Who are you calling Fast and Fearless?!

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I am a careful rider, who looks ahead and tries to foresee possible danger spots in order to avoid them. After decades of riding in traffic, I feel competent and confident. I was surprised that cycling advocates characterize riders like me, who are comfortable of riding on most roads, as “Fast and Fearless”.

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“Fast and Fearless” appears to be a reference to “The Fast and the Furious”, a movie franchise about illegal street racing in cars (above). The movies show the sort of thing that any responsible driver would abhor, rather than the skills and control that real car racers possess. Unfortunately, this was affirmed by the recent death of the lead actor in a fiery car crash while driving on the open road.

I am still stunned that experienced, confident cyclists are compared to illegal car racers who are a menace to all, including themselves. I am even more surprised that this characterization has made it into official government planning documents for cycling facilities in Seattle, Portland, New York and probably elsewhere.

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Competent and Confident. I think this is a better term to describe riders who know how to cycle in traffic, and who weigh the risks and realize where the dangers lurk. We know it’s safer to take the lane at 20 mph than to weave in and out of parked cars at 7 mph. To understand why “fast” and “fearless” don’t necessarily go together, think about driving a car.

Imagine driving your car down the freeway at 20 mph, because you think it’s safer to go slow. You’d be much safer flowing with traffic at 65 mph. Nobody would label you “Fast and Fearless” when you drive at the speed limit. Everybody knows that competence and confidence go a long way toward making you a safer driver.

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The same holds true for cyclists. Being able to keep up with traffic, knowing how to maneuver your bike, being able to stop quickly, and especially being visible all make you safer.

Why do cyclists label each other negatively as “Fast and Fearless”? One part is purely political. Many experienced cyclists are opposed to new plans to build European-style cyclepaths in North America. Attaching the label of “Fast and Fearless” to these experienced cyclists makes it easy to disregard their input when planning new facilities, rather than having to consider the expertise they have built during decades of riding.

However, the label would not resonate with many casual cyclists if there wasn’t some resentment toward faster riders. Why the resentment? Unfortunately, racers and especially racer wannabes can be less than welcoming to new riders, whether it’s calling them “Freds” or chasing down anybody who looks like they might be an “easy target”. And since the bike industry still promotes racing as the only valid form of cycling, it’s not surprising that there is resentment toward racing, and by extension, to all riders who enjoy going fast.

Where will all this end up? Are experienced cyclists going to label those who weave in and out of parked cars and ride in the “door zone” as “Slow and Stupid”? I sincerely hope not! I don’t think we want animosity between cyclists. Here are my hopes:

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Let’s encourage newcomers to cycling, and not pass them at all costs. Let’s respect those who are competent and confident – without envy. Let’s find the best solution for getting people to ride bikes more often, safer and with more fun – without resorting to underhanded tactics to “win” the argument. And perhaps most importantly, let’s respect every cyclist – no matter how they like to ride.

Posted in Cycling Safety, Rides | 51 Comments

Charity Drive: Museo del Ghisallo

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We are donating all proceeds from our calendar sales for the next day to help the Museo del Ghisallo reopen their doors. I was quite shocked when I learned that the Museo had closed its doors this autumn due to lack of funding. Years ago, I spent a wonderful time there while working on the photography for our book The Competition Bicycle.

I was glad to receive news this morning that the Museo is trying to reopen in the spring. They are looking for donations to ensure its survival. Spontaneously, we decided to have a charity drive to do our part. Here’s our idea: for the next 24 hours, all sales of our Calendar of Classic Bicycles will be donated to the Museo.

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It’s only fitting to use the calendar to help the Museo, since it includes a bike we photographed there: A lovely Colnago with 650C wheels made for Guiseppe Saronni. It’s one of dozens of bikes that were on display. (The exhibits change, so I don’t know whether the bike still is on display today.)

Here is how it works: Until noon tomorrow (12/19/2013, Pacific time), the entire purchase price ($ 15) of all calendars we sell will be donated to the Museo.

Usually, our charity drives are addressing the most pressing needs and help to make the world a better place. A museum dedicated to bicycle racing may not quite qualify under those criteria, but I do feel that preserving the rich history of our sport is an important goal. As we do every year, we will continue to donate 5% of our profits to charities that make a real difference in people’s lives and in the future of our planet (Doctors Without Borders, Union of Concerned Scientists).

So use the opportunity to buy one calendar for yourself, and buy some more for your cycling friends. They’ll enjoy the beautiful studio photos of amazing bikes all year long, and the money will go toward preserving a unique cultural heritage. Select “Priority Mail” shipping, and the calendar should arrive in time for the holidays, at least for U.S. customers. Click here to order and donate.

If you prefer to donate directly to the Museo del Ghisallo, click here to make your donation. Their website is in Italian, but the donations can be made using credit cards or Paypal without needing much knowledge of Italian.

Let’s hope we can keep this unique museum open!

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

First and Limited Editions

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Recently, we came across three copies of the first edition of our very first book. We had kept them, years ago, in case we needed to replace a faulty book or one that got damaged in shipping. We didn’t have to use them for that purpose, so now we can offer an exclusive package of the first editions of all three books we’ve published. The entire proceeds will go to charity – we are donating them to Doctors without Borders.

Each first edition book is signed by the authors. The set includes:

  • The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles, our first and still enormously popular book about the French constructeurs. This is the book that started the current wave of metal fenders, front racks and 650B wheels. The gorgeous studio photos show 50 of the most beautiful bicycles ever made.
  • The Competition Bicycle shows the actual bicycles ridden by professionals and amateurs. More than that, it charts the technical development of performance bicycles from high-wheelers to modern machines with carbon disc wheels. In addition to the bikes ridden by champions like Fausto Coppi, Eddy Merckx, Greg LeMond and Andy Hampsten, you find a super-rare Dursley-Pedersen racer, a tandem that came first in Paris-Brest-Paris, and even a machine built for the races of the Paris newspaper couriers, the famous porteurs.
  • René Herse tells the story of this amazing builder through the eyes of the riders of his bikes. These cyclists rode hard in competitions, but also explored new landscapes and cultures on their tours. Most of all, they forged lasting friendships and lived their lives fully doing what they liked best: cycling in the company of good friends. Hundreds of historic photos combine with studio photos of 20 original René Herse bicycles to an evocative portrait.
  • Three 8″ x 10″ prints from The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles.
  • A print of René Herse brazing a frame.
  • An oversize reproduction of the last René Herse frame decals (perfect for your tool box).
  • $ 265 (proceeds go to charity)

Since we have only three of these packages, they won’t be on our web site, but you can order directly at this link.

Update: The three packages are sold. The current editions of these books, as well as the items below, remain available.

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The René Herse book also is available in a Limited Edition. Each book is numbered and signed by the author. A beautiful slipcase protects the book. It comes with three 8.5″ x 11″ art prints of previously unpublished photos from the René Herse archives that are ready to frame. Limited to 150 copies. 424 pages. $ 185

Click here for more information or to order.

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We also offer posters of two evocative images from the René Herse archives. They show Serge Félix on 650B bike during the 1955 Poly de Chanteloup, as well as the Baudins descending at speed on their tandem. The large-format posters (32.7″ x 23.6″) are printed on acid-free stock and varnished to protect the images. Each poster is limited to 300 copies and will not be reprinted. $ 20 (one poster); $ 35 (both).

Click here for more information or to order.

Posted in books | 1 Comment

How Much for a Kid’s Bike?

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In the Winter 2013 Bicycle Quarterly, we tested a children’s bike that allowed my son to taste the joy of cycling. Not just the joy of cycling, but the joy of cycling faster and further than he had on his smaller children’s bike. He even was able to try out cyclocross on it (below).

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The test bike’s price of $ 700 is very reasonable for a real performance bike without obvious and glaring compromises. Yet it is more than many people are willing to spend on a children’s bike. “I can’t see myself spending that much on a bike for my child. It’ll get ridden only a dozen times at most,” said a friend of mine.

He has a point, but that is like the famous chicken-and-egg question. If your child has a heavy bike that does not perform well and tends to have mechanical problems, you can see why they won’t ride it a lot. On the other hand, if their bike rolls well and is fun to ride, they probably would ride more. (I assume we agree that the joy of riding a bike is addictive in a good way!) So if you want to introduce your children to a lifetime of cycling, buy them a good bike!

The cost actually is lower than it appears at first, because quality children’s bikes have a very high resale value. We sold my daughter’s first bike for 2/3 of its original price. The buyer was delighted, because the bike was still in great condition. So if you sell that $ 700 bike for $ 400 in a few years’ time, then the cost is no more than a typical kid’s mountain bike that will have a resale value of close to zero.

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I look at it this way: If the children really don’t ride the bike much, then it will remain in relatively pristine condition, and the resale value will be higher. If they do ride a lot, then the money spent on the bike will be well worth it. And if they have a bike that allows them to keep up with you, you may enjoy great rides together!

Posted in Uncategorized | 24 Comments

Rides to Remember

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As 2013 draws to a close, we are looking back over the successes and joys of the year, especially the exceptional rides we have enjoyed. For me, last year had me realize what is truly meaningful for me in a ride: fun, adventure, connection with my friends, and being present with myself in my surroundings. Click on the photos to read a blog post about the ride (where available).

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After a some wonderful winter rides on familiar routes, the season started in early April with an impromptu ride to the San Juan Islands. Ryan and I experienced ferries, rain, and our first mountain pass of the year, Mount Constitution.

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May brought the Flèche Vélocio. This 24-hour ride is always a wonderful experience with friends. We rode our usual course around the Olympic Peninsula, complete with breakfast at the historic Lake Quinault Lodge and a finish on gravel roads.

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In June, Ryan and I headed out into the Cascades to scout the last part of the Volcano High Pass 600 km Super Randonnée. We climbed a dirt road mountain pass at night and found snow near the top. This was the last part of the course we had to trouble-shoot before setting up the ride as a permanent brevet.

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I was working in France in July, so I took the opportunity to ride the Raid Pyrénéen for a second time. This 720 km ride over 18 mountain passes (above the Aubisque) always is a challenge, but this time, I faced some unexpected obstacles. In the Winter 2013 Bicycle Quarterly, I write about my disappointment when my plans did not come to fruition, and also how the ride turned out to be wonderful nevertheless.

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August saw another highlight of the year: I finally rode the entire Volcano High Pass 600 km Super Randonnée. 600 km Super Randonnées are organized by the Audax Club Parisien, and they must include at least 10,000 m (33,000 ft) of climbing. This was definitely the most challenging event I have ever ridden. The beautiful scenery of passing close to three volcanoes, the solitude of more than 130 km of gravel roads, and the difficulty of almost non-stop climbing, punctuated by technical descents, all made this ride very special. The full report is in the Autumn 2013 issue of Bicycle Quarterly.

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October had Ryan and I head out for a “day” ride” in the Cascades, where we were eager to explore a new gravel road. It turned into a 27-hour ride, and we loved every minute of it.

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In addition to riding cyclocross in November, Hahn and I headed out for a two-day camping trip to explore “secret” passes in the Cascades. We also tested a new bike that will be featured in the Spring 2014 Bicycle Quarterly, but that is all we can tell you for now…

Looking back, I am amazed that we fit in so many memorable rides into our very busy schedules. Most rides started from my front door, and lasted 1 to 2 days, which made them more manageable time-wise and very affordable money-wise. That is the beauty of randonneuring for me – you don’t need a lot of money or time, but as the old advertising slogan said: “Just do it!”

What were some of your memorable rides in 2013?

Posted in Rides | 22 Comments

Cycling under the German Occupation

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When I was researching our René Herse book, the most difficult part of the story were the war-time years. Herse started making bikes in 1940, while Paris was occupied by the Germans. Being conditioned by war movies and war-time memories from German relatives, I found it hard to imagine anybody making high-end bicycles during this time.

What I learned from the French cyclists who lived through those days is this: While everything changed with the German occupation, most things also remained the same. The German occupiers made the French pay for the costs of the occupation in foodstocks, so food was very scarce. Other things, like gasoline and rubber (bicycle tires), were almost impossible to obtain.

Despite all that, France no longer was at war. Life, at least on the surface, appeared more normal than in places like London and Berlin. Men and women went to work, sat in cafés, went to the movies, and even watched or participated in bike races. This did not make them collaborateurs. After all, it would have served little if all Parisians had sat in a corner and sulked for years while the Germans were occupying the city. Even the resistance fighters kept up appearances and tried to live as normal a life as possible, so they did not arouse the suspicion of the Gestapo or their French counterparts.

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Even though relatively few French joined the resistance full-time, I was surprised by the many small acts of resistance. For example, I learned that René Herse actually had two shops. The first was the boutique with the showroom. Next door was the workshop where the bikes were assembled. There, the shutters were drawn and the building looked empty. Many of Herse’s employees were young people in hiding, often riders on his team who could not find employment elsewhere. They were evading the Service du Travail Obligatoire, which sent young Frenchmen to Germany to work in the factories there. This also explains why I could not find some of Herse’s employees in the company’s pay records – they were undeclared. Herse was not alone, many French did things large and small to work against the occupiers, even if, on the surface, they appeared to continue their normal life.

The color photos in this blog were taken by André Zucca for the German propaganda magazine Signal, which intended to show that life in Paris was continuing as before the occupation. Of course, life did not continue exactly as before – as Madame Porthault told me during one of the interviews for the book: “Even if we had a smile on our faces, that did not mean that we weren’t afraid deep down.”  Even though the photos were intended as propaganda, they show a glimpse of Paris during the occupation.

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Gasoline was unavailable to private people in France during the war, so cars disappeared almost completely from circulation (above). Instead, bicycles became predominant in urban traffic. A nice bicycle not only was a means of transportation, but also a status symbol (below).

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Zucca’s photos show numerous vélo-taxis. Since private cars and taxis no longer were available, cyclists pulling trailers provided convenient transportation for rich Parisians. Tandem taxis were faster, but cost twice as much.

Many Parisians decried the implication of humans serving as beasts-of-burden (photo at the top of the post), but some bike racers actually enjoyed the job, since it provided excellent training. Lyli Herse’s later tandem partner, Robert Prestat, said that this was how he got in shape to race as a professional during the war.

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This image shows a tandem taxi waiting for passengers. The tandem is a quality machine with a nice bend of the fork blades. It is equipped with Jeay “roller-cam” brakes and a rear drum brake, but the single-sided drivetrain indicates that it was not a top-of-the-line machine from one of the great constructeurs.

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Here a fashionable lady exits a rudimentary trailer pulled by a basic machine with a “dog-leg” fork bend, ill-fitting fenders and a single speed. It appears to have a battery-powered taillight. Were batteries available during the occupation?

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Here we have two taxis waiting in front of the famous Maxim’s restaurant. The tandem has a strange frame configuration. It is equipped with a short-chain drivetrain and both drum and cantilever brakes. Slowing the heavy trailer with two passengers must have taken a lot of braking power! The dark lens of the headlight was mandatory. It was part of the “blackout,” which outlawed any lights shining outside to prevent allied bombers from finding their targets. The other trailer is enclosed, which was nice if it rained but must have been claustrophobic inside, to say nothing of the extra weight the cyclist had to haul.

Fancy place like Maxim’s even had a covered bicycle parking area, which you can see on the left. Movie theaters advertised that they offered guarded bicycle parking to attract visitors. I suspect that Maxim’s had a guard, too, who may have provided the equivalent of valet parking for the well-heeled customers.

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In 1943, there was a race of the tandem taxis (above a photo of the winners from the René Herse archives). The trailers were lightweight cargo trailers rather than the usual taxis. This tandem appears to be a top-of-the-line Hurtu with a twin-plate fork crown. It is equipped with Herse’s Speedy brakes. The triangulation of the frame is interesting, with a single tube running to the middle of each seat tube, and two tubes continuing from there. Madame Porthault identified the front rider, Tixidre. Click here for fascinating newsreel footage of this race.

What Zucca’s photos do not show is the hardship that Parisians suffered during the occupation. The most difficult aspect was finding food. One way to augment the rations was bartering with farmers who engaged in black-market trade. However, within easy cycling distance of Paris, there were too few farmers and too many people looking for food. Randonneurs had an advantage, as they could ride further in a day, and thus reach farmers who had food to trade. Madame Porthault told me how it was a race to return to Paris before the curfew, while avoiding checkpoints along the way.

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Every bike was pressed into service, even this pre-war Vélostable recumbent bicycle.

There are no photos of the tens of thousands of French Jews and others who perished in the concentration camps. These included many cyclotourists, and the list of the best-known dead in the first post-war issues of Le Cycliste was long. Most cyclotouring clubs collected money to send to the prisoners, or to support their families. During the occupation, the clubs became support networks, since they were people you knew well and could trust.

What was most striking to me, however, is the pronounced difference in the photos taken after the German occupation ended. The people are visibly more relaxed after the war, and the spontaneous smiles have returned to their faces. You often can tell whether a photo was taken during the occupation or afterward simply by looking at people’s facial expressions.

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Life and cyclotouring in Paris may have continued during the occupation, but everybody was relieved when Paris was liberated. The photo above, from the René Herse book, was taken in 1945, just after the liberation. People’s clothes still are ill-fitting and speak of the privation of the occupation, but the smiles have returned. The tandem of Jean Feuillie and Lyli Herse no longer carries the license plate required by the German occupiers, which confirms the post-occupation date.

The mood is one of optimism and joy, which gave a huge boost to cyclotouring. People could travel again, and they could enjoy themselves without fear. Many were eager to take advantage of the re-found freedom, and the second half of the 1940s was a veritable golden age of cyclotouring. Understanding this history is key to understanding why the French constructeurs built such exceptional bicycles during the 1940s and 1950s.

Click here for more photos Paris taken by André Zucca during the German occupation.

http://www.bikequarterly.com/books_rene_herse.html

Click here for more information about the René Herse book or to order your copy.

Posted in books, People who inspired us | 29 Comments

Gift Certificates

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Usually, products we sell are products we need ourselves. Most of our components are created because we needed something we could not find elsewhere, whether it’s a high-volume, supple tire, a book about René Herse, or a handlebar with more reach and better hand positions.

Recently, a customer contacted us with a need of a different sort. He wrote: “I can’t find gift certificates in your shop – is this an option? I’d love to convince my family to stop getting me Nashbar gift certificates, but I need a good alternative.”

We figured that others might face similar disappointments in the holiday gifts they receive, and to help everybody involved, we decided to offer gift certificates. The recipient gets a certificate in the mail, as well as an e-mail confirmation. Our gift certificates can be redeemed for magazines, books, posters and calendars from Bicycle Quarterly Press, as well as bicycle components from our sister company Compass Bicycles. More information is here.

We wish you a happy and joyous holiday season!

Posted in Product News