Farewell to a great curb that never hurt anybody

In June my local government in Newtown, PA, sent me an $8000 estimate for the replacement of perhaps 100 foot of curb, in the middle of the pandemic and with me living 3 hours away working multiple jobs to pay my bills and get ahead.

The house has been there since 1964, and my father and I put in the curb ourselves in the 1970s when I was a child. I have distinct memories of hauling sand using my wagon from the back yard to the front. There’s never been an issue with water retention or ice or anything. The street itself has been repaved multiple times over the decades with the existing curb.

I appealed and the Newtown Borough Council respectfully listened. My position is that the curb is not needed. It has existed in its present form for decades and I do not want it replaced. They say that it is required for the repaving of the road, but really could not explain why the previous several road repavings over the years (I can distinctly remember two) went just fine with the existing curb. It is apparently just part of the master plan — which also may include a monorail at taxpayer expense* — and there is just no way to stop or amend the bureacratic ‘progress.’

It should be stated that there is no sidewalk there and my property is actually partly in the township, not in a commercial area that gets foot or car traffic (although a massive building project nearby is seeing lots of construction workers parking on the street these last few months).

I virtually attended a borough council meeting after sending an email requesting that the unneeded, unwanted  construction that they were billing to a local resident be reconsidered. The council members were all good, courteous people but they were clearly completely out of touch with how a sudden $8000+ bill send to a resident might be local government overreach and cause additional stress during a stressful time.

Again, they were nice to me and I appreciate that, but when a local government can undertake projects such as this and then bill a homeowner who does not want that project done, I have to protest. Will they put in a new street light next, and charge me $20,000 for something I do not want that is not needed. Does their master plan include 100 foot of sidewalk next year, which terminates at the township line (which actually dissects my property). Will they then start fining me if snow is not removed from said sidewalk on their schedule? This is not the main business street, State Street, it is literally the last house in town that is partly in the adjoining township.

My family has lived in or owned that house since 1964, and I took on a second mortgage to purchase the family house from my brothers when my mother passed. To my knowledge this is the first time the local government has done anything like this in the 50+ years of the house’s existence. To my knowledge there has never been any interaction before with the local government, which is really the way it should be. You leave me alone and I will pay my taxes on time and maintain the property in a reasonable manner. If I had a 300 ft tall oak tree that threatened life and property, bug me about that. Not a silly, unneeded bit of curb.

I just mailed a check for $5768.04 for local property taxes, and I just paid around $1700 in local residency taxes in April or May. Tiny Newtown Borough has become more expensive than Montgomery County, MD, where I have my primary residence. Montgomery County Maryland is a high tax near-in suburb of Washington, DC, that makes middle class people like myself suffer and work multiple jobs so they can expand ‘services,’ every year. Is this where Newtown is heading? Perhaps it is aleady there?

It also strikes me that the first thing Borough Council did when I balked was offer a $4000+ stone/slate curb option, which was always available with a glance at the plan. They only offered me that after I questioned the excessive $8000 that they wanted me to fund. The $4000 curb actually resembles the curb on my side of the street that currently ends at the house next door to me and looks appropriate for the borough. The $8000 option that would have happened if I had not appealed would have resembled the big city ugly concrete curbs on the other side of the street. Apparently the $4000+ curb option existed from the outset, but when a government is spending someone else’s money, there is little incentive to dig deep to save money.

When spending other people’s money, people don’t look for ways to save. Good government knows this, and the  decision like the $8000 option appears to just be the way the bureaucracy makes decisions. It appears to have been left to the contractor, who chose the expensive option based on the fact that the modular concrete and stone curb needed to be replaced with a much more expensive concrete curb.

Nothing nefarious, it’s just the way a bureaucracy and contracting works. There’s a fox and henhouse thing going on here — the contractor has no incentive to shave costs. As a bike mechanic I hate it when customers say ‘do whatever you need to do.’ I like it when we evaluate the bike together and only do what is needed. This keeps cost down. I treat the people who I contract with the way I would want to be treated … and I’m talking about something small like a new cable that may or may not be needed.

The pandemic has forced the closure of multiple trade shows in the media industry, and I have lost about half my freelance writing income for the year.  I used to drive for Uber a bit as well as one of my several side hustles to fund my retirement and stay well ahead of my bills. I won’t do any Uber driving again anytime soon. And as a freelance writer I really have no access to all that unemployment I have paid in to for decades. The only way I could access that is if I quit my existing bike shop job. If I told my boss at the bike shop that I feared Coronavirus and thus would no longer work, I could get paid unemployment and not work. That is nuts. There should be an incentive to work. It’s backwards.

The house in question is a rental property that pays all of its own bills but delivers little profit.  The account that I use for the property will have about $633 in it after the taxes are paid this month.

I own a house in Newtown Borough, and I have established a GoFundMe page to pay for the privilege of trying to keep my family house. My goal was to eventually move back to the borough, but I will need to reconsider this if this local government overreach is the new normal.

When somebody like me who works 50-60 hours per week already has to take on another job to pay for something nobody really wants, the system is broken.**  Is Newtown now only for the six figure income folks?

 

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* The monorail bit is just a joke of course. I have to state that because everything else I’ve written is factually correct to the best of my knowledge. If this was fact checked, this post could be smeared as containing lies, so no the borough plan does not contain a monorail. Moving sidewalks, yes. But no monorail.

**I am not poor, but certainly not rich. I am frugal and constantly keep costs down and work extra jobs for extra income. This morning I woke up at 530am to fix a bike to sell on Craigslist for a quick $100.

Anyone who grew up around Newtown in the 70s or early 80s might remember the budget wine commercial where an ostensibly rich person was drinking inexpensive wine on a yacht or in a penthouse or something. A fellow reveler would ask the host why he drank the inexpensive wine when ‘you’re so rich.’ The response was ‘how do you think I got sooooo rich.’ I couldn’t find the commercial on YouTube, but according to one post I found these adverts were for Chateau Luzerne Wines, which were bottled in Philadelphia and they were apparently the first California wines to be bottled outside of California. Since that commercial is missing, how about a classic bit of Aldo Cella, whose tagline was ‘chill a Chella.’

 

 

Sheldon and classic three speeds!

 

This 1973 beauty sold the same day it was posted. And I have the original Brooks B-72 saddle on Ebay.

So I have half a dozen or more Raleigh and other British 3 speeds under a tarp in my driveway that need to be sold while cycling is the hot thing … anybody who has kicked around bikes for the last 50 years or even more knows the type of bike. I just got a dozen 590 BCD 26 x 1 3/8 tires so these old bikes need to be fixed, cleaned and sold with new tires.

These bikes do have some peculiarities that I knew more about back in 1987 when I was working on them quite often, but I have forgotten much of this. Whitworth wrench sizes and threads, a front wheel that must always be put in the same way, the little square washers on the rear wheel etc.

For a refresher I knew where to go: Sheldon Brown, with some of his musings here and more tech help accessible via that link.

It was a perfect quick read that gave me a mechanical reminder and also gave me a slightly new perspective on the bikes.

I will sell all of mine, and retain just a Peugeot Mixte three speed from the 1980s as my own. These Peugeots are sort of uncommon but I like them because they are lighter by more than a few pounds and they seem geared lower (for tres petite French ladies who don’t want to develop big thighs?). I guess I have a Brompton that is a 3 speed as well, and maybe a Peugeot folder from the 1980s. And a 1970s Peugeot folder which might have a Sachs hub? Hmmmm, I just acquired a weird made-in-Romania Rapido that has a three speed freewheel on it. That’s a rare bike around here.  i couldn’t stand to see it destroyed so now it is in my driveway, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Modern Pedals

Cinelli’s system had a lever the rider had to push (pull?) to disengage the cleat from the pedal.

When I started riding seriously toe clips were the only option, really. I guess there was a choice between a platform style pedal (that looked a bit aero) or the standard Campy or Campy copy pedal, with a metal toe clip and leather toe strap. The platform style pedals sometimes required proprietary toe clips… but in general it was a standard world. Plastic toe clips and good and bad nylon straps were alternatives. Cinelli of all companies had a ‘clipless,’ pedal system  which sort of resembled a more modern ski binding style system. These were mentioned in magazine articles but I think I saw them just once in person.

My Virus Experience

I’m posting this as an update as we all hopefully emerge from lockdowns of various stripes.

While my writing work of course saw a steep decline with the cancellation of multiple broadcast trade shows and events, and the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics, my part time gig at a local bike shop became an exhausting yet exhilarating experience.

Bike shops were deemed essential as ‘transportation,’ here in Maryland, so we never closed. On March 13 (a Friday!) we suddenly had our best Friday ever as every family in lockdown realised that riding a bike was one of the few things one could do if almost all businesses closed.  All the people who had been going to a gym, or a yoga studio, or a spin class, or youth soccer, or whatever, had to find something new. A lot of people caught on quickly that cycling was one activity that was still allowed and quite safe from a virus perspective.

Many saw it as an opportunity to get young kids on a bike more than they otherwise would have, and it quickly became common to see families riding around. Many people decided to start the process of becoming proper road and trail and mountain cyclists, either solo or with friends.

Bikes and helmets and water bottle cages sold like never before, with every day for months being similar to the best busy Saturday we had ever had. Bikes became rare, and things like helmets and water bottle cages and racks for cars sold out, were replaced, then sold out again. Scores of bikes came in for repair. While we initially maintained normal 8 hour days, we quickly switched to reduced hours … a shift would end and I would head home, shower, then fall asleep. Work was hugely exhausting.

Today, in late July, about four+ months later, and we are out of new bikes and selling bikes that we know will be coming in off back order in weeks at best, or sometimes months. I have sold dozens of bikes that the customer will not see for two or three months, and I just sold one that won’t be in for six months!

For repairs, parts and tires are getting hard to source, as we continue to fix up scores of bikes that had been languishing in the shed for decades. We have had more than 200 bikes in for repair at one time, and that means that we need to store them outside during the day, and then pack the floor with the bikes waiting for repair at night. We have been backed up 3 weeks on big repairs but the July heat has slowed that down a bit thankfully.

It remains crazy busy although we now occasionally get a few minutes without a phone call or line of customers. At the shop I am selling bikes that will be delivered in September, October and November right now, taking half down.  We ordered hundreds of bikes on back order in April and May, and now the bikes are trickling in each week, with 95% or more already sold. The bike factories in China had closed back in January-Feb-March so there is a supply issue that met huge demand basically.

 

It has been our best four months ever and surely will be our best year ever. And 2018 and 2019 had been our best years as we are a good, established local shop.

 

The industry had been weakening as kids were on the silly phone, and adults were riding exercycles together in candlelight while listening to Enya, followed by group stretching and emotional support animal therapy, rather than just riding a bike as they should have been. Many bike shops had gone away in recent years, and only the strong had survived.

The repair shop is open normal hours and I work a modified 5 hr sales shift 5x/week. Selling 2-4 bikes over the phone and sometimes in person, and selling tons of helmets. A 5 hour shift is exhausting and there are often 2-10 people in line at the door, waiting patiently for repair evaluations or accessory or bike buying.

It is physically and mentally exhausting, and we all wish for normal again. Even the owner, who of course chases every penny, would be happy to stop working so hard … it is exhausting for me as I also ride 1000km per month or more. But I get a small commission and that is nice, and the owner buys beer most days at the end of the day and we all decompress in back. We have a very experienced staff with and average age of 40+, so we are allowed to make rude jokes and insult each other, and the couple of guys we have under 30 are good and haven’t yet demanded a ‘safe space,’ or anything like that when we make fun of them for wearing white shoes in a dirty, dirty bike shop.

 

 

VINTAGE PEUGEOT SUPER VITUS 980 LUGGED ROAD FRAME 63/64cm PSN-10 Circa 1985 25”

Measures 63 center to center seat tube and 64 center to top. Might have been sold as 25?inch

 

Top tube is 60cm; fairly clean no dents and minimal scratches (zoom in on pics). Also note the chrome fork condition. It will clean up but may never be perfect

 

Includes rare expander bolt style stem… English BB threads and French fork threads! Those headsets can be found on Velo Orange

50+ Miles on a 50 year old bike on my 50th Birthday

Thanks to Nicki of Bikes@Vienna for taking the pic.

The idea was simple: Ride 50 miles on a 50 year old Peugeot PX-10 on my 50th birthday. I like to refer to my birthdays as an ‘accomplishment day,’ as the concept of being lauded just for being born on that day seems weird. So I came up with the 50-50-50 to make it interesting, and to start down the road to doing a L’eroica one of these years.

I’ll write a lot more on the bike and the things I learned  about riding a vintage bike in a week or so. I had never ridden a bike this old that far before … one thing I will definitely need to do is find my box of old 80s and 70s cycling shoes so I won’t have to wear sneakers again!

I am also curious to see how my first real bike that I rode all over creation, a 1980s Peugeot PSV-10, compares. That will be my L’eroica bike I suppose. I think the bars are a bit wider and the brakes are better, so the bike will feel a tad more modern. The Mafac center pulls on this 1968 bike just don’t work that well. I will have to ask more experienced vintage riders what I might be able to do in terms of brake pads etc on this score. And the reach to the lever requires longer fingers than I have!
I averaged a bit over 15 mph on my ride from Bethesda down the Capital Crescent Trail, and then up the long hill of the Custis Trail before the rolling but generally flat W&OD Trail. The turnaround was just past Vienna. The pic is from about mile 28 of the endeavour, in the parking lot of Bikes@Vienna.

I felt much better on the bike than I anticipated.

More later on bike specifics and things I learned. Work calls now, and then two big rides on the weekend.

Now, I  have to write about audio!!

Calling the Slightly Silly!

If anybody out there reading this is already signed up to race the US Brompton World Championships (BWCs) in Laguna Seca, California, on Saturday, April 21, there’s still time to join the Philadelphia Fliers Brompton Racing team. The Fliers are a Mid Atlantic-based team that took 2nd in the team competition at the 2017 BWCs in Harlem. This year, due to conflicting schedules, we need a few more riders to form a team.

If you’re racing, join us! Anybody can join if you’re already signed up to race – just go in to amend your registration and type in Fliers and it should still be possible to join the team. We don’t care if you’re not from PA or the Mid-Atlantic. The team is just a lighthearted attempt to break the stranglehold the New York teams have over the fledgling sport. Why should they get all the glory and endorsement deals?!

Most ‘racers,’ at this event use it as much as a parade as a race – you do not need to ride hard or push your limits for the team. We just need bodies, and bikes. See this video of the 2016 race to see what it’s all about. Yours truly can be seen at around the 41 second mark as a two man, tuxedo-only chase group.

And if the timing is not right for you this year, note that next year’s race might be on the East Coast. E-mail me at redbrickbikes@gmail.com and we’ll talk! I even have one spare bike I could loan out if the event doesn’t involve an airplane flight.

Not only do the top three teams win medals, there are also nice prizes courtesy of the good folks at Brooks . Each member of the team won a Brooks B-17 in Harlem last year. It now complements one of my vintage bikes nicely, and is just getting more and more comfy over the months.

For the unitiated, and borrowing heavily from the race registration page, the Brompton World Championship is a racing event featuring only Brompton folding bikes. Initially held in Barcelona in 2006, the BWC has grown to comprise qualifying heats in fifteen countries with a final in the UK. The races feature a Le Mans style start in which participants sprint to their folded bikes, unfold as quickly as possible and start racing. Riders must follow the strict dress code which reflects the common use of the amazing little folders as city commuters: All participants must wear a suit jacket, collared shirt and neck tie, with no visible sportswear (such as Lycra) allowed. Formal wear or militaria is also allowed: Twice I have worn my high school tuxedo, and in Harlem I wore my Great Uncle’s World War I tunic, about 100 years after it was first worn!

There is also a fashion competition. Many don elaborate and fine or silly suits in an attempt to win ‘best-dressed.” While most use stock Brompton bikes, many are souped up with clipless pedals, Ti tidbits, modified bars and racing slicks. Brompton has now or will imminently launch a quick version of its bike aimed at faster riding. Maybe there is a future in Brompton Racing!

The course at Sea Otter consists of five laps around Laguna Seca Recreation Area for a total of eleven miles. Race categories include Men, Women, Veterans (age 50+) and Teams (3 – 5 members), with the fastest overall man and woman winning entry into the BWC final in London in July. Somewhere between 75 and 100 racers typically compete in the US BWC.

As Directeur Sportif of the Philadelphia Fliers, I fear I may fail to field a team this year unless we get a few late additions. On an individual basis, I hope to take a podium spot in the veterans category in my first year as an old man, and maybe a top 20 overall.

 

 

 

Learning from the Spring Classics

I rode a quick 19 miles recently, and it was drizzling a bit as I headed out the door. This always reminds me of ‘The Rules,’ from the sometimes-crude, always-amusing and often spot-on cycling guidelines espoused at the Velominati website.

Rule #9 states something along the lines that those who ride in foul weather are badass, with a link that clicks through to Merckx motorpacing in a presumably cold rain. This is true, and it’s something we need to be reminded of now and then.

Such was the case a few Sunday’s ago on the day of the Sourlands Semi-Classic. It’s always a crap shoot what kind of weather a spring classic will have — gorgeous 55 degrees with sun at the start is ideal, cold rain and 42 degrees is daunting but manageable, and sometimes there’s a big enough snow to make the ride impossible.

I knew a few days out that this year’s ride would be cool and moist. I was hoping for high 40s with wet roads and dirt sections with just a bit of mud. We got temps a bit south of that and a steady rain for the first few hours of the ride. Despite that, the dirt road sections were very easily managed at speed with my fairly fat 32s. Perhaps the organizers had gotten together with whoever manages the NJ roads and picked out just the right type of gravel to use.

When I pulled in to the parking lot the light drizzle I had experienced on the drive over became a nasty, heavier rain. I texted my friend who was still presumably on his way there letting him know how bad it was. I know this was weak on my part: If he had said ‘I bagged it,’ I might have never gotten out of the car and just driven home. But I got an auto-text saying he was driving so that meant he was on his way.

I got out of the car, got the bike together and got registration done. The first two hours or so were in a cold rain, but it was not so bad with a rain jacket. It was a good ride and I almost didn’t do it. And once again they had soft pretzels and mustard at a rest stop, which seems to be a Kermesse Sport  tradition. Love it.

This ride reminded me of something I learned on a ride long ago: Very often in life, if you just get something started it will feel better soon enough and become tolerable. Whether it’s a bit of work that needs to get done or some retooling for the modern job market or a dreaded visit to the in-laws, cycling teaches us.

Sport teaches us, really. Just get started:  A journey of a thousand miles begins with one pedal stroke.

There are so many things I have accomplished or suffered through that I owe to the physical and mental benefits of competitive cycling and just plan hard riding. When I think of what I want to give back to cycling, it’s about teaching people the value of suffering and how it makes a person stronger.

Our nature and the softness of our lives today worries me. It bothers me that we don’t celebrate overcoming challenges and excellence as we once did. In the not-so-distant past life was a challenge. Sport and sporting events are a way to add something a bit more primal back in to the mix.

For about six years now I’ve used the Sourlands ride and/or the famous Hell of Hunterdon as my early season benchmarks. The Hell of Hunterdon is this coming weekend, and although the ride is likely all filled up, the organizers made a late announcement just last week that they’ve added a bit of celebrity to the early packet pickup option they offer the night before the ride.

Even if you couldn’t get in before registration filled up for the challenging 85 mile ride on Sunday, all are invited to come to the Elks Lodge in beautiful Blawenburg, NJ, on Saturday, March 17th,  for a Q&A session with former professional cyclist and PA-native Floyd Landis. Floyd will talk about his cycling career, his life after professional cycling, and his “Floyd’s of Leadville” business, among other subjects.

The event is free of charge, but donations to the Elks Lodge Charity Fund are suggested. It is also open to the public; you do NOT need to be registered for the ride in order to attend.

As I write this I just received notice from Kermesse saying that the normal final instructions e-mail for the HoH ride would be delayed a day. The recent weather with downed trees and powerlines, and washed out roads, has prompted some late course corrections. Sounds like we’ll have some good challenging dirt roads Sunday!

 

 

 

 

A Suggested Winter Sojourn in Tucson

Many of us all over the US have had a rough month of weather. You know it’s bad when an occasional day above freezing seems like a thaw. I’ve managed with a lot of one hour Fat Bike rides in the safety of the woods where winds aren’t too bad, and a bit of tedious trainer time, and of course the gym.

But my brother put an idea in my head when I nagged him in to joining RUSA and starting some longer rides: Let’s do a ‘Permanent’ 100K ride in Tucson, AZ, up Mt. Lemmon. He had done this climb on his own before when visiting the area, and loved it. So we set out to do a very enjoyable, very scenic 100+ kilometer Mt. Lemmon Permanent ride in late January.

It was perfect weather to wear my new PA Randonneurs merino wool short sleeve jersey, albeit with a snug underlayer. The start was almost 50 degrees, and the temps went up a bit as the day went on, even if they simultaneously dropped from the altitude gain during the long, long climb of something like 24 miles. We don’t have long gradual climbs with switchbacks like they do in the west.

I didn’t know how I’d fare. Our East Coast mountains are steeper, but I don’t think I’ve ever climbed for more than 20 minutes. Mt Lemmon took something under 4 hours to climb. I’d say the perceived exertion was moderate—something akin to sitting on the back of a group of stronger riders doing a century.

The hardest part for me was the descent. Again, this was something neither I nor my brother had much experience with, a long long descent. I descend like a track racer with one balance nerve and two mortgages, as I like to say. One of the many things this descending wimp liked about The Rider was the fact that the protagonist was a lousy descender. It always hurt me in the road races I did. I could bump shoulders a bit on the track or thread the 45 cm gap between two riders with my 40cm handlebars, but don’t ask me to let it roll even on a long straight downhill.

Bears!!

My brother ended up being much much faster on the descents than I was. If we could combine my climbing (not bad, not great) with his descending (better than mine at least!) we would have had an impressive ride. As I waited for him quite a bit at the top, and he waited a bit for me in the last miles before I hammered well up to him after my white knuckle descent, we had a longer day than expected.

I suggest this ride — and Tucson in general — for Northeners who want a winter break. Between the scenery and the nice Tucson area, it will likely become a semi-regular cold weather break for me.