Wednesday, December 29, 2010


in Seattle. It did not arrive in time for a white christmas, but it did eventually descend from the sky this morning, to cover everything in sight.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Bikes, and the Museum of Flight, Seattle...

If I am not mistaken the Wright Bros. owned a bicycle shop before they got into their endeavors to master flight, so there has always been that early connection. The one below is situated in a WW II exhibition about the Flying Tigers at the Museum of Flight, in Seattle. There were also some historic photographs taken in China at the time, showing many more bicycles in use. Bicycles aside, if you are interested in aviation the museum is worth a visit if you find yourself in the area. 

They have got some funky things, such as the Gossamer Albatross II. This is the twin of the Gossamer Albatross which, if you are old enough and remember, is a super-light pedal-powered single person thing that flew across the English Channel (barely). The GA II was the first controlled indoor human powered flight when it flew inside the Astrodome in 1980.

Of course the bikey-connections are not the only things of interest there. Commercial flight, military applications and history, and space exploration; and then you can take the bridge across the road to go aboard Air Force One, the version which saw service during the Eisenhower through Nixon presidencies, and a Concord, in case you never got to see one before they were taken out of service. Personally, I liked the World War I and II exhibits best; they were very informative and well organized, with aircraft and other artifacts displayed.

the Russians got into nose art too, as you can see by this tiger
which has just killed Hitler in the form of a deer

Monday, December 27, 2010

On the Sammamish River and Burke-Gilman Trails...

Let me say that if these two trails are indicative of the trails up here in the Seattle area I am more than merely envious. The difference between the Southern California routes is as much a "Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore" experience as I have had. And that is not to say that So Cal paths are bad, because they are not; there is just so much more in the Emerald City. When we in So Cal think of bike trails, I think we tend to envision a single path, probably along a river. Up here you need to envision a network criss-crossing the region. Another significant difference is trail signage. The signage up here is just amazing; where ever there are trail junctions there are directional signs, where ever there might be confusion as to direction, there are signs. As long as you know where you want to go, it would be difficult to get lost. And the drivers; they almost always had the right of way where the trail crossed streets, but almost always came to a stop and let me ride through (maybe because I looked so cold and miserably wet).

Anyway, I had some time today to sample the two trails mentioned above. I did not get underway until about 2:00, so my time was limited. The afternoon was gray, and wet, the kind of day that in Ireland would be called a "soft day", but clearly that is not a deterrent to anyone here, as not a minute would go by that I wasn't passing someone headed the opposite direction. There was a healthy mix of recreational riders and commuters out and about. Starting in Woodinville I proceeded along the Sammamish River Trail which merged into the Burke-Gilman Trail, which runs along Lake Washington and into Seattle. I went as far as the University District (which made for a 29 mile round trip), at which point, I needed to turn around. My So Cal winter gear would have been adequate for riding up here, but the mountain biking gloves, are not made for warmth, and the cold blowing off the lake quickly found that weak point.

As it's name suggests, the Sammamish River trail does follow the river, for a portion at least, of its course. Even in the day's gloom it was quite scenic. The Burke-Gilman Trail is a rails-to-trails conversion which passes through some small commercial districts, some upscale lakefront residential areas, some very nice neighborhood parks, and comes out at the University of Washington. As often as not, houses block the view of Lake Washington, but the houses, especially with their seasonal decorations up, are mostly attractive in their own right. The views you get of the lake between the houses are like little surprises along the way. The Burke-Gilman is also a greenbelt, so there are some nicely wooded sections to pass through; in fact most of the route is wooded. I noticed that this has caused some problems of its own, as some areas with steep slopes have given way, with mudslides coming down onto the path recently (they were all cleared however, this day). How 'bout some photos:

Starting out along the Sammamish River Trail

there are two of these underpasses for the Burke-Gilman Trail to keep cyclists out of dangerous relationships at intersections

seaplanes with Lake Washington beyond

 one of the many parks along the Burke-Gilman Trail

 the Burke-Gilman Trail is a Rail-to-Trail conversion

 welcome to Seattle

 kayak lessons in this weather? i'll pass

lakeshore view

 one of the undeveloped sections along the Burke-Gilman

 my turn around point in the University District

 U of W; the big structure at the upper left is the stadium where the Huskies play

bridge and rider in the rain

 trail signage

 the significance of this mural escaped me until i got back to home-away-from-home, at which point i realized it depicts a rail-to-trail with the train and tracks giving way to bikes and path. this is on the back side of a building, where only trail users can see it

 more of Lake Washington

 bridge over the Sammamish River on my way back; getting dark now

 same as above, but panned a little left

 highway overpass above the Sammamish

 do i look cold? me at journey's end. i was expecting a lot of rain this trip, so i brought the Origin8 single-speed thinking it would be less maintenance hassle. i think it was a good choice, s.s. was no problem on either trail

ghostly me, suffering from hypothermia, or something. much great riding to be had up here.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Day in Seattle...

well, Woodinville, Washington actually, and I think it is about as dry as it is going to get. I should get out on my bike, but the plates of goodies seem to have some kind of hold on me, keeping me inside right now. Must break free. 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A couple thoughts for you all...

Merry Christmas,
Feliz Navidad,
Joyeux Noel,
frohe Weihnachten,
vrolijke Kerstmis,
Buon Natale,
Feliz Natal,
с Рождеством Христовым,
즐거운 성탄

and a peaceful New year

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cycling Landscapes: Yi-Fu Tuan...

Some time ago I began a study of cycling landscapes. Largely because I knew this would be a complicated and involved exercise, I put it off until just recently. A key in the process of the study has been to determine how best to organize and relate the information. I have decided that a good place to start may be to examine the work of various scholars who have studied and commented upon the meanings of place and, personal and cultural representations of landscapes, and then turn those studies back around to see if and how they relate to cycling.

The first scholar from whom I quote is Yi-Fu Tuan, the noted Chinese-American geographer, and professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Professor Tuan is best known for his work in what he terms, Humanistic Geography.

"Perhaps any large feature in the landscape creates its own world, which may expand or contract with the passing concerns of the people, but which does not completely lose its identity." 

Walking the Koppenberg (Watson, 2002)

Applying this to the world of cycling means that a landscape need not be visibly associated with the activity year-round in order to maintain a connectivity. If the association is strong enough a landscape which, for instance, sees a race pass by a single day each year can never-the-less be imprinted in the lore and beliefs of the local, regional or even national culture. Consider the nation of Belgium in this, and particularly the region of Belgium known as Flanders. Mur de Grammont, Muur van Geraardsbergen, the Koppenberg, Kemmelberg, Kluisberg, Molenberg, Oude Kwaremont, Taaienberg, Valkenberg, Bosberg. Do these names mean anything to you? What images spring to mind when you hear the names? If you follow the sport of bicycle racing you know that they are a part of several classic and semi-classic races during the Spring. You know that, although short in length, their cobbled surfaces, made slick by rain, and their painfully steep grades are the stuff from which legends are created, and tested yearly for their worthiness. Many of the greatest names in the history of the sport were literally made, and etched onto the annals of sport, on these hills.

For Belgians, the import of these hills is even more significant. Writing in the mid-1900s, Paul Beving noted that "La Ronde" [Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders)] is as much part of the heritage of the Flemish people as the processions of Veurne and Bruges, the festival of cats at Ypres or the ship blessing at Ostend. This cycle race is the most fabulous of all the Flemish festivals. No other race creates such an atmosphere, such a popular fervour." (Wikipedia)

The men who win these races are often known as "hard men" due to the difficulty of the endeavor, the dedication required to attain victory. It helps if the victors are Belgian, but is not requisite. Whoever ends up on the podium has completed a so-called trial by fire across the Belgian Ardennes countryside. And it is no coincidence that the regions' numerous hills which see battles between racers today, were the sites of monumental battles and devastation during two World Wars, nor that we use the same term [devastation] to describe what these same hills wreak upon the peloton. Whether it is the hills which define what it means to be a "hard man", or whether it is the men who's determination give the hills their terrible reputation, is questionable. What is clear is that neither would be the same without the other. Many of the greatest names of the sport have made their reputations as "hard men" by their exploits on these hills. Rik van Steenbergen, Rik van Looy, Eric Leman, Eddy Merkx, Walter Planckaert, Roger de Vlaeminck, Walter Godefroot, Jan Raas, Hennie Kuiper, Eric Vanderaerden, Adri van der Poel, Claude Criquielion, Sean Kelly, Johan Museeuw, Peter van Petegem, Andrei Tchmil, Tom Steels, Andrea Tafi, George Hincapie, Tom Boonen, Stijn Devolder, and many others earned their reputations by racing up the cobbled slopes of the Flanders region. What should be taken from this is that while other races contribute to the definition of a "hard man" (most notably Paris Roubaix) the majority of such races are run in Belgium, and that the majority of the names listed above are indeed Belgian as well.

Two additional quotes point to the importance of the racing over these hills and their ties to Belgian identity. The first is from the great Belgian hard man, Johan Museeuw, "as a Belgian, winning Flanders for the first time is far more important than wearing the maillot jaune in the Tour." And then from Nico Mattan, "many great names in Flemish cycling live on the route of the race. This closeness doesn't exist in any other country. That's what gives our identity." So, the hills which feature so prominently in the races of southern Belgium, are in fact intricately tied into the identity of the races and the landscape both. It is not difficult to understand that the races would not carry the same import were the hills to be removed or even removed of their cobble surfaces and paved smooth. For even though the grades reach upward to 25%, it is without question the uneven cobbled, slippery when wet, surface which bestows their terrible reputation. As 2-time victor of the Ronde, Peter van Petegem says: "It's possible for weaker riders to survive on a Tarmac climb, but not on a cobbled one."

For myself, one of the most vividly dramatic and lasting impressions of the Flandrian hills took place during the 1987 Tour of Flanders when Jesper Skibby, during a solo breakaway and while on the 25 percent grade Koppenberg cobbles, crashed. His speed steadily decreasing on the steep cobbled surface, Skibby faltered and was bumped by the the race directors' car, causing him to topple over. With the race approaching from behind and no way to get around the fallen rider, the driver either panicked, or was told to continue, and ran over Skibby's bike, narrowly missing his legs. Cries of shock, pain and anger, from Skibby and the nearby spectators, can be discerned from the series of photographs and video taken of the event. A larger view of the iconic image by Graham Watson can be seen here.

Clearly the hills of the Ardennes, of Flanders, in Belgium over which races such as the Tour of Flanders, Ghent-Wevelgem, Fleche Wallone, Omloop het Nieuwsblad, Grote Scheldeprijs, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, and others, pass each year fit the description presented by Yi-Fu Tuan. A race need not be in the process of ascending them for the hills to be imprinted into the local culture as cycling landscapes. The spectators, both fans of the sport and casual observers, who annually line these hills to watch the races pass by, can recall incidents that were witnessed, and relate them to the specific hills long after the events occurred. These cobbled roads have a life greater than their materials and locations. Their character is defined and enhanced by the actions of individual cyclists who yearly challenge one another upon them.

Below are links to earlier segments in this series:

Cycling Landscapes: Introduction

Monday, December 20, 2010

Cycling is for the young (at heart that is)...

Don't tell this rider that cycling is for the young. Instead, what you see here is evidence that cycling keeps you young. We already know that Americans' over-dependence on motorized transport leads to obesity, disease, poor fitness and health, which all becomes compounded as we age. Not so this rider, though. With a little luck, that will be me some year; increasing age may slow me down, but it won't stop me.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Riders on the Rain...

I did my best impression of a rider on the rain this afternoon - only got in a twenty mile ride, but it did rain the entire time. On top of that I was able to pick up some stocking stuffers while I was out and about, put up with a bunch of those "what, are you crazy" looks, and then had to do a little bike cleaning afterward. I like to get out in the rain at least a few times during the winter, it makes me feel like one of those hard men racing one of the Spring classics. Even in So Cal, we can ride in the rain, although I only saw two others doing so. Out on the road, getting more wet as the miles tick by, the brim of my cycling cap under my helmet soaks up the water until it can hold no more; a bead of water rolls back and forth along the brim, and then drip, and start again. Little bits of decaying leaves get plastered to my legs, and the inevitable spray of dirty water up my backside, and I don't care.

The "hardest man" I ever saw though was actually a kid, in Ireland, 1990. It was afternoon, he was probably on his way home from school, riding into a massive headwind, pouring rain. Carrying on as if it were nothing, no complaints, just necessity.

Anyway, feeling satisfied with myself for a successful morning, I popped an old vhs tape into the machine, the 1992 Tour of Flanders, won by Jacky Durand. This was a good year for the race, a lot of attacks and counter attacks, and a surprise victor - Durand was definitely not one of the favorites. One of the favored riders that day was the Dutchman Frans Maassen (full name Franciscus Albertus Antonius Johannes Maassen), who would end up 5th on the day.

That is Maassen above, wearing the Netherlands national champions jersey, which he won in 1989. Maassen had a very respectable career between 1987 and 1994 with wins at the Tour of Belgium, Wincanton Classic, the GP Eddy Merckx,  GP Fourmies, Etoile de Besseges, Amstel Gold, Ronde van Nederland, Three Days of De Panne, the Tour of Luxembourg, and a stage of the Tour de France. Beside these victories he had numerous other podium finishes including 2nd place finishes in the Tour of Flanders and Milan - San Remo. Since 2005 Maassen has been an assistant Directeur Sportif with Rabobank.

December Southern California Ghost Bikes...

Jurgen Ankenbrand, 22 December, Huntington Beach
Joseph Patrick Szymanski, 15 December, La Quinta

Friday, December 17, 2010

Cycling Claremont: Smith Memorial Tower...

The 125 foot high Smith Memorial Bell Tower, in Bixby Plaza of Pomona College, was constructed in 1961 for a measly $150,000, and named in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Edwin Sexton Smith. Each wall holds an eight foot clock, and at the top of the tower is a replica of the Liberty Bell, while an electronic carillon within the tower chimes hourly between the hours of 9:47am and 5:47pm. You can check here for the reason behind the 47th minute standard. Anyway, Thursday brought a very brief period of sun between storms, and the tower and courtyard provided a nice backdrop to riders passing by.

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