tissue. A super fit racing cyclist is riding hard most of the time, and much of his weight is on the pedals and handlebars.

However, for someone like me who rides at a more leisurely pace these days a wider, flatter saddle suits me fine. The other benefit of a Brooks saddle is that leather breathes, so it stays cooler in the summer heat; whereas, a plastic or gel-filled saddle holds the heat.

Cutting the back off my saddle is really a style thing, so unless you are a vintage poser, like me, it is not necessary. However, my spare tubular tire does fit better now. I carry one tire and CO2 pump and a spare cartridge, wrapped tightly in a piece of plastic, and secured under the saddle by a toe-strap.

You will notice in the top picture that nowhere is the tire touching the saddle or seat post. This is good because it is easy for a tire to chafe and rub through against a metal part.

One complaint I have with the Brooks is that it is longer than it needs to be, and as I ride a small frame, I find the nose of the saddle touches the back of my legs when I am climbing out of the saddle. By cutting the nose part off, I shortened it slightly.

The other suggestion I would offer Brooks, is that they re-design the frame to give it more rearward adjustment. Back in the day, frames had much shallower seat angles, but frames that are more modern are steeper.

The tools I used are shown above. A sharp knife, I recommend one with a stiff blade, as it is easier to keep the cut straight; I also have a diamond knife sharpener to keep the edge sharp. I used a woodworking file or rasp to even out the leather where needed. Also shown in the picture is the strip of leather that I cut off, with the Brooks nametag still in place.

I did this with the saddle mounted to the bike, as this is as good a way as any to hold the saddle firm. Please be aware as I was, that if the knife were to slip, it would, A.) Cut my other hand or some other part of my body; or B.) It would put a large gouge in the paint on the frame. I managed to avoid both by being aware, and careful.

My feelings are now the saddle is broken in, I will never go back to a plastic saddle. This is just me, a Brooks is not right for everyone, so if you decide to try one make sure you are going to keep it before you butcher it as I did.

If you want to see what the saddle looked like before I modified it, go to my previous post when the saddle was brand new.

More information on "Blocking and Butchering," on the Classic Lightweights UK site.


The Quest to be the Fastest Cyclist in the World

The picture above is from 1937. It shows Frenchman Albert Marquet setting a motor paced speed record of 85.3 mph. (139.9 kph.) Drafting behind a Cord car that has been rigged with box like structure behind the rear bumper.

A crude fairing made of fabric appears to be tucked into the rear doors; also note the extended exhaust pipe. The event took place in Los Angeles, California; I guess traffic was a lot lighter in 1937.

The quest to be the fastest cyclist in the world began in 1899 when Charles M. Murphy rode his bike behind a train on the Long Island Railroad, at Farmingdale. He covered a measured mile in 57.8 seconds (60 mph.) and from that day became famous Nationwide, known as “Mile a Minute Murphy.”

To achieve this feat, approximately three miles of wooden boards were laid between the railroad tracks to give Murphy a smooth surface to ride on. He was hauled aboard the pace coach by helpers, just before the track ran out, his feet still strapped to the pedals of his bike.

The next picture (Above.) shows Alf Letourner behind his pace car. On May 18th, 1941. Once more in California, near Bakersfield. Letourner set a new bicycle speed record of 108.92 mph. Note the size of his chainring, so large it almost touches the ground.

Forward to July 20th, 1985 when John Howard set a new motor paced bicycle record of 152.2 mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats, in Utah. This is the same John Howard who was on the US Olympic team, won the Ironman Triathlon in 1980, and marketed a line of bicycle frames I built under his name in 1983.

Unlike the previous riders mentioned here who, with the exception of the massive required gearing, rode pretty standard track bikes.  John however, rode a purpose built machine, built by Texas framebuilder, Skip Hujsak.

As I remember, John had this bike made for a previous attempt on this record, before 1983 when I first met him. He brought this bike to my shop sometime that year. It had a very long wheelbase for stability, the most noticeable feature was the two stage gearing.

The chainwheel mounted on the left side drove a sprocket on a counter-shaft behind the saddle and above the rear wheel. A chainring on the opposite side drove the rear wheel sprocket. The wheels were, I think, were some high performance BMX wheels, probably the strongest available at the time.

John also wore some serious safety gear, a full length, one piece, leather suit and a motorcycle helmet with a face shield. Unlike the previous record breakers shown here. Apart from a helmet, no other safety gear was used; they wore regular cycling clothes. They would have picked up some very nasty road-rash had they fallen at those speeds.

There were many more sucessful record breakers over the years, I have only touched briefly on four of them.

The first two historical photos are from the wonderful collection by Aldo Ross, you can view larger versions of the pictures here and here.

There is also a short video of John Howard's record breaking ride on YouTube.

Addendum Aug 11th, 2008

A commenter pointed out the current record holder Fred Rompelburg, who in 1995 reached a speed of 166.944 mph. (268 kph.) on the Bonneville Salt Flats. I was out of the bike business by 1995 and completely out of touch, which is why I didn't know this. The bike was built by the late Dave Tesch.



Cleaning up the Critical Mess

Before I wrote last Thursday’s post about Critical Mass, I knew it would not be popular, and thought about it long and hard.

I could write posts saying all cyclists are saints, all cops are bastards, and all motorists are morons. A large majority of readers would cheer, saying halleluiah and amen Brother Dave. The blogosphere is full of such posts.

However, would it make anyone think, or try to see the other side’s point of view? If I start tailoring my posts to try to please everyone, in the end I will please no one. Least of all please myself.

Not everyone was critical, and some realize my aim is to get past this “Them and us” attitude; try to see the other man’s viewpoint. We all have to coexist using the same roads, taking the stance that we have a right to be here, and you can go fuck yourself, serves no useful purpose.

Many have said Critical Mass is not a protest but a celebration of cycling. Why then do you celebrate during rush hour on a Friday evening, why not on a weekend?

Is cycling less fun on the weekend? I believe the real fun comes from the sense of power, brought about by causing the maximum disruption to the lives of other people. Sticking it to the motorist.

Probably the single most point I was criticized on in last Thursday’s post, was the fact that I chose not to come down hard on the New York cop who pushed the cyclist from his bike.

Those of us, who have reached a certain age, remember how things were, which in a way trivializes what is happening today.

As a young man in the 1950s, I was waiting on a London street for a girl friend; we were going to the movies. A police officer came along and told me to move. When I protested and told him I was waiting for my date, he punched me in the face.

Fast forward to last Thursday when I viewed the video of the NY cop pushing the guy from his bike, I simply saw it as a cop doing what cops do. My thoughts were “Big deal, I got punched in the face just for standing on the street.” I never said it was right, or said I supported with what he did.

If I was that bike rider I probably would have slowed down and waited until the cop had crossed the street, rather than try to ride past him. Like dealing with a mad dog, the sensible thing to do is stay clear and don’t make eye contact.

Times change, but the memories stay. Some readers may, and others may not remember the civil rights movement and the Vietnam Protests of the 1960s and 1970s. There is plenty of footage on U-Tube, like this one from Chicago, in 1968.

After viewing this, don’t you think people who were actually there in 1968, would look at the NY bike incident, and like me say, “At least the cop didn’t beat the guy with his Billy Club.”

Some may ask what does this have to do with Critical Mass? It has everything to do with it. Because of people like these protesters back in the 1960s, who faced severe police brutality, they paved the way for people to even hold an event like Critical Mass. I am telling you for sure, Critical Mass would never have been tolerated in 1968.

Freedom is not a God given right; there is nothing “given” about it. It was fought for, worked for, and earned; not only in foreign wars, but on streets of US cities like Chicago. Freedom is a delicate balance, and there are trade offs.

There was a time when people could leave their doors unlocked, and there was no need to lock your car or your bike when you parked it. We no longer have that freedom, that is, if we value our property. Crime increases because individual freedoms are for everybody, good and bad, and the police are not supposed to discriminate.

Criminals abuse these freedoms to further their own ends. While I am not going so far as to say Critical Mass participants are criminals, I would question whether they are abusing their freedom, and doing so at the expense of another’s freedom.

Like an individual’s freedom to get home from work on a Friday evening instead of sitting in traffic while a bunch of cyclists, exercise their right to have fun.

Freedom is often taken for granted, along with sliced bread and air-conditioning. Those of us who have lived without these luxuries, see events and freedom from a different viewpoint.


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?