Friday, December 31, 2010
At the heart of a real Martini is elegant simplicity. Sugary syrups and exotic garnishes have their place, but that place is elsewhere. Neither does Vodka belong in this most classic of cocktails. A traditional Martini is gin and vermouth in just the right combination - swirled delicately over ice, strained into a classic cocktail glass, and garnished with three olives. And that is all.
Perfect! But, not so fast... No sooner had I happily surveyed my ingredients, than my friend - an Edwardian history specialist - informed me that I was doing it all wrong. I was fixing to create a 1920s version of the drink, whereas the "real" original is from the early 1900s and requires a different approach entirely. Furthermore, I should not be calling it "the perfect Martini" as it creates confusion with the "Perfect Martini" - which is a separate version of the drink altogether. Ah, academics... How we love to get it just right and spoil all the fun!
There is really no such thing as a perfect anything, just our personal version of it. It's the version that we will have the most fun with, the version that happens to be just right for us - even if it's not what others consider perfect or correct. Here's wishing you all a beautiful New Year full of such experiences - on the bicycle and otherwise.
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
ANT and installed them by drilling holes directly into the fenders. I have close-up pictures of the installation and will write a detailed tutorial in a separate post, for those interested.
on other bikes - which is one reason I love these tires so much. They are the best combination of city/ sporty/ cushy/ all-weather I have found so far. And okay, it does not hurt that they are available in cream!
after the previous snowfall. Somewhat to my surprise, they handle similarly at slow speeds (under 10mph)- which is the speed I stick to under winter road conditions. The Bella Ciao's superior responsiveness and the Gazelle's superior cushiness are considerably less noticeable when cycling gingerly over slush and ice patches. Their common qualities, however, are all the more noticeable: Namely, how well-balanced and stable they both are. The Pashley I rode last year had these same qualities as well - so I think that all three are great winter bicycles.
last year. Nothing has really changed in a drastic way, but maybe my balancing skills have gradually improved and my lungs have grown accustomed to cycling in freezing temperatures. And as far as aesthetics go, I really do think that it helps to have a bicycle that you are excited about as a winter bike, rather than a "beater". This helped me last year and it's helping me now. The winter landscape is so beautiful, that cycling through it on a bicycle I love (and feel safe on) makes it all the more special.
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
The blizzard that has swept over the East Coast in the past couple of days has left everyone stunned. After Boston received over a foot of snow within a 24-hour period and another half a foot the next day, life came to a halt. The street plows were quickly overwhelmed, a snow emergency was declared, public transportation ceased, and drivers were asked to stay off the roads. What had been a perfectly functional city only a day earlier quickly turned into a desolate snow-covered landscape. Our Cambridge/Somerville neighbourhood in particular resembled a Siberian village by Sunday evening, with only the rooftops and the tips of pine trees peaking out under a thick blanket of white, as the darkened sky continued to dump more powder onto the abandoned streets.
Our family phoned to ask how we were coping. Did we have enough food and was our heating working? I had to giggle at the imagery of being trapped in our home, eating canned food next to a space heater. After all, I had just returned from a mile-long trek to the grocery store, somehow managing not to perish in the process. I sympathise deeply with those whose travel plans were derailed because of the storm, and even more so with those who are stuck in airports. But I am surprised by the mass panic and the "hide in the bunker" sentiment of those who are merely staying at home in the city. We are not being bombed. The snow is not radioactive or poisonous (well, at least not significantly so). We can conquer it by... walking! and by wearing really warm clothing!
It seems to me that at least part of the problem, is that "dressing for the weather" has become a novel concept for so many people after years of driving. Despite living in a cold climate, a number of my friends simply do not own warm clothing. A thick wool coat and proper winter boots are not necessary for getting in and out of the car and walking across a parking lot, so why spend money on them? It makes sense, given an automobile-reliant lifestyle. But as soon as the car is unavailable or non-functional, you are trapped - and that is a horrible feeling for those who like to be independent.
Monday, December 27, 2010
With a blizzard raging outside, what better way to spend an evening than working on bikes? The Co-Habitant agreed to help with my Gazelle (and by "help" I mean "do most of the work"), in exchange for which I prepared lavish portions of a dish that is sort of a cross between French Toast and a Croque Monsieur - only larger, fluffier, more generous on the cheese, and with some secret herbs that make it special. He likes my cooking, I like his mechanics: win-win!
Once removed, this is what was inside. It's entirely possible that the drivetrain has not been worked on since the bicycle was first purchased by the original owner. The metal structure supporting the vinyl casing was covered in surface rust, as were parts of the chain itself. But otherwise, there were no apparent problems. These bicycles were built to be used and abused for years without any need for maintenance.
We were disappointed to see that the chainring did not have little gazelles carved into it like the older ones did. But I suppose that would be too much to expect from a '90s model. The metal chaincase support structure disassembles into several parts - allowing the rear portion to be removed without taking the whole thing apart.
The main chaincase attachment bolt is on the chainstay - a more secure method than attaching chaincases or chainguards to the bottom bracket. Another point of attachment rests on the rear axle. While more difficult to tinker with, the benefit of the vinyl chaincase design, is that it is less likely to rub or knock against the chain. It also weighs less than plastic or metal chaincases - though somehow I doubt that was a concern for the makers of Gazelle.
The Co-Habitant was thoroughly impressed by the design of the Gazelle A-Touren's rear triangle, and believes it to be a better (more integrated) system than that of the vintage Raleigh DL-1 or of the modern Pashley.
Everything on the Gazelle fits together just so, as if the parts were all custom-made for each other. And once the chainguard is off, the fork ends are cut in such a way, so as to facilitate wheel removal. The 28" wheels with the stainless steel rims weigh a ton.
The routing of the tail light is entirely internal: The wiring comes out of the chainstay right next to the fork-end, and snakes along the inside of the rear fender invisibly. These are the kinds of design elements that make this bicycle a fully integrated system - almost an organism - that experiences very few problems. There are fewer things to shake loose, break, or fall out of adjustment, which is what makes it so low maintenance.
I know that some enthusiasts would have next taken the whole bike apart, scrubbed off the rust, polished the frame and components, and put it back together - but we prefer to let functional bikes be. Having checked the drivetrain, none of the components seemed to be any worse for wear despite some cosmetic degradation, so we just cleaned them up a bit, greased everything, adjusted the brakes and shifter, and closed the whole thing back up. I will replace the chain soon just in case, but that is about it. Changing the tires on this bike was easy, and the cracked originals are now replaced with new Schwalbe Delta Cruisers. We also removed the vinyl dressguards and are replacing them with something more personalised. The snow continues today, but by the time it is over the winterised Gazelle will hopefully be ready for her test-ride. Working on this bicycle has made us both appreciate just how well it was built. I know that the current-production Gazelles differ in the way they are constructed, but I hope that they retained at least some of the ingenuity of the original design.
Sunday, December 26, 2010
regular winter clothes and potter along at whatever speed I am comfortable with until I reach my destination. But when cycling for sport, it is more difficult to regulate body temperature: Most of my body warms up almost immediately once I pick up speed, so bundling up will cause overheating. At the same time, my hands and face are more vulnerable to the windchill than on a transportation bike because of how they are positioned on a roadbike. To find the perfect balance is tricky and can only be done via experimentation.
After resisting "technical wool" for as long as I could, I finally gave into it, because nothing else was working for me. I hope to write a comparison review of some popular wool brands soon, but basically what I am wearing in these pictures are just a couple of thin layers by Icebreaker and I/O Bio, an old wool hat, and a wind-proof cycling jacket. I am embarrassed to admit that the jacket is Campagnolo, but it is the best athletic jacket I have worn, ever, and I should write a separate review of it as well, as it certainly deserves it.
previous post about my hands freezing when riding with drop bars, I received suggestions from readers for this style of gloves, and the Co-Habitant got them for me as a gift. The concept of "lobster gloves" was new to me, but I was willing to try anything to keep my fingers from going numb when positioned on the brake hoods. These gloves really do make your hands look like enormous, mutant lobster claws, and whether you consider that cute or unacceptably grotesque is a matter of taste.
some versions keep the index finger and middle finger together as well. We went to a local Eastern Mountain Sports store to look for these gloves, and I tried several versions by different manufacturers. I chose the ones by Gore Bike Wear (called "Radiator Gloves"), because they were the only ones that allowed me to freely squeeze the brake levers on the floor model roadbikes they had in the store. Similar-looking gloves by Pearl Izumi and other manufacturers constrained my hands too much and interfered with lever squeezing motions. The sizing of the Gore gloves was unisex, and size 6 fit me perfectly. Normally I wear I size 7 in women's gloves.
Friday, December 24, 2010
In the winter of 1989-1990, my family and I lived in Rome. It was an unstable and nomadic time. My sister and I - then aged 5 and 10 - were home schooled and spent most of our free time in the nearby park. We picked up a bit of Italian from the local children and were able to play with them. But mostly we observed.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
As a holiday gift, I received a subscription to Bicycle Quarterly and a set of back-issues containing articles I had been wanting to read for some time. The Winter 2010 issue and the older set arrived a little while ago, and I have been in a BQ-induced trance ever since. To describe this publication is challenging, as it defies easy classification. Part quasi-scholarly journal, part illustrated adventure book, something like this could only have been created by somebody with the mind of the relentlessly tenacious scientist and the spirit of the boy explorer. The result is wild, spectacular, engaging and maddening all at once - which is probably more emotion than any periodical has gotten out of me, ever. For that alone, the Bicycle Quarterly is worth every penny of its $30/year subscription fee.
Bicycle Quarterly focuses on randonneuring and cyclo-touring, and on the classic and vintage bicycles designed for these forms of cycling. Its content includes elaborate bicycle reviews, detailed historical articles, technical articles on frame building and ride quality, travel stories, book and product reviews, and much more in the same vein. But to leave the description at that would be to understate the unique nature of this magazine. First, there are the hand-drawn black and white illustrations. And then, there is the inimitable narrative voice of Jan Heine - both the publisher of Bicycle Quarterly and the author of most of the articles. Dr. Heine writes like a research scientist who, without the pressure of having to publish in peer-reviewed academic journals, has given free reign to his poetic side. With scientific phraseology interwoven with florid descriptions and subjective assertions, it is like some fantastic tapestry that draws me in with the eccentricity of its patterns.
At the same time, Dr. Heine has a very distinct perspective, which must be kept in mind when reading his assertions, reviews and critiques. He favours a specific kind of (1950s French randonneuring) bicycle design and is convinced of the superiority of this design to a degree that, in my view, makes him deeply biased. He also has a number of theories - such as that on "planing," on the virtues of low-trail geometry, and on the superiority of flexible frames - which he tends to treat as fact, or at least as self-fulfilling prophecies. As a trained researcher myself (psychology and neuroscience), I cannot agree that the tests and reviews printed in Bicycle Quarterly are "scientific" - Yet they are presented that way to readers, and that is my biggest criticism of the magazine. Bicycle Quarterly has much to offer - as long as the author's assertions are not taken as gospel by the eager novice. It is the art and (pseudo-)science of velo-fetishism at its best, and I am addicted.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Bella Ciao ("Patricia") in winter conditions, and with the arrival of the season's first snow I finally got my chance. Before I go on, I will preface with the disclaimer / mini-announcement that I have begun collaborating with Bella Ciao on a special edition bicycle, which will be sold by Harris Cyclery in Spring 2011. I will have more details about that soon, but just wanted to make that affiliation known in the meantime.
Pashley I used to own, and this winter it looks like I will do equally well on the Gazelle and Bella Ciao.
Pashley I used to own, and this winter it looks like I will do equally well on the Gazelle and Bella Ciao.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
one of these, but having no luck finding anything in my size and budget. Finally, an online bike-friend found something that seemed perfect and I pounced on it immediately. When the bicycle arrived, it initially seemed that my worst fears about sight-unseen deals were realised and the purchase was a disaster: Not only did every single component seem to require work, but the frame was a larger size than advertised - possibly too large for me. I considered just re-selling the bike as-is to save myself the heartbreak. But after much debate and some outside mechanical help, things began to look up and I decided to keep it. Once the wheels were in ridable condition and we put the tires on, the moment of truth came: I did clear the top-tube sufficiently, and so continuing the renovations was deemed worth the risk.
water bottle, which I promptly removed.