Thursday, December 06, 2007

Long live the Greater Heights Flyers! Viva el Projecto Bicicleta Althea!

The Greater Heights Flyers is a fledgling bicycle club based out of my LBS, I Cycle Bike Shop. I Cycle is a no-frills, low-intimidation-factor bike shop owned and operated by Matt Wurth, who offers folks interested in bicycling an affordable and accessible alternative to wasting money on a bike shaped object from Wal-Mart or its kind.

In fact, I Cycle has to some degree developed a niche market of servicing customers referred from other bike shops once it is realized the customer isn't interested in dropping $1000-$2000k on a new high-end road or mountain bike.

I have been threatening the GHFs for some time that I would be accompanying them on the weekly rides once the fabled Althea Bike Project became road-worthy enough to ride in a group without serious risk of bodily injury or death to myself or the other participants.

The Althea Bike Project is the culmination of six months of providence, labor, and trial and error which began back in May with the discovery of a 1986 Peugeot frame and fork (Reynolds 501, non-lugged) in the trash can of my neighbor's house down the street. Complete with Campy front derailleur and Shimano 105 crank, the only thing lacking was a set of wheels. I immediately set about securing a set of wheels via bartered labor services at the Third Ward Bike Shop. I was never particularly satisfied with the less-desirable 501 Reynolds frame, and was especially wary of the internally-welded frame. Lugs breed confidence.

Just as I was nearing completion of the wheel set, providence came around as though I were Perseus in the colliseum, the Gods placing all I needed in my hands.

Two months after finding the Peugeot at one end of the street, I came across a 1986 Schwinn World Sport (Lugs!) in the trash pile at the other end of the street, complete with Araya wheelset. All that was needed could be harvested and recombined to complete the Althea Bike Project. In the spirit of patriotism and freedom fries, I eschewed the Peugeot in favor of the American goodness of the Schwinn (albeit made in Asia).

With some sweat equity invested, as well as $12 for a new set of derailleur cables, the Althea Bike Project was finally deemed road worthy after a lenghty Thanksgiving bike ride.

With this in mind, I set off last night from I Cycle with Matt, Adam, John & Benjamin for a light cruise through the neighborhoods forming the Near Northwest Side of Houston proper. I have never ridden in a group before, with the exception of a couple of critical mass rides in Houston. In addition, I've never ridden with a cyclocomputer, so I have no idea how fast I'm capable of going or maintaining over distance.

That being said, the five of us weren't a particularly large group, especially after two peeled off early. The highlight of the evening had to have been the encounter we had with the yuppie lady while crusing through Garden Oaks Section One.

The street in that neighborhood is narrow with no center stripe. We were riding three abreast and carrying on a casual conversation when a car behind honked. I drfited back and we all fell in line. Then the lady in her Lexus decides to pass literally within 6 inches of us, a transgression that could not go unresolved.

Intrepid Leader and I sped up to catch the transgressor. After hurling a colorful epithet, I continued on. When I looked back to see where everyone was, I saw that Intrepid Leader was stopped by her driveway, and she attempted to peel out and run over him, but he did not budge. I turned back to render assistance. Intrepid Leader, completely calm and composed, engaged Lexus Lady in a dialogue regarding her need to brush by us so closely when we're on bicycles and completely exposed. During this time, Intrepid Leader was kind enough to keep his billion candlepower helmet light out of her face while so engaged.

Lexus lady, clearly slurring her speech, attempted to defend the indefensible, inquiring "if you going to ride a bike, why don't you stay out of the middle of the street?" To which I replied, "If you're going to drive a car, why don't you drink less?" I don't know if she heard me or not, but I got my two cents in and felt good about it. Intrepid Leader "apologized" for mistakenly thinking she was intentionally trying to pass too close, and we sped off into the night, invigorated by the confrontation. Both of us agreed that, while unpleasant, the confrontation was necessary for the safety of bicyclists everywhere. Intrepid Leader is well-versed in the issues of bicycle safety and advocacy, and let her know it in a very calm and articulate manner why she was completely in the wrong.

I think if we'd have been argumentative and verbally abusive, her first inclination if confronted with a similar situation in the future would be to try and piss off the cyclists. However, the way it was handled, I think, would probably cause her to give the bikes some room the next time round. In this way, I'd say that the episode encapsulated everything that the Critical Mass movement is supposed to represent, but usually doesn't.

The Schwinn held up to the test, and will be put through a more rigourous club ride Saturday Morning - hopefully without incident.

Lesson to all: Don't mess with the Flyers. Or, to borrow a phrase from the West Side Husslas "Cross Cripple Creek with caution. Don't cash no checks your ass can't withdrawal."

Weblog Commenting and Trackback by