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Monday
Aug222016

Uncertainty

I first arrived in the United States in January 1979. I flew into New York’s Kennedy Airport, and was picked up by my new employers, Vic and Mike Fraysee, owners of Paris Sport.

From there it was probably and hour’s drive to Ridgefield Park, New Jersey. About seven miles from New York City on the other side of the Hudson River. The frameshop where I worked was at the back of a bike store that the Fraysee’s owned.

The terms of my initial visa that I had when I entered the US, was that I would return to England before the end of the first year. I could then renew my visa and come back again.

I planned to return to the UK for the Christmas Holidays 1979, which gave me almost a year to work and save for the trip. By the fall of that year, it was clear money was going to be tight and I needed to find some extra cash to meet expenses.

On the corner of the same block where the frameshop was, there happened to be a large warehouse type building. It was home to a company that packaged Christmas wrapping paper. They were hiring seasonal part time workers for an evening shift.

And so it was, I started moonlighting. When I finished my day job building frames, I would work 6 to 10 in the Christmas wrapping paper plant.

It was probably around early November that year, as I took my one-mile morning walk to work, I rounded the corner just off Main Street, Ridgefield Park, to a scene of utter devastation.

The Christmas paper business had burned to the ground in a fire during the night. Only the four brick walls were standing, the roof was gone, and firefighters were cleaning up. All that was left of the place where I had worked the previous evening was a blackened, smoldering pile of rubble.

As I walked slowly past on the opposite side of the street, the cold realization was sinking in. I no longer had a part time job, no extra income, and possibly no Christmas trip to England.

However, within two weeks, the owners of the business had salvaged and repaired some of the machinery, and had started up again in another building close by.

With only a few short weeks left before Christmas, they were now desperate to replace their lost stock, plus make up for two weeks lost production. I not only got my part time job back, I was now working a full 8 hour shift, from 6pm. to 2am.

There was a feeling amongst the workers, of wanting to help the owners succeed. They had not given up, we were not giving up.

I was also working two shifts on the weekends. The result was I probably made more money than if there had not been a fire. I made the trip to England with cash to spare.

I often think of this incident and a quote in the form of a question,

“How boring would life be without uncertainty?”

 

We need certainty in our lives to feel secure. We need to be reasonably certain that we will wake up in the morning, and that our loved ones will still be there. That our job will be there and the building not burned to the ground as I found.

Then every so often, life throws us a curve, something unexpected. Without the unexpected, life would be boring. Curved roads are more interesting than straight roads, we don’t know what is round that next bend.

Within uncertainty, there is adventure, excitement. I have always found in the past whenever a relationship has turned sour, or I have lost a job, when I look back years later, it was for the good.

Disappointments, for the most part are only temporary. Quite often they bring about an outcome that is better than originally expected. Throughout my life I’ve had many disappointments, but very few regrets.

 

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Monday
Aug152016

The Grey Escape

The Grey Escape is a charming little documentary film about a group of volunteer cyclists delivering bicycle rickshaws from Denmark to neighboring Norway. They take with them as passengers, a group of elderly residents from a Danish retirement community.

The 250 km. journey started in Rende, Denmark, and covering around 50 or 60 km. per day, the group traveled north to Hirtshals, where they took the ferry to Norway. There the bikes were handed over to the local municipality of Arendal, where they will be used for trips with retirement home residents there.

Coming from Denmark, these elderly passengers had been cyclists all their life, so a trip like this must have brought back many happy memories. To once again feel the wind in their face. It was mentioned in the movie that cycling is to Danes what skiing is to Norwegians.

In one part of the film a commentator says, “They’ve cycled all their lives, and now they can’t do it anymore.” I wondered why? If someone has ridden a bike all their life, they must have a certain level of fitness. They don’t suddenly become disabled overnight.

In a country like Denmark, where cycling is the normal way people get around, I would have thought there would be a number of the elderly who still ride bikes. The only reason to stop is when a person can no longer stay upright, their eyesight fails, or they are too weak to turn the pedals.

The movie touched on a subject that is constantly in my own thoughts, especially when some of these retirees were close to my own age. This is a generation who grew up in the same period I did, and at least in Denmark they maintained a certain level of fitness through cycling.

Whereas, most of the same generation from other parts of Europe and the USA, never exercised a day in their life. These Danish retirees did appear more mobile than those I see of the same age group in the US, but they were still “Old Folk.”

Age is not just physical fitness and appearance, it is attitude. Who was it said?

“People don’t grow old, they only become old when they stop growing.”

The state, or society can provide care for the elderly, a place to live, food, a warm bed, etc. But society cannot provide a purpose in life, and independence. This is up to each individual, and what is more symbolic of independence than the bicycle.

 

The documentary is 28 mins long, some of the dialog is in English, and that which is not has sub-titles. There are more details here: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/thegreyescape

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Friday
Aug052016

The Logging Truck

I usually ride my bike early when temperatures here in South Carolina are still tolerable. On the rural roads I ride on, I encounter quite a few logging trucks, probably one of the heaviest loads to be found on the roads anywhere.

The reason for these logging trucks being, any undeveloped land in this part of the South is coved with dense forest with many old growth trees. The first steps to clearing the land for development, is to cut down the trees and transport them to a local paper mill.

Riding with my wife the other morning, I was aware of a logging truck coming up from the rear. The sound of the engine is unmistakable. This one was slowing. I could tell by the deep descending note roar the engine made as the driver shifted down his gears. At least three separate gear changes to get down to our speed of about 18 mph. or so.

The reason for his slowing. There was a steam of opposing traffic, maybe six or eight cars, and the driver obviously didn’t think it safe to pass. Actually he could have passed, this was a wide stretch of road, with a bike lane. (Which we were in.)

Instead this driver chose to err on the side of caution and wait, and I appreciated that. When the opposing traffic passed and the road was clear, I heard the engine rev as the process of shifting up through the gears to regain speed started. The driver took his truck clear over to the opposing lane to pass.

I gave the driver a thank you wave to let him know that I was aware of what he had just done, and how much I appreciated it. He gave a friendly “Toot-toot” on his incredibly loud truck horn, as if to say “You’re welcome.”

My wife remarked, “Now that’s what I call sharing the road.” “Damn right,” I replied.” 

 

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Monday
Aug012016

Maintaining my racing weight

 

A little less than a year ago I wrote about attaining my racing weight again. That was 154 lbs or 11 stone in the UK, the weight I was when I raced back in the 1960s and 1970s. Actually after writing that piece I continued to lose and my weight finally settled at 150 lb.

I have maintained that weight, within a pound or so either way, for a year now. Even through last winter when I wasn’t riding my bike as much. I weigh myself every morning the moment I get out of bed and log my weight with the date.

This may seem excessive to some people, but it does make it easier to maintain a target weight. If, for example, I eat out in a restaurant, I can practically guarantee I will be a pound or two over the next day. But ride a few extra miles on the bike the following day, or cut back on my food intake and I am right back where I need to be.

Without that daily log it would be all too easy to gain a pound a day, and be 10 lb. overweight before I know it. And quite honestly I don’t want to go back there again, not now that I have discovered how good it feels to be slim and fit again.

I will admit part of my initial motivation was vanity. I have always cared about my appearance.

And quite frankly a large belly and back fat handles hanging over my belt, I felt did not look good.

If vanity is a crime then I am guilty, but I look around me, and there is way too much “Visual Pollution” in this world without my adding to it.

All it takes to lose and then maintain a healthy weight is organization and discipline. And the discipline part gets easy after a very short time, as your body adjusts to the new food intake. I rarely feel hungry. Riding a bike has become so easy.

So often I hear from others my age that “Growing Old Sucks.” It doesn’t have to. I’m not saying everyone should do it, but I can recommend it.

 

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Monday
Jul252016

When science finds problems that don’t exist

Several people emailed me with a link to this article in Scientific American.

I am familiar with some of the people and the work outlined in the article, because five years ago I wrote a piece about it.

Jim Papodopoulis, (Left.) featured in much of the Scientific American article, wrote an extremely lengthy 2,200 word response in the comments section and invited me to reply.

At the time I stated that I was not prepared to write a similar length reply, but would discuss the subject over the phone. There never was a follow up phone call.

There is an old British saying that goes, ‘Bull shit baffles brains.’ And clever sounding waffle can impress, especially if published in a notable magazine. But analyze the piece and it says nothing of value. The SA article states:

Everybody knows how to ride a bike, but nobody knows how we ride bikes. 

Of course there are people who know how we ride bikes, but most just do and don’t try to over think it. One of the purposes of this blog is to explain the workings of a bicycle in a simple manner.

So how do we balance on a bike? The gyroscopic action of the spinning wheels is only one little piece of the equation. Actually, when riding slowly, (As slow as you possibly can.) The slowly turning wheels generate hardly any gyroscopic force, and so have little or no effect on staying upright.

It is a simple balancing act, like balancing an upturned broom on your hand. You constantly move your hand to keep it under the center of mass. (The broom head.)

In fact it is easier to balance a broom than it is to balance a broom handle without the head. Therein lies a clue. It is because the center of mass is high above the palm of your hand. Just as when riding a bike the center of mass, (The rider’s body.) is some four feet above the point of contact. (The tires on the road.)

It is almost impossible to ride a bike slowly in a straight line. It is a constant steering the bike left and right to keep the wheels directly under the center of mass. You can even ride slowly ‘no hands.’ It then takes movement of the hips and upper body to remain balanced. Much the same way as riding a skate board, which has very little gyroscopic help from its tiny wheels, or a surf board that has no wheels.

Then as you gather speed it is the momentum of the body’s mass that keeps you upright and going straight. The faster you go the easier it is to balance and to steer left and right by simply leaning left and right. A surfer too, when going slow is constantly moving his body to stay upright. As soon as he catches a big wave and is traveling at speed, he easily stays upright and steers left and right by leaning in that direction.

So how we balance on a bike is no huge mystery, it is a kin to surfing, skating, and many other human activities that become second nature with a little practice. And yes, things like frame geometry and gyroscopic action enter into it. Here is a link to a previous article I wrote on head angles and steering, that explains further. It also explains counter steer, which according to the Scientific American article is another mystery that no one knows about.

I did a quick YouTube search to see if there was any progress on the work on the “Riderless Bike.” I found this little video from last year.

The bicycle, one of the simplest and most efficient machines ever invented by man. Two wheels make it efficient, more efficient than three or four wheels that most other vehicles need to stay upright.

For all useful purposes it requires a rider in order to stay upright. And although it will stay upright for a brief moment without one, if it does not have a rider, what is the point of a bicycle or motorcycle? It is not a practical vehicle to carry anything other than a human passenger.

The bicycle is a mechanical extension of the human body. Riding one is a simple skill that even a small child can master. Once learned it becomes intuitive, a skill that lasts a lifetime, no more difficult than walking or running.

The bicycle has changed little over the 130 odd years since the chain driven bike appeared. There is a reason for that. It has to do with the old saying that goes. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Even if the math doesn’t add up.

I believe science, in this case, is trying to find answers to problems that don’t exist. The fact that the world wide bike industry is not exactly lining up to buy into the new tech is another clue that nobody cares.

 

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