Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Soviet Bike in Riga

I'm sorry for the sparsity of my posts. Being "on the road" leaves less time that I would like for writing about bikes! And, I must say, generally bikes have not been among the more interesting things I've seen on this trip.

I did learn, on further travelling in Poland, than what I saw on the seaside and in small Gorzów isn't by any means typical of the country. In Wrocław—a university town—I saw lots of interesting city bikes, comparable to the sorts of bikes students ride in Toronto. I also spotted the fellow to the right riding an interesting bike outside of Warsaw. I didn't see any road bikes, however, until I arrived in Lviv (Lwów to Poles) in Ukraine. (I also saw an interesting, old French-looking mobylette in the window of an antiques shop.)

Budapest, where I am now, has a lot more bikes, and a lot more road bikes. But they are for the most part like bikes in Toronto—lots of steel road frames and fixed-gears. Nice, but not very different from what I'm used to.

The most interesting bike I've seen on my trip is the Soviet bike photographed here, which I saw in Riga. The brand name transliterates from the Cyrillic as "Start-Shossyeh," which I would investigate if my meagre internet connection allowed it. The most interesting detail of this bike for me is of course the Soviet Mafac-copy brakes. A close zoom reveals the brand name "XB3" ("Kh-V-Z"), which also appears on the headbadge of the bike (perhaps "Start-Shossyeh" is the model?). This bike is worth a look, in any case, and can be found in the newly created "Bicycles of Central and Eastern Europe" set I've created on my brand-new Flickr site. (Numerous other photos, including a set of cats, can also be found there!)

I was very lucky to be lent a cool 1990s Peugeot bike by my friend David this week, which I still haven't ridden very much. But if the weather is nice tomorrow, I'll head out for a ride to the Buda Hills and post a report here.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Bicycles and Bicycling in Poland

I had been in Poland for the past week, and while not exclusively engaged in bicycle research, I have noticed a few things.

Firstly, there are plenty of bicycles and people riding them. This is no doubt due in large part to the excellent bicycle lanes. Next to most roads—and certainly all newer roads—there is a dedicated bike lane. Generally this is on the other side of the sidewalk from the road—it's doubly separated from traffic, in other words. With all the excitement I've been reading about at home, this car/bicycle segregation doesn't seem like such a bad idea. (On the road outside my girlfriend's grandmother's house, where I'm staying, there was a fatal bike accident yesterday, when a truck driver turned right into a 50 year old cyclist without seeing him. It's an old road, and there's no dedicated bike lane.)

Secondly, the bicycles are generally "practical" rather than sporty. While Poland is an increasingly wealthy country, and car-ownership is certainly the norm, many people seem to use their bikes as "second cars"—for example, my girlfriend's aunt, who uses her bike for grocery shopping and errands when their car is in use. The example photographed is fairly typical, if somewhat newer than average (I'm afraid I haven't seen any weird Soviet-era bikes; they all have English names). I have yet to see a single drop-bar road bike. Mostly you see 1990s-style mountain bike with flat bars, V-brakes or cantilevers, and knobby tires. (Yes, the disease has spread!) But almost every bike I've seen does have a bottle generator-powered headlight, generally attached at the fork crown. The bike photographed, which I saw at the seaside town of Rewal, is distinguished by its neat internal routing.

Another notice, while I'm on the internet: Clive, my Cicli Polito randonneur, is now en route from Cleveland to Toronto, where it will be painted by Noah Rosen of Velocolour. My friend Olivier will be taking lots of photos when it arrives. God bless the internet—I'm dying to see it!