Like Sands Through An Hourglass…

First of all, I sincerely apologize for my post last week titled, “Masks Are The New Helmet.” Since writing it, I’ve read this article in the Wall Street Journal, in which a doctor refers to wearing masks while exercising as “an act of solidarity and courtesy:”

Paul Auerbach, an emergency medicine doctor at Stanford University School of Medicine, suggests having a mask hang around your neck while walking, running or cycling so that you can pull it over your mouth and nose when you see other people. “It’s an act of solidarity and courtesy, letting everyone know you are trying to be respectful, smart and safe,” he says.

And it’s now clear to me that it’s not entirely accurate to say that masks are “the new helmet.” In fact, it’s more medically precise to point out that masks are the new waving.


(Actually, the helmet comparison still stands: having a mask around your neck you pull over your mouth when you see other people is like having a helmet hanging off your handlebars that you put on when you see cars.)

Of course, people have been blaming cyclists for pretty much everything over the years (we’re “terrorists,” remember?) so why should pandemics be any different?

Hey, gotta fan the flames of fear and outrage to keep those subscribers coming!

Though to be fair, I’m still mad at the Times for publishing this:

I’m sure I’ve told this story before, so sorry if I’m repeating myself, but hey, I’ve been at this since 2007 so it’s bound to happen. Anyway, I was still blogging anonymously before my first book came out, and I had granted Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal an exclusive to reveal my identity to coincide with its publication. (Jason Gay is a big-shot columnist now, but back in 2007 he still had to report on blogosphere goings-on, in the same way that Peter Sagan once had to pump up his own tires.) However, just before his story came out, the Times published the above article, much to our consternation. I don’t know if they did this as an “eff you” to Jason Gay, or to me, or if “scooping” the Journal whenever they can is simply a matter of principle for them, even if that scoop is totally insignificant, but whatever the reason it sure pissed me off in that it was like they had stuck a frame pump in my spokes just as I was winding up for the biggest sprint of my career.

Of course a few years later the Wall Street Journal asked me to write an opinion piece about bike lanes or something, and instead of running it they published an anti-bike lane screed by P.J. O’Rourke entitled, “Go Play In Traffic.”

So lest you accuse me of being biased towards one paper or the other, rest assured I’m well aware there are douchebags at both. Moreover, news is like bike advice: you’ve got to consider the source. Ask a roadie and a retrogrouch what the best material is for bike frames and you’ll get two different answers. (They’re both wrong; obviously the answer is bamboo.) The Times and the Journal are similarly biased, though certainly they’re informative as long as you know how to parse the information, a process that requires you to recognize not only their biases but your own. (Certainly I’m biased as fuck; we all are, and it’s silly to deny it.) And they do share one thing in common, which is that they’re both generally pretty stupid about bikes. (Though that’s true of most people.)

But you don’t come here to argue about virus etiquette (unless of course you came here from Reddit, the place where people who have been riding for seven months earnestly exchange cycling misinformation). You come here to read about bikes! So let’s go ahead and do that, but only tangentially, because above all this blog is a vast repository of my own self-indulgence.

Right, so recently somebody brought this Jalopnik story to my attention, in which the writer cold-sets his frame:

Incidentally, it’s by the same writer who did a deep dive on bicycle brakes awhile back, which I believe I mentioned at the time, but can’t be bothered to verify.

Anyway, not to spoil the ending of the cold-setting post, but his conclusion resonated with me:

As it was, the problem was not a big one. I was fixing, I guess I could say, something that wasn’t broken. Years of futzing with my old car had told me this was a bad idea. Don’t let the old car magic out. Don’t try to change what isn’t broken, lest you break it yourself. Mis-adjust the timing that was running fine, and you’ll strip a thread double-checking something that didn’t need it. Don’t take needless risks, especially when being able to reverse what you’ve done isn’t a given.

But of course, I did it anyway.

I’ve drawn the same conclusion myself many times, and I’ve also written about it. But the fact remains that some of us persist in “fixing” stuff anyway, for the same reason George Mallory wanted to climb Mount Everest.

And yet this isn’t even the reason I bring up the Jalopnik post. No, the reason I mention it is that while I was there I noticed this:

As it happens, for me the phrase “cars abandoned on an obscure NYC beach” is a veritable Proustian madeleine, for as children my friends and I played in abandoned cars alongside an out-of-the-way waterway within the city limits. So naturally I clicked on the post immediately, and not only is the neighborhood described in it exactly where we lived, but judging from the location of the cars it’s extremely likely they’re the same ones that so captured my imagination. And even if they’re not, I certainly remember how exciting it was as a kid to have a car all to yourself. Yet at the same time, there’s nothing more resolutely immobile than a dead car. It’s like finding a whale carcass: it’s hard to reconcile the fact that somehow this massive thing was once able to travel over large distances.

As for the mystery of where the cars came from, I can’t help there, but if I had to guess I’d say their owners had arranged to have them “stolen” in order to collect the insurance money. But who the hell knows?

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