kottke.org posts about cycling
Do you think you could ride a bicycle that steers backwards...aka it turns left when you turn right and vice versa? It sounds easy but years of normal bike riding experience makes it almost impossible. Destin Sandlin of Smarter Everyday taught himself how to ride the backwards-steering bike; it took months. Then he tried riding a normal bicycle again...
Loved this video...great stuff. (via ★interesting)
Lilly Yokoi was an acrobat who specialized in performing on a bicycle. During her career, she toured around the world and appeared on the Ed Sullivan show three times. In this performance from 1965, Yokoi does some seriously before-their-time tricks on her Golden Bicycle, including a no-hands handlebar spin, a no-hands wheelie, a handstand over the handlebars, and several other tricks...all in chunky high heels, mind you.
Here's an even earlier performance, from 1961. See also some bike tricks filmed by Thomas Edison in 1899.
In his mid-20s, James Golding was diagnosed with cancer. In the hospital, he weighed 84 pounds and was given a 5% chance of living. Five years later, he embarked on a journey to France to break the record for most distance ridden on a bike in 7 days. This video follows Golding through his record-breaking attempt.
The video was produced by the same team that did the lovely Experiments in Speed video.
In 1986, the BBC produced a short documentary film on the Taylor brothers, a trio of professional cyclists from the 1930s and 40s. The three of them operated a bicycle shop, which turned out handmade bikes for decades.
Delightful. Don't miss one of the brothers putting the racing stripes on a frame by hand starting at around 12:00. You can read a bit more about the brothers here and here. (via @cdevroe)
This is intense: video from one of the riders during the sprint finish of stage 5 of the Tour de Suisse.
I don't know how all of those riders are working that hard so close together without constantly crashing into each other. The number of "I've got my bike slightly in front of your bike now move the hell over" moves shown in the video reminded me of how NYC taxi drivers negotiate the streets of Manhattan. (via @polarben)
Three years ago, Kayla Montgomery was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Faced with the prospect of being confined to a wheelchair someday, Montgomery, one of the slower runners on her high school cross country team, told her coach she was short on time and wanted to run faster. Now she's one of the fastest runners in the country and perhaps the MS has something to do with it.
Kayla Montgomery, 18, was found to have multiple sclerosis three years ago. Defying most logic, she has gone on to become one of the fastest young distance runners in the country -- one who cannot stay on her feet after crossing the finish line.
Because M.S. blocks nerve signals from Montgomery's legs to her brain, particularly as her body temperature increases, she can move at steady speeds that cause other runners pain she cannot sense, creating the peculiar circumstance in which the symptoms of a disease might confer an athletic advantage.
But intense exercise can also trigger weakness and instability; as Montgomery goes numb in races, she can continue moving forward as if on autopilot, but any disruption, like stopping, makes her lose control.
"When I finish, it feels like there's nothing underneath me," Montgomery said. "I start out feeling normal and then my legs gradually go numb. I've trained myself to think about other things while I race, to get through. But when I break the motion, I can't control them and I fall."
Montgomery's story reminds me of ultra-endurance racer Jure Robic, particularly this bit in a NY Times profile:
Researchers, however, have long noted a link between neurological disorders and athletic potential. In the late 1800's, the pioneering French doctor Philippe Tissie observed that phobias and epilepsy could be beneficial for athletic training. A few decades later, the German surgeon August Bier measured the spontaneous long jump of a mentally disturbed patient, noting that it compared favorably to the existing world record. These types of exertions seemed to defy the notion of built-in muscular limits and, Bier noted, were made possible by "powerful mental stimuli and the simultaneous elimination of inhibitions."
Questions about the muscle-centered model came up again in 1989 when Canadian researchers published the results of an experiment called Operation Everest II, in which athletes did heavy exercise in altitude chambers. The athletes reached exhaustion despite the fact that their lactic-acid concentrations remained comfortably low. Fatigue, it seemed, might be caused by something else.
In 1999, three physiologists from the University of Cape Town Medical School in South Africa took the next step. They worked a group of cyclists to exhaustion during a 62-mile laboratory ride and measured, via electrodes, the percentage of leg muscles they were using at the fatigue limit. If standard theories were true, they reasoned, the body should recruit more muscle fibers as it approached exhaustion -- a natural compensation for tired, weakening muscles.
Instead, the researchers observed the opposite result. As the riders approached complete fatigue, the percentage of active muscle fibers decreased, until they were using only about 30 percent. Even as the athletes felt they were giving their all, the reality was that more of their muscles were at rest. Was the brain purposely holding back the body?
"It was as if the brain was playing a trick on the body, to save it," says Timothy Noakes, head of the Cape Town group. "Which makes a lot of sense, if you think about it. In fatigue, it only feels like we're going to die. The actual physiological risks that fatigue represents are essentially trivial."
Not sure if he's still out there or not, but Dexter Benjamin has been a bike messenger in NYC for more than 20 years, navigating his bike around the city on only one leg. He lost the leg pushing a boy out of traffic in his native Trinidad. Here's a 2006 interview with Benjamin:
And from the NY Times in 2005, a brief profile.
He came to New York to participate in a marathon, decided to stay, and before long was leaning on a crutch and panhandling in Grand Central Terminal. He spent many nights sleeping in a shelter, and more than one dawn wondering who would stoop to steal a one-legged man's shoe.
Another Trinidad native, Steve Alexis, eventually hired him as a messenger. "He could walk with crutches," Mr. Alexis says. "I figure if he rides a bike, that's even better."
After learning to shift his weight for proper balance, Mr. Benjamin was soon darting through Manhattan streets in a triumphal blur. "I love their reaction when I pass them," he says of others. "They're seeing something impossible."
A few months ago, the site featured the BMX tricks of Tim Knoll, which were some of the most unusual tricks I'd seen. (That semi trailer limbo!) Tate Roskelley's tricks are even weirder, so much so that they seem more like an artistic statement on tricks than tricks themselves:
I think the "artist's statement" on YouTube is spot on:
Tate's got just about the most original perspective on BMX you can imagine. I think years ago when Jim C said "I just want to see what's possible", Tate took his words at face value. His riding is less about making a statement and more about asking questions. What is a bike trick? What is a street spot? The answers aren't always pretty (I'm sure he isn't going to start riding around with his stem bolts loose full time) but they're always interesting and Tate is always having fun.
Ethen Godfrey Roberts pulled off a trick called a Superman double backflip the other day and it is a thing to behold:
Sploid says the trick "seems to murder the laws of physics" but if you can close your mouth long enough to stop drooling (this took me several views, BTW), the law of conservation of angular momentum is responsible for the optical illusion that makes the trick look so cool. The trick begins with a tight backwards flip, which happens quickly because all of the weight (human + bike) is distributed close to the center of gravity. By opening his body up in the middle part of the flip, Roberts slows down the rotation, just like a figure skater, diver, or ballerina would by throwing out their arms or legs. And then he gathers himself back onto the bike, which spins quickly again because the weight is all back close to the center. Boom, physics.
Watch as a trio of trials riders zoom across rusty old bridges, up rocky mountains, and down dry water slides on skinny-tired road bikes. An eye-popping collection of tricks.
There's a bit of a backstory to this video. It's a sequel to a similar video performed solo by Martyn Ashton. In the middle of filming this sequel, Ashton broke his back during a demonstration and is currently paralyzed from the waist down. Friends and fellow trials riders Chris Akrigg and Danny MacAskill stepped in to help Ashton complete the video. (via digg)
The Sweethome tested a bunch of locks, consulted with bike thieves, and sifted through other reviews and chose the best bike lock for your bike.
The consensus among those in the know was that a u-lock is best for virtually everyone, offering the highest ratio of security to portability. Unconventional devices like folding locks are intriguing, but so far none offer the security of a good u-lock. Chains sometimes offer a slight bump in security, but they often weigh twice as much and still relent to power tools. Let masochists wear belts of hardened steel; all our experts said a good u-lock is the sensible solution.
But before we talked specific lock models, they also insisted we slow down. Most people don't know how to use their locks, they said. Most people buy big, heavy expensive u-locks and then don't secure their bike's frame, or don't lock to an immobile object, or worse. Videos like this and this and this drive the point home.
Both the professional and petty thieves we talked to suggested that if a cyclist couldn't take his bike inside, he should lock his bike in a different spot each day, making it harder to case out. And they encouraged people to ride cheaper bikes. After all, the resale value of a bike -- and its expensive components -- is what makes the thing worth stealing.
BMX rider Tyrone Williams checks out a Citi Bike and puts it though its paces, first with a wheelie or two and eventually on a dirt track.
(via animal & @claytoncubitt)
Bike frame builder Tom Donhou, inspired by the home-built cars of yore ripping it up on the salt flats of Utah, wanted to see if he could build a bike in his shop that would do 100 mph. This video documents his quest.
I love everything about this video, but especially the pace car. (via ★interesting)
Five-year-old Jack is trials rider Danny MacAskill's biggest fan. (Don't know who MacAskill is? Start here.) Inspired by his hero, Jack made a video of himself riding his bike around and doing some tricks.
Oh man, there's water coming out of my face now. #cryingatwork (thx, meg)
Hannah Grant, a chef who used to work for highly influential Noma (among other places), is now the chef for the Saxo-Tinkoff cycling team currently competing in the Tour de France. She cooks for the entire team out of a food truck.
First of all, I set the menu. I mean, they can request stuff, the riders, if they want. I'll note it and I'll do it if it's possible. But, obviously, then there's rules to how to assemble the menu. Today's a rest day, so we do a low-carb lunch for them. They're not going so far, they just want to keep their legs going, so we don't want to fill them up too much. And we don't want to go too hard on the carbs so they don't gain weight.
Then we have a philosophy of using lots of vegetables, proteins, and cold-pressed fats, and then we use a lot of gluten-free alternatives. So we try to encourage the riders to try other things than just pasta and bread. I do gluten-free breads as well.
It's all to minimize all the little things that can stop you from performing 100 percent, that promote injuries, stomach problems, all those things. So that's a big difference (from cooking in a restaurant), because I have to follow all those rules. I can't just cook whatever I think is amazing. It has to be within those guidelines.
Then I take it as my personal job to take these guidelines and then make an incredible product from it, so they don't feel like they're missing out on things. It shouldn't be a punishment to travel with a kitchen truck and a chef who cooks you food that's good for you.
Grant's cooking seems to be paying off for the team...Saxo-Tinkoff currently has two riders in the top five and is in second place overall in the team classification. (via @sampotts)
Last month, we posted a video of Tim Knoll doing ridiculous and panic-inducing circus style tricks on his bike. In the video below, he explains how he does the bike limbo, riding under several semi trucks in a row. Just because he tells you how to do it, does not mean you should try it. In fact, it is the expressed opinion of this blog you should not try it. However, if you do try it and you do feel yourself falling -- which you will, because let's be honest -- don't try to lift your head up. Just fall, because as Knoll says, "scrapes are better than stitches."
Here's an unfortunately short bit of circus riding by Tim Knoll. You often see a lot of the same tricks in bike videos, so Knoll's style mix of flatland, street, and circus riding is refreshing. I do get nervous when he stands on his handlebars or plays limbo with a row for semi-trucks. Be careful, Tim Knoll!
Some interesting data about how protected bike lanes in NYC dramatically increased retail sales of local businesses.
A new study from the New York Department of Transportation shows that streets that safely accommodate bicycle and pedestrian travel are especially good at boosting small businesses, even in a recession.
NYC DOT found that protected bikeways had a significant positive impact on local business strength. After the construction of a protected bicycle lane on 9th Avenue, local businesses saw a 49% increase in retail sales. In comparison, local businesses throughout Manhattan only saw a 3% increase in retail sales.
And that's just one of the many tidbits from a NYC DOT report released last November (right around the time of Hurricane Sandy, which is probably why no one noticed at the time); read the whole report here:
Among them: "retail sales increased a whopping 172% after the city converted an underused parking area in Brooklyn into a pedestrian plaza", and traffic calming in the Bronx decreased speeding by ~30% and pedestrian crashes by 67%. (via @lhl)
NYC is set to introduce their bike-share program at the end of the month. I think it's a great idea and am interested to follow how it does in practice. Many have objected to the share program even before it starts (reminding me of the smoking ban protests, ultimately much ado about nothing) but Sommer Mathis does an admirable job heading them off.
Claim #3: The stations are too ugly for historic neighborhoods, and Citibank's sponsorship is too crassly commercial.
These are just some of the claims behind a series of lawsuits that are already in the works, brought by specific building owners who argue that docking stations don't belong next to their beautiful buildings. They're also worried that delivery truck access may be impeded by the presence of some stations. The lawsuits are being filed within the context of additional complaints that neighbors feel they weren't consulted on the location of some stations, despite the city's department of transportation having held nearly 400 meetings on station locations with community boards and other neighborhood groups. This is a classic NIMBY reaction, and by far the easiest one the city could have predicted. The idea that bike-share infrastructure is somehow uglier or more commercial than any other element of New York's streetscape is easy enough to debunk. But the truth is, one of the best things about the design of the Alta bike-share stations is how easy they are to install and, if need be, later remove. It's entirely possible that small problems with the specific locations of some stations will become apparent after the program launches, and they'll need to be moved around the corner or across the street to better serve users. This has happened here in Washington, D.C., and it'll happen for sure in New York. But that's all part of the bike-share roll-out process. If there's a legitimate problem with the location of a single station, that can actually be fixed within in a matter of hours or at worst, a day or two.
Our neighborhood newspaper went full-NIMBY about the bike-share this week and hit all the major points addressed in this article, including the ridiculous "bike racks are taking valuable parking spots" one. (via @jmseabrook)
Martyn Ashton takes a carbon fiber road bike (the same bike Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France with) and does some trials riding with it. It's a bit like recreating the Mini Cooper chase scene in the Bourne Identity with a Bugatti Veyron.
Izhar Gafni has designed a bike that weighs 20 pounds, costs between $9-12 to build, can hold up to a 485 pound person, and it made out of cardboard.
Engineers told Gafni that his idea was impossible. Yet he realized that paper could be strong if treated properly. As in crafting origami and tearing telephone books, he explains, "[if] you fold it once, and it's not just twice the strength, it's three times the strength."
The development to what you see today took three years. Two were spent just figuring out the cardboard complications--leading to several patents--and the last was spent converting a cardboard box on wheels to a relatively normal looking bike.
(thx, mickey & erika)
If you had any remaining doubts about Lance Armstrong's involvement in doping, Tyler Hamilton's book should put those to rest. Hamilton was Armstrong's teammate on the U.S. Postal Service team, and in the book, he tells the story (corroborated by no fewer than nine former Armstrong/Hamilton teammates) of how Armstrong, the USPS team, and practically everyone else on the racing circuit doped in the 1990s/2000s. From an early look at the book by Christopher Keys at Outside Magazine:
The drugs are everywhere, and as Hamilton explains, Armstrong was not just another cyclist caught in the middle of an established drug culture -- he was a pioneer pushing into uncharted territory. In this sense, the book destroys another myth: that everyone was doing it, so Armstrong was, in a weird way, just competing on a level playing field. There was no level playing field. With his connections to Michele Ferrari, the best dishonest doctor in the business, Armstrong was always "two years ahead of what everybody else was doing," Hamilton writes. Even on the Postal squad there was a pecking order. Armstrong got the superior treatments.
What ultimately makes the book so damning, however, is that it doesn't require readers to put their full faith in Hamilton's word. In the book's preface, which details its genesis, Coyle not so subtly addresses Armstrong's supporters by pointing out that, while the story is told through Hamilton, nine former Postal teammates agreed to cooperate with him on The Secret Race, verifying and corroborating Hamilton's account. Nine teammates.
No wonder he gave up.
Zhao Huasen takes photos of people on bicycles and erases the bicycles.
From British Council film, a short film from 1945 that shows how a bicycle is designed and manufactured.
Casey Neistat tries to steal his own bike in several locations around NYC and finds it's pretty easy...even if you're doing so right in front of a police station.
I recently spent a couple of days conducting a bike theft experiment, which I first tried with my brother Van in 2005. I locked my own bike up and then proceeded to steal it, using brazen means -- like a giant crowbar -- in audacious locations, including directly in front of a police station. I wanted to find out whether onlookers or the cops would intervene. What you see here in my film are the results.
This is a video of the earlier attempt he mentions. (via ★ironicsans)
Watch until at least 45 seconds in.
I wanna see three of these riding a team sprint in a tiny velodrome.
I'd been looking for something to post to say goodnight, so it was good that Rogre sent something over. It's a fitting way to end the weekend considering it features Killian Martin and Danny MacAskill (featured here earlier in the week). The video is goofy and not as jaw-droppingly jaw-dropping as their solo videos, but they do seem to be doing their thing in a fancy theater the name of which I should know. This reminds me of the commercials where the sneaker commercials get ALL of their athletes into one commercial.
I usually like these videos at the end of the night, but they're also quite nice in the morning. As Jason said, "He rides across a rope. On a bike!"
Danny MacAskill, the fantastic Scottish trials cyclist, is back a new video packed with gravity- and death-defying stunts.
I had a special screening of this with my three-year-old son this morning before I came into the office; he gave it two thumbs up. Way up! (via @mathowie)
Jure Robic, the world-class ultra-endurance cyclist I wrote about earlier this year, was killed in a traffic accident in his native Slovenia late last week. He died as he lived: on his bike. (thx, @ddewey and several others)
I couldn't tell exactly what I loved about that skateboarding video the other night, but I figured out it reminded me of the Danny MacAskill video from last year that you really should have seen by now. I went fruitlessly looking for a bike video that might have the same feeling and then this showed up in my feed this morning and I figured it could be what takes you through the night (play your favorite song while watching).
I've watched it 3 times and I still can't figure out how those left turns into our face work.
The "safety in numbers" effect is proving true in NYC: the number of bicycles on the streets has more than doubled since 2001 while casualties have fallen. The increased prevalence of bike lanes in the city has to be helping too. (thx, david)
Street rider Danny MacAskill starts off by riding his bike across a narrow fence about four feet in the air...and the video only gets better from there.
Stunning. I want to see MacAskill in the next Bond film. (via waxy)
Update: See also Ryan Leech. (thx, courtney)
Long-time NYC cyclist Robert Sullivan writes that the city is a much better place for biking than it used to be and that the number of cyclists on the street are way up.
Today, the Transportation Department has gotten serious about biking, and in just three years, the agency has painted bike lanes (good), constructed bike lanes separated by parked cars (great) and bike lanes separated by medians or barriers (the best) and installed bike signals, bike signs and many bike symbols painted on the street.
Sullivan also notes that because of this increased use, pedestrians and car drivers (usually natural enemies) now share a dislike of bikers who run red lights, ride on sidewalks, weave through traffic, and blow through busy crosswalks. He offers four ways that bikers can improve their perception with the public.
NO. 1: How about we stop at major intersections? Especially where there are school crossing guards, or disabled people crossing, or a lot of people during the morning or evening rush. (I have the law with me on this one.) At minor intersections, on far-from-traffic intersections, let's at least stop and go.
Suggestions for pedestrians (don't cross against the light when a bike is coming, don't stand in the bike lane while waiting to cross the street, etc.) and cars (don't park in the bike lane, don't wait to turn in the bike lane, etc.) would be helpful too.
From a Copenhagen blog that highlights biking style, a plea to cool it with all the subculture cycling attitude and terminology already.
Let's straighten things out, shall we? What you see in the photo above, taken in Copenhagen, is something we call a "cyclist".
Not a "bicycle commuter", nor a "utility cyclist". Certainly not a "lightweight, open air, self-powered traffic vehicle user". It's a cyclist.
The Copenhagener above is not "commuting" - or at least she doesn't call it that. She's not going for a "bike ride" or "making a bold statement about her personal convictions regarding reduction of Co2 levels and sustainable transport methods in urban centers".
She's just going to work. On her bike.
Update: The problem with biking in America: people don't feel safe, mainly because people in cars just aren't that aware of people on bicycles.
Kristin Armstrong, the Olympic gold medalist in the women's individual time trial in road cycling, took a GPS unit along with her when she previewed the road course in Beijing in December 2007. When she got home to Idaho, she d/led the data, put it into Google Earth, and found a similar local loop on which to train.
This capability along with having the elevation profile proved invaluable in my preparation for my Gold Medal race.
(via matt's a.whole)
The last man to finish the Tour de France gets the unofficial title of winner of the Lanterne Rouge. Finishing last is not as easy as you might suppose.
The designation falls somewhere between insult and accolade. Mr. Vansevenant, who after Stage 18 sits in 150th place, some 3 hours and 45 minutes behind Mr. Sastre, is indeed the worst-placed rider in the Tour de France. But, in turn, he has outlasted those who abandoned the Tour through illness, injury or simple exhaustion; those who were eliminated for failing to finish within each day's time limit and are forced to withdraw; and those who were banned or withdrew for doping-related causes. From year to year, about 20% of the riders drop out. In other words, you can't simply coast to last place; you have to work for it.
Wim Vansevenant did hang on to become the first three-time winner of the Lanterne Rouge.
Amateur runners, cyclists, and triathletes are starting to choose to compete in lesser-known smaller races in order to have a better chance of placing higher in the results. "Some are trying to gain an edge by finding where the fast racers aren't. Instead of training harder, they're spending hours online to scout out the field, and they're driving hundreds of miles to race against thin competition in out-of-the-way places."
Fascinating story of an amateur cyclist who starts taking various performancing enhancing drugs to see how they affect his performance. "I had a life once, and now I'm standing in the Easton WaWa in the middle of the night, looking like a cyborg, with thousands of dollars of drugs coursing through my veins. I started looking forward to the moment when the whole thing would be over."
Wu-oh. Floyd Landis had "an unusual level of testosterone/epitestosterone ratio" in his blood after stage 17 of the Tour de France. If his backup sample also tests positive, the title could be taken from him. You may remember stage 17 as the scene of Landis' remarkable comeback. Cyclingnews.com says that "some athletes have naturally high levels, and can prove this through a series of tests"...is it possible that Landis was just super amped up from the effort that day?
Profile of Floyd Landis, who won the Tour de France yesterday. (via, a.whole)
The science of Lance Armstrong. Between 1992 and 1999, he increased his muscle efficiency by 8 percent, a gain previously thought to be impossible.