A chicken’s tale

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Why do we ask ourselves why the chicken crossed the road?

To get to the punch line in a hurry.

It may also be a way to explore the human condition without the human.

Why did the chicken cross the road? Peer pressure.

One reason the chicken joke thrives is its simplicity. Its accessibility. Kids tell chicken jokes. As adults, they remember being the kids telling the jokes. As extraordinary adults, they teach their kids chicken jokes.

We have a lifetime of chicken joke experience. And so when we see a chicken, whether or not that chicken is near a road, neurons in our brain automatically transmit the setup to the joke.

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Adults never remember reading Dante’s Inferno or Matheson’s What Dreams May Come at five years old because a sad group of adults early on determined the exploration of hell’s many levels is best reserved for Sunday school. As if hell is a poorly lit sub-basement of the church. Which is about the only thing I thought they were right about.

Another reason, of course, is that most five-year-olds are still trying to figure out whether Pat is the bunny’s name or what you’re supposed to do to the bunny.

I could use some help with that one myself.

But I digress. Back to the chicken joke.

Even when it merges with another form, the knock-knock joke, the chicken joke is mercilessly simple.

Why did the chicken cross the road? To visit the village idiot. Knock knock. Who’s there? The chicken.

Why do we ask why the chicken crossed the road? Because asking who or what the chicken crossed the road doesn’t make sense. And because asking how, when and where results in obvious answers.

The chicken in the picture, a rooster, walked across the road in front of our tandem at 10:30 a.m. this past Sunday southwest of Edelstein, Illinois.

(That’s not a chicken joke, by the way. I just really like using an italic font at regular intervals.)

Because there were witnesses to this crossing, the rooster becomes another data point in historic road-crossing chicken research.

I saw the best chickens of their generation distracted by their desire to reach the other side of the road, ignoring community, eggs on the nest and the neighbor’s indifferent Labrador in search of another mindless quest.

This was not one of those chickens. This was no quest. We know why this crossing happened.

The rooster, shorn of most tail feathers and all the feathers on its back within two inches of the tail, crossed the road to get away from the bigger, meaner rooster on the south side of the road.

Been there. Done that.

No joke.

 

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Banner Day for Advertising

IMG_2201According to experts, the average American is exposed to 4,000 ads per day.

But let’s face it: There’s not a lot of rigor to that estimate.

Some say the number is closer to 5,000. Others say 10,000.

The truth? The world is all advertising.

The sky is an ad for clean air, unless it’s an ad for deregulation.

A deciduous tree is an ad for promise in the spring, shade in the summer, gravity in the fall, loneliness in the winter.

A river is an ad for direction, for water, for whatever floats your boat. Come to think of it, a river is a dandy ad for a boat.

A boat, in turn, is an ad for leisure. Leisure is an ad for reflection. Reflection, potentially, an ad for narcissism. Narcissism? Nothing if not an ad for solipsism.

And solipsism is fun to say, if I do say so myself.

I can hear the objections. Advertising is a uniquely human activity. The world–a tree, a river, a philosophical theory–cannot generate advertising.

Think again–before you anger an algorithm.

Anyway, we’re getting away from the point, which is that exposure to advertising is way different from being influenced by advertising.

Given its ubiquity, exposure is nearly impossible to measure, but influence is much easier.

Look at the beer in your refrigerator, the shoes on your feet, the evil politicians you oppose, the dedicated public servants you support.

Look at the writing on the wall.

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Yuskauskas, still nice, now Peter from Brompton

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I finally met Peter Yuskauskas, a tall and enthusiastic folding bike promoter, back in February 2018 at the Chicagoland Area Bicycle Dealers Association (CABDA) Expo in Schaumburg, Illinois.

When I wrote about Peter from NYCeWheels in 2011, he worked for a specialty shop in New York City that sold folding bikes, electric bikes and folding electric bikes. In one of his first videos from 2010, he admitted he didn’t know what to expect from folding bikes. But he quickly found himself getting into it.

By the time he left the shop in 2016 he had written approximately 400 articles, produced 100 videos (capturing 8.7-million views), and spent two years as CEO. Now he heads up Brompton’s North American marketing operations.

You’ve been in the bicycle business how long?

I started selling Brompton through one of our larger dealers, called NYCeWheels, in 2010. So eight years in the bike industry, with the majority of those in retail.

I know the Brompton has gradually evolved since 1976, but it’s basically the same silhouette. What is it about the Brompton that attracted you?

For me, the Brompton merges my love of design and adventure. I was a road bike rider before getting into the business. Not racing, but doing long rides and touring. And so I came to New York with my father’s steel road bike. It was a Univega.

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I couldn’t stick around to count, but it’s safe to say Peter folded and unfolded the Brompton hundreds of times during CABDA.

I had been doing lots of long rides going to and from school and out to Pennsylvania. When I started working at NYCeWheels, the Brompton immediately caught my eye with its raw lacquer finish, which showed off the steel construction and the handmade quality.

I’m sort of a sucker for design, and that drew me in. And then once I started riding the bike, I realized that this was something I could use in all the situations where a regular bike wouldn’t fit.

It allowed me to connect different parts of my life, like say, riding to meet friends and then taking a train home. Or riding somewhere, getting a drink at a bar and then maybe taking a cab. If I got a flat tire, I could throw it in the trunk of a car and transport it home that way.

And then I flew with the bike. I went to the UBI Bike School in Portland. The bike traveled in its own case and I rode from the airport to the school. That was a real treat.

Many people think of the Brompton as an urban bike. What’s your longest Brompton ride?

I rode a Brompton 150 miles over night from New York City to Philadelphia. I crossed the George Washington Bridge at 11 p.m., about an hour before it closed and bought maps at gas stations along the way. I made my way through all kinds of areas you would never expect to be in the middle of the night, like Newark, New Jersey. The reason I biked down there was because I was playing a jazz gig that night in Philadelphia. So my friend met me with the bass in Philadelphia.

There’s no rack for a bass on a Brompton.

There’s no rack for an upright bass currently on the market.

So what’s new with Brompton the company?

Our messaging in the U.S. and the focus here is going to become little bit more specific. We’re going to do a lot to support ideas beyond the bike made for cities. We’re going to be talking about the bike made for travel, for adventure, for leisure riding, that pops into your truck so you can travel to a beautiful park and go for a ride. So we’re changing the concept of what it is to be a Brompton owner in the U.S. a bit. Diversifying.

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Peter gets a lot of mileage out of 16-inch wheels. He once rode from New York to Philadelphia on a Brompton.

And then there’s big news on the horizon with our electric bike, which will have a front hub motor with a torque sensor in the bottom bracket. It’s been a project in the works for many years.

The bike seems closer to reality now than ever. We have ridden prototypes in the New York office. There is absolutely production capacity in the new factory that Brompton has opened. They expect to be releasing those in Europe, for deposit holders in the U.K., come July, August, September. And then, hopefully, fingers crossed, we’ll have a model in the U.S. for 2019.

Now that you’re an insider, I assume you’ve gained new perspective on the company.

When I was being onboarded, I visited the factory and sat down with their head brazer. This guy’s name is Abdul. He’s been with the company since they started in 1976. He built the first production bikes with Andrew Ritchie, and he still trains every brazer to this day. So the heritage of quality and innovation has had this thread tied through it—the inventor and the original builder–since the very beginning.

What Bromptons do you ride?

My bikes are an M6L raw lacquer [the Philadelphia bike -ed.], and that was a gift given to me by the founder of NYCeWheels, Bert Cebular, after the first really good day of sales, so thanks, Bert. The other bike is an S2L, that’s titanium and has been modified so that the only thing that remains stock is the frame. Everything else is absolutely the craziest lightweight stuff you can imagine.

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Peter talking with Frank Wuerthele from Dirt Rag/Bicycle Times at CABDA.

I first met you through your videos, really good stuff. What’s your secret?

This is key. A good bike video has to put you in the action. It shouldn’t be static. It should be always in motion. And it should give the viewer the feeling that they’re with you riding, as if you’re having a conversation out on a ride together.

Will we see you do videos for Brompton?

You absolutely will. All of them will be posted on the Brompton Bicycle YouTube channel. And if you subscribe you’ll get lots of updates for that. You can subscribe to the Brompton newsletter and our Facebook for other content as well.

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Day 30. 30 Days of Biking

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Are you a spectator or a participant? Spectators watch the action. Participants are the action.

Before you say participant, because that’s what people who ride bicycles are, participants in their own movement through time and space, consider what the two groups have in common.

Both spectators and participants can be entertained, dismayed, diverted, enthralled or educated by the activities they follow.

Cooking spectators know how the turducken is brought into existence. Some of them like to say the word, turducken, even if they never prepare that entrée. (However, it’s a question whether they would turn their TVs to the Cooking Channel for a spirited discussion of engastration.) They learn what a turducken is from being a spectator. If they are vegetarians, they may be dismayed by their new-found knowledge.

Sailing participants know the dangers of jibing. A change in direction causes the sail (and the heavy boom at the bottom of the sail)  to cross the boat. If you’re standing when this happens, you become a boat yourself, albeit an unwilling one. Participants learn about the jibe from the people they sail with. They are part of the action when they duck. (People who do not learn of the jibe may soon become neither spectators nor participants, but a third category all together.)

All of this brings me to the final day of 30 Days of Biking, and my own status as both participant (climbing Blue Ridge, gearing higher as I reach the top) and spectator (taking a picture on the upper flat as proof of participation).

Participation lasts the entire ride, turning the bike into the wind, out of the wind, making decisions that keep the bike upright, moving around the handlebars to rest the hands and neck, ducking to increase speed down Streitmatter Road (only 37 miles per hour today; the day I didn’t pay attention to the descent, I hit 47 mph–thanks for the info, Strava).

I was a spectator for only a moment. It was a moment I could have easily skipped, too.

Anyone could have been a spectator of my ride, including the wild turkey crossing Santa Fe, the pair of deer deciding not to cross Blue Ridge, the horses across from the house with the lake, the half-dozen solo commuters in their amazingly large diesel pickups.

But, since I was alone on this bicycle ride, only I could participate, feel my knees creak in the early cold, strengthen under the sun and finally flex smoothly with the tailwind.

We are spectators and participants in life. The world makes it easy to be a spectator, perhaps not as easy to be a participant.

Maybe that’s why it’s so important to ride the bike and not so important to watch the race. Why it’s important to watch for the boom as the wind changes direction.

And maybe, just maybe, why it’s worth taking a pass on the turducken.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Day 29. 30 Days of Biking

Looking for good advice on how to ride a bicycle? Start with this list.

Always stop to:

  • Clean your tires
  • Remove your jacket
  • Drink coffee
  • Drink water from a garden hose, even a really long one
  • Help turtles cross the road
  • Enjoy the view
  • Explore the Grand Canyon through a View-Master Model G
  • Read a map
  • Read Robert Frost
  • Climb the steps to an Italian castle on the Mediterranean so you can see 1) the island where that cruise ship ran aground, and 2) the island Napoleon didn’t take a three-hour cruise to reach
  • Castle during an Italian opening game, and, oh yes,
  • Make a friend
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Day 28. 30 Days of Biking

When you’re out on the county grid, surfing the monocultures of soon-to-be soybeans and corn, it can look pretty bleak.

Those straight lines on paper and Google Maps? They’re straight lines in real life, too.

But only if you disregard the panoply of Cartesian coordinates.

If you exist in a world with depth and width and length–look away from the screen for a moment; see how the refrigerator is farther away from you than the lamp on the side table? That’s evidence of three dimensions, and, if you wait a moment or two, you’ll find evidence of a fourth: the time it takes for the cat to knock the remote off the arm of the chair–there are very few straight lines.

If you’re on a bicycle, especially a fixed-gear machine where the pedals are always in motion, you face uphills and downhills.

You may continue to head toward the same bonfire or tractor or cloud bank, but your feet, reflecting the undulations not present on the map, change speed all the time.

The pedals circle the crank bearings at 80 rpms on the flat, 60 or 50 or 40 rpms going up hill, and 110 to 130 going downhill.

(Do I press back against the pedals now? Or let the bike go? What if the bike wants to go faster than me? Am I worried the front end is starting to wobble? Such are the questions of the tentative fixed-gear pilot.)

Would I prefer to pedal through a more natural landscape? One with more cattle and fewer combines, more trees and fewer tractors? Sure.

But are things out here really as boring as dirt?

Not when you have a starting point, a destination and the space between.

Hang on.

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Day 27. 30 Days of Biking

Is it possible to buy a bicycle and not see it change in some way?

Maybe. But think of the obstacles to a truly unchanged machine.

Let’s say you buy the bike only to hang it up. (And aren’t the unused dolls the saddest of artifacts on Antiques Roadshow?) Oxidation could be a challenge, leading to dull paint and cracked sidewalls.

If you actually ride the bike, no matter how careful you are, friction leads to brake pad, cable, bearing and tread wear.

If you have the bicycle long enough, you’ll need replacement parts. Often, exact replacements aren’t available.

Take the Schwinn Corvette in the picture.

The paint was new in 1964, but in 2018, it’s showing its age as surely as a boxer missing his front teeth.

(Remember, Schwinn marketed this bike as a middleweight.)

The bike had to change just to be rideable. The rims rusted thin from sitting in a basement puddle for 30 years. The cords in the tires fell apart. The original seat and seatpost were missing.

(We lost the brave Bendix kickback on the table, though parts of it have been donated to another hub.)

Today the Schwinn has aluminum pedals, wider handlebars, Chinese tires, a Brooks B17 saddle, a Sturmey-Archer drum brake up front, and a SRAM automatic two-speed hub in the back.

A few years ago, it was barely a bike. But it could be rebuilt. Made better than it was. Better, stronger, faster.

Maybe not if you look at the paint, but still…

It’s the Six Million Dollar Bike reincarnated for pocket change.

Which is all the change I have to spare until it’s time to change the tires again.

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