Thursday, January 21, 2010

Best cycling deal in Texas at

It’s tough to imagine a better deal. Three days of fully-supported riding in the Texas Hill country for only $40 with mapped routes from about 25 – 100 miles.

Over 1000 riders usually turn out for the Easter Hill Country Tour each year, based in Kerrville. Four clubs (Houston, San Antonio, Fort Worth and Austin) host the event in rotation.

It’s the turn of the Houston Bicycle Club in 2010.

For more details, check out and start training for that Doss century.

And of course, there are the occasional (mandatory?) weddings .......

Photographs by Ken Erfurth, Tristan Handler and Sharon Isaac

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Exxon Graftek

Earlier today I stopped by to see AJ at the Peddler’s great new location on Duval ( My purpose was to photograph a classic … the first ever carbon fibre bicycle frame (whatever Kestrel might say).

The Exxon Graftek appeared in 1975 and was the forerunner to all the “glued” carbon fibre frames such as Trek, Look, etc. The carbon fibre tubes were actually an aluminium-carbon fibre hybrid and the beautiful lugs are stainless steel.

The Graftek received lots of publicity as the frame of choice of well-known riders including the Stetina brothers and John Howard.

Sadly, however, it did not last. Like other early lugged carbon frames, the Graftek eventually fell out of favour, primarily due to near-catastrophic bond failure. And that’s a good enough reason not to ride one if you ever get the chance. Still, make sure you stop by AJ's place and take a gander ..... its worth it.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Pat Cleary

Pat Cleary

Some years ago when I was living overseas, I subscribed to the cycling magazine “Winning”. It carried an article about an artist who lived in the Lake District and who specialised in painting classic cycling scenes from the 50s and 60s. So it was that some months later when Sharon and I were back in England, we visited Pat Cleary at his studio and bought a magnificent oil painting that had been featured in the article and now hangs over my desk. Photoshop (or rather my amateurish use of it) does not do justice to the colours but here it is.

Ironically the article caption was: "The 1963 Tour de France was one of them, featuring Jacques Anquetil, Raymond Poulidor and Federico Bahamontes (above)". But my receipt says “Tour de France, 1980. Sven Ake Nilsson ". Cleary believes that the receipt is correct.

Friday, January 8, 2010

A Few Links


In the early 2000s, I started a bicycle history chronology for the SAW newsletter which just grew and grew like Topsy and was eventually presented at, and published by, the 2003 International Cycle History Conference in Canberra, Australia. Jim Langley (celebrated author, cycling mentor, formerly Technical Editor for "Bicycling" magazine and goodness knows what else) graciously hosted the material on his web site at Check out the rest of Jim’s site …. its pretty cool. And this is Jim himself:

Some years ago, I did a cycling advocacy clip on San Antonio’s NPR with Ernie Villareal. Its still available as an MP3 …… The quality can be rather iffy but I am not sure if that was the fault of our internet connection.

I collect Art Medals from the Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods. Most are French. This is one:

Some others are at At some point I want to do a blog entry about them but this will have to do for now!

Two other sites to check out:

Maynard Hershon is a nationally-known cycling journalist (“Tales from the Bike Shop” is a must-read for any cycling aficionado) and he has a cool site at This is Maynard & Tamar with myself and Sharon.

Lastly, one of cycling’s great philosophers is Dave Moulton who built fabulous frames in the 1970s & 80s, some of which were ridden in the Tour de France, Olympics, and World Championships. His blogs are at is at and

Thursday, January 7, 2010



I would like to share with you some observations on my great-grandfather. I can hear your exclamations now: “Why, pray tell, should I have the slightest interest in your great-grand-daddy?” The reason is that he was a cyclist extraordinaire. But I get ahead of myself.

Greevz Fisher was born in Youghal, Ireland in 1845. He grew up to be an eccentric intellectual who campaigned for the abolition of illegitimacy and was an avowed Malthusian who risked prosecution by publishing and distributing free literature on contraception (remember the times: the latter half of the Victorian era). He also published many pamphlets attacking various national institutions, particularly the Post Office and the taxation system. Fisher was a philologist who had a lifelong interest in the English language and developed his own phonetic vocabulary that he used for his written communications. In his later years he was rarely seen without his pet jackdaw perched on his shoulder. Get the picture?

Fisher was a keen cyclist all his life and the local newspapers recorded his various sporting exploits during his advancing years with almost monotonous regularity. His riding started in Ireland when the sport was truly in its infancy, using one of the very early "boneshakers" which had wooden wheels and iron tires. His later trips took him to Europe on several occasions, including one holiday to France and Italy with his son. This involved crossing the snow-covered Alps and carrying their bikes at times when the road was impassable. He was sixty years old at the time.

As he grew older, his riding never ceased. When he was 78, he rode from Leeds to Liverpool, a distance of 95 miles, taking two days for the outward journey. However, on the return, as it was wet and he wanted to get home, he rode the whole distance in one day. Fisher himself relates: “As I did not want to put up in a country inn in wet clothes and the wind was at my back, I decided to push on. My only mishap was when, after mounting my luggage, I threw my leg over the saddle and fell into the hedge”. In explaining the principles of his life he continued: “I consume a fair amount of home made lemonade. I make my own porridge in the morning and never add any salt, pepper or vinegar. I do not drink any tea, coffee or cocoa as they contain vegetable alkaloids as does tobacco, opium and strychnine.” I wonder if he experimented with them all?

One newspaper article recorded that “the octogenarian may be encountered in all weathers, hatless, with his flowing locks and beard making him a conspicuous character as he pedals along the country roads. What surprises the writer is the vigourous manner in which he pushes the top gear (112) of his three-speeder for the greater part of his riding”. Now a gear of 112 is equivalent to a 52 x 12 on a modern derailleur; that’s a pretty high gear for a bike that must have weighed over 50 pounds and ridden on presumably crummy roads.

Greevz Fisher was regularly completing 70-80 mile rides till he was 83 when ill-health finally forced him to give up his lifelong passion. He died the following year, almost 20 years older than the average life expectancy for the time.

Now jump forward a hundred years. I have many cycling friends in their late sixties and seventies. Several of these successfully compete at local, regional and national levels and believe me, all are in the very best of health and are hopefully destined for a long life. Even though muscle strength and aerobic capacity usually decrease by about 10% per decade after the age of 40, riders at this level still turn in remarkable times right up until they too became octogenarians. Recent USCF time trial results show men in the 75-79 age group completing 20-kilometer events at speeds approaching 25 mph. Women in the 60-64 group were reaching 23 mph averages. Riders in the 85+ group (and no, that’s not a typo) were completing the course at over 17 mph.

Long life isn't just a result of good genes and luck. The odds of your living to be a ripe old age depend on several factors including genetic inheritance, diet, exercise, and mental outlook and alertness. You have control over all of these factors but the genes.

The relationship between exercise and longevity was supported by the Harvard Alumni Study that followed thousands of Harvard graduates over 26 years, monitoring a number of variables, including exercise habits. The study concluded that those who exercised vigorously (jogging, swimming, cycling, tennis, etc) had a 25% lower mortality rate than those whom were more sedentary or who engaged in "non-vigorous" activity such as golf or walking.

So, the bottom line is, stay riding as long as you can. Bring out your friends, family and neighbors to our rides. And if a long and fruitful life isn’t incentive enough, think of the future generations. Sewell Wright, whose work in the 1930s led him to be acknowledged as the father of modern population genetics, is said to have argued that the single most important factor in reducing the level of inbreeding in human populations was the invention of the bicycle! Before this, the norm was for marriage to occur within five miles of one’s birthplace, whereas afterwards, suitors rode further afield for their courting, thereby allowing improved genetic mixing to become the rule. Wow!

The Race of Truth

The Race of Truth

Time-trialing started in England as a rebel sport to thwart the National Cyclists' Union's ban on road racing which had been introduced for fear of a ban not just on racing cyclists but all cycling. Nevertheless, it acquired a respectability which led time-trialing to become a cornerstone of British racing. Races are generally held over 25, 50 and 100 mile distances with some based on times of 12 or 24 hours with the winner covering the greatest distance.

In 1890, the Union had banned racing on public roads in fear of a ban not just on racing cyclists but all cycling. The legal position of cyclists was not secure. "Events organized by clubs in the 1880s, although taking place on quiet country roads, were constantly interrupted by the police. Often horse-mounted policemen charged at racers and threw sticks into their wheels”

On one beautiful Sunday morning in spring some years ago I was driving from a friend’s house in North Yorkshire across the Pennine hills to Sedbergh. Coming towards me was an endless procession of time trialists. I had stumbled upon the Nelson Wheelers Cycling Club’s premier event, the 50 mile “Circuit of the Dales” which runs from Ingleton – Sedbergh – Hawes. What really struck me was the diversity of riders in terms of gender, age and abilities. It was rather therapeutic to watch all the cyclists riding their hearts out on this extremely hilly course. The very fastest of them turn in times of less than two hours.

I was reminded about how passionate British cyclists are about their Sunday morning time trials. It is as much a part of the weekend ritual as roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. As the years have passed, various changes to the sport have been made. Participants no longer have to meet in secret, wearing what was quaintly called "inconspicuous clothing". The general idea of individual riders riding "against the clock" and ignoring any other rider who they catch (or particularly who catches them) still holds true for the majority of events today.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A cycling strategy for nonagenarians

A cycling strategy for nonagenarians

When I told my internist that he was now part of the team whose goal was to keep me cycling into my nineties, he told me that, however strong my heart, lungs and legs were, balance would be the key issue. I somewhat facetiously retorted that I would just buy a custom racing tricycle.

I became (morbidly?) curious and it turns out that buying quality tricycles is not so easy and for sure, riding them does not seem to be a piece of cake.

There are only three builders that seem to offer high-end tricycles in Europe and none in America. In 1982 George Longstaff started building custom cycle frames from his garage at home and though he has since died, Longstaff continues to make trikes. Geoff Booker of Trykit, founded in 2002, also offers lightweight racing tricycles and conversion kits to change a bicycle to tricycle.

He designed and manufactures all custom tricycle axles in use today. There is one Belgian builder, André van Bosbeke of 3wielweb who offers the SuperTrike. It also uses Booker’s axles.

All the above machines are one wheel at the front with two at the back. There is then the issue of how to incorporate a dual-wheel drivetrain. The resulting technical issues are all non-trivial: tricycles ideally use custom hubs, cassettes, gear hangers, axles etc.

Races and tours are non uncommon in Britain.

And of course tricycles do show up in the ubiquitous time trials (see separate blog entry):

Monday, January 4, 2010

What a bicycle-friendly country !

When Greevz Fisher (see other blog entry) would have been riding around England in the 1920s, he would, no doubt, occasionally overnight at a pub. Even though he was a teetotaller (what missed opportunities) they would have been preferred accommodation as many pubs were, and still are, very bicycle-friendly.

In fact even today, old CTC signs can still be seen on pub walls:

And just to give things a personal touch, here is my grandmother's CTC membership card:

In case you are not familiar with the CTC, here are a few milestones from their early days.

1878. Bicycle Touring Club founded at Harrogate by Stanley Cotterell and 80 members elected.

1883. Organization re-titled 'Cyclists' Touring Club'. Membership reached 10,627.

1884. 'Danger' road signs produced, mainly to warn of steep hills due to the poor brakes of early bicycles.

1887. The CTC hotel signs adopted, massive cast-iron winged wheels that may still be seen on the walls of old pubs etc. throughout the British Isles.

Austin Not So Weird

Austin is known to be a Cyclists' Near-Utopia ....... at least as far as Texas is concerned. The passion for bikes even extends to mailboxes:

And to the bike racks themselves of course:

Bicycle Yard Art is almost de rigour:

I guess some people just do not know how to respect a bicycle:

Sadly, the Ghost Bikes (memorials to cyclists killed by motorists) are also represented:

Sunday, January 3, 2010

My Top Ten Cycling Movies

My Top Ten Cycling Movies

Top ten this, best 1000 that, do this before you die …. how many lists can we digest? Well, get ready for one more because I want to open a debate with all you cinephiles on that rarest of beasts, the quality cycling movie. Without further ado, here is my own top ten list:

1) Breaking Away (USA, 1979).

This is truly a cyclist’s film but is also of sufficient underlying quality to appeal to a general audience. Based on Indiana University’s Little 500 bicycle race, it uses the classic theme of the blue-collar lads (the “cutters”) winning out over the snooty college boys. Of course all the purists get quite sniffy about our hero’s faux pas (or rather the director’s) when he, Dave Stoller, uses his small chainring to crank up the pace while drafting a truck (for any techno-nerds out there, this would require a cadence of around 150). Paul Dooley gave a great performance as Stoller’s father and Dennis Quaid certainly went on to great things after this, one of his earliest movies.

2) Les Triplettes de Belville (France/Belgium/Canada, 2003).

Sylvain Chomet’s brilliant animated movie whose true hero is the Granny who determinedly trains her grandson for the Tour de France. Equally magnificent are the Triplets themselves, three female singers who perform wonderful Parisian café routines. What a travesty it was that “Les Triplettes de Belville” lost out to “Finding Nemo” for the Best Animated Feature at the 2004 Oscars.

3) The Flying Scotsman (Germany/UK, 2006).

In 1993, Scottish cyclist Graeme Obree broke the world one-hour record on a controversial bike that he designed and built. Jonny Lee Miller plays Obree in the film but Obree plays himself during the some of the cycling schemes. It’s an inspirational tale of the maverick Obree defeating the Establishment’s candidate, Chris Boardman. According to the movie, the Establishment went so far as to constantly change the rules, including banning aerodynamic riding positions, to ensure victory for their candidate. Boardman’s subsequent 1996 record of 56.4 km still stands as the “best effort” record in which aerodynamic positions are allowed.

4) A Day Out (TV: UK, 1972).

Alan Bennett is best known perhaps as author of “Beyond the Fringe” with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore and later for “The Madness of King George”. His first television production was this delightful vignette of a Yorkshire cycling club’s summer outing before World War One. It eloquently depicts the social diversity of the cycling community and finishes with a sad commemoration of those members of the group that did not survive the war to end all wars. Brilliantly directed by Stephen Frears who went on to direct “Dirty Pretty Things” and “The Queen”. And, as its set "Up North", it warrants two photos!

5) Ladri di Biciclette (The Bicycle Thief, Italy, 1948)

This seminal masterpiece was voted the sixth greatest-ever movie in the latest directors’ poll and #105 in the IMDB’s Top 250 films. The movie relates a bicycle-owner’s sad and fruitless search for his stolen machine. A beautiful but depressing film that brilliantly captures the bleak outlook for the working classes in post World War II Italy. The theme of the search for a stolen bicycle has resurfaced in a number of other movies over the years including Xich Lo (Cyclo; Viet Nam, 1995), Beijing Bicycle and Pee-Wee's Big Adventure (see below).

6) Deux Secondes (Two Seconds; Canada, 1998).

This was rather a sleeper movie about Laurie, a Quebec bike racer who becomes a bike courier when she becomes disenchanted with the competitive world. Her friendship with the crusty bike shop owner, Lorenzo, brings these two social outcasts together.

7) Roozi Khe Zan Shodam (The Day I Became a Woman; Iran, 2000).

There are several great developing-world films in which bicycles play a critical part. In this rather surreal winner of the Venice Film Festival, Ahoo, played by Shabnam Toloui, enters a bicycle race, dressed in the traditional black Islamic cloak. She is chased down by her husband, brothers and uncles who are desperate to put an end to her feminist adventure. Another example of this genre might be “Bicycleran” (Iran, 1987) in which an Afghani immigrant to Irana rides a bicycle non-stop for a week in order to pay for the care of his sick wife.

8) A Boy, a Girl and a Bike (UK, 1949).

Remember Diana Dors, England’s answer to Marylyn Monroe (a comparison that does not recognise her considerable intelligence and acting ability) or Honor Blackman, the Pussy Galore of “Goldfinger”? Both actresses feature in this rather predictable tale of a love-triangle in a Hebden Bridge cycling club in the 1940s. While rather a trite production, it is actually very much a cyclists’ movie as there is ample discussion of chainrings and gears! Perhaps more importantly, it does capture the true culture of English bicycle groups from the pre-high-tech era.

9) American Flyers (USA, 1985).

As movies go, this one is certainly not a masterpiece. Nevertheless the featured race, the “Hell of the West” was based on the very real Coors Classic (formerly the Red Zinger) and at a time when the Classic epitomized the dramatic rivalry between Greg LeMond and Bernard Hinault towards then end of their legendary La Vie Claire days. To round off the movie’s authenticity, there is a cameo appearance by the legendary Eddy Merckx. However, Kevin Costner cannot save the film from being rather corny even though there are lots of very good bike racing scenes.

10) Beijing Bicycle (Taiwan/China, 2001).

This is the modern Chinese version of "The Bicycle Thief" in which the lead character has his bicycle stolen shortly before he finishes paying for it. The movie is set during the remarkable transition period when China emerges from the days of communism to the currently-emerging materialistic era. It even captures a Chinese version of class-warfare.

An honourable mention must surely go to Jacques Tati’s Jour de Fete (France, 1949) a satirical comedy in which Tati plays a village postman in a rural French village.

There are also two films that are sometimes found on other cycling movie lists but which just don’t cut it for me. One is Pee-Wee's Big Adventure (USA, 1985) . Notwithstanding Paul Reubens’ real-life weird escapades, this kids’ version of "The Bicycle Thief”, while it might appeal to youngsters, just ended up making me feel uncomfortable.

The other is Quicksilver (USA, 1986). starring Kevin Bacon who plays a yuppie who loses his job and becomes a cycle-courier to make ends meet. It’s just a downright cheesy film and even an opening scene with Nelson Vails (silver medal in the track individual sprint at the 1984 summer Olympics) can’t save it.

Movies that might have made my list but which I just could not find include Le Vélo de Ghislain Lambert (France/Belgium, 2001) a Belgian bike racing comedy set in the 1970s. Reviews laud its authentic racing episodes. Another film that’s not yet available in the US is Une Affaire d’ Hommes (France, 1981) which is a murder mystery set in a local bicycle racing group. And never forget the Bike Film Festival. It does come to Austin once in a while. See

So, which is your favorite cycling film that’s not on this list?