Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Beater Bike: What Does it Mean?

The application of the word "beater" in reference to bicycles is interesting to me. The derogatory connotation seems evident; it's the same as a beater car, a jalopy, a rust bucket, etc. It may be functional, but it ain't pretty, expensive, or fancy.  But more often than not, the word gets applied to utility bikes or commuter bikes or everyday riders, especially older ones.

We do not apply the word similarly to our everyday "commuter" or "utility" cars. We don't say, "I'm taking my beater car to get some groceries," we just say, "I'm taking the car to get some groceries." So, while the etymology of the word is the same for both bikes and cars, the meaning and usage seem to be quite different.

My suspicion is that there is a cultural assumption that very new, expensive, custom, or high-performance specimens are the norm for bicycles, but not for cars. This, of course, is not true. There are far more "beater" bikes around than there are new and expensive bicycles. So, if the "beater" is in reality the norm, why make the derogatory distinction?

What are your thoughts? Do you refer to your commuter or utility bike as a "beater"? Would you be offended if someone referred to your bike that way?

Here's an interesting piece at the NYT about "beaters."

Bicycle Safari

Hey look, bicycle content! It's not mine, but it's pretty neat. The blog Bicycle Safari provides a globe-trotting (or Europe-trotting, at least) look at used, unused, abandoned, and wrecked bikes, with a particular focus on frame graphics, head badges, and unique or local vintage bicycle brands. There is also a tutorial on how to convert a vintage generator-driven headlamp into a battery-driven LED light, which seems useful.

See also the excellent Tel Aviv-based bicyclog for similar content and photos of obscure (Middle Eastern, Russian, and Soviet bloc, generally) old bikes on the street.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Sox, 1992-2010

Sox was the first cat that was "mine" as a kid. When I went to grad school, she took on the role of head of the household, making sure my dad did all of the things he was supposed to do, and always right on time. She also conducted regular inspections of the kitchen cupboards by flipping open the doors and peering inside. She was "Big Girl" for her whole life, and she was a big presence at home. She will be missed.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Dr. Thom's Gingerizing Tonic

Here's something to lighten the Friday mood after the last two posts about automobile deaths (sorry about that).

One of the by-products of making candied ginger is an extremely strong ginger tea that results from two rounds of boiling slices of fresh ginger root. I will occasionally attempt to drink this tea, but can only make it through a cup before steam starts shooting from my ears, so I usually end up just pouring it out. 

Recently my wife (I suspect indulging her husband's strange obsession with ginger and trying to figure out if something useful could be done with it) discovered that people swear by ginger as an acne cure. Since the potent stuff that results from the boiling process is just ginger-infused water, we decided to try using it as an after-wash facial rinse.

I found an old bottle to pour it into, and it looked so much like nineteenth-century snake oil that I had to make a suitable label for it. This is the result.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Well, There's Your Problem

When I got home from my month away, I went down to the garage to pump up my bike tires. I clamped my crummy five-year-old Bell floor pump into place on my first tire and started pumping. My first thought was, "jeeze, that's a lot of air escaping," so I unfastened the pump, reattached it and tried again. Even more air. I checked again, and the pump nozzle came clean off the tube, which had rotted right through.

So I sent an e-mail to my local bike shop and asked them to set aside a new pump for me, since I was already picking up some stuff for my new bike. I didn't know what kind it would be, but I trust my shop to carry quality stuff. What I got was a Park Tool PFP-6 with both Schrader and Presta heads, a more accurate gauge, much smoother action, and overall a much higher quality product than my old department store pump. I am not a shill for Park Tool, but they do make a good product.

Friday, September 3, 2010

I Believe in Comfortable Shoes

"If you're not wearing comfortable shoes, life is just chaos."
--Cliff Clavin in the final episode of Cheers

Cliff's answer to Sam's question: what is the point of life? has stuck with me over the years, and is probably one of the fundamental truths by which I live my life. Having had both very comfortable shoes and very uncomfortable shoes in the intervening seventeen years, I can't really argue with the logic.

Before I went to Chicago for the month of August, I bought myself a new pair of shoes, as my old ones had pretty much given up the ghost. I spent more on this pair of shoes than I have ever spent on shoes, but I knew I would be walking a lot in the next month, and I wanted something that was not only going to hold up to all that use, but would also take care of my feet. Living car-free and bike-free, you pretty much just have your feet to get you around. Even with public transit, you have to walk quite a bit, since no one seems to have quite worked out a way for trains and buses to deliver everyone right at the doorsteps of their destinations. My new shoes broke in quickly and performed fantastically. At month's end, there was only a bit of wear on the heel (I tend to strike my heels pretty hard).

Really the only point to all this is: if you don't have some already, get yourself some really good shoes. They don't have to be expensive, they just have to be comfortable.

PS--If you're interested, these are Born shoes, I don't remember which style.