Sunday, May 31, 2009


Yesterday's post on city biking brought back some memories. Back in the late 60s Richard Ballantine was a friend of a friend. I read his books knowing that his biking risks were greater than mind because he's deaf. It's comforting to know that he could survive, and thrive, as a traffic jamming cyclist in the hostile environments of Manhattan and London.

The identification of one of David Byrne's bikes as an Austro-Daimler brought to mind one of many old bikes I've acquired and learned to love.

Thus, this brief reminiscence:

I read about bike racing, bike commuting, recreational riding, and the like. Bikes are sport. They're transportation. They're for exercise, cruising, showing off, social shoulder-rubbing, and family Q-time. Many are handsome; many are lovable; many are expressions of individuality. Using bikes can be social responsible and economically sound.

My first bike came as a Christmas present when I was 5. Before I got it a 7-year old friend of my sister had taught me to stay upright (and to use the coaster brake) by releasing me on a steep driveway that ended at the garage — sink or swim.

The next one was a larger version of the same: fat-tire Columbia single-speed jobs. Mine was blue and not quite so deluxe as this Schwinn.

These were followed by a 3-speed "English racer" which came down to me from a big cousin and which I used on my long and hilly paper route. It looked like this.

Years before I got this 3-speed, I first saw a European bike with derailleur shifting. That was in the mid 1950s at the home of my best friend Tommy. His father had brought a 10-speed home from Germany long before anyone in the US knew about this type of bike. It looked like this.

It was too large for me to ride and I didn't actually try out that style until a decade later when I was in graduate school and I borrowed one from a friend. Liking it, I picked up a 5-speed for a few bucks at the annual Madison police auction — a bike with a broken spoke on the front wheel which I never bothered to fix. It was red but otherwise looked something like this.

I got another used 5-speed for getting around in London when I lived there a year or so later.

Thereafter I latched onto the first of a series of 10-speed bikes for commuting and weekend riding when living, successively, in Connecticut, Bethesda, and Chevy Chase.

One of these was a new Peugeot PX-10E which I bought from a shop in Brooklyn, a first mail-order purchase. It looked like this.

A Mid 1970s Peugeot PX-10E

A bit later I bought a Raleigh Competition at a local shop and took it bike touring in the Cotswolds and northern England one memorable week in May. It looked like this.

The Raleigh Competition Series

At another local shop I later picked up an Austro-Daimler Puch frame and fork and built it up into a bike that looked like this.

I sold that bike a few years ago and am now riding another old one, about which I've already done a blog post: Vitus - the bike

Note: I usually try to credit my photo sources and am sorry that I failed to track most of these.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

city cycling

David Byrne is an avid cyclist. This drawing comes from a NYT blog post describing the biking he does while on tour. The post also calls attention to Byrne's review of Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists Are Changing American Cities by Jeff Mapes’s and it says a book of his own, Bicycle Diaries — about city cycling, will be published in September. The review is Bike Messenger (NYT May 28, 2009). In it he makes a point that I've been seeing more frequently lately: biking on city streets is seen as risky, sweaty, and vaguely anti-social. Urban bicyclists are perceived as hell-bent messengers, out-of-the-mainstream enthusiasts, or somewhat grubby and bearded eccentrics. He says the urban cycling movement will have turned a crucial corner when it's common to see women on bikes (dressed in street attire rather than be-spandexed). This corner has yet to be turned anywhere on the continents of America so far as I know, but it's evident in some European cities: notably Copenhagen. For a compelling example, just scan Mikael Colville-Andersen's celebration of Copenhagen cycling in his Copenhagen Cycle Chic blog, in his flickr photoset -- Copenhagen Cycle Chic, and in his companion blog, Copenhagenize with its 18 Ways To Know That You Have Bicycle Culture. His extensive blog-links give many other examples of cities where bike use is both extensive and not overwhelmingly masculine.

Byrne's review brought to mind another author, Richard Ballantine who is justly famous among bikers for his series of books on urban cycling, bike repair, and the pleasures of riding in general. There's a useful introduction to him and his impact on the world of cyclists in the BikeBiz web site: INTERVIEW: Richard Ballantine. It says in part:
Richard Ballantine, author of the 1970s million-copy classic Richard’s Bicycle Book, is back with a book about commuter cycling. He wants to fuel the growth of city cycling, reports Carlton Reid. Sex had Dr Alex Comfort. Cycling had Richard Ballantine. Cyclists of a certain age – bearded or otherwise – cut their teeth on dog-eared paperback copies of Richard Ballantine’s Richard’s Bicycle Book.

The green tome was a 1970s publishing sensation, selling in excess of one million copies, making the American-born, London-based magazine editor not just cycling’s biggest author but a market-creator. The pre-MTB cycling mini-boom of the 1970s and 1980s was fuelled, and partly created, by his book.
Ballantine has his own City Cycling book, whose jacket blurb reads: "Cycling is fast, cheap, green, and healthy. City Cycling is his distilled expertise on the techniques and pleasures of cycling as an urban lifestyle." The photo shows him as chair of the British Human Power Club.

Ballantine is known for his championing of "traffic jamming," a technique of cycling just about totally inimicable to the girls-in-heels cycling ethos. The essence of traffic jamming is an attitude: as cyclist you have as much right to the road as any other vehicle and you not only assert that right, you flaunt it, forcing drivers to acknowledge you and give you space. Taken to extreme, jamming involves breaking some traffic laws to gain position. It's fast, aggressive, and exhilarating. Ballatine says its safer than riding slowly and obsequiously. See this excerpt (pdf) from City Cycling for Ballantine's current version of jamming (it begins with the section on "Sprinting," p. 177).

I expect that Ballantine would say traffic jamming isn't needed -- is in fact unwanted -- in places like Copenhagen, but is a required practice in cities where traffic engineers have given the car, truck, and bus wildly unfair advantage over bikers.

{front and back covers of the original Richard's Bicycle Book; source:}

Thursday, May 28, 2009

a picture lives by companionship

I've a great affection for the work of the abstract expressionists who painted in New York in the 1940s. Online images can only remind you of the powerful emotions they communicated and that pitifully little.

Still . . .

Here is a Rothko with some of his words and words of another who appreciates him.

“A picture lives by companionship, expanding and quickening in the eyes of the sensitive observer. It dies by the same token. It is therefore a risky and unfeeling act to send it out into the world.” — Mark Rothko

{source: eaobjets.files.wordpress}

"Art radiates emotion that, when it works, is felt by the viewer. I often think of painting as a kind of time machine. The painter captures more than simply a likeness of the subject in oil; the painter also captures the emotion that he, the painter, was feeling and wants to convey. Long after the painter is dead, the painting continues to broadcast that emotion to the viewer." — Michael Rosenblum

{source: rosenblumtv}

"It is a widely accepted notion among painters that it does not matter what one paints as long as it is well painted. This is the essence of academicism. There is no such thing as good painting about nothing." — Mark Rothko

{Mark Rothko in his West 53rd Street studio, c. 1953, photograph by Henry Elkan; source: nga}

The National Gallery of Art (US) has an online Rothko Gallery. Of the man, the NGA curator says:
One of the preeminent artists of his generation, Mark Rothko is closely identified with the New York School, a circle of painters that emerged during the 1940s as a new collective voice in American art. During a career that spanned five decades, he created a new and impassioned form of abstract painting. Rothko's work is characterized by rigorous attention to formal elements such as color, shape, balance, depth, composition, and scale; yet, he refused to consider his paintings solely in these terms. He explained: "It is a widely accepted notion among painters that it does not matter what one paints as long as it is well painted. This is the essence of academicism. There is no such thing as good painting about nothing."

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Senior Class Trip, May 1960

I stumbled upon this panorama photo when I found some old postcards in the attic earlier today. It shows my high school senior class on its trip to Washington DC in the month before we graduated. I can still name most of the people it shows and about 30 of them had been my classmates back in kindergarden and first grade a dozen years before.

The photo was rolled into a tight scroll and is large enough to require two scans spliced back together. I'm pretty sure kids don't get so dressed up when they tour the Capitol these days and have this photo taken after a meet-and-greet with their Congressperson.

The photo was taken on a panoramic camera making it possible for a kid to be seen both on the left and right sides of the shot. I thought one of the guys had done this, but now I don't see anyone duped on the ends.

old postcards

Re-arranging some boxes in the attic I came across these old postcards. I recall purchasing them maybe a dozen years ago in a small flower shop while on vacation in Brooklin, Maine. Most were printed in Paris; others in Holland or Germany. They're undated and mostly seem to come from the first quarter of the 20th century. Click image to view full size. I've given some details though they're not much enlarged. I've also given modern images where I could find them. The last four scans show the back sides of the ones that say anything on the back.

{modern photo of La Viaine in Rennes; source: flickr}

{a modern photo of same; source: wikipedia}

{a painting of same; source: images-chapitre}

{modern photo of this street; source: picasaweb}

{modern photo of this gate, taken from the other side; source: visoterra}

{modern photo of this street; source flickr}

{modern photo showing the same church from a different angle; source: panoramio}

{another view of Rue de Tambour; source:}

Note: for more postcards of German-bombed Reims see Reims during 1914-1918

{modern photo of the Rhein at Honnef; source:}

{modern photo of Wordsworth's home; source:}

{modern photo of facade along Rue Désiré le Hoc; I'm surprised that there are no modern photos of this lovely intersection; maybe it has been replaced; source:}

{my postcard photo was taken in front of Berlin's Cafe Schön; this is another old postcard of an auto-bus outside the café; source:}