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Wednesday
Jan172007

The Highway Code

I am not one of those English people who live in the US and constantly compare the two countries, cultures, or lifestyles. I have lived here for 28 years now, if anything it is England that now seems foreign to me. You will never hear me compare Cadbury’s chocolate with Hershey’s for example, or argue that one is better than the other.

One simple rule I do follow; when in England the coffee is so bad I drink tea. When in America the tea is so bad, I drink coffee. Another I would argue is a good thing in the UK, is something called the Highway Code.

It used to be a little printed book given out to everyone who drove a car, in fact learning the Highway Code was the first step required in getting a driver’s license. It was also available to any road user; kids in school would be given a copy. These days it is also a website.

The Highway Code is a British Government entity, the website URL ends in .gov.uk. The great thing about it is that it doesn’t just include car drivers, but all road users. It is a book of rules for cars, motorcycles, cyclists, pedestrians, and even horses on the road. There can be no argument that bicycles and others have a legal right to be on the road, a government publication says it is so.

With that right to be on the road comes a set of rules and laws that you must follow. I was amazed when I first came to the US to see bikes on the sidewalk, bikes on the wrong side of the road. Even when I started riding with the local racers in New Jersey, I was surprised to see them ride through red lights.

On the home page of the Highway Code website, about the third paragraph down it states that some of the rules are the law and to break them is a criminal offense, with fines, or even prison sentences. The rules that are the law are indicated on the website by the words MUST and MUST NOT in red type. Here are some of the must obey rules for cyclists:

Rule 46: At night your cycle MUST have front and rear lights lit. It MUST also be fitted with a red rear reflector (and amber pedal reflectors, if manufactured after 1/10/85).

50: You MUST obey all traffic signs and traffic light signals.

54: You MUST NOT cycle on a pavement. (The pavement is the sidewalk in England.)

This law is good because you don’t get idiot motorists yelling at you to get on the sidewalk, because everyone knows it is against the law, and a cyclist would be fined for doing so. It is also against the law in most of the US but no one enforces it.

55: You MUST NOT cross the stop line when the traffic lights are red.

As for riding on the wrong side of the road towards oncoming traffic; it is so blatently obvious that it is not even mentioned.

In the rules for drivers section it is interesting that the following advice is included:

Rule 139: Give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would a car when overtaking

I particularly like that one. “Give at least as much room as you would a car when overtaking.” It almost has the Biblical overtones of “Do as you would have done unto you.” Can you imagine the average car driver’s reaction if someone passed them missing them by inches? It would initially scare the crap out of them.


187: It is often difficult to see motorcyclists and cyclists especially when they are coming up from behind, coming out of junctions and at roundabouts. Always look out for them when you are emerging from a junction.

188: When passing motorcyclists and cyclists, give them plenty of room. If they look over their shoulder whilst you are following them it could mean that they may soon attempt to turn. Give them time and space to do so.

189: Motorcyclists and cyclists may suddenly need to avoid uneven road surfaces and obstacles such as drain covers or oily, wet or icy patches on the road. Give them plenty of room.

Need I say more to sing praises to the British Highway Code?

Footnote: As the majority of readers of my blog are from the US, I flipped the pictures to show traffic on the right side of the road.

Monday
Jan152007

Lowcountry Bloggers


Last evening I had the pleasure of meeting some fellow Lowcountry Bloggers for the first time when we got together at the Madra Rua Irish Pub in North Charleston. I have made so many new friends by way of my blog and it was a rare delight to actually get to meet some of them.

I borrowed the picture of the gathering from Joan as mine didn’t turn out all that good. I may be many things, but photographer is not one of them. That’s me on the extreme left gently easing my lovely wife Kathy forward so I can get my smiling face in the picture.

Two people it was especially nice to meet were Vera and Heather as they have been known to post the occasional comment on my blog. With my blog aimed primarily at bike enthusiasts, it is rewarding when non-cyclists find my writing interesting enough to comment.

The thing that struck me about this group was there were no middle aged people there. There were the very young, the young, and then the older, young in spirit people like myself. So often these days, I find in a group like this I am probably the oldest in chronological years, but talking to Chuck a retired journalist and photographer, he echoed my sentiments exactly when he stated that one secret to staying young is “Don’t hang out with old people.”


The above picture taken by Chuck, shows me talking with fellow Englishman, Geoff who admitted he is not old enough to grow a decent mustache yet. In the foreground on the left are Notoriously Nice Mike, and Vera on the right seated next to me.

Two people there were not strangers; Janet and Jason I know from a local writer’s group. There was one other bike rider in attendance named JJ; he said he owned a Bianchi and was on the look out for one of my frames.

I had interesting conversations with George, Josh, and Eugene and many more I haven’t mentioned here. I can’t help feeling the circumference of my circle of friends just grew a little.

Friday
Jan122007

Willard Wigan

It has long been my belief that there is only one creative source in the Universe and artists are simply vehicles through which art appears. It is a theory that formed the story line of my novel, Prodigal Child. The Native American speaks of “hand magic” when the hand automatically follows what the mind is creating.

This was further brought home to me a few days ago when I discovered the remarkable work of Willard Wigan, born in Birmingham, England in 1957. He creates tiny sculptures measuring a few thousands of an inch. The following quote is from his website:

“His work is ground-breaking - partly because of the astounding beauty of vision which challenges the belief system of the mind and partly because it demonstrates that if one person can create the impossible, we all have the potential to transcend our own limiting beliefs about what we are capable of.”


The Statue of Liberty in the eye of a needle

 

The cast of Peter Pan on a fish hook

 

Child with a balloon on an eyelash

 

Adan and Eve carved from a pencil lead

 

Elvis on a pin head

Tiger in the eye of a needle



More of Willard's micro sculptures can be seen here.

Wednesday
Jan102007

Its not April Fools Day already, is it?


I know this has appeared on several other bike blogs but I must add my random thoughts on the subject. I keep looking over the Thrust-Pac website, and thinking this has to be a joke, right, they can’t be serious. If it were around the 1st. of April, I would say, “Definitely a spoof.”

I lived in California for fourteen years and still have many friends there, so I hate to generalize, but the Golden State really does have more flakes than a box of cereal. I mean you would have to smoke some serious shit to come up with an idea like this.

I quote from the website: “The Thrust-pac pushes you forward on any device of your choice...bicycles, skates, canoe/kayaks, scooters, wheelchairs, skis etc.”

Wait a minute, back up there. Did they really mention wheelchairs? Retirement homes could invest in one of these and leave it by the front door, just in case one of the old folks wants to make a quick trip to the grocery store.

Just leave a set of roller blades with it for the seniors who are not wheelchair bound. And for everyone else if any of the above listed devices are not suicidal enough for you, how about hang gliding.

I couldn’t help but notice there are many pictures on the website, some taken in famous locations, but none of anyone actually in motion on a bike, skateboard, or skis, etc.

One question I have, if the throttle is operated by flexing the index finger, what happens if you suddenly grab the brakes as in a panic stop.

I hope they are geared up for some serious production, because I can really see people beating their doors down to buy this one at $895 for the starter model. That doesn’t include the cost of the bike. Are they kidding, if you want to be motorized, $895 is close to the price of a nice little Vespa scooter.

Of course I agree $895 for one of these will buy you a lot of attention, and that’s probably what those behind this little venture are banking on. That they are not the only flakes in California with too much time and money on their hands.

Sunday
Jan072007

Aero Bikes: History


Here’s a little more on the history behind aerodynamic bicycle frames; a subject that I touched on in my previous blog about the US team bikes.

In the mid 1970s there was a craze for drilling holes in components to save weight. Soon no component part of the bicycle was left untouched, with the possible exception of handlebars and stems for obvious reasons; although a few riders with death wish tendencies even tried that.



Steel frames were not immune, with cutouts in the bottom bracket shell and lugs. Towards the end of the 1970s I saw a few British Time Trial Frames with slots cut in the head tube, and matching slots in the steering column inside.

Soon bikes had so many holes in them, they didn’t have a shadow.

Aside from reducing the reliability of the frame or component, people began to point out that any gain in weight saving was offset by the increased air turbulence and the resulting drag of air passing through slots and holes.



People began to think seriously about aerodynamics. At the same time the East Germans were experimenting with aero bikes and helmets; I was one of the first in England to work with the idea in the late 1970s. I made a press tool to form round tubes into an oval shape. I also added an aerofoil behind the head tube and bottom bracket shell.

After the US team bike fiasco I lost interest but I do remember building one at the end of 1980. I had just started work for Masi in Southern California, and they had a sample set of aero tubes. (Japanese I believe.)

I built one Aero Masi frame for the New York Show in February 1981. It was built into a complete bike, light blue in color, and with all the Masi decals it was a very unique and classy looking machine. I wonder where that one is now; definitely one of a kind.


The aero steel frame never really caught on and was only around for about two or three years. The tubes were difficult and therefore expensive to produce. The frame had to be of a lug-less construction, not conducive to mass production. The biggest drawback was the extra weight because the tubes had to be straight gauge. They couldn’t be double butted like round tubes.

Footnote: The pictures are of an English built track pursuit frame built around 1978. Note the extended seat tube, round at the top to accept the seat post. The fork crown was a modified Ron Kitching crown that took the old style narrow Reynolds fork blades, and was hand filed into the aero shape. Also, see details of the aerofoil behind the BB and head tube.