Willard’s Wheel

19th-century photograph of F. Willard on her bicycle Gladys, supported by two women
Frances Willard on “Gladys”

In 1895, prominent temperance activist and feminist Frances Willard published A Wheel within a Wheel, an account of learning to ride a bicycle at the age of 53.

In the 1890s, the bicycle as we know it (two equally sized wheels with a chain driving the rear wheel) was very new. As women began to ride these new contraptions, they challenged a whole range of ideas about women and their role in society. proper clothing, physical fitness, independence,

These challenges included changes in ideas about proper clothing, about physical fitness, and about women’s independence. For Willard, learning to ride the bicycle was also connected to political struggles of her time, such as women’s suffrage (the right to vote for women in the U.S. and elsewhere) and the temperance movement (which attempted to ban recreational drugs such as alcohol and tobacco).

A full scan of Willard’s book is available on Google Books.

Mona Caron’s Bikeway Mural

Mona Caron’s Duboce bikeway mural is one of the best-known works of bicycle art here in San Francisco.

Read about the mural’s history and unveiling at the artist’s site:


The mural is easily accessible by bike from USF. Take the Panhandle bike path east, turn left on Baker, right on Oak, and follow the Wiggle to Duboce Ave. Duboce leads you right to the mural.

Be careful of Muni tracks!

The Track Bike Enters Its Ironic Phase

A bicycle on a BART train with paper applied to the spokes of the rear wheel
Paper Wheel. Photo by Adam Polakoff.

Recently spotted on BART was this track bike with an ersatz disc rear wheel. Mismatched wheels have long been a staple of fixie style, particularly when one of the wheels is an expensive piece of racing hardware (extra points for juxtaposing the expensive and the cheap).

Yet this track star thumbs his nose at the prevailing convention, choosing not a $500 racing disc wheel, but electing instead to cover a regular wheel with paper — and not stopping there, to cover the paper with graffiti-style art. And thus the fixie enters its ironic phase.

In other words, the two sides of San Francisco fixie culture — a surly DIY aesthetic and the fetishism of conspicuous consumption — have now bit each other in the ass: homage and mockery can no longer be distinguished.

Or can they? As Fredric Jameson put it in one of the longest questions ever written in English:

The enumeration of what follows, then, at once becomes empirical, chaotic, and heterogeneous: Andy Warhol and pop art, but also photorealism, and beyond it, the “new expressionism”; the moment, in music, of John Cage, but also the synthesis of classical and “popular” styles found in composers like Phil Glass and Terry Riley, and also punk and new wave rock (the Beatles and the Stones now standing as the high-modernist moment of that more recent and rapidly evolving tradition); in film, Godard, post-Godard, and experimental cinema and video, but also a whole new type of commercial film (about which more below); Burroughs, Pynchon, or Ishmael Reed, on the one hand, and the French nouveau roman and its succession, on the other, along with alarming new kinds of literary criticism based on some new aesthetic of textuality or écriture… the list might be extended indefinitely; but does it imply any more fundamental change or break than the periodic style and fashion changes determined by an older high-modernist imperative of stylistic innovation?

Afterthought: perhaps instead this paper wheel represents the merger of scraper bike and hipster culture.

This post originally appeared on sfist.com.

Continue reading The Track Bike Enters Its Ironic Phase

The Horror… The Horror…

image of a housefly superimposed on a street map of San Francisco

Our ride home from the Caltrain station takes us through the strange, anarchy-prone intersection of Division, 10th, Brannan and Potrero streets. The other night, as we gasped for air while sprinting for the green light on our 40-Year-Old Virgin-style commuter bike, we had an unfortunate encounter with a bug.

Bitter experience tells us that when a cyclist feels the splat of a gnat on the back of the throat, there is little to be done but swallow and hope that it is a gnat. This happens more often than you’d think; as the U.S. Army’s standard survival manual puts it, “insects are easily caught.” Yes, very easily.

San Francisco is remarkably bug-free, of course. In some parts of the country, cyclists have no need of energy bars–they’re like bats, subsisting on the high-protein content of the insects they catch on the wing. Here, though, it’s a surprise to find one’s self suddenly eating a bug, especially at 8:30 p.m. in November.

What kind of bug was it?

We asked the friendly entomology enthusiasts at the Bay Area’s own bugpeople.org about the likely identity of our little snack. It seemed gnat-like to us (diptera uvula is the scientific name), but “gnats don’t fly much when it’s cold” and “most of the swarming insects would have retired” by that hour. “Chances are it was a mosquito,” the Bug People tell us. “Mosquitoes fly the second hour after dusk.”

“Turnabout is fair play,” the Bug People console us.

The Bug People also inform us that “According to Vernard Lewis, a UCB Cooperative Extension Specialist, the average American eats about 2 pounds of bug parts each year. Insects and their parts are very light. So, two pounds of bug parts is quite a lot” — more than a gallon, they say. To find out what you’ve been eating, consult the California Academy of Sciences list of Bay Area insect species.

We take solace in the knowledge that we’ve now shared an important experience with Marlon Brando. The most treasured moment in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979) isn’t actually in the movie itself; it’s in Bahr and Hinkenlooper’s “making of” documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991). Brando, in the midst of a rambling soliloquy on blood lust, suddenly gasps, grimaces, pauses, and then announces in a hoarse whisper, “I swallowed a bug.”

Brando’s big scene is on YouTube, of course:

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