Job: Professor of Astronomy, University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. I study stars that blow up and use them to try and understand our Universe.
Years Riding: Apart from a few years off after a nasty hit and run with SUV in Tucson that did a number on me (and my bike), basically all of them.
How you got started (riding): Growing up in the 80s in India, biking was just how you got around to your friend’s houses, school, the lending library, the corner store, the barber… You started as soon as you could, likely on a BSA Champ with a giant rear reflector on a funky banana wedge saddle that was supported on the rear with a tall U-stay attached to the rear axle. When you outgrew that, you got a BSA SLR and the people who owned those bikes probably still have them today because they’re nigh indestructible.
Typical Ride: Daily commute to work - some big roads which have no shoulder or bike lane and cars that buzz you at 55 mph, some much nicer quiet streets until I hit campus and cut across the quad. Longer rides out amongst the cornfields on the weekends or late at night, when I need to think.
Dream Ride: I’m a wanderer at heart so this changes every few months, but a long tour, ideally with a lot of history along the way. I was listening to a podcast about T. E. Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia) recently, and learned he did a cycle tour in France as an undergrad, visiting medieval castles and abbeys and writing a thesis on “The Influence of the Crusades on western military architecture to the end of the XII th century.” Part of his route traced Richard the Lionheart’s campaign, and goes close to where some of my friends and colleagues work at Clermont-Ferrand, so it seems more feasible than fanciful, which is my favorite thing about it right now.
Why this bike: The run in with the SUV wrecked my left elbow, and I couldn’t easily ride a drop bar bike physically, and wasn’t really ready to ride something light and twitchy again mentally. When I saw a Clem for the first time, it reminded me of my old BSA SLR – upright, stable, and giving you the sense that it would survive the ravages of time. It’s a “Tough bike to love” and I fell in love with it. I do finally have a sporty bike with drops again (a Legolas… ) but I wouldn’t have gotten back in the saddle if it weren’t for the Clem. And I’m pretty comfortable locking it up around campus.
Favorite Book: “The First Three Minutes” by Steven Weinberg. It’s quite outdated now, scientifically, but it was thing that hooked a nerdy kid, raised on a diet of Atwood, Asimov, Clarke, Niven and the like onto actually doing astrophysics, rather than reading science fiction.
Favorite Food: Bhel puri. More street food than typical Indian restaurant fare, but delicious. Apparently, I threw a temper tantrum as a kid in a fancy Chinese restaurant when they didn’t have it on the menu, as my uncle loves reminding the rest of my family.