Saturday, April 25, 2015

Shoulders and Toes: Specialized Defrosters

These boots have changed my life.

I know that sounds dramatic, but, honestly, I can’t think of another piece of cycling gear that has so profoundly improved my cycling experience. I wore them last autumn and now this spring, and on every single ride I look down at my Defrosters and think, Damn! I love these boots! how did I ever live without them?

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Round the World on a Wheel

When intrepid English bicycle-traveller John Foster Fraser, in the middle of his trans-world bicycle trip in 1896, met with the governor of a province in Persia in 1896, the sultan asked him why Britons were always rushing off to seek out hardship and danger abroad. “There’s no pleasure in it,” offered the puzzled sultan. Fraser replied, simply, “There’s adventure”—as if this were all he needed to say. The sultan shrugged and dismissed Fraser and company as madmen.

Reading Fraser’s classic book about those “adventures,” Round the World on a Wheel (1899), I was struck by how both men were right. So much of Fraser’s journey was full of hardship and danger. It’s tough to comprehend how difficult such a journey would have been: navigating atrocious roads (and sometimes no roads), coping with mechanical breakdowns in remote places, encountering hostile natives (getting pelted with stones becomes such a commonplace event in Asia that Fraser mentions it the way one might mention a rain shower, an unavoidable natural phenomena that will, eventually, pass),  bad food (or no food for days at a time), illness, filthy lodgings, blizzards, wolves and bears and mobs. They travelled with revolvers—and needed them more than once. There were, of course, some moments of pleasure in the trip, but those aren’t what people remember.

Hardship was the cost of “adventure” and Fraser was more than willing to pay the price. It was well worth it, for Fraser and, indirectly, for us.  His book, the last in the original age of around-the-world and trans-continental cycle-travel narratives of the nineteenth century (by rider/writers such as Thomas Stevens, Frank Lenz, Sachtleben and Allen, George B.   Thayer, Hugh Callan) is a highly entertaining account, chalk full of remarkable adventures.   After all these years, it’s still one of the best cycle-travel books out there.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Orphan Glove

People love to complain about dog shit in the spring time. As the glacial drifts recede from sidewalks and streets, and the detritus of the past five months slowly emerges, once-frozen dog turds shed their icy cocoons and come back to a mushy, pungent second life.

But spring cyclists don’t care about such things. When they look down, they notice other seasonal phenomena, namely the spectacularly shitty state of roads at this time of year, all gravelly, sandy, potholed, and litter strewn. It can make for a grim scene, all that flotsam along the shoulders. For me, though, a sure sign of spring is the ubiquitous orphan glove on the side of the road.