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Saturday
Dec022006

My Father


My father died in 1996 and it is not unusual that I would be thinking of him at this time as today was his birthday.

I am who I am today because of my father. Because of him I got into cycling and later racing, which led to framebuilding. Therefore, if not for my father I would never have built frames and would not be writing a bicycle blog.

For most of my early years he was gone. Called into the British army at the start of WWII, was gone for almost five years, and then came home briefly before going away again as part of the Normandy Invasion. I was nine years old when the war ended and he came home for good.

The only existing pictures of my father and me together are baby pictures like the one above. I can’t help thinking how proud he looks holding his infant son. Later our relationship would degenerate into mutual feelings that would vary somewhere between a strong dislike and deep hatred.

He was a cruel, sadistic man who one time stubbed a lighted cigarette on the back of my hand, just because he though it funny. He was an ex-amateur boxer, and wanted me to take up the sport.

At age, 11 he would have me jump rope for an hour at a time. We would put on boxing gloves and he would spar with me; invariably he would become angry when I didn’t do as he showed me, and would punch me real hard. I was knocked unconscious on several occasions.

My father never owned a car or learned to drive; a bicycle was his only transport to get to work each day. I will say one thing for my father he worked extremely hard; if he lost a job he would find another very quickly. He was a laborer with very few skills and worked a series of back-breaking, hard, menial jobs.

At times he worked long hours and made good money. He was generous with his money; incapable of showing love, I think he gave money away in lieu of affection. I was age 13 when he bought me my first brand new bike; it was a Hercules Roadster.

Not one piece of aluminum on this bike, even the mudguards were steel; it had a three-speed hub gear, and must have weighed 40lbs.

This bicycle became my escape from the torment at home. I had school friends who lived as far as 15 or 20 miles away and I would ride over to spend an evening with them, often it meant riding home after dark.

Weekends it was not unusual for me to ride 100 miles on my own. I can remember getting severe bouts of the bonk, (running out of fuel) and knocking on a stranger’s door to ask for food.

At age 15 I was attending a technical school, learning engineering. The school building was part of a complex that included a community college. Some of the older students that attended the college owned racing bikes with names like, Paris, Hobbs of Barbican, and Claud Butler. At every opportunity I would be drooling over these bikes; it was the start of a love affair that still lasts to this day.

My father came through again and bought me a modest Dawes lightweight, with a four speed Simplex derailleur. I joined a cycling club and started racing at age 16. With all the miles I had done over the years I did well and won a few club level races, and for the first time in my life people were telling me I was good at something.

Even my father showed some interest as long as I was winning, but when I didn’t he would tell me I was useless. More than anything, I wanted him to come out and see me race; but he never did.

At age 16 I began work as an engineering apprentice, and rode my bike to work every day. I arrived home one day and my mother told me my father had been involved in a serious accident at work.

He worked in an iron foundry at the time, and he and another man opened the door of the blast furnace. There was what is known as a blow back, and the two of them were completely buried in hot coals. Coworkers pulled them out immediately but they were seriously burned from head to toe.

My immediate thought was, “I hope the bastard dies.” Then I quickly saw my mother’s concern, and realized for the first time that she truly loved him. I had always assumed her feelings for him were the same as mine. My mother, who also suffered abuse, would constantly vent her frustrations over my father, with me. A form of emotional incest that was her only relief, but constantly fueled my hatred for the man.

I went to visit him at the hospital; it was a surreal experience. I saw a large piece of featureless blackened raw meat sitting up in bed; the eyes and the voice were all I could recognize, and a cigarette, stark white by contrast, sticking out were a mouth should be.

This was a day after the accident and I can only imagine the tremendous pain he must been in. But you never would have known it as he casually talked to me as if nothing had happened. To show pain would have been to show emotion and a perceived weakness. He was left with bad scars on his arms and body, but his face healed completely unscarred.

I left home at age 19 and a few years later moved away. After that I never saw my father for 25 years. I was living in California and sometime after my mother died in 1982 I wrote to him. I tried to come to terms with our relationship but later when I visited with him, the hatred and nastiness on his part was still there.

We talked about my childhood and he could not accept that he had done anything wrong, let alone ask for, or accept forgiveness. I had to wait until after his death to finally forgive him. Forgiveness is more for the sake of those sinned against, than for the sinner.

In 1996 he went for routine surgery for a bladder problem; there were complications and he had a second operation. His heart gave out under the anesthetic; he was 86. A good age considering the alcohol and tobacco abuse he had put his body through during his life.

If there can be a defense for this man, who was after all human with human weaknesses. Like many others, he went through almost six years of hell during WWII, killing people, witnessing death on a daily basis. Then was expected to come home and live a normal life. He never talked of his own childhood, but I’m sure it was bad.

I often wonder what if my father had been killed in the war; I never would have known him. I would have these pictures of this handsome man, and my mother would have no doubt told me wonderful stories about him. I would have spent my entire life trying to live up to the image of a man far greater than he could ever be in real life. Would I have turned out any better, or worse?

My father really thought that what he did was for my own good; and maybe in a way he was right; I am happy with who I turned out to be. I would not wish my childhood on anyone, but having said that I would not change a thing either.

I got through it, I survived, and maybe I’m a stronger person because of it. My childhood and my father are long gone, and anyway I realized a long time ago that no matter how hard I try, the past will never get any better.

Thursday
Nov302006

Kiawah Island Bike Ban: Part 2


Apparently I made a wrong assumption when I saw the above sign, (See my previous post and the comments.) although I am not clear what assumption I was supposed to make. A sign that has a picture of a bike with a big red circle and a red line over it, still means “No Bikes” in my book.

I am told Kiawah does encourage bicycles; the ban on a stretch of road, that just happens to be the only way to get onto the island, is only temporary (Until a bike path is built.) to protect residents and visitors from themselves.

Another local blogger went to the trouble of finding a copy of the Kiawah bicycle ordinance on their website. In a meeting when the proposal was first put forward, Mayor William G. Wert made the following statement:

"Mayor Wert stated bike traffic has increased on the Kiawah Island Parkway and there have been two incidents wherein bike riders have been sideswiped or bumped by motorists. Mayor Wert stated he had personally seen children with training wheels on the roundabout and Parkway, as well as children being pulled tandem behind bicycles. It is a dangerous situation, he believed, and safety for residents and visitors is paramount. Mayor Wert stated he is asking Ms. Rucker and attorney Rhoad to put together an ordinance for the next council meeting for review, including some fines. Until the bike path is built, the Town will put signs up prohibiting bicycle riding from the main gate out to Freshfields on KIP. The signs will be made and erected this week and the ordinance will provide fines of $100."

End of statement. This is from a town that is "Bike Friendly?" I hope they never get un-friendly.

Banning bicycles from a section of road because cyclists have been hit by cars, is like banning pedestrians from walking downtown after dark, because some of them have been mugged.

Also you can go to just about any town in the USA and see children riding bikes where they should not be. Parents are ignorant if they do not train their kids in road safety, but banning all cyclists because of this is just plain wrong. If this was done everywhere, no one could ride a bike on the road again.

Bike paths are not the complete answer; bike lanes that are part of the road are better. With a separate bike path you get cyclists going in both directions, with runners and pedestrians all using the same path.

People on bike paths still get hit at intersections because inexperienced riders do not look behind them and blow right though the intersection without stopping.

The motorist turning right is supposed to yield but does not see the cyclist because they are on the bike path off to one side. With a bike lane that is part of the road or even no bike lane the cyclist is right in front of the driver and the motorist is aware of them.

A better set up is a bike lane that is part of the road; clearly marked and no more than three feet wide. Any wider and it becomes a receptacle for glass and trash swept from the road by passing traffic, and a separate sidewalk for runners, walkers, and children.

The real answer to road safety is education, education, education; both people who ride bikes, including children, and people who drive cars.

I wonder in Kiawah Island’s case, if a “Share the road” or a “Bikes on Road” warning sign would have been a better approach, instead of a temporary bike ban.

Tuesday
Nov282006

You can't get to Kiawah Island on a bicycle


Much of the coast of South Carolina is made up of tiny islands. Like Kiawah Island just south of Charleston and like many of these islands there is only a single access road.

This road is barred to bicycles as I found out when I rode my bike over there last Friday. There is a big sign spelling it out in black and white (and red) in a manner that even a cyclist who can’t read would understand.

Kiawah Island was named after the Kiawah Indians, a friendly tribe of Native Americans who once lived there. They traded with, and helped the early European settlers in the 1700s.

Now Kiawah is an exclusive golf community and has some of the most expensive real estate in South Carolina. The natives are no longer friendly; at least not towards bicycle riders, it seems.

Are they afraid that hoards of Lycra clad bike riders will terrorize their town, eating all their food? Then I read the fine print at the bottom of the sign.



“Bike Permit Required.” So that’s it. Maybe the Mayor has the bike rental business all sewed up and doesn’t want people bringing in their own bikes.

Presumably, one would have to ride into town to get a permit, and I wondered would I be arrested the moment I rode past this sign? I took a few pictures, turned around, and rode home.

The journey means more than the destination, I always say. It was a beautiful sunny day, close to 60 degrees, and I thoroughly enjoyed the ride there and back.

On the way home, I paused for a moment to take in the view from the Stono River Bridge, and took a picture of the river and the surrounding wetlands.

[Click on the picture to view a larger image. Use the back button to return.]

If Kiawah doesn’t want bicycles, oh well, it’s their loss. They might consider this for a TV ad campaign.

“Come to Kiawah Island. Bring your American Express and bring your car; because we don’t accept Visa, and we don’t allow bicycles.”


Tuesday
Nov212006

Positive Thinking

I was watching a story on TV recently about a young female soldier in Iraq who received serious head wounds from a roadside bomb. She miraculously survived, due largely to some skillful surgery by a field surgeon.

In telling her story she started out by saying while in Iraq she got up every morning and thought, “Is today the day I will die or be seriously injured.” That day came when an unarmored truck she was in, was blasted by a roadside bomb.

Even in a situation as fraught with danger as our military faces in Iraq, a person cannot live their life in fear. How is this all relevant to you and me riding our bikes every day? There are no roadside bombs to deal with, but every vehicle that passes is a potential bomb in what it could do to us.

But again a person cannot live their life in fear, and we cannot go out every day and think “Is today the day I will get hit.” Because trust me, hold that thought long enough and you will get hit. That is the way the Universe works, whether you believe it or not.

Most people believe in the power of positive thinking and know that good things come to people who think that way. We should also know that, unfortunately, a negative thought works too. The good news is that a positive thought will always erase a negative one. The danger is in constantly holding on to the negative.

Every time I ride my bike, or even when driving my car in rush hour traffic, I tell myself, “I am safe; nothing will happen to me.” I believe it, and therefore I am protected.

Another way to look at it is, even with all the crazy drivers out there, doing crazy stuff like talking on their cell phones and not paying attention, the chances of that person doing something stupid at the precise moment he or she passes you is still pretty remote. What I am saying is that the odds of you being hit by someone, or not, is in your favor.

It was just about a year ago when Jim Price, of Littleton, CO was riding in a bike lane when a 17 year old who was driving and text messaging on his cell phone drifted over into the bike lane and struck Jim, seriously injuring him. Later that day he died of his injuries.

Even with someone doing something as foolhardy as this and not paying attention to the road ahead, what were the chances that the 17 year old would wander into the bike lane at the precise moment that Jim Price was there? Jim was probably the only cyclist out there on that particular stretch of road for miles.

Had the driver wandered off course a split second earlier or later he would have missed Jim and there would have been no accident; just another close call. I am not speculating why this happened, only asking, what were the odds that Jim Price would be hit that day?

To sum up what I am trying to say here: Enjoy riding your bike and don’t live in fear. Convince loved ones and those around you that you are safe, so they are not holding negative thoughts through fear.

Tell yourself constantly, “I am safe, I am protected” believing it and knowing that the odds of you being hit are remote. Don’t let close calls phase you; close calls tell you the positive thinking is working.

Wear highly visible clothing, place yourself where you can be seen, and be predictable; give clear signals. And remember, shit doesn’t just happen; negative thinking causes shit to happen.

Sunday
Nov192006

KOF: Kind of Funny


I kept seeing the abbreviation KOF on Classic Rendezvous Bike List. Not knowing what it meant I was puzzled when I saw it linked to my name.

So I had to email my friend Dale Brown, webmaster of the CR site and ask, WTF does KOF mean?

Dale emailed back with the answer “Keeper of the Flame.” Referring to those responsible for keeping alive the craft of building hand brazed bicycle frames.

As I retired from framebuilding in 1993 I fail to see how I can be referred to as KOF; my flame has gone out and there is not even a spark to light it.

However, I got to thinking maybe there is another meaning in my case. When I had my framebuilding business in California, I operated a strict no visitor policy.

The reason was simple. Framebuilding is a very labor-intensive business, and when people came to visit, they were not content with the two-cent tour and then leave; they wanted to hang out for most of the day. Result, no work was done that day.

Moreover, if I allowed one visitor I would have to allow everyone, which could amount to several each week. Customers would not be pleased if their order was delivered late and would hardly accept the excuse, “I had a lot of visitors this week, so your frame didn’t get finished.”

Building frames paid the bills; giving tours of my frameshop did not. It was hard to explain this to someone who showed up at my door, uninvited, especially if they had driven a great distance to see me.

I have received hate mail from at least one person who still holds a grudge after he was refused entry to my shop in the mid 1980s. Even though I have since tried to explain the situation and apologized for my rudeness.

So I guess in my case KOF should stand for Kranky Old Fart or maybe Kicker Out of Frameshop.