Saturday, January 27, 2018

Renewing a 1976 Motobecane Grand Jubile

I have my doubts. The C and O bike loan program has just received a donation of a vintage 21 inch Motobecane Grande Jubile bicycle. The program manager had saved it from the junk pile especially for me. He says, “Doug, do you want to take this on as a project. I don’t know much about it. What do you think?”

The silver and red two-wheeler is leaning against the bicycle shed adjacent to the Great Falls Tavern in the C & O Canal National Historic Park near Washington, DC. The first impression is not a good one. The bike is covered in grime from years of sitting in a garage. This bike has the look of an over-powdered aging French Madame, down on her luck. The silver frame is covered with years of garage brown dirt hiding the imperfections of aging. The thin 27 by 1/8 inch tires are cracked and sagging. The rubber brake hoods are marbleized and wrinkled. The formerly bright ruby red cables have faded to an austere, dark maroon brown and are frayed at the bends. At first glance I balk at the thought of renewing this bicycle, considering it too much work.

“I’m not sure. She’s definitely a classic. But I don’t know what’s under all that dirt?”

Then I take a closer look. One good sign is that the bike has a set of Japanese Suntour Cyclone derailleurs. I see that under the grimy handlebar tape is a set of made in French Pivo Professonal handlebars. I read the sticker on the frame and it says “Construit avec Reynolds 531 3 Tubes Renforces,” or constructed with Reynolds 531 double butted chrome-molly main tubing. This the highest quality frame material back in those days. The cranks are classic French Stronglight, among the best of their times. I check the rims and they are Araya, 1970s classics from Japan. The hubs are Normandy, made in France. I measure the French Sedis chain and I can’t believe it is almost in original condition except for a bit of grime. The black and red winged head badge is bright and clear (figure 1). My curiosity is piqued.

Red and Black Bicycle Headbadge Closeup
Figure 1. Headbadge of 1976 Motobecane Grand Jubile.
Source: Doug Barnes
“This bike might have some potential, but it depends on condition of the paint and the compoenents. I’ll take it home and have a closer look.”

At the end of the day I put the Motobecane on my car rack, drive it home. As I carry it to my bike work area in my basement, my wife gives me a sideways glare, suggesting she’s thinking, “Not another one.” She is accustomed to me bringing home orphaned bikes, and is used to humoring me. But she does become annoyed when I have too many projects crowding the basement.

That evening I do some research on the bike. The 1976 Motobecane catalog (Motogecane 1976) reads, “Hand built for long distance touring. Reynolds 531 double butted tubing. Beautifully detailed Nervex professional lugs. Fitted with carefully selected alloy components.” The paint and lugs on the Motobecane bikes were among the best in the bike industry during the 1970s. Although known more for motorcycles, Motobecane made bikes from 1923 to 1984. The bike frames cleans up very nicely (figure 2). The paint is very hard and cleans up well with only one exception. The silver paint on the front forks was covered with some kind of protective coating that softened up over time. With cleaning this removed the top coating of the pain revealing a silver color very close to the tone of the paint.

Silver bicycle frame with red letering.
Figure 2. Made in France, Motobecane
Photo: Doug Barnes
Like Schwinn, Motobecane fell victim to the Japanese imports that flooded the USA and European markets in the late 1970s and 1980s. Motobecane tried to fight this trend becoming one of the first of the European manufacturers to use the high quality Japanese components to complement its hand-built French frames. This made them quite popular during the 1970s, but slowly their sales declined and the company entered bankruptcy in 1981. Unlike Schwinn which tried to fight the global competition by producing bicycles in Chicago, Mississippi, Taiwan and China, Motobecane never took on the challenges from abroad. As a consequence, they slowly lost market share during the 1980s, faded as a brand and eventually declared bankruptcy. The bicycles made under the Motobecane name today have no relationship with the historic French company.

The Motobecane Grand Jubile (figure 3) is a touring bike and is listed in the 1974 catalog as the fourth highest model in their line of bicycles. According to the catalog the bike weighs 24 pounds. Motebecane's highest rated model is only one pound lighter. As I go over the bike I notice the components on the catalog match those on the bicycle. The 1976 catalog lists the Suntour derailleur set for the first time, making this the probable year that this bicycle was assembled in France.

Red Lettering on Bicycle Silver Top Tube
Figure 3. Grand Jubile on Motobecane Top Tube
Photo: Doug Barnes
The silver frame with red lettering is very attractive. The frame is made in France and is composed of Reynolds 531 tubing. The main tubes are double butted (thicker at the ends and thinner in the middle). The silver paint has a deep luster even after 40 years (figure 4). The red lettering is clear and distinctive against the light silver background.

Silver and Red Bicycle with fence in background
Figure 4. Restored 1976 Motobecane Grand Jubile
Photo: Doug Barnes
The French Pivo handlebars cleaned up quite well after I dissolved 40 year old glue left from the old bar tape. The finish is a bit scratched, but it also is quite shiny (figure 5).

Logo on Silver bicycle handlebar
Figure 5. French Pivo Professional Handlebar Logo
Photo: Doug Barnes
The SR Alloy stem is made in Japan (figure 6). They were high quality and quite popular in the 1970s.

Bicycle Handlebar stem with red reflection of brake wire
Figure 6. SR Alloy Japanese Handlebar Stem
Photo: Doug Barnes

The derailleur set is Suntour Cyclone (figure 7). Suntour made very high quality components in the 1970s and 1980. These are non-index derailleurs. The Cyclone was introduced in 1975 and was a more polished version of the very popular Suntour V. Despite more expensive models produced at the time, these derailleurs were shifted reliably and predictably (Berti 2017). The production of Suntour components peaked in 1985 and they came late to the market with index shifters. As a consequence, the company lost market share to Shimano and eventually declared bankrupcy in 1988. The company was purchased by Sakae Ringyo Company, and the company today is called SR Suntour, which today still makes a wide variety of bicycle parts including forks.

Figure 7. Suntour Cyclone Derailleur on 1976 Motobecane Grand Jubile
Photo: Doug Barnes
The Swiss company Weinmann had the market on medium quality brakes during the 1970s and also produced rims since the 1930s. The Swiss company sold the largest volume of any supplier of rims and brakes during those times. They were featured on many British sports bikes including Raleigh, Carlton, Dawes and Falcon (Griffith 2017). Weinmann is not found on the highest quality bikes of the era, but they made solid components. The brakes on this bike are Vainquer 999 (winner in French) and they are center pull (figure 8). They are difficult to adjust, but I have an old third hand tool that does the job. After designing an excellent line of products, the company rested on its past performance and some of its products became outmoded. Weinmann brake production ceased during the 1990s.

Figure 8. Swiss Made Weinmann Vainqueur Brakes, 1976
Photo: Doug Barnes
The Weinmann rims were known to be strong and true even when ridden of the roughest conditions (figure 9). Eventually the production of the rims was shifted to Belgium. The are still produced today by Alesa and they are made in China.

Figure 9. Classic Weinmann Rim on 1976 Motobecane Grand Jubile Bicycle
Photo: Doug Barnes
The drivetrain consists of a Stronglight square taper crank and chainrings (figure 10). I had to buy a special Stronglight compatible crank puller to removed the cranks for servicing the bottom bracket. They are larger than the standard Shimano size and even different than other French cranksets. The size of the correct crank extractor for this bike is 23.35 mm.

Chainrings of bicycle on white background
Figure 10. Stronglight Crankset and Chainrings, 1976
Photo: Doug Barnes
The axles are French and made by Normandy. The Sedis chain is also a French the company that originally was formed after encouragement by Peugeot bicycles (figure 11). Sedis still makes high quality chains today. The 5 speed freewheel was made by the French company Atom, but in this case it was made in Italy.
Freewheel and Chain on Bicycle with grass in background
Figure 11. Chain and Freewheel on 1976 Motobecane Bicycle
Photo: Doug Barnes
Once can sense the beginnings of globalization in the components of the bike and especially the drivetrain. Factories in Europe were humming to produce components for French and other European bicycle frames. The Suntour and SR components was the first nod towards the globalization of the bike industry. In just a few decades after this bike was produced, most companies that made the bicycle components either went out of business or moved their production to Asia.

I did not ride this bike extensively because at 21 inch size is quite small for me. However, my short ride indicated that this bicycle is very stable and is ideal for touring. If you want to take a look at this bike, it is on display at the Bicycle Loan Program at Great Falls Tavern in Maryland. This is located in the C & O Canal National Historic Park. For more pictures of the bike use this link.


Berto, Frank, 2017. The Dancing Chain: History and Development of the Derailleur Bichycle. 5th Edition. San Francisco: Cycle Publishing/van de Plas Publications. 

Griffith, Steve. 2017. Classic Lightweights: UK, Weinmann Components. Accessed 2017.

Motobecane. 1976. USA Catalog produced by Motobecane.  Accessed. Velobase Website.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

A Christmas Bicycle Story from the 1950s

The setting is Christmas in the 1950s in the small town of Uniontown, Pennsylvania. It is a recollection of one cold Christmas day warmed by memories that I had almost forgotten. My brother Russ resurrected my memories about this act of friendship and giving about 10 years ago in a play he wrote about growing up in Western Pennsylvania. Enjoy all over again the gift of giving a bicycle for Christmas in times that were less complicated than today.

Boy hanging Christmas stocking 1954
Hanging a Christmas Stocking in the 1950s
Source: Doug Barnes


My brother Russ asks John the golden question, "What're you gettin' for Christmas?" It's just after Thanksgiving and Russ, John Gronski and I are just beginning to discuss the upcoming holidays. At 9 years old John is a constant companion at our house, coming early and staying late. He often joins us for lunch.

Self assured, John says, "I'm gettin' a new bicycle."

I give my brother Russ a skeptical look. Russ acknowledges the look, but keeps a poker face. The coal mines in the Uniontown area of Western Pennsylvania now are all mostly closed and many fathers are out of work. John's father is no exception, but he does do part time work. I often see him during the week wearing coveralls and tinkering in his garage when other fathers are away at work. John's father is very nice, but quiet, reserved and somewhat reclusive. John is the opposite, outgoing, friendly and ready for any new challenge.

Despite high levels of poverty in Western Pennsylvania, bicycles for children still are a very common birthday or Christmas gift. Bicycles are considered essential for children's neighborhood transportation. Every child in our gang has a bicycle--except for one. John Gronski has to walk everywhere. Still John is an important member of the gang because he's enthusiastic about all our projects. Not only is he eager to go along with our many harebrained schemes, but he embraces them. John occasionally borrows one of our bicycles, requests that are met with no resentment. His limited transportation is a constant irritation for him.

Russ asks, "How do ya know you're gettin' a bicycle?"

"I've dropped some hints with my parents. I told'em how difficult it is ta ride double and ta keep up with yous guys on foot." Riding double looks either like a circus act or a lover's embrace. The extra rider sits uncomfortably on the cross bar in an awkward position or balances on the seat with legs splaying outwards. His hands grab onto the waist of the rider that's standing and peddling.

"It'd be nice if ya had your own bike so you could ride around with us." We often travel in packs to destinations such as friend's house, a baseball game, the corner store or exploring the local woods. It's a rare time when we can loan John our bicycles. These two wheel machines are the transportation lifeblood of childhood in small towns and community all across the country. The gang rides and John walks, showing up late to wherever we're going. It's a repeated pattern that irritates John.

With a bright look in his eyes John says, "Don't worry. I'm sure I'll git one."

John's belief that he is getting a bicycle for Christmas becomes known by my whole family. John is like part of our family, sometimes even attending church with us. My father can foresee impending disappointment on Christmas morning.

One evening at dinner he brings up the topic with my brother Russ and me, "I hear John thinks he's getting a bicycle for Christmas."

Russ replies, "He not only thinks it, he's knows it."

"What do you think?"

"Don't really know. He never gets anything besides shirts and shoes for Christmas, but it could happen." Our father looks doubtful. He knows that John's father has difficulty keeping a steady job. A bicycle probably is perceived in his family to be an extravagant plaything.

My father has a very thick skin that covers a very generous nature. Part of this stubbornness stems from his experiences during World War II. He was in the war from almost the beginning until the end. His division landed in Sicily (Italy) and fought in Southern Italy. He witnessed the landing in Anzio (Italy) and the eventual capture of Rome. After another amphibious landing in Southern France he moved with his division by train to engage the Germans in eastern France. After crossing the Rhine into Germany his division went south and liberated Dachau, a major concentration camp near Munich. My older brother was born just after he landed in Sicily, so my father missed the first two years of his life. I was a product of his return, and I often think about being the result of a loving reunion.

The thick shell that enveloped him during the war did gradually erode as he reentered society to raise a family and work in a family business. Even as children we could see the change. During our younger years he was very strict, but that softened as we grew up. He had seen many poor and dislocated children during the war, and it had made him uneasy to think of John's situation.

My father worries for weeks about John's disappointment at Christmas. He finally decides to do something about it. One evening about a week before Christmas he takes Russ and me aside. He is fidgeting and tense, unusual for him. But in a firm voice he says, "I know John's not going to get a bicycle for Christmas."

I look at him surprised, "How do ya know?"

He avoids our eyes and looks away. "I really don't know. I just have a feeling." He then looks directly at us. "He's almost part of our family. I don't want to see him disappointed."

I know my father. Once he makes up his mind, right or wrong, it won't change. His expression is dead serious. This isn't a decision that has implications of life or death, something he often encountered during the war, but Russ and I understand the seriousness of the conversation.

I see Russ look away to collect his thoughts. It is hard to think when confronted by a determined look. He then looks back and says, "We never give him anything for Christmas, so what're you going to do?"

My father says, "I know that, but I'm going to buy him a bicycle just in case he doesn't get one." I'm younger, but I see a problem right away. Such a big gift is unusual and not socially acceptable in our close knit neighborhood.

Russ is thinking the same thing. "But how'll you give it to him?" The implication is that we don't want the bicycle to come between us and our friendship with John.

"I don't know yet. I still haven't figured it out. Not even sure I'll do it." Our father then looks at us directly and says, "You have to promise me you'll keep a lid on this secret." I squirm in my chair. A friendship is on the line and this is a matter that has to be handled delicately.

As the days pass Christmas is coming soon and the matter hasn't been resolved. My father finally makes the decision and goes to the Ross Brother's Sporting Goods store. He purchases the bicycle two days before Christmas.

Our dinner table often is the time for serious family discussions. It is the only time all of us are together. That evening just days before Christmas as we are sitting at the table after dinner my father breaks the news. "I've purchased John a bicycle." It is stated as a matter of fact, not open for discussion. "I still haven't decided how I'll do this, but you have to keep the promise you made. Never say anything about this to John."

I'm surprised as I almost had forgotten the previous conversation about the bike. Russ looks at me, with a glance indicating the serious of the matter. He then turns and looks at my father, "We cross our hearts and hope to die if we tell anything to John." He then throws me a quick glance and I make a motion crossing my heart with my fingers, but to be honest, I hope won't die. With this action the secret pact is sealed.

Christmas morning finally arrives. I open my presents in a frenzy. Toys and wrappings fly everywhere. For my family, Christmas is one of the most cherished days and it is celebrated with no thought for next month's bills. Along with Russ I'm coming down from the high of my new found treasures when I hear a knock on the door. I know it's John as he came every year to our house on late Christmas morning. Russ and I, still in our pajamas feel the cold air rushing through the door as we crowd the doorway looking out at John bundled up in the cold.

Two boys in front of fireplace during Christmas in the 1950s
Two Brothers during Christmas in the 1950s
Source: Doug Barnes

Beaming John says "I told ya, didn't I."

My brother says, "Wow, Mr. Claus was good to you this year."

"I told ya I'd git a bicycle." With one hand on his hip and the other sweeping down in a grand gesture, John continues, "and here it is." We see a bright shiny red, American-made bicycle.

Despite the cold I say, "Let's take 'er out for a test ride."

Russ and I abandon our new gifts. After dressing we get our bicycles from Granny's (our grandmother's) garage right behind our house. Despite the cold John, Russ and I ride all over the neighborhood as if floating on air. We make the neighborhood Christmas rounds with John. He soaks in the congratulations from all the gang members.

Our father always insists that we tell the truth. In an ironic twist this time he had instructed us to lie about John's bicycle. I understood this is a white lie to accomplish a good deed, a moral conundrum that doesn't bother me at all.

Later that day our father sits Russ and me down at the dining room table. He knows that to keep us quiet he'd have to tell us all the details of the events that transpired on Christmas Eve.

"After you boys went to bed I retrieved John's bicycle from its hiding place in Granny's garage. I rolled the bicycle over to his house. I really wasn't looking forward to talking with John's father. He was surprised to see me so late on the night before Christmas."

Our father paused and looked at us intently. Our eyes were wide open soaking up the experience. I thought how nice it was to share a secret with him. "John's father came out on the porch and saw the bicycle. I said to him 'John's at our house most every day. I learned that he wanted a bicycle for Christmas. I had an extra bicycle in the garage that I bought for one of my nephews. There was some confusion and his parents had already got em a bicycle. I'm not here to interfere with your family. This is an extra bicycle and it's yours. You can do whatever you want with it.' "

I say, "So he took the bike and gave it to John."

"Yeah. He took it, but I had no idea whether he'd give it to John. I was glad to see John show up with the bike this morning. Now you know the whole story. Let's keep all this quiet. Don't even tell any of the gang." After this we never talked about this in our family again. Russ and I kept our promise.

Kids are naturally selfish, but after that Christmas the saying "It's better to give than to receive" rang true for the first time in my life. My own Christmas presents are soon forgotten and I enjoy the gift of giving every time I observe John's happiness riding his very special bicycle. Reflecting back, I think all the destruction my father had seen during World War II made him think that life's short and an opportunity to make one child happy shouldn't be missed, no matter what.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Gender Equity is an Issue for the Transform I-66 Trail Design

The main beneficiaries of the currently proposed Transform I-66 bicycle and pedestrian trail will be male bicyclists who feel comfortable riding near or in traffic. The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) should build a trail that will be popular among a wider variety of bicyclists and pedestrians. This would then expand the benefits of Virginia’s investment in the trail.

I highlighted some of these issues for the proposed trail in a previous posting on the unrealized benefits of the trail.  This is based on a white paper with the title "The Missed Opportunities of the Transform I-66 Bicycle and Pedestrian Trail Design." I recently submitted written testimony on the preliminary design of the Transform I-66 Bicycle and Pedestrian Trail design to the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT). Here is my written testimony.

(Beginning of Testimony) Thank you receiving my written testimony concerning the Transform I-66 bicycle and pedestrian trail.

I have some comments on the preliminary design of the trail. Underlying these comments is the desire, I think shared by VDOT and other supporters, that the trail should be popular among a diverse set of riders and pedestrians in the vicinity of the I-66 Corridor.

In a sense, for trails such as the proposed one along the I-66 corridor, you can say, “Build it and they will come.”

Or alternatively, you can say “Build it and they will stay away.” The result all depends on the trail design.

If the trail is perceived to be unpleasant or unsafe, then only dedicated bicyclists or pedestrians will ride or walk one it (12% of population). If it is found to be pleasant, safe, and convenient to use, then casual riders, children, commuters and others will want to use the trail (63% of population). It is quite common for local neighbors to fear trails before they are built, only to ride and walk on them after they are constructed. Properly built trails often are perceived like public parks, as a community amenity. People love them.

But all trails are not equal. People perceive trails to be pleasant or safe according to several factors: degree of separation from traffic, width of the path, adjacent car or truck speed, treatment of intersections, and connection to communities. Trails that are pleasant also will be used more and provide more community benefits in the form of walking or riding to school, shops, business or just a friend’s house. Trails that are pleasant will also draw people that want to commute, exercise and improve their health.

At present the design of the I-66 Outside of the Beltway Trail has some good points, but also suffers some problems. At 8-10 feet wide the trail does not adhere to current Federal Highway Administration guidelines of 12 feet. The trail inside the sound wall next to traffic will be unpleasant and perhaps even unsafe if a truck careens out of control. The trail still needs to make some progress in connecting neighborhoods, but surely the trail should run through Northern Virginia Community College. Spilling the trail out onto roads of unknown safety may be an issue. The trail built by several different actors and may be of significant different quality or not look like a single unified trail.

I would conclude with two last points. First, many bike lanes along major highways have no bicycles on them because they are perceived to be unpleasant or unsafe. Second, making the trail a pleasant and safe destination for local residents will be a lasting contribution to the communities along the I-66 corridor.

I am submitting both this testimony and a white paper on the benefits of trails for your consideration. The white paper also provides some examples of how the problems of bicycle and pedestrian trails along highways were successfully solved by others in the country. (End of Testimony)
So, why do I think that seasoned male bicyclists will be the main beneficiaries of the proposed trail. The reason is based on research categorizing the distribution of bicycle riders that feel comfortable our uncomfortable in various forms of traffic (Geller 2006). A recent survey of people living in the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the United States divide people’s attitude towards bicycling into four categories—(a) strong and fearless; (b) enthused and confident; (c) interested but concerned, and (c) no way, no how (Dill and McNeill 2012). The number of people in the first two categories—those comfortable riding in or near traffic—comprises only 12% of the population (table 1). About 51% of people are interested in bicycling, but concerned about their riding environment due to safety and other reasons. The final category--"No Way, No How"--involves those who are not interested in bicycling for personal or health reasons. They just don't see themselves riding a bike and they comprise 37% of the population. Most strong and fearless riders are in the age range of 18-34 and those in the interested but concerned category include people of a wide variety of ages, including the young and old.

Table with % of Bicyclists Types
Table 1. Attitude towards Bicycling in Portland and US Metropolitan Areas
Source: Dill and MCNeil 2012.
The current trail design of the I-66 corridor would be attractive primarily to those in the categories "strong & fearless" and "enthused & confident," about 12% of the regional population. In order to be attractive to those "interested but concerned"--making up about 50% of the population--will require addressing the important issues of trail safety and aesthetics. Very few of those in the "interested but concerned" category would want to ride next to a freeway with cars traveling over 65 miles per hour or more. They also would not want to snake through complicated intersections that cross busy highways. Improving the design of the I-66 trail will attract a whole new category of bicyclists and pedestrians and raise the numbers of people that can enjoy the trail. This also will result in increase in trail benefits for the adjacent communities.

The trail as it is currently configured is really geared towards bicyclist who are at the very least confident in their abilities to make their way through traffic and are not hesitant about riding near traffic.  This group is predominately male as women make up only about 20% of riders in the “strong & fearless” and “enthused & confident” categories of riders. Most of those in the category "interested but concerned" would not want to ride on the parts of the I-66 trail that are beside the highway or diverted onto busy streets.  Women are commonly concerned about the safety of riding a bicycle.  They make up 42% of those who are in "interested but concerned" category of potential bicyclists . The conclusion is that a bicycle and pedestrian trail that is safe and pleasant to use would be more attractive for women. 

Bar chart figure with % woment participating in bicycling
Figure 1. Percent of Women by Types of Bicyclists.

More work is necessary on conceptualizing the design of the trail and working with local partners to assure an attractive and beautiful bicycle and pedestrian thoroughfare. The difficulties faced by other major trail projects along highways —such as creating a trail by a river in a crowded canyon—may have been even more challenging as those faced by the Transform I-66 project. The residents along the I-66 corridor will make sacrifices during the construction of the project and deserve the permanent convenience of a state of the art bicycle and pedestrian trail. To widen the appeal of the trail VDOT really needs to rethink the demographic profile of those who will benefit from the trail.


Dill, Jennifer. 2015. “Four Types of Cyclists: A National Look.” Slide presentation for NITC Webinar, Portland State University, Portland, Oregon.

Dill, Jennifer and Nathan McNeil. 2016. "Revisiting the Four Types of Cyclists: Findings from a National Survey" Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board. Vol. 2587.

Dill, Jennifer and Nathan McNeil. 2012. “Four Types of Cyclists? Testing a Typology to Better Understand Bicycling Behavior and Potential.” Working Paper of Portland State University, Portland Oregon.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Lost Benefits of the Transform I-66 Multi-Use Trail

The widening of the I-66 Corridor in Virginia just north and west of Washington, DC offers the rare opportunity to finance a state of the art bicycle and pedestrian trail for commuters interested in getting to work, for children going to school and for casual riders wanting to get from one neighborhood to another. The Transform I-66 project will cost the state and private investors $3 billion, so sufficient funds are available to have a state of the art bicycle facility that does not detract from the main goal of the project, which is to widen and improve the I-66 corridor outside of the Washington, DC beltway.

Unfortunately, the design of many parts of the trail means that for bicyclists and pedestrians the project will not be transformative. I am even tempted to say that the proposed trail does not follow best practices, but trails beside major highways are not the common. The consequence is that best practices have not been developed for such highways. However, this does not mean that the design of a bicycle trail can ignore all the best practices for general trail and separated bike lane designs in the professional literature and the recent recommendations of government organizations such as the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA 2015). The trail does meet the minimum guidelines for the Commonwealth of Virginia, but in some cases the project seems to have been granted exceptions from even those guidelines. This post was based on a white paper called The Missed Opportunities of the Transform I-66 Bicycle and Pedestrian Trail.

Critics of the Design of the I-66 Trail
The existing trail design has many positive aspects, but it also has many problems.  These have been highlighted by bicycle advocates in both Virginia and Washington, DC.  An article in the Washington Post titled, Biking advocates worry I-66 expansion project puts a bike trail too close to traffic,  highlights some issues on one part of the trail.  Other concerns have been published elsewhere by the WashCycle, the Washington Area Bicycle Association and the Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling, but I will briefly list them here.

·       About 3 miles of the trail is placed inside the sound wall beside high speed highway traffic making it an uninviting place to bicycle, walk, or exercise (figure 1). The sound wall will reflect sound back onto the trail and trap pollution from the adjacent highway. 

·       The trail has sections that make bicyclists and pedestrians travel further than a car on the I-66  highway. 

·       Connecting the trail to other local attractions and bicycle infrastructure was not given priority.  The W O & D, a major bicycle trail, is only one mile from the end of the trail.  

·       Gaps exist on the trail, and it appears bicyclists and pedestrians will be diverted onto roadways. Perhaps these roadways will be treated with bicycle lanes, but it takes away from the direct nature of a bicycle trail.  It’s left to others to make connect gaps in the trail. 
·       The trail for the most part is on one side of the highway.  A trail on both sides would mean greater access by local populations. 
·       The bicycle trail will be a maximum of 10 feet wide, with a 2 foot wide shoulder on each side.  In some space constrained areas the trail will be 8 feet wide. Current Federal Highway Administration guidelines recommend that 12 feet is preferred for bidirectional bicycle and pedestrian paths (FHWA 2015).  Also, if possible pedestrians should be separated from bicyclists. 

·       The I-66 Express Mobility Partners who will build the bicycle trail will not collect fees on the trail, so they may have limited incentives for producing a state of the art trail. 
Graphic drawing if traffic and bicycle lanes
Figure 1. Design of the I-66 Trail Inside Sound Wall.
Source: VDOT

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Restoring a Vintage 1983 Schwinn Le Tour

I work at the C and O Bicycle Loan Program at Great Falls Tavern as a volunteer mechanic every Sunday. The bicycle program takes donation bikes. One Sunday I go up to the bicycle shed to look over some new arrivals. Amidst the Wal-Mart and K-Mart bikes I see a vintage Champaign covered Schwinn Le Tour covered with dirt and cobwebs. Under the dirt, this Made-in-America Schwinn road bike is in great condition. I surmise it had been ridden a few years during the bicycle boom, and then stored in a garage. After inspecting the Le Tour, I also see that it has all its original parts. I know a bit of the history behind this bicycle, and I decide it's worth the time to restore the Le Tour to its original condition. Despite Schwinn’s reputation as a purveyor of sturdy children’s bikes, this Schwinn Le Tour was a high quality road bike for its time.

A Short History of the Schwinn Le Tour
The 1983 Schwinn Le Tour was a symbolic turning point for Schwinn. The story starts with the introduction of a made-in-Japan Schwinn Le Tour in 1973. The “Schwinn approved” Le Tour first showed up as a new offering in the company’s 1974 catalog. Schwinn decided to give into the stiff competition from Japan and Europe for producing high quality road bikes. With the exception of the Schwinn Paramount, the company had limited capacity to build high quality frames. The Schwinn Paramount was built in a small section of the Chicago factory up until 1983. After 1983 the Paramount  was made in a small factory in Waterford, Wisconsin.

In the 1970s the Chicago factory was hampered by years of a lack of capital investment in new machinery. As a result in 1973 Schwinn hauled up the white flag and outsourced many of its bicycles to Taiwan and Japan. This included the new Le Tour. For about 5 or 6 years the “Schwinn approved” Le Tour was manufactured by Japanese bicycle makers such as Panasonic or Bridgestone. The reason was that Schwinn’s factory in Chicago had become outmoded and was incapable of producing a large number of high quality crome-moly frames (a strong steel formally called chromium molybdenum) common among its Japanese and European competitors. Eventually Schwinn with the 1989 model returned the manufacture of the Le Tour to a small section in its Chicago factory. In the 1978 catalog the Le Tour is still "Schwinn Approved," which means it was made in Japan or Taiwan. In 1979 the catalog description of the Le Tour refers to a "Made in USA torched brazed lug frame." These Le Tours were likely made in Chicago. However, the factory in Chicago was shuttered in December 1983, so it is doubtful that the 1883 Le Tours were made in Chicago. 

In the early 1980s Schwinn made the decision to start a new factory in Greenville Mississippi. The factory opened in 1981. The 1983 Schwinn Le Tour I found leaning against the bicycle shed no doubt was among the first Le Tours to be produced in that factory. The design and components of the bicycle are very similar to those that had been imported during previous years. This was a period in which Schwinn was attempting to reestablish its manufacturing identity by returning some frame production to the United States. However, the experiment failed and in 1991 the Greenville factory closed. Bankruptcy was soon to follow. With a Chicago head badge, the 1973 Le Tour could have been made in Chicago, but its is quite unlikely. All indications are that the 1983 Le Tour was manufactured in the new Greenville factory and affixed with a Schwinn Chicago head badge.
Head Badge with Schwinn and Made in Chicago written on it.
Shwinn Le Tour Head Badge, 1983

Friday, September 1, 2017

The Legacy Trail Extension in Sarasota, Florida Will Be Worth over $300 Million

Recently I have completed a study of the costs and benefits of extending a new portion of a $58 million bicycle rails to trails project into downtown Sarasota, Florida. Despite high costs, this project—an extension of the existing Legacy Trail—is conservatively estimated to have just over $307 million benefits for Sarasota County. This is an economic net gain of over $250 million for the county. The conclusion is that this public outlay for bicycle infrastructure should have benefits for Sarasota County that are well worth the investments.

In a previous post I elaborated on the benefits of the development of bicycle trails. To be sure where land acquisition is necessary the cost of the trail extension is high, but having seen the actual benefits of the existing Legacy Trail completed about 10 years ago, the county government is strongly in favor of the trail extension. The issue the county government faces is how to raise the necessary money to pay for the trail extension.

In this post, I will summarize the results of this cost-benefit study of the Legacy Trail Extension into downtown Sarasota. For those interested I am linking the full version of the report that has the title The Value of the Legacy Trail Extension for Sarasota, Florida. All the figures in the tables are discounted dollars, a typical method for comparing future cost and benefits. Later in the post I will provide an update on the progress made to fund the Legacy Trail Extension. But first, I give an overview of the nature of the trail extension followed by an assessment of the value of the new trail.

Description of Legacy Trail Extension
The existing Legacy Trail in Sarasota, Florida is a 10-mile, high-quality pedestrian and bicycle corridor that runs from Venice to suburban Sarasota. This trail has road-quality pavement, rest stops called stations, and local vegetation on each side. It traverses several parks, allowing for easy access for both pedestrians and bicyclists. Recently, the Friends of the Legacy Trail have been promoting the extension of this trail from suburban to downtown Sarasota. Today the trail ends near Culverhouse Nature Park in Sarasota. The railroad tracks are still intact running from Culverhouse Nature Park to downtown Sarasota for a total of more than 7 miles (figure 1).

Man walking on railroad track to be a future Florida bicycle trail
Figure 1. Existing Legacy Trail and Land for Future Extension
Sources: Cardno, Inc., 2014 (left photo); Douglas Barnes, 2016 (right photo).

Monday, August 7, 2017

Bicycle Climbing Lanes: Are They Useful Bicycle Infrastructure or Just Cheap?

Many cities are installing climbing lanes in an attempt to expand bicycle infrastructure. A climbing lane generally is a 5 foot wide painted lane beside a curb or parked cars for bicycles travelling uphill slower than normal traffic. Bicycles moving in the other direction (downhill) will be going faster, so they do not require a special lane. They can keep up with traffic and can share the lane with cars. This at least is the argument. The question is whether or not climbing lanes are useful for bicyclists or are they just a way for cities and municipalities to claim progress for improving bicycle infrastructure without serious investment?

I generally am happy to see climbing lanes because they indicate that cities at least are thinking about bicycle infrastructure issues. Without the lanes, for narrow roads bicyclists just stay in the middle of the lane and slow down traffic or if possible take to a sidewalk. Experienced riders are probably safer without the climbing lanes. Inexperienced riders actually may gain a false sense of security from having such lanes, because in most cases separation from cars is pretty minimal.

I started thinking about climbing lanes after riding my bike towards home on a local street with a climbing lane. During rush hour on this street avoiding car doors and temporarily cars parked in the bike lane is a common problem. In the next section I recount one ride on this street with a climbing lane and the issues that I faced in having a safe transition between neighborhoods.

Experience of Riding in a Climbing Lane
I’m riding up a short hill on Van Ness Street, a three lane road with parked cars on the right, two car lanes and a painted bike lane. The climbing lane is narrow at 5 feet wide, with barely enough room for swinging car doors (figure 1). The traffic lane by the bike lane is also narrow at 9 feet wide. Due to the possibility of swinging car doors I stay on the left side of the climbing lane almost in the traffic lane. Cars in driveways on my right also capture my attention because they look like they are ready to back out.

Bicycle Lane on Street
Figure 1. Climbing Lane on Van Ness Street, Washington, DC
Source is Google Maps. Parking Lane 5'; Bicycle Lane 5'; and Traffic Lane 9'.
I see a car stopped up ahead and see it is going to park.  To do this the car has to back up through the climbing lane. After stopping I’m expecting the driver to swing open the car door into my path.  With a small gap in traffic behind me, I first signal with a hand outstretched to my left side and then I move decisively into the center of the car lane.