March 27 BLAHG No. 9: whale-and-bicycle plastic & more racism stuff

March 27 BLAHG No. 9: whale-and-bicycle plastic & more racism stuff


You'll find the first link here interesting, I think.

 This is about cars, but bicycles, too. It's a short article in the NYT.

The whales-eating-plastic thing I mentioned in the last Blahg--a whale ate 88 pound of plastic and died; and then another one in the Philipine Ocean (is that a real ocean?) ate another 80 pounds and washed up on shore all spooky and white. It reminds me of 

this song

 and no it's not "Spooky"—

and then there's this, equally famous

movie scene

that's easier to guess and fun to watch, and it's only half a minute.

But more relevant to our world is the amount of plastic used to protect bicycles in shipping. It used to be a little--soft plastic ribbons used to tie wheels to frames and handlebars to top tubs and cranks to chainstays. The rest was cardboard.

Now the plastic ties have been replaced by zip ties (we snip and re-use them here); and the cardboard has been replaced with plastic bags and foam tubes.

Changing things like that is hard, because the factories have their systems and sources and any change is like an umbrella in a wheel. HOWEVER, I proposed a $5 charge per bike, and at that price it's worth it, and probably also drove home its importance. We're going to pass that on to you, because you can afford it more for one bike than we can for many hundreds of them.

IF your bike gets scratched because it was wrapped in cardboard and not plastic—first, it's unlikely. How will that happen when it's in the box and not tight to the walls of it? But if it does, think of it as a whale-saving wound and be proud of it. When we ship out of here, we'll use recycled plastic as long as we've got it, and then go to paper. I like the idea of longitudinally split on one side paper towel tube-like-tubes subbing for the foam tubes.


This plastic thing is the kind of concern that comes late in life, although I expect to live another 30 years. But it is a late-life thing, maybe along the lines of making up for past sins now realized. You get to a point where the struggle has gone on for so long, and maybe you're coasting now or maybe it's harder than ever (I am right about there, to be honest), and little fundamental cares become big ones,and you start looking back and then forward, and then see a gap in your values/action package, and you have to act on it. Bob Dylan has a line that describes it. I may have said this before:

I'm crestfallen
The world of illusion is at my door,
I ain't a-haulin'

Any of my lambs to the marketplace anymore.

The song lyric taken literally means I like my lambs, so I'm not gonna sell them to somebody who wants to butcher them ... anymore. Anything can be a lamb. It can be a thought or belief or value, or a tangible thing, any kind of noun.

I think it's about when you're fed up enough or just no longer desperate, you can say screw it, I'm not doing that anymore...or I'm going to START doing what I should've been doing all along..something like that. When I started Rivendell I lived by that line, and there have been changes that make me feel harder core than ever. Eventually I will move outside your comfort zone and fizzle out, and we all move on.


A fellow sent me this and called me a prophet, but a prophet is like a seer, right? I'd like to be one, but in this case all my noise about CARBON FIBER comes from seeing stuff like this in real life, and reading about it over and over. It seems like, I feel like, the big companies have trapped themselves.

The writer was too easy on carbon. He was trying to not come off like a quack, like Grant Petersen. He quotes a Giant representative as saying that any material can fatigue. True, but in the case of steel, there is a load threshold below which steel will NOT EVER FATIGUE. 

The writer also alludes to a scenario, theoretical, in which a flaw in carbon may take years to end in a "sudden" failure. Our experiments here suggest (as the data does, also) that carbon doesn't fail slowly, and that once it's cracked  it's a goner sooner than any other material. 

We made this a few years ago. A short video.

I don't know how somebody can know and still ride it, but they do, and people keep making it.

"Steel is retro" misses the whole point. Steel can break but it can't break suddenly. It may surprise you if you're oblivious, but it's really pretty good.




That's Dan getting over a tree on the north side of Mt. Tamalpais. I think I shot it at 1/30th or 1/15th. HP-5 film, OM-1 camera, yellow-orange filter.  If that means nothing to you, that's fine, but if you take pictures and see pictures, you always wonder. The now-dead Popular Photography magazine always listed that stuff. Most photographers don't jot down apertures and shutter speeds, but have an idea of the range, so they guess. That's what I do, too. In this case I new I'd get the right amount of blur at 1/15th or 1/30th second, so I locked that in and moved the aperture until the exposure was about right. I like the shaking leaves.


This isn't a caption contest this time...but the thing is, if you spend enough time hunching over a table, a stove, a petri dish, or a bike, your bones and body may deform to it, and when you're an old person you might not be able to just snap out of it. I have seen this happen. My caption will probably be something like, "If you ride hunched over too much, you might not be able to stand up straight when you're old." As I've said, I've seen it.


I'm practicing my blurring. It'd be easier digitally b/c of the immediate feedback, but all I have is film and phone. I won't beat that one into the ground. This is 1/15th of a second, I think.


When you're out there shooting blurs you're supposed to have good contrast between the rider and the background, but you don't always get to. But anyway, would this look better in perfect stop-action crispy color? No, it would look, as we used to say, about ten times worse.


Last Thursday was the dreariest day in 20 years, and that's not a about weather. People off on vacation, overlapping, and cut back hours and stuff, and it was just Vince and me, until Rich came and worked from 10 to about 1:30. Phones were dead, online orders had stopped as though something happened with National Internet, Inc., and we weren't informed. Finally a robocall, seriously. The highlight was a Clem order at closing, and it was so good. I'm worrying. We've got these great bikes--Homers, Atlantises, Cheviots... and Clem L's and Bootses on the way, and the pre-ordered and only partly paid for Tandems, and Atlantises in the Fall (and we have some now, still). The bars, bags...argh. Sometimes this happens and it's just a down blip, and I hope that's it.

 Will is back tomorrow (Friday) with a stack of returns to deal with, and that'll wipe him out. Roman's gone for almost two weeks. Cory, another half a week? I just love work and the work we do and the people here and out there on your side of the fence so much. The landlord comes Tues to talk about a new lease.


I'm always interested in Little League baseball stories:

related to bats and this is this

Eight years ago I started writing a pamphlet with the working title of "How to Hit Little League Pitching." I don't have the credentials to get it published, but -- damn me to hell for being so cocky -- but it has valuable information that any Little League player ought to know and won't learn from the coach. It's been shelved for now, too much other stuff to occupy me, but it IS good. I batted .538 back then, and my stance was out there on the edge. There are some overlooked logical basics that make hitting easier. Today, Monday, we had a decent day -- yay.


This next thing is long and I'm still working out how much detail to include and how to say things. 


The first bikes were built and sold in France in 1867. They had thick wooden spokes and rims with strip-iron treads, and rode so harshly that people called them boneshakers. Two years later, Prussia —later absorbed into Germany—attacked France, and France’s bike biz stopped. England took over, developed the high-wheeler, and we imported them for a few years before making our own. Back then known as the Ordinary, it was easier to ride fast, and dominated the bicycle scene for the next fifteen years (thru 1885/6). It was only for wealthy and athletic white men. Women didn’t ride them because their corsets and fluffy dresses didn’t work with bikes; and women weren’t supposed to exercise or move around unescorted, anyway.

Black people didn’t ride them because they cost $120 to $160 — more than a year’s wages.

Then in 1885, an Englishman named Starley developed a chain-drive bicycle with a 36-inch front wheel and a 30-inch rear. It was easier to ride and harder to fall off, so anybody with money could get one. Only white people had money.

In the next several years inventionism ran amok, as bike makers tried to stick out in a crowded field. Ninety percent of the innovations were nutty and died early, but some lived and made bikes better.  In 1886/7, when frail ten-year old Scottish lad Johnny Dunlop complained to his dad that his tricycle’s solid rubber wheels were making him sad with headaches when he rode over bumps. His veterinarian dad Albert had already made an inflatable bridle to be gentler on sore-necked horses, and modified the process to make inflatable tires. (Dunlop Sports is a big deal now.)

New industrial processes (mostly developed for war) improved everything made of metal, and all metal bike parts got much better, fast.

But the cushy tire was still the main thing. With that, even a feeble rich white grampa could ride a small-wheeled safety bike on lousy roads in comfort. Women were all over it, too. It led to more practical women’s fashions, a factor in Susan B. Anthony considered when she said, “I think {bicycling} has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.” But since bikes were still so expensive, it emancipated only wealthy white women.

The 19th century bicycle reached its peak in 1893-1895. It was simple, reliable, and easy for anybody to ride. Rich riders wanted them, so they sold their earlier models for as little as $5, and for the first time, poor black people had bikes. Some white riders and manufacturers feared that with black cyclists on bikes, riding would lose its cachet. So in 1894, the League of American Wheelmen, the most powerful cycling organization back then, banned black people from joining. But they could still ride. Currier & Ives (lithographers of note!) tried to discourage that with a series of “Darktown” posters showing caricaturized black people riding bicycles like idiots.

The government couldn’t legally discriminate, but private businesses could, so white people took to golf and tennis, which required not just more gear, but private courts and courses that legally banned ban black people.

Meanwhile, the dialed-in bicycles of 1893-4-5 led, in 1897-8-9, to overly optimistic sales projections, overproduction and falling profits. To make matters worse, the first U.S.-made car came out in 1893, and just like that, the future was clearly motorized.

Most bicycle makers folded and several were lured to the automobile—including Henry Ford, who’d learned his assembly line geniusness working in somebody else’s bike factory. The Indian motorcycle company formed in 1902; Harley, a year later. The Wright brothers, also bike industry apostates, made their first flight in December, 1903. The bike seemed blah, and you had to pedal it, too.

Since kids were too young to drive, they became the target market for bike makers, and in 1910 you could buy a bike for $15. To give bikes more appeal, they came with car and motorcycle features, like fenders imitating wheel wells, fake gas tanks, horns, bulky rear racks, and oversized head lights, like cars and motorcycles.

The Ford Model T was born in 1914, the first car white people of average income could afford, but it was still out of reach for black people. By then a black person could probably afford a new $15 bicycle, but it would have been psychologically difficult—not to mention undignified and dangerous—for a black adult to pedal a white child’s toy on roads with white motorists who didn’t like even white cyclists. Imagine the crime.

The technological advances in the first 68 years of the 20th century allowed “The Greatest Generation”—your parents or grandparents) to develop unprecedented war and agricultural weaponry: bigger bombs and faster planes to drop them from, and miracle sprays that helped grow more and bigger fruit, but killed more and bigger animals than the aphids they targeted. The “Greatest Generation” politics defended segregation, the Vietnam war, fought against human rights, took away Olympic gold medals from Tommy Smith and John Carlos for raising black-gloved black fists on the podium, but found something worth hating in long hair, rock and roll, loosened attitude toward love and sex and casual clothing. (They didn’t like organic food movement, or bicycles, either.) The Greatest Generation gave rise to the Baby Boomers’ 1960s rule of thumb, “Don’t trust anyone over thirty.” Your ancestors and mine were cool, but a lot of their contemporaries were messed up.

 In 1962, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (about pesticides) almost by itself started the environmental movement; that one book. So when members of the Greatest Generation blew it with a faulty oil rig and a massive oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, it was a big deal. Even some of their peers got mad and took action. Senator Gaylord Nelson teamed up with Congressman Pete McCloskey, and hired 26-year old grad student Denis Hayes to organize the first Earth Day (4/22/70). Earth Day encouraged car-obsessed high-schoolers to get around without fossil fuels. On Earth Day the bike became a vehicle of environmental protest for pissed off teenagers, who aged and kept riding and made bikes respectable for all ages. That first Earth Day seeded the bike industry and is responsible for every adult bicycle you see today.

Recreational bicycle riding is still about 99 percent white, because that’s who live in the bike-friendly zones between cities and country, with good roads and little traffic. They store up energy in decent-paying sedentary jobs during the week and expend it on the weekends.

White people living in the suburbs near decent bicycle riding is one effect of the GI Bill, signed by President Truman near the end of WWII. It screwed over black people. The purpose was to reward veterans by heavily subsidizing college educations and offering cheap, low-interest home loans. But many colleges were still segregated, and black people were encouraged to skip college and take on lower-paying jobs. Many of the housing developments were off-limits to black people, and racism in hiring was still rampant.

So when white people were offered low-interest loans to buy $8,000 to $20,000 houses, black people were banned from the same neighborhoods. White people got cheap educations that lead to higher-paying jobs, but many colleges didn’t allow black people. With less education and lower incomes black people were locked out of the suburbs and better paying jobs

People who work physically demanding jobs need to kick back on their days off, maybe playing local and inexpensive one-ball sports. In less developed countries, one-ball-soccer is king, because you can make a ball of rags, and find a field to kick it around. In the U.S., soccer is mostly white, because it’s been expensified.

In more and more sports, success in high school requires starting early with organized teams and year-round traveling teams, which costs more than a thousand a year. Another one-ball-sport, baseball, has gone the same way. In 1967 about thirty-seven percent of MLB players were African American; today, it’s six percent today. (Most of the black players come from other countries.)

In the early ‘70s Little League adopted aluminum bats, which cost five to ten times as much as a wooden one, and as these became standard equipment, baseball became less accessible to poor kids. As kids sports intensify, the family commitment becomes more important, and there’s pressure (and sometimes a requirement) for the kids to own their equipment. It’s common for wealthy kid-athletes to have private coaching and be on traveling teams that cost thousands a year and family time and transportation.

Baseball in America is a rich sport. Commerce favors equipment-intensive sports and year-round competition, things that make it hard for poor kids, and lots of black kids, to play. There’s nothing wrong with wealthy kids partaking, but there’s something wrong when kid-sports require so much money and family commitment, right? 

The bicycle industry is whitish because of old racist practices and laws that time, remorse, and better ways now can’t undo, and nothing can make up for. It would be easier to not know the history, but since it’s too late for that, and throwing up our hands and saying “what’re ya gonna do?” feels like racism from the couch.

Nothing we can do will matter and everything will be too little, too late, and under most people’s radar, and is bound to offend people on both sides of the fence. However, our intent is to do more good than harm, and we’re going to fly blindly into doing something.

This is something I'm thinking about, and if all goes well, we’ll be able to act on it. I don’t know how, other than gestures here and there, but deep down there’s a wild plan we'll enact and get in trouble for as we're hanging on down the road.


Let's end this on a lighter note. Here's an old classic.








Back to blog