The Plot Thickens

This morning I headed out on one of my patented one-hour noodling sessions and noticed more brand-spanking new signage for the so-called “Empire State Trail:”

While the newly-paved Putnam Trail through Van Cortlandt Park is a fantastic upgrade, it’s also barely more than a mile long, and at this point the 750-mile “Empire State Trail” of which it is ostensibly a part is still mostly a branding exercise–it’s signage tacked onto existing routes in attempt to convince the plebians of Emperor Cuomo’s largesse. (Remember when all the bike companies would put decals on their perfectly ordinary frame tubes that said stuff like “Ultra Power Transfer Stays?” It’s like that.) Note also how in this case the sign stands right next to another branding exercise, the “NYC Greenway,” in a beautiful example of the sort of parallel play in which the city and state governments love to engage:

That’s not to say we don’t get any bike-specific amenities in all of this. Some time ago I mentioned a new bike repair stand on the South County Trailway of which I took advantage, and this morning I came upon another gravel-strewn map-and-bike-zone, this one in Tibbetts Brook Park in Yonkers:

“Well what’s not to like about that?,” you may be asking, but this too is a typical example of how the government does bikes (and everything else). A bike rack is always the final detail on any recreational path, and yet there’s a chronic lack of the damn things anywhere you’d actually need them. Parking lots so you can drive to the ride are one thing, but who’s riding to the Empire State Trail, locking up their bike, and walking to Canada?

Save the goddamn bike racks and put them by some train stations is all I’m saying.

Hey, but at least I know where I am:

Tell me something I don’t know.

Speaking of trying to make things sound impressive, while riding my local portion of the mighty Empire State Trail this morning on my flat-pedaled mountain machine I had something of a revelation:

It’s really true. There’s this notion that committing to clipless pedals takes special skill and separates the experienced rider from the novice. However, handling a bike on a variety of terrain when you have no direct mechanical connection to the bike apart from gravity and grip takes actual skill, whereas the only skill you need to have with clipless is remembering to twist your foot slightly at stoplights.

Of course it often takes me awhile to figure obvious stuff out. For example, yesterday I lamented the underpowered brakes on the Rock Combo, and a number of people pointed out it may be a simple matter of having the straddle cable set too high:

In my defense, I’m aware of the relationship between straddle cable height and stopping power, but sometimes I forget that Paul Johnson of Classic Cycle is actively trying to kill me. I first realized this at the 2018 Eroica California, when he lent me a 102 year-old bike and somewhere around mid-ride I asked him about the tires and learned they were even older than I was:

Despite my best efforts at nursing the brake, I did occasionally find myself fishtailing, which immediately made me wonder about the integrity of the tires. After one such skid, I came alongside Paul from Classic Cycle, who was on a 1978 carbon fiber Exxon Graftek. I asked him when the Mead’s tires had last been changed, figuring it had to have been sometime in the last ten years or so. “Oh, probably sometime in the ’60s,” he replied. I resolved not to do any more skidding.

Then he sent me the 1950 Drysdale Special, and if you think the brakes on the Rock Combo are set up sub-optimally then check this out:

By the way, I’m referring to the caliper/rim position discrepancy, not the phrase “British Made,” which is among the scariest in the English language. (My brother once owned a vintage Triumph motorcycle, so I know what I’m talking about.) Anyway, when I asked him about the brakes he replied, “a hammer and lowered expectations just might be the right tools for adjustment,” and in retrospect it’s clear that when he said “lowered expectations” he was referring to my expectations of completing a ride alive.

Against the odds, I survived the Drysdale, but a couple of years later I noticed what might possibly be a crack in the chainstay of the Teledyne Titan, a bicycle with a reputation for failure:

“Stop riding and send it back immediately!,” Paul did not reply. Instead he pointed out the irony I was worried about a possible crack on a bike with brakes that were obviously and intentionally drilled out like Swiss cheese, and anyway, he added, I should have known what I was signing up for, which is why he’d sent me (in his words) “the world’s safest helmet:”

All of this–plus the straddle wire that may or may not be set slightly too high according to archival Internet posts from Keith Bontrager–are clear evidence that he’s trying to kill me. But do I hold a grudge? Not in the slightest! Just as Clouseau needed Cato to keep his fighting reflexes honed, I need Paul Johnson to seduce me with classic bicycles, each of which contains at least one mechanical flaw with the potential to end my existence upon the planet Earth. Furthermore, I take great pride in my undisputed position as the World’s Most Dangerous Bike Tester. See, this is not how I evaluate equipment:

What’s my approach? 50 miles in jeans, throwing both caution and my scranus to the wind, and descending helmetless on 30 year-old bicycles with brake pads more glazed over than the eyes of a stoner, or the stickier offerings at Dunkin’ Donuts. That’s how I test bikes, goddamn it!

Anyway, I think Paul is planning to send me a track bike next, which means my demise is all but assured.

Finally, while we’re on the subject of danger, I recently came upon this story:

Before I say anything else, please note I am deeply relieved that the rider is mostly okay. However, the following testimonial from said rider jumped out at me:

Frame, fork, wheels, handlebar, drivetrain is fucked, stoked the bike took most of the impact. I believe this bike saved me. Could have been so much worse.

We’re used to “my helmet saved my life” claims, but the claim that his $20,000 Specialized Aethos meant the difference between life and death thanks to the failure characteristics of the FACT-whatever crabon sets a dangerous marketing precedent. Oh, and yes, there is video of the crash:

My analysis: he figured the driver would continue forward after pulling out into the street, so the rider figured he could keep his momentum, but instead the driver faked him out with a sudden u-turn. It’s the kind of choice any one of us might have made, but it’s also proof you can never underestimate driver stupidity.

Fuss over your canti setup all you want, but even the best disc brakes won’t help if you don’t use them.

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