'Halloween is a good time to test our Zombie apocalypse preparedness plans, and what better time than now to bring attention to the new generation of Cycling zombies who have recently been infected and are plaguing the hood. Awareness means (roughly) paying attention, and reviewing observations to a considered conclusion. So being aware of a ten-ton truck steaming towards you whilst entering an intersection illegally but cavalierly on your dumb-shit fixie, with deep-V powder-pink rims, is perhaps a skill for self-preservation that your mother taught you as a young lad. Or perhaps not. The same lady could certainly not have given you the dumb-shit sense to remove the brakes from your bike, or told you that you are perfect in every way, right? ...So if you are struck with a bad emotion it would be someone mean's fault and not your flaw that prompted the discourtesy. I'll go out on a limb and say that likely when you all got a trophy for soccer, and for dance-club, and for your science presentation, that your mother didn't also interject that if you feel like getting hit by a truck today, that's totally fine... (they likely have a trophy for that as well). And why not?, Because your diapered entitled intellect is use to the blissfully clueless zombie malaise in which your are candy-coated. Happy Halloween dipshit, this is your moment.
So we have this new thing in Chicago, which like most things in Chicago are not new at all, but repurposed, much like Cuba, may keep a 60 year old truck running as new for delivering meat; Chicago re-uses bridges, Roads, and Train-tracks for all sorts of things, merely because we can find the pocket-change to make something new. Infrastructure is not our strong suit here, and that's precisely why our commuter rail and Elevated (the "L"), is just a repurposed heavy freight train line, and some coal mine shafts -- both used to deliver cargo from off-loaded Barge traffic. So... We don't use that any more, and it works great, because what used to deliver fuel, and commerce to the basement of our department stores, now delivers commuters to the same buildings where no commerce seems to remain. Sound Dystopian, what for the Zombie part.
So someone got the great idea (another borrowed one, thank you Minnesota), to use the old Bloomingdale Rail Line which runs east west through a number of neighborhoods from the Kennedy expressway, at Ashland, to the "West-Side" for a leisure park, and athletic pathway. The work (of course) cost too much, but the result is nice, with a straight shot above traffic one can run, jog, stroll, or bike from Bucktown to, as far west as one would typically want. One of the planning talking points and justifications was to bring diverse people together and hell, just use the space that was otherwise a wasteland hobo camp.
So they formed an organization and corralled funds to pave this elevated rail line and create safe ingress and egress ramps in many key streets which cross it perpendicularly, to allow people access to this park, and make a quick trip for bikes and pedestrians who choose to travel East<->West without the traffic travail. In the past twenty years, I've worked in all sorts of cycling related endeavors. I have run a shop or two, I have raced for money and just for glory, I have worked closely with manufacturing, and marketing, and I've even helped soul-less monster companies absorb the soulful smaller ones, so that they can become larger monsters. Which brings me to Soul-less. When someone says the word "Soul" we first think 'James Brown', and then we delve into deeper existential topics. When one mentions "Zombies", we may also immediately word-associate with the "Soul-less", so if should come as no surprise that when we put a corporate spin on cycling, and remove the soul from a bike, we could arrive at the most empty shell of the bicycle gestalt, and that would perhaps be a "fixie". If you own one of these you should still be able to agree that in-spite of it's elegant simplicity, as with a human sans brain, and soul, we would have just a body wandering the earth, at risk of being hit by something.
So the 606 Bike Trail and Park has done some amazing things to pull together many cultures, who formerly drove, bussed, or trained from their hood to another without paying much mind to the other. Someone could for example head west for incredible Street Tacos, or East for some Craft Beer, and or someone could just take a stroll with a pooch on a leash or their ferret on their shoulder, and absorb some of each-other's diversity, with a bee-line back home to their own cozy corner of the galaxy. When guests come to visit, one generally finds themselves finding things like to 606, as something unique to show them, and so for me, rides are not done here, but for many it is their bike path, and commuter route.
So someone somewhere got a third-hand bike, and shined it up, and in the absence of the coin needed to buy a car, became quite popular amongst their tribe for their new gadget granting liberty to travel freely up and down this new Bike Path, without any motor traffic, to flirt with friends, explore, or just hang out. When they were not up to the task of maintaining their new hand-me-down ten-speed, then pulled the derailleur, shortened the chain, and re-taped the bars to enter a new single-speed sub-culture.
If you start with a P.O.S. it's tough to make that pig sing, so after some time, those more vain entrants of the new cycling sub-culture may seek a new frame, without ye-ol' brands to sully it's chipped paint starting with "SCH...", or ending in "...EIGH". I'll be the first to admit that when I saw new brands, such as Surly, Throne, or SE Racing re-entering the bike set with Stripped-down Zombie Bikes, I was not sure whether this was a short-lived pandering to a trend, or a renaissance of something altogether new and stupid. Once upon a time, on the Velo Track in Northbrook Illinois, I rode a Cannondale and Paramount Track Bike to some success. These were not Kirin Racing Machines, but I built them up with Campy High Flange Hubs, or Phil Wood's, with some Polished Araya's, or Open 4CD's from Mavic, and at the time I thought the spoke count would never go lower than 28, but I used 24's. Both bikes had "real" handlebars, but one of them eventually caved to peer pressure and donned a Nitto Bull-horn Bar, polished of course. I recall riding Kreitler Rollers all year round on these machines, and visiting friends always marveled at the poise and balance it took to do so. Really it's just like riding a bike, so no biggie. Anyway, on the topic of Track bikes, or quasi-Kirin fixies, I do recall many friends who liked my single speed machines in all their poised splendor. Becoming infected with the virus to possess one themselves, some of those friends then rode delivery for messenger companies. I'm not taking credit, for anything here, but I don't know of any of my friends who schlepped drawings, legal crap and parcels around the Loop as having Track bikes until this time, and I do recall that because I was without a car to get to the track I eventually sold both bikes to people of the Delivery set. So sometimes the soul-less bike infects those with souls, and the marriage presses at the fringe of what is, shall we say thoughtful. So I'm back where we began and that is the topic of awareness. Zombie Awareness... I was not aware back then, that there would come a time when new zombie inductees with barely a ball hair would come streaking down a crowded bike path yelling "no brakes!" Nor would I have projected into the future to know for certain that those same kids may drift down from the path into the street-level crosstown, and charge through intersections with the mental faculty of a chimpanzee on a date-rape drug.
As things go, I'm pretty up-tempo... I don't disparage if it won't affect me. ...Live and let die, right?
So the other day, I'm out on my stoner-bike ("Stoner-bike": defined as a stamped steel coaster-brake AMF P.O.S. with white spring vinyl saddle, White Plastic Grips, rattley chain guard, and single blue rear fender. This was sold to me by a stoner who defined it as such, and said that 20 bucks for a "good bike" was costing him money because he put a new 24 dollar tire on it last week, just to sell it), --Look up N+1, at Velominati, and you'd be impressed that in this consecration, my wife actually handed me the 20, and told me to ride it 'round the block. Anyway my stoner-bike is slow, and the brakes are sketchy. So, I'm not as liberal with my traffic transgressions, (i.e. racing into intersecting traffic against the lights), when the chance of braking, or even reliable steerage is yet a debate topic. My "stoner-bike" and I are out for an errand, to fetch coffee, (the lock for which tripled it's value), and we head the same vector each time, which is perpendicular to the 606 path, and as one may guess the path has Disability-grade ramps for access, and they fall every quarter mile or so in my hood to afford Yuppies and their sleds of Infants aboard the Ethnic Express. (Another reason that I don't ride my Di2, or eTap rigs round these parts.) As a ramp descends to a real world street, the risk is always that some zombie will descend or enter at break-neck speed to show sovereign control over their throne, and as such, the Chimpanzee reference seems fitting, lest we revisit, "ride it like you stole it", which is also a possible Blog post.
And when I'm aboard the stoner-machine, I don't enjoy the zombie ilk whatsoever, mostly because the stoner bike is like my Yoga studio, and I go there when I want to slow down and reflect and even meditate on which velominati rule I most admire, and which ones I may've broken lately. I enjoy that the infection of one kid with a P.O.S Schwinn Collegiate Sport and a new Bike path up the street can become a singularity for a fixie sub-cult that seems self-sustaining -- If even a fledgling arms race for disc-wheels, and High-flanged Hubs. But when I say I "enjoy", I mean that I admire that there is always a new pull of gravity into the cycling world's black center, where swirling bacteria is clashing with the the sanitized world of club racing in a planet-making velo-cosmos. I admire that kids without cars have discovered that they won't need one, and that if they sport a Fixie like a Mod to a Vespa, something will change within them. You recall Quadraphenia, when the mods busted up the seaside community because they became a critical mass. There was nothing more than Adolescent unknowing to account for that mess. No I wont race you, you fool!, we don't orbit the same sun. When you show at my door for candy tomorrow, I'll gladly dole it out with advice as required, smug in the knowledge that I wont be bitten by the Zombie Plague.
...But when I'm on a coffee run and you enter the surface streets, here are some rules:
Rule number 311: Any cyclist with a beverage or package in hand has the right of way, and any cyclist with a cell phone in hand should yield.
Rule Number 606: Bike Path Zombie Parades and the "Messenger-bag Cloak of Clueless Invincibility" do not apply at Street level, your tween simian zombie flirtations with death, and your fixie-kin rider-etiquette stays up there.
Rule Number 312: When your preferred music player is blasting the "Hip Hop" version of some southern rock song from the strap of your Stupid empty Messenger bag, and it's inhibiting your ability to navigate clear of a stroller or the elderly, then it's Totally OK when someone relieves you of the player, your stupid man-satchel, if not your bike.
Rule Number 911: If your entitled chimp-zombie brain convinced you that a tucked aero track bike without brakes was the better side of the Moulton/Fixie dialectic, and you then slide into the side of a truck going "balls-out", but don't die; then congratulations, you are a dumb-ass, and its best if you don't step up to the driver and pick a fight -- For in this case my chimp-zombie friend, the blame falls squarely upon your mother's shoulders, and Natural selection is in full effect.
Last Thing: If you cause me to spill my fair trade single origin coffee whilst in stoner-bike mindfulness mode, then aforementioned hot coffee may splash on your face.
Age and Treachery will overcome youth and skill.