Frozen Pissing, Muffled Moaning

•November 5, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Winter is on the way to Prague, make no mistake. Actually, you could make that mistake today looking up at mysteriously blue, cloudless skies. It’s currently 8 degrees in the hlavni mesto, and the people are confused, skittering this way and that in their manager mobiles like old folk setting aside their walkers to take a stab at the shuffleboard court.

The other denizens of Gattaca are  serially amazed that I continue to show up every morning on my bike. “Isn’t it too cold?” they ask? Well, yes, it is too cold, if you’re dressed in your short lycra Tour de Tightpants kit and huffing along at 6 km/h with a liter of gatorade freezing in your Camelback. The secret, I tell them, is not to mind getting a little wet and to ride like you’re trying to get someplace.

Intentions aside, I’d like to make a short PSA for winter riding, especially after catching an eyeful of this monstrosity posted on the Guardian. Form before function, my lad.

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Really, Guardian? Really? And what's with that left pocket anyhow? Missing some coin for the bus, missus?

Now, this girl may look to some as though she’s ready to cycle the whole winter through, but she looks to me as though her daddy the Duke has just rousted her out of her bedchamber and sent her down to the local to inquire after the drunken stablemaster. As her left hand indicates, she perceives that she will inevitably meet the stablemaster’s stolid, working class son, who will forthwith strap on his wellies and bring her round the back of the bikeshed for a proper greasing of her bottom bracket. Or whatever. Honestly, what is happening to our English speaking world? Americans turn lazy, ignorant and bible-thumping while the Brits turn foofy, impractical and Parisian? Is it opposite day on planet earth? I guess it’s all up to the Australians to carry on manning up in the name of phonetic dissonance, practical outerwear and unclear prepositions.

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Then again...

I myself forgo cashmere in favor of 1994’s buzzphrase: waterproof breathables. Here’s the kit that keeps me pissed off on my way to work in the morning, through the miserable dark of Prague’s unholy half-year winter.

  1. It’s all about the layas. I start with a tee-shirt and boxer shorts. Tighty whiteys are chafing. On top of that, I pile on some winter jogging tights from the local vietnamese shop and a long-sleeve thermal top from same. Up onto that go my waterproof cycling shorts (baggy and without logos) and a hoody. The hoody is good because it is warm. Overtop the hoody goes my magical waterproof shell jacket thingy from Marmot (incidentally the most expensive item of clothing I own.) I top it off with a turtleneck thing (just the turtleneck) which is sort of a scarf replacement. I don’t know what you call it, and I’m sure you can get one from a London shop for 48 quid if you like. My fancy cycling hat and an old pair of Chuck Taylors finish it off. At this point, I look sort of like a blue penguin with Mickey Mouse legs, but it’s all good. I’m not heading down to the local to inquire after the fucking stablemaster, now am I? No, I’m riding to Gattaca like regular folk.
  2. As any bike blog worth its adwords can tell you, it’s also all about the accessories. My winter accessory kit consists of the Dakine backpack I bought for my wife years ago. She doesn’t wear it because it got dirty once and she’ll always remember that time. Fine by me. I also rock my Knog 8-ball fingerless gloves, which some people think is “mad” in the winter, but I like to feel the wind through my knuckle hairs. Glasses are important. I use some with yellow tinted lenses, which give the impression that Prague actually has color in the winter. This isn’t true. Anyway, the lenses keep my eyes from tearing up and freezing in the Siberian blasts of wind. I also have a pair of heavy duty hiking socks that I cut off the ends of. These I tuck over the tops of my Chuck Taylors, as they repel water a little bit and also keep me warm and complete the Oliver Twist chic.
  3. Every serious biker prepares his/her machine for the cold. I celebrate the coming of November by cleaning my chain and replacing the oil with some other oil. It works really well. Seriously, the grit and garbage that collects on a winter road in the city is murder on your chain, so I always check it out every 3 or 4 days, just to make sure it’s not gathered a cat up in the links or whatnot. I also make sure my tubes have air in them, which reduces friction and helps me ride faster. The best thing you can do for your bike in the winter is to order a new pair of colored tires. It’s well known that colored materials reflect heat more readily than black materials, which absorb heat. What you want to do is to use all available light/heat/energy to melt the snow and ice forming on your shins and the road ahead. Colored tires make it happen.
  4. Before riding, I like to stretch a bit. Knees are problematic, and a nice round of stretches will also squeeze all that gas out of you generated by the tacos the night before. A lighter rider is a happier rider. I also like to massage the steel tubing on my bike a bit as well before the ride. We don’t want those bits snapping from an unexpected pothole now, do we? Here’s a helpful diagram:

massage

Happy winter riding, everyone! And Honza, don’t think I haven’t noticed you didn’t change to your winter tires yet!

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We all r weeners!

•November 2, 2009 • 1 Comment

This weekend was massive for biking in Prague. We started off with a few hours of kolopolo up on Letna, which is getting to be a regular established thing. This time, the Lord General Manager of Douchington’s extra large Volvo cockwagon wasn’t parked in our court, so we really let loose, watching Koen score like 18 goals in a row and arguing over whose team would get him next. It was surreal and it brought many of us to the very edge of doubting that things are right with the world. As you can see, my iPhone has the extrasensory “Gozer-vision” filter which plainly shows an elevated concentration of pinkish, stay-puft douchiness hovering above the city:

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The view from the top

After exhausting ourselves in the cold for a few hours, we meandered over to U Veverka to have some goulash, some beers and a look at the map before the Alleycat got underway. The turnout was great, with 18 racers coming from all over Prague and the rest of the Republic as well – check out some more photos by Dave here. The race went well, with no major injuries recorded. Rob and Patrik came in 1st and 2nd respectively, with yours truly following up with a respectable 3rd, despite a really bothersome fake beard.

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Really, the 3rd place made me feel kinda good, even though, you know, the podium was filled with the organizers. For one thing, I complain way more than the other riders involved, which actually slows you down when you’re riding on account of my mouth filling up with air. For another thing, I’m Way Older ® than the rest of the racers, as was brought up afterwards, so it’s good I didn’t, you know, keel over from a heart attack or something.

After the race, we decamped to Jama and had a ton of beer, which left me feeling really super on Sunday for the drive out to Mezinikam to pick up my new used bike – this beautiful old Zbrojovka. I haven’t had time to take it apart yet, but plan to do so and get it powdercoated and replace all the broken bits. I think the company stopped making them before WWII, so this bike is officially “pretty old”  🙂

As an added bonus, I discovered a place in the Czech Republic where the GPS doesn’t register – it’s somewhere between Pardubice and Chrudim, if you must know, and the roads are so confusing they don’t even bother to put up street signs. I swear I thought I was in the middle of some sort of slow motion apocalypse, where everything was paved and painted with traffic cones. It didn’t help that it was night, and the high-beams of my Classic 1987 English Professor Vulva Mobile don’t extend much further than 75 feet ahead of the car. I don’t know what is going on out there, but they really have to get that shit online if they want to be all European and such. The only functional highway in the Republic suddenly shits the bed about 20km from Hradec Kralove, which left me in the middle of an industrial quarry area on an unlit path. Weird, and different… But, I came back with this:

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Wednesday KoloPolo and Another Reason to Ride Bikes…

•October 27, 2009 • Leave a Comment

So tomorrow is the “Founding Day”, a national holiday here in the Shire. To celebrate, the city fingerbangers are considering scrapping the Open Card system – an abortive little attempt to make the local public transport ticket system make sense. As it now stands, the system “works” on sort of an honor basis. You buy a ticket (if you can figure out what the proper fare is) then validate it at one of the barely noticeable yellow boxes hanging around the vestibule and on trams. Then, a ticket inspector may or may not approach you and ask to see a validated ticket. These inspectors have no power (aside from the uncanny ability to sense when foreigners don’t have a ticket), and aren’t even allowed to physically restrain you should you choose to run away. Like all brownshirts, however, they often get a bit overzealous in the performance of their duties.

Now most sane people would say: put a bloody turnstile at the entrances which don’t open unless you scan/validate/proffer/palpage a ticket. Problem solved and everyone pays. But no, that would not be the right way, for some reason we would probably have to go back to the 18th century “Rules and Regulations of the Bohemian Protektorat” to answer. About a year ago, they introduced some cockamamie scheme involving a rechargeable card suspiciously like London’s Oyster card. Of course, they made it impossible to charge the thing without having a personal assistant or being unemployed – a tried and true method of conducting commerce in the Shire. They further enhanced the experience by making sure that there was only one, tiny little validation stand at each metro entrance, which were immediately covered by stickers advertising some shit-ass techno party or other. Vee tay tay.

Anyway, we’ll be celebrating the holiday tomorrow at Letna park, so come out and play:

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Halloween Alleycat Update!

•October 26, 2009 • Leave a Comment

So, it has been brought to our attention that it’s “not fair” if we know the route of the alleycat and don’t publicize it. Since Rob and I are technically riding the race as well, I guess that’s a fair observation (even if there isn’t any prize, just bragging rights for teh whole of the Prague Fixie community!) The thing is, while Rob has sweet daylight hours to practice cutting off pedestrians and “killing it” across town, I (like many of you?) am usually indoors all day. Life isn’t fair, Micah, so here goes my little concession to teh fair.

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Most times, the endpoints are decided and the checkpoints announced. It’s up to the individual cleverness of the rider and his/her familiarity with the city to find the fastest route. We also want this to be a fun group ride, however, so here are the checkpoints:

1. At 16:00 on Saturday we will all meet at U Veverka in Hradcany (Eliasova 14) and get “hydrated” for the ride.

2. The first checkpoint will be at the main entrance to Vystavste

3. The second checkpoint will be at the Libensky most tram stop

4. The third checkpoint will be at Staromestke namesti, at the Hus statue

5. The finish point will be handed out on paper at Staromak, but it is less than 2 km away according to Google maps.

Again, everyone is welcome ride, but bragging rights can only be awarded to fixed or single speed riders.

The Harder they Come

•October 26, 2009 • Leave a Comment

cliff_jimmyThis was a great weekend – not least because I spent it in Budapest. In order to leave Prague, however, there are many rivers to cross, as Jimmy Cliff would have it. The first is the magnetic force field beamed out from underneath the Rudolfinum. Oh yes, what you thought was just another innocuous “little Europe” monument to the cultural achievements of dead Germans is actually an insidious disguise for a massive electromagnet. Stay here for 2 years and you’re bound to consume enough beer to gather a critical mass of lead in your gut. The power of beer and the electromagnet compels you to remain within grumbling distance of the Rudolfinum at all times. The other hurdle is the authentic road rage which is quickly taking over Czech “culture”. On the way out of town, we witnessed one of the most hilarious examples I’ve ever seen in my life.

Honza was queuing to ride the Magistrala right beneath Hlavni Nadrazi when Honza cut him off. This was a funny operation, and I’m not sure what precipitated it. Maybe Honza1 was on his phone and somehow missed his chance to aggressively advance the 5 meters between himself and the next car – I don’t know. All I know is that Honza2 sped around him and cut him off, thus gaining 5 meters in the race to join the gridlock on the magistrala. Honza1 really didn’t like this, so he did the sensible thing – he RAMMED HONZA2’S manager mobile from behind. Honza2, of course, was brimming over with righteous indignation and decided to retaliate in the manner he knows best – he rammed Honza1 in reverse! The ramming was getting furious now, and manager-mobile bumpers were cracking. I got to see all of this because the traffic on the road hey were trying to join was at a dead standstill. Finally, Honza2 jumped out of his car, as did Honza1. They met each other in the middle as I fumbled for my iPhone’s magnificent 5-minute loading camera feature.

Now where I’m from, a display like that would have led to blows. It would have led to a number of blows, in fact, as their hugging battle raged out into the middle of the highway. The enraged Honzas carried on like 4 year olds for about 3 minutes, gripping each other in bear hugs that looked suspiciously nonaggressive. It was like a music video, and I even contemplated switching my still-loading camera app to the iPhone app and playing an REM song at peak volume for the benefit of all. After a few rounds of hugging and swaying, the Honzas got back into their cars and WAITED with everyone else. What is this place coming to, honestly? The city is in near-total gridlock every day and this sort of thing is only going to become more and more common. How long before a Honza ends up falling down and staining his good jacket? How long before a manager-mobile is truly damaged? Sad, and funny, but mostly sad. Vitay-tay.

The weekend passed in Budapest like some sort of weird dream – it was warm, the people were friendly and the roads seemed oddly empty. I realized later that this was due to the city planning, which involves creating a huge, 4 block-wide pedestrian zone in the center of the city, roughly from Gerbaud over to the end of Vaci Ut.  Those crazy Magyars, what will they think of next – repairing and updating public transport? Everyone knows public transport is for losers and the detestable poor.

Back in Prague, I hopped on my bike this morning to race down to Gattaca and was immediately reminded of where I was and how unimportant my life is to the commuting Honzaic hordes. Turning down to Karlin from the Husitska intersection, I heard the roar of Honza unfulfilled behind me. Sure enough, the horn started up a second later, even though there was exactly 5 meters between me and the car in front. This time, I refused to pull over – not least because the road there has more holes in it than a Romanian whorehouse. I rode down to the next light with traffic, then circled around to speak with my buddy, who’d been tailing me the whole way. Rather than my usual mode of engagement – waiting for them to say something with a grin on my face – I decided to join in the national mood: “Keep honking at me and I’ll drag your monkey ass out of that car and break every bone in your face!” Honza quickly rolled up his window and drove off as the light changed, so maybe I’m on to something. Nothing like adding a little more misery to the world, huh? One and all 😉

I missed bike polo this weekend, which is a shame.

Teh Awakening

•October 23, 2009 • Leave a Comment

So despite the musings of the Bike Snob, the Fixed Gear “culture” is not closed in Prague! As we all know, things move a bit slower around here and fashion is certainly one of those things. Observe the following scientific chart, assembled by our experts:

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As you can plainly see, Fixie hipsterism has yet to become a closed culture in the Czech Republic. Drivers and bikers are not part of that list of things that move slowly, of course, which makes me all proud and happy to present to you:

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It’s a blog, it’s a community, it’s a culture! Sa. da. tay.

What are we trying to do here, you ask? I can’t tell you, or I’d have to kill you, but rest assured that it is very cultural and involves getting more people on bikes. We might even end up getting an award from the American Chamber of Commerce in Prague American Embassy for helping to spread the meritorious Western Kultur.

The comings and goings at Gattaca have kept me nasty busy these days (I know some of you had hoped I finally got leveled by a mobile-phone enhanced Honza, but dream on). I’ve been riding, I’ve been working, I’ve been sleeping. Surprisingly, the cold weather makes everyone grumpy, but grumpy like the bear:

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Not grumpy like Daniel Day Lewis:

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This results in less confrontations and “words”, although the fallout is that I am barely able to get out of bed most days for want of sunlight. All is well. Budapest this weekend. Hasta la cultura siempre.

So soon? Really?

•October 16, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I know I’m not alone in being caught unprepared for the onslaught of teh nasty Prague winter. Everywhere you look, people’s faces are locked in the scowl of shock and they cling to woefully thin jackets while puffing down the last bits of their Marlboro Golds (which are better than Marlboro Lights in Europe now). The scowl of shock is a Prague hallmark, combining the unlikely fellows disdain and resignation in one convenient expression. It’s hard to get a picture of, mainly because those who wear it are usually just half a step from bow hunting, and any quick movements could set them off. This is winter in Prague. The only positive thing about it is that Honza is too lazy to get out of his car to scream, “ty vole, jses normalni??” Instead, he screams it from the inside, which is more funny than anything.

Verily I say unto thee: get thee the heck out and take thee and thine to Asia, lest your disposition become foul and thine knackers be chastened by yonder frost.

Verily I say unto thee: get thee the heck out and take thee and thine to Asia, lest your disposition become foul and thine knackers be chastened by yonder frost.

Last night I didn’t ride my bike home from Gattaca. Instead it sat, all alone in the cold antiseptic colorless space, waiting for me to return this morning. To be completely accurate, it wasn’t alone. It had my house keys to keep it company, safely tucked into the pocket of my waterproof cycling jacket. If I hadn’t been at a room-warming party with my wife (it’s not what you think, I’ll explain…) I would have been locked out for the whole night. As it was, I was locked in for the whole morning. Through a combination of bravado, dutch courage and desperation, I managed to escape the flat, but it’s not a thing I would do again. In fact, I don’t even want to describe how I did it, but I must, as it somehow pinpoints the state of bewilderment I’ve been trapped in for two weeks now.

Our bathroom has a small window that peeks out into the “svetlik” – a space between buildings ostensibly placed to allow light to reach the lower-level apartments. The window is about a meter away from the windows to the building stairwell, which happened to be open because of the interminable work being performed on the building. To make a long story short, I threw my backpack over, then jumped. My backpack made a funny noise when it landed – a noise faintly reminiscent of the jangle of keys. I opened it up and found the extra set of housekeys buried in one of those “handy” secret pockets that you only remember in reference to a chunk of hashish or a spare pocketknife a minute before passing through airport security. I let myself back in the flat, closed the window and headed off to work. I’m hoping, anyway, that I remembered to lock the door behind me.

This is what happens when I don’t ride my bike.

I forget things. I forget a lot of important things. I forget them often. Especially in the depths of winter we’ve been plunged unfairly and preternaturally early  into, I find it hard to concentrate on anything except hot chocolate with rum and a few well-read books.  Even leaving the apartment is a challenge, which made the “room-warming” party last night that much more difficult. Some friends of ours finished the reconstruction on their apartment and invited a few people over to celebrate, but all I could manage to think of was what movie I could be watching on my OWN couch (and whether my bike would freeze in the dark aether of Gattaca overnight.) We successfully warmed the room and headed home, which is when I discovered I’d left my keys at work.

Two lessons learned:

1. It is inhuman to live somewhere the temperature drops below freezing before the end of October.

2. It is common knowledge that black socks stink worse than white socks. This is incontrovertible fact. I bring it up because it was the topic of discussion for much of the evening, resulting in a bald challenge to me to “prove it” today at work by wearing one white sock and one black sock and being forced to differentiate accurately between the two at the end of the day.

I remembered to wear two different colored socks. Welcome to my world.

It is common knowledge that black socks absorb more odor than white ones

It is common knowledge that black socks absorb more odor than white ones