Sunday, January 20, 2019

Gelid Mane

To commute by bike in below freezing dark one must be demented, desperate or devoted. Expect fingers and toes to be painfully stung along with any exposed spot. Deadly cold feels almost as if being branded by a red hot poker from hell. Easy to add a wool base layer beneath neoprene bib tights, tunic and windbreaker for arms, legs and torso, but what about fingers, head and toes? A slew of websites offer partial advice. Always asked to explain further, even though covered in book.

Head may be swaddled in a balaclava, plus a wool skull cap to ease brain freeze as long as helmet still fits, but prepare for helmet hair, an unmanageable mane of flattened straw and stubborn cowlicks, yet it’s wool you can grow and trim. However, doesn’t protect face. Wrap around safety glasses, clear or yellow for low visibility, at least hold heat and shield eyes. For ears, mouth, neck and nose, a foot wide fleece tube can be pulled up around cheeks; one guarantees it will become drenched with gelid exhale, wet freeze, but can be peeled and shifted however you please. By pursing lips you can redirect breath to avoid fogging lenses and momentarily blinding you, why you never use goggles unless easy to quickly remove. Sequence of donning correctly can confuse and consume time better spent dodging potholes on longer than normal trips.

Full fingered pittard gloves with leather palms that cyclists wear come Autumn and Spring don’t meet demand below 40°F, when insulated gloves must take over. Below 30°F, one might combine them or try a glove liner. Built-in wrist cinches on tunic wrap around gloves to keep cold from running up sleeves to which bicyclists are particularly vulnerable with hands ahead draped on handlebars. Whatever you do, avoid flat tires, misery for frozen fingers. Wheel set rigged for winter should include heavy tubes, Kevlar belted tires, and tire liners properly installed and pumped to normal pressure to prevent both pinch and puncture flats and provide extra traction. Some cyclists simply store equipment as soon as thermometer reading in Fahrenheit equals age in years, so deny self of all these trying travails. After a few miles body generates enough BTUs anyway to make bone-chilling rides tolerable.

At same temperature points, feet need similar protection. Calientoes, spandex cones, cover toes of cleats, thus a wind pierce preventative you can leave in place all winter, or you could slip into complete shoe covers each time you suit up. Below 30°F, neoprene booties insulate beyond. Likewise, socks go from flimsy polyester to heavy wool, some times both, wool over liners, whatever cleats will allow. Mountain bikers opt for heavy boots and ski paraphernalia. Since safety becomes priority over speed, they sacrifice streamlined for practicality. Only the best prepared or totally foolhardy venture out below 0°F, when breath turns instantly to ice, cable shifts balk, and chains grease freezes.

Depending upon gages, sensors and yardsticks at your disposal, you can collect all sorts of data, but is raw information always relevant? One cyclometer says both speed and temperature, but not whether frostbite will claim body parts or wind chill is too biting to bear. Know-how and logic preempt forecasts and reports. Microscopes reveal bacteria but don't segregate beneficial from harmful. Gyms are heated but harbor germs. Experts rather sell opinions or shut up. Wintery outdoors has wholesome fresh air to spare, better than rest of year. Scientists deny facts based upon whoever pays best. Denialists exist in cycling, who trade hyperbole and hysteria for sensible arguments from 7 decades of experience and research. Every activity possesses downsides and upsides, minuses and pluses, pain and pleasure, yang and yin. One has to question why anyone would expend a quarter century building a case for bicycling culture when most would rather risk their lives on tenuous technologies. Upon onset of winter every year you see scads of ads and articles explaining why motoring is as dangerous as mixing antimatter particles. Have biked through snow to bail out stranded drivers.

Michael Carabetta, Words to Ride By: Thoughts on Bicycling (Chronicle Books, 2017, 112 pp). Critics deride Carabetta’s compulsion to cite only the famous in this slim compilation of images and quotes. Out on a spin inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle? Maintaining balance as cautioned by Einstein? Blues beset best of bicyclists despite whatever incompatibility James Starrs expressed, especially in dead of winter with seasonal depression. Labann published 5 million quotable words on bicycling, entirely original and open source, which with zero risk of plagiarism Carabetta never once cited.

Isaac Potter, The Gospel of Good Roads: A Letter to the American Farmer (League of American Wheelmen, 1891), cajoles with common sense, dazzles with statistics, pressures agribusiness to invest, promotes sympathetic political candidates, and reaps benefits for bicyclists by piggybacking scot free on costs to commerce. And what an impact it had! From it flowed pavement from local roads to national highways. Potter was merely a paid spokesperson for the well healed, Hannity of his day. Anthropologist Margaret Mead may have circuitously said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has,” but should doubt she meant allowing the already affluent to steal from public for personal gain under a guise of common good.

The Good Roads Movement ended officially in 1925 when the Interstate Highway Program began to ensure state roads aligned at state borders. In the last decade alone costs to nation totalled $10 trillion, at least triple that in last century. With every mile of highway now carrying an average $10 million price tag, expenditure can only rise to an unsustainable stratosphere. Meanwhile, local roads declined, railroad and tow canal rights-of-way were abandoned, and stone bridges crumbled under relentless freezing/thawing and rumbling commerce. States have begun to revive them for bicycling, mostly because it demonstrates legal compliance.

Federal laws since 1990 require bridges, highways and interstates to provide reasonable alternatives for cycling and walking. By law, lightly trafficked neighborhood streets need no further accommodation, unless less than one lane wide in each direction, when a low cost bikeway can alleviate bike and pedestrian safety issues. Roads that connect housing tracks can be paralleled by bike lanes that also serve as sidewalks with bus stops. Imagine getting stranded in a vehicle and wondering how you’d safely exit highway on foot? Instead, planners specifically restrict, falsely assuming motorists never need to, though many of the nation’s annual 10,000 pedestrian fatalities are directly due to this negligence.

With bike lanes taking up space on avenues and boulevards, controversies crop up. Motorists, who can never be relied upon to obey rules, drive and park in them, figure they’re entitled to all pavement, since they pay nearly $9,000/year for this privilege, and resent sharing. It becomes a constant battle to convince them otherwise, especially when bikeways and sidewalks, pavement not meant for motoring, don’t get plowed, so traffic lanes are all that’s left for cyclists and walkers to use, often until April. Winter impedes basic mobility for all alike, so motorists must adapt, be patient, expect the unexpected, slow by half, and wake up earlier to make up time needed to escape gridlock and scrape ice. Forced into closer proximity, frigid starts and fogged windshields threaten everyone’s passage. Bicyclists ought to dress bright and use a light both back and front; cute units can be recharged during work shift for home commute. Beware, because sensible advice nobody’s obliged to bear will never ensure anyone will care that you get there.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Cross of Lorraine

Just as you must exert yourself or lose muscles mass, you must exercise freedom or invite tyranny. Many don’t appreciate what blessings liberty brings, consider how hard won it was, or know what to do with talents over time, other than feed face and get off. Some figure entitlement entails Christmas stalkings, that is, menacingly following footsore shoppers to find sole parking spot during busiest buying, and New Year’s rituals involving lemony risotto and lucky lentils, which allegedly evoke pennies from heaven, plus making resolutions they never plan to keep. One could instead campaign for civility, comment upon what authors post on line, read or write a book about cadence and shackles, or simply bike aimlessly or for charity. B&C was open to discussion for a decade, but so few did blog got suspended. Was that what this web of 8 billion wanted? Hard to believe. Or maybe silence implies, “No objections; press onwards, limitless. Nihil obstat, imprimi potest.”

Freedom will always be measured by how much responsibility one assumes. Government does anything it wants because of dominance it presumes. Individuals seldom feel so empowered. Authority begs abuse, bitterness, challenge, dismissal, hate, jealousy, and resentment, so tends to be avoided by everyone but the brave or invincible. It’s easier to do nothing, or whatever you’re told, until you start counting what you’ve forfeited or sacrificed, or suddenly drop dead. In short term, some rather go rogue, jump bail if ever caught, migrate to countries without extradition, settle for stupidity instead of community. Freud spoke of Civilization and Its Discontents, problems of perpetually stifling pleasure principle, and suffering that living among others causes. Isn’t society the primary source of pleasures: Entertainment, food, interaction, necessities? Living alone would be unbearable.

Max Ginsburg (cover illustration) for juvenile novel by Jan O'Donnell Klaveness, Beyond the Cellar Door (Scholastic, 1991, 186 pp.), in which children imagine, magic Victorian house gradually delivers, and past influences present. In actuality can anyone ever escape origins?

During Labann’s impressionable teens someone emphasized the importance of reading and writing. Skills accordingly practiced served as a career, but stripped boyish innocence and joy. Fledglings forced to confront depressed cranks who comprise panoply of wordsmiths would be hard pressed to stress happiness over dystopian duress. Novels almost always depict protagonists in darwinian struggles against an adversary or adversity, seldom coworkers on tireless teams interacting nicely, which better represents livelihoods of majority. One deems cooperative routines and repetitive regimes too dull to divulge. But the crux of it is a cross you must bear, duties you can’t deny, ever more restrictive obligations, exact opposite of autonomy: martyrdom or self imposed slavery.

General de Gaulle chose Croix de Lorraine (originally D’Anjou) as a standard for Free French against Nazi occupation, stymie to their swastika. It became an emblem of liberation for which French forever aspire along with equality and fraternity. Croix D’Anjou traces back to crucifixion of Christ, with a high placard and longer crossbar: heaven above earth below. Joan of Arc, patron saint of France, grew up in Lorraine village of Domr√©my, later under German control until reunified by WWI. She donned male armor, led France into 15th Century victory, so was burnt at stake as a lesbian teen heretic by a grateful nation with impotent patriarchs. Doesn’t inspire loyalty, not one bit. Ashes disappear; cross remains. Tour de France, which intentionally visits outlying departments, promptly passed through Lorraine in 1919 and several times since (as image shows). Resembles Labann’s latest holiday ride probing borders, ringing providence. This crucial adaptation now appears on cognac bottles, because bravest prefer brandy, yet has increasingly been embezzled by cookie cutters, dastardly evildoers, and dope smugglers who cynically pretend to be modern day rebels, while fascism stages a comeback versus a browbeaten, obese, stoned democracy.

Long ago Labann canonized the bicycle as a freedom machine, but only where state provides supportive infrastructure, where you can dodge vehicular entanglements. Instead of advocating equal accommodation, smear campaigns by Big Oil, Cripple A, and GM attempted to discredit cycling by exaggerating disadvantages without offending new customers, particularly during 1970’s bike boom, when adults began to recall a cheaper, safer, simpler alternative. They should have targeted heavy trucking; easier to pass bicyclists, often outside travel lane altogether, than tractor double tandem trailers and wide bodies that occupy entire road. Drug cartels followed automotive example: Offer affordable product until users are invested, overwhelm competition, then raise price until consumers are enslaved. Average wages can no longer afford $8.5K/year costs of ownership. Only biking and walking truly offer autonomy and mobility.

Spin spontaneity proves manumission is possible. But owners of yore freed slaves as punishment, left them to fend for themselves or starve, palliated sting of own guilt at victim’s expense. Cycling against a motorized tide connotes time alone for which you must atone. Religious scholars rate free will as innate, yet use doctrine as a stalemate. Politicians quote Bible as they legislate perks and misappropriate funds. Evil and good are supposed to be yours to choose, though hint good advice might impoverish or inconvenience and most will refuse. Consequences could leave you with nothing left to lose. Crossover will kill a rover, instill talk of a crosswalk, never limit outrageous motorist offenses, since insurances pledge all necessary defenses.

“Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose. Nothin' ain't worth nothin' but it's free... I'd trade all my tomorrows for one single yesterday... Feelin’ good was good enough for me, good enough for Me and Bobby McGee.” Grateful Dead, The Golden Road, Warner Brothers, 1971

"Well, I sit and I pray in my broken down Chevrolet, while I'm singin' to myself, ‘There's got to be another way.’ Take away this Ball and Chain. I’m lonely and I'm tired, and I can't take any more pain... I've searched to find the perfect life: A brand new car, a brand new suit, I even got me a little wife. But wherever I have gone, I was sure to find myself there. You can run all your life but not go anywhere.” Social Distortion, Social Distortion, Sony, 1990

“Some things are better left unsaid, if that were true, then I'd be dead. More sad nights at the hospital, fever swarming around my collarbone. Always waiting for the death of, the death of love. Get up, get up. You know it's true.” British grunge band Gallows, Cross of Lorraine, Gallows, Bridge Nine Rec., 2014

“Just remember what it was like astride that Yellow Bike: First freedom, second life. All the places I could ride, leaving early, packing light. That little ache inside. My kingdom for someone [with whom] to ride.” Pedro the Lion, Phoenix, Polyvinyl Rec., 2019