Life Isn’t Always Made To Measure

Like most people, I engage in the time-honored tradition of pouring myself a cup of coffee in the morning and reading the “news.” One of those news sources is Streetsblog, with which I have a fraught relationship: they are cloyingly smug and maddeningly self-contradictory; and yet, they are the best source of information for news about what’s going on with the streets, as their name would suggest. Anyway, this morning I was perusing their daily news round-up when I noticed an item that was local to me:

“It is not fair for drivers,” Adair said. “When they look for parking they think they see a spot and then they curse when it’s bikes! You can’t put anything in the streets of New York they belong to every citizen to park.”

Awww, poor drivers. A curbside donation-driven bike repair and exchange operation, there goes the neighborhood! This story is ironic on almost every level, though perhaps the most delectable bit of irony is that for weeks, just a few steps from here, there was a trailer occupying an parking space from which some Lebowski bros in Crocs and wrap-around sunglasses were also accepting donations in exchange for marijuana.

At this point you may be tempted to note, “But marijuana isn’t illegal in New York anymore!” Sure. But it’s still not legal to sell it out of a trailer or whatever (presumably taking “donations” for it is a workaround), and as far as I know the legislature is still working out how to license dispensaries and make it seem like they’re giving back to the same people they’ve been locking up for 100 years over it and all the rest of that performative stuff. None of this is to say I’m losing sleep over the weed bros or think that they should be raided by the police, but if you’re going to be concerned about unlicensed vendors, bro-bags in Crocs potentially dispensing potent drugs to kids (I have no idea if they were giving it to kids, maybe they were checking IDs, but who the hell knows, which is my point) seems like it would trump the guy who will take $5 to fix your flat tire. (I have no idea what Curbside Bike Guy charges to fix a flat tire, nor is he cutting me in for a commission.)

Setting aside for the moment the nature of the unlicensed vending operation (and in New York City that could be bike repair, weed delivery, selling food on the subway platform, selling booze on the beach…), it does seem to be that we are becoming a City of Rats–literal rats, to be sure, but also this kind of rat:

Certainly tattling on your neighbors has existed everywhere for as long as people have been living in cities (and no, I’m not ratting out the weed dealers, I highly doubt anyone’s going to read this bike blog post and launch an investigation), but here in New York the practice was formalized when Mayor Bloomberg created the 311 system:

As I recall, the idea here was to create sort of a “customer service” line for city residents, since Bloomberg was a businessman after all, though of course a key component of the system was that you could call in a noise complaint or a derelict vehicle or any other situation that didn’t rise to the level of an emergency that warranted a 911 call. A few years later, the city started installing a protected bike lane network in earnest:

Gotta love the Times:

That’s a pretty big detail to get wrong. Of course now they don’t even note the correction, they just stealthily change it and pretend it never happened.

The bike lanes were a real boon for the city, and the number of people riding bicycles greatly increased. At the same time, in retrospect, the bike lane and the 311 system (and the smoking ban in bars, and the letter grades in the front of restaurants, and all the other Bloomberg-era changes…) were part of a shift to a new culture in New York City which is best summed up by the proverb, “A place for everything and everything in its place.” This was a big change from a city that in many ways operated on more of a neighbor-to-neighbor, neighborhood-to-neighborhood basis by which people were more inclined to follow (or not follow) unwritten rules and deal with their own problems. To be sure, this is in no way specific to New York, and this sort of change is inevitable as we automate and digitize basically everything. Also, I’m in no way suggesting that people in New York didn’t complain about stuff in pre-Bloomberg New York, not by a long shot. Still, in a city as large as New York, I’d argue that the idea everything can be managed and regulated in a uniform fashion across such a large and populous area, and the expectation that public and private space can be managed right on down to the square millimeter, is a relatively new phenomenon. And anyone who deals with, say, the Department of Buildings on a regular basis can attest to the fact that bureaucracy in New York has reached its apotheosis.

The upshot of this is a lot of bickering, and people whining about how they’re not able to park because of bike lanes, or how they’re not able to ride because people are parked in the bike lanes:

Moreover, all of them expect some agent of the city to come running and fix it for them. I’m no exception, and have certainly placed my share of 311 calls over the years. However, as I get old and tired, I increasingly find myself yielding to the temptation to loosen my sphincter and surrender to the natural give and take that is part of living in a big city. Granted, the danger here is that I go too far and become incontinent, but at a certain point it’s not only futile but downright antagonistic to attempt to control the behavior of others, and even if you’re “right” the outcome is rarely favorable–and no, I’m not talking about reporting thefts and violence and domestic abuse. I’m talking about undermining the people taking a little latitude in a city that requires a permit for anything more involved than scratching your ass, and where tiny amounts of space command some of the highest premiums on earth, and which, despite all the progressive rhetoric, was founded for one reason alone, which was as a place to engage in trade. At a certain point you or somebody near you is going to do something they’re not “supposed” to, and if you’re not able to accommodate it you’re going to drive yourself insane.

Speaking of getting old and incontinent, I continue to be vexed by my affinity for the Vengeance Bike:

So in an attempt to understand it, I went on a road bike measuring frenzy:

Normal people probably know their bikes’ measurements down to the millimeter. However, my bikes seem come into my possession via serendipity and whim (e.g. Paul at Classic Cycle saying, “Wanna try a [insert vintage bike here]?”) so I don’t really concern myself with the details:

Of the three (3) road bikes I’m currently riding (there’s also the Milwaukee, though I’ve basically given that to my son), between the specs I’ve been able to dig up and the measurements I’ve taken, here’s how it shakes out:

The bikes are all pretty close in size, but the Vengeance Bike has the shortest top tube (possibly tied with the Normcore bike, I don’t entirely trust my own measurements) and the tallest head tube. So the slightly more upright riding position would probably account for like 75% of why I like it so much, with the vintage Campy and whatever ride quality the plastic frame may or may not impart accounting for the difference. (Not to mention also explaining why I’ve succumbed entirely to the Cult of Rivendell.) And of course any differences in fit are well within the margin of small adjustments or, at most, stem swaps.

The biggest problem with the Vengeance Bike is the tight clearances, which means that on 25s you hear scraping sounds if you roll through even the tiniest amount of grit. On the other hand, the cutouts and fan-shaped brakes offer some protection against splatter and make the bike kind of like riding a giant fender. As for the drag coefficient of the vintage aero frame, I have no idea, but I’ll report back after I’ve spent some time in the wind tunnel.

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