Archive for June, 2009

Blow dry my hair and stick me on a ‘singlespeed’.


Fixies for dummies

Bicycle messenger culture and the equipment messengers use is hip right now, a growing legion of people are becoming involved in cycling not via the exploits of traditional racers like Chris Hoy or Lance Armstrong but through a growing fashion in the fixed and singlespeed bikes used by messengers and the ‘diy’ alleycat races that they organise and are involved in. ‘Fixies’ are like the NoFX of the cycling world, there’s nothing inherently wrong with them but they’re a little too popular for most people’s liking, you would hope some people who discovered fixed gear bikes would then embrace cycling culture as a whole but I’m sure there is a large proportion who don’t

Anyhow to help all you uncool people like me survive in the jungle of ‘urban’ cycling here’s my dummies guide to fixies.

‘Braking’ the law.
The general principle of a fixed gear on a bike is that when you pedal the rear wheel turns and when you stop pedaling it doesn’t i.e. there is no ability to ‘freewheel’. This means that in theory you have no need for brakes as you can stop by not pedaling. In practice this is harder than it sounds and the debate rages as to whether you should equip a fixed gear with brakes. Many just fit a front brake which also helpfully gives you a way of stopping if you chain breaks or your real wheel skids.

In fact with no front brake the only means of braking is by pushing back against the motion of the rear wheel thereby skidding to a stop, this is known as a skid stop and there are even competitions to see how far you can maintain this skid as demonstrated by the Leeds Fixed Gear guys.
Fixed gear Leeds skid

The highway code is ambiguous as normal stating “You must ensure your brakes are efficient” leaving it pretty much down to preference as to whether you ‘rub stoppers’ or not. Personally I would even if you don’t use them most of the time and you definitely should if you have a ‘freewheel’ because the “Foot on wheel” method is far from ‘efficient’!

Drop bars not bombs.
More hotly debated than brake vs no brake is the choice of handlebars you choose for your metal steed. Your basic options are flat bars (which may be ‘riser’ bars) or drop bars and variations on these forms. Those who build up fixies in the vision of pristine track bikes often favour drop bars for that authentic Italian or Japanese look. The other end of the spectrum are bikes modeled on the urban warrior bikes of messengers with incredibly narrow flat ‘riser’ bars.
Drop barsRiser bars.
As an aside I spent ages looking for a good shot of some riser bars before resorting to this shot of Greg from Chillerton looking particularly hip and ever so slightly camp.

Although this topic divides many the various pros and cons of what bar set up to have can be distilled into two main arguments. Drop bars give you more hand positions to choose from and therefore also more body positions to adopt, which can be useful if your ride is anything but short. Flat bars enable you to have a more upright position which is useful in traffic and can at times be more comfortable (or at least feel more natural). When it comes to bar width, anything that is narrower than shoulder width although often cited as useful to enable you to pass through small gaps will actually limit how well you can ride by restricting your chest and therefore your full ability to breath.

Simple huh? Well I should mention ‘bullhorns’ the bastard son of both flat and drop bars. The origin of this shape is attributed to people ‘flipping’ their drop bars and then removing the bottom of the drops, however they have developed over the years into an almost entirely unique bar shape in their own right.
Bullhorn bars

The only time ‘flip flops’ are cool.
So I’ve defined what a fixed bike is, however many see these going in hand with ‘singlespeed’ bikes. Singlespeed bikes are basically single ‘geared’ they have a freewheel but no derailleurs or mechanism of altering the gearing in which you ride. The benefits of this and fixed bikes is that they are relatively easy to set up and low maintenance as there are no gears to index, clean, lubricate and break. The drawback is that you may not have the appropriate gearing for the terrain you are cycling, either your gearing is too high and you will struggle to climb a hill or too low and you end up pedaling frantically down a slope.

Flip flop hub
The solution to this problem? The ‘flip-flop’ hub! There are two types of flip-flop hub those that are fixed/fixed or those that are fixed/free. The difference here is that the fixed/fixed hub has two sets of threads on each side one for the cog and one for the lockring, the fixed/free only has one set of threads on the ‘freewheel’ side. This is because as you pedal with a ‘freewheel’ the force tightens the freewheel unit onto the threads of the hub, however with a fixed cog if there were no lockring in theory if you pedaled backwards you could unscrew the cog on the thread. With the aid of the flip flop hub we can have a choice of gears either a low gear to climb with and a high one to descend or alternatively we could power up the hill with our efficient fixed gear and then flip the wheel before we leisurely freewheel down again.

Pedal to the metal.
There is probably a lot more I could write about especially as I haven’t even touched upon frame choices but before this turns into an essay I’ll bid you adieu and ride off into the sunset. Some of you may think I’m a pompous old bore so if you want some real rofl humor on the subject of bikes head over to http://bikesnobnyc.blogspot.com/ for your daily dose of hipster baiting and bike salmon tales. FYI my fixed/singlespeed project is still in the garage and progressing slowly but should see the light of day before the end of the year fingers crossed…keep it pumped and ride safe!

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner History Special Part 2 : The Revenge


Baron Roman Nickolai Maximilian von Ungern-Sternberg.: Selflessly providing history with a whole crapload of wtf?!

Baron Roman Nickolai Maximilian von Ungern-Sternberg.: Selflessly providing history with a whole crapload of wtf?!

And we’re back….OK, in case you missed the last post a quick recap on the all-encompassing madness that is Baron Roman Nickolai Maximilian von Ungern-Sternberg.

Born to an aristocratic German/Estonian family in 1886 –> Proves himself to be a first class shit of a school kid–> Joins army –> Spends time in army boozing, flogging and fighting his colleagues in Siberia –> Colleagues in Siberia lose patients –> Transfers to reserves and bums around Mongolia –> Gets super-stoked for WWI and spends the next three years killing anything that moves or stays still too long –> WWI ends, Russian Civil War starts.

Now, the Russian Civil War is one of those conflicts that doesn’t get a great deal of attention, mainly for the following reasons:

1. It was utterly, utterly bonkers.
2. The likes of us really didn’t come out of it looking too good.
3. Like most things Russian, it was supendously vast in scope and brutality.
4. The names involved are often long and largely impossible to pronounce.

In a nut shell, the origins can be traced back to 1905 when the seams of the old Russian Empire started to unravel. p With Russia being poor, backward and ungovernably large, people started to notice that a) their lives were largely rubbish, b) the lives of privileged were pretty damn great, thank you very much and c) there were some fairly volatile ideas kicking about such as Marxism. At some point, all of this had to spill over and in 1905 it did. Joe Public (or Joseph Publeski….context is important) decided to take matters into his own collective hands. Peasant revolts, mutinies and strikes became the order of the day and even Ungerns family found some of their mansions reduced to charred ruins. The Russian monarchy began to take notice and did what Russian leaders tend to do best: Repress the fuck out of these jumped up rabble rousers. They also instituted a parliament of sorts, but this was mainly window dressing and largely a distraction from the far more invigorating job of putting large chunks of the population to the sword. This early stab at a revolution was duly crushed and life soon started to return to normal. However, brutalising your own people does have the nasty side effect of really pissing them off and while all the really impressive stuff (such as bread riots….they always sound really fun, like a big pillow fight, but with bread) might have calmed down a little, the revolution was merely postponed and carried on simmering away in the background.

The Romanov’s (like most monarchies) didn’t seem that bothered about all this and were soon back to their old ways of alienating the population whilst swanning around and getting involved in World Wars. The main problem here was that Russia wasn’t very good at this world war business and soon found the Germans and co to be really rather good it (a recurring theme). Despite some early successes, it all started to go horribly wrong at the battle of Tannenberg in 1914 and from then on it was pretty much downhill all the way. The Germans happily nommed up plenty of territory, the Russian military fell apart like a turd in the rain and the lot of your average Russian (already a pretty ropey deal) became further complicated by even more food shortages and millions of Germans bullets flying in their direction. By 1917, the jig was up. The tsar belatedly tried to placate the masses by setting up a Provisional Government, but they weren’t falling for that again. By October, the Bolshevics had seized the reigns of power and so began the Russian Civil War.

I realise that there hasn’t been much Ungern in all this yet, but fear not…our raging ball of lunacy is waiting in the wings, ready to crazy the crap out of this situation, but first you’ll just have to sit through a little more history. When the revolution kicked off, Russia appeared to split into two factions, known today as the ‘Reds’ (the Revolutionaries) and the ‘Whites’ (the monarchists). In actual fact there were hundreds of different factions, each with their own agenda but for now lets just go with the Red and White thing. The Reds had control of the major metropolitan areas like Moscow and Petrograd and were keen to destroy the Whites as soon as possible so that they could get on with the rather daunting task of remodelling Russia to their own designs. The Whites on the other hand were a more disparate bunch who could only really agree on one thing: They hated Commies. Despite not being the most organised bunch, they did control the vast expanses of Siberia and had a few sympathetic friends overseas (Britain and America being two of them). Naturally, Ungern was a White and not just your average “I’m not so sure about these Red chaps and wouldn’t it be nice to see the tsar back on the throne” type White. He was more your sort of “I WAS BORN TO KILL ANYONE WHO DOESN’T ENTIRELY AGREE WITH MY SOMEWHAT UNHINGED OUTLOOK OF THE WORLD” type White. You can see where this is going.

As I mentioned in the last post, Ungern’s worldview could be pretty much boiled down to the following: “Monarchies are great. Great great great. Monarchy monarchy monarchy. ARE YOU LOOKING AT ME!?”. To him, WWI had been nothing more than a jolly wheeze. It was monarchies doing what they do best: Having a good scrap, tearing the world asunder and then getting back to their good old stock-in-trade of being obscenely rich and powerful. It didn’t matter if you were a Catholic King or a Muslim Sultan (but God forbid if you were a Jew. That really wouldn’t be cricket). So far as he was concerned it was all good red faced boyish caperings and afterwards they’d all shake hands and then go hunting peasants. Lovely. The Civil War, on the other hand, was an entirely different beast and one that threatened the existence of everything the Baron held dear. These Commies weren’t just messing about with politics, they were messing about with the god-given order of things. Was he going to stand for this? Was he hell!

Now riled to the n-th degree, Ungern made his way to Siberia and met up with another notable nutter of the era, a Cossack by the name of Colonel Semenov. A brilliant (and also brilliantly corrupt) commander fighting on the White side, Semenov had carved himself out a little niche in Siberia and happily welcomed Ungern on board. There was plenty of killing to be done and Ungern had the look of a chap who might quite tasty in that department. Together, they established a base in a region called Dauria and put together a plan to get this whole revolution deal reversed. As I mentioned last time, Ungern had some pretty way-out-there spiritual beliefs and at last he found himself in a totally lawless neck of the woods where he could do pretty much whatever he wanted. What he really wanted to do was to get a bunch of hard as nails super soldiers, reconquer Russia and then kill everyone who wasn’t Ungerns kind of guy. But in order to properly fulfill his dreams of hell on earth, Ungerns first needed to establish himself and raise an army. Before he could even do this, Semenov asked him to go and disarm a Russian garrison across the border in Manchuria that had mutinied. Sounds like a good opportunity to display your trademark brand of insane scariness, no? Yes! With a single Cossack assistant, Ungern marched into the town and told the commander there were more troops on the way and that he should give up his weapons. In what was to prove an understandable yet costly error, the commander simply laughed at him. Ungern then punched him in the belly, told him he was going nowhere and then disarmed the garrison himself (that’s several hundred troops in case you were wondering). That’s how fucking scary this guy was.

Luckily for Ungern, scary was a positive asset in his quest to build an army. At this point in time, Russia was awash with all sorts of people, drifting about the place and getting drafted into whatever army (and there were a few) that happened not to be killing them at the time or threatening to kill them if they didn’t join. As a result, Ungern built up a fair few men and could now spend his time putting down mutinies (he really did love to put down a good mutiny), ‘requisitioning’ stuff (stealing) and just to spice things up a bit, he’d get onto trains, find someone who looked suspicious (which, in the Baron’s eyes, covered pretty much everyone) and then beat them up on the platform. Ahhh…the personal touch. He also got a chance to take some of his more genocidal ideas for a spin as well. Civil wars tend to be more brutal than regular wars and the Russian Civil War was no exception. After a years worth of fighting, both sides had given up taking prisoners which then created another problem: What do you do with the guys you do catch? Luckily, Ungern was happy to turn Dauria into a mass execution/torture centre to cater for this very need. Oh, and he also quit the drink. And started smoking Opium instead. And hanging out in fields covered with the bones of his victims to, you know, just chill out. Nice guy.

Generally speaking, these were good times for Ungern. He slowly built his army up, mainly out of Buriats and Mongolians. He had a soft spot for these guys as a) the Buriats were the only people who’d hang out with him during his earlier years in Siberia, b) he’d gotten quite the taste for Mongolians after bumming around there for a year and c) they were hard bastards. He’d also become quite enamoured with Central Asian culture. We often think of Buddhism to be all touchy-feely Richard Gere type navel gazing but this isn’t entirely the case. In fact, Buddhism has plenty of blood thirsty deities, fables of mass carnage and legends of divine warlords. Furthermore, Ungern saw Asia to be much ‘purer’ than the west. By ‘pure’ he meant that their populations seemed to know their place (which, generally speaking, would be somewhere underneath his iron fist, seconds away from being smashed to oblivion) and weren’t riddled with uppity ideas such as democracy and other assorted flounce. The rest of his army (which he fetchingly called the Asian Division of Cavalry) were mostly either desperate, crazy or unlucky Russians who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, a few Chinese, and some Tibetans (to name but a few). Together, they spent the early part of the civil war having a gay old time repressing, robbing supply trains (even if they happened to belong to the Whites who’s side they were technically on) and being harshly disciplined by their Nutter-In-Chief. They even had the odd opportunity to fuck about with the armoured trains that gave the Russian Civil War its distinctly Mad Max tinge. All good fun, but sadly not the sort of fun that lasts. Change was afoot.

By 1920 the Reds had started to get their shit together and fighting back in the far east. Semenov and the other White commanders soon found themselves feeling the squeeze and before long, they were on the back foot. I’m sure by now, you’ve picked up the feeling that Ungern wasn’t the ‘back foot’ kind of guy and that hanging out with people who get beaten by Goddamn Pinkos wasn’t going to get you very far in life. Writing off Siberia as a bad job he gathered his army and headed for Mongolia. Now an independent warlord in his own right with precisely nobody to attempt to keep him in check, he started to hatch possibly his most disproportionately ridiculous plan. It went a bit like this:

1. Take over Mongolia.
2. Install a monarch of my choosing who will do exactly what I say.
3. Restore the Qing Dynasty in China.
4. Take over pretty much the rest of the world. Simples!

Taken at face value, these are clearly the ramblings of a madman and have absolutely  no basis in reality, right? Right? Oh god, he wouldn’t would he? Well, you’re just going to have to wait and see. I realise that I said I’d get this done in two posts, but the brutal truth is that there just isn’t enough space to do justice to the epic levels of lunacy that the Baron was going to unleash. Seriously, the shit that he’s just about to go tear-assing into is so horrifically inexplicable in its WTF?!ness that even the act of me writting it down could result in my face melting off like that guy in Raiders Of The Lost Ark. I’m even thinking about asking WordPress to clad their servers in adamantium and holy water so that terror doesn’t escape from the internetz and rip the space/time continum asunder. That being the case, stick about for the next (and hopefully final) instalment of a tale that goes from ‘worse’ to, erh, ‘worser’. See you next time and don’t forget to bring your nerves of steel.

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner History Special! Pt 1


Baron Ungern von Sternberg...A poster boy for blood drenched space cadets everywhere...

Baron Ungern von Sternberg...A poster boy for blood drenched space cadets everywhere...

You know one thing I hate about being me (other than not being able to reliably pull off a Dragon Punch despite 17 years of practice)? It’s that most of the things that really fire me up are things I hate. War? Check. The Daily Mail? Check. Circus skills? Check check check. Can it be right to take so much pleasure from the act of hating stuff so damn hard? Anyhoo, the circle of hell that I reserve for the bizarre dichotomy of paramount hatred yet total fascination is dictators and related historical nutters. Seriously, since I was kid pretty much all my reading has been geared towards Histories Greatest Shitheads, their associated wrongs and how the hell we ever let them get to positions of power. So imagine my surprise and weird mix of seething anger/boundless joy when I stumbled across this guy: Baron Roman Nickolai Maximilian von Ungern-Sternberg.

Right from the get go, this guy is ticking boxes left right and centre. His name is appropriately weird, right up there with the likes of ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier, Saparmurat Niyazov (who will definitely get a post of his own at some point) and Slobodan Milošević. A solid start. Every dictator needs some form of childhood ostracisation in order to truly live up to their potential and a bat shit crazy name ensures the best possible start in life (although you can tell the really hardcore ones are those who change their name to something even battier….Stalin/Pol Pot, I’m looking at you guys). Next in line is his appearance. Does he look mental? Bet your sweet ass he does! Check out those eyes…someone’s been skewing his X-Axis and that is a sure fire sign that this guy is just full to the brim with atrocious awesome. But names and looks alone don’t cut it. I want to see some deeds. Devious deeds, hopefully of the blood drenched variety. Can you help out here, Baron Roman Nickolai Maximilian von Ungern-Sternberg? You bet he can!

Like the bulk of the uber-brutal genocidal maniacs, the Barons early years are marked by fully fledged losserdom. Despite coming from an aristocratic family, he made fine work of being expelled from numerous distinguished institutions and finally ended up in the army (after transferring from the navy, a time that was characterised by disobedience and drunkenness….recurring themes throughout his life) and was sent to the notorious shit-hole-of-a-posting that is Siberia. Given that the best entertainment on offer at the arse end of the Russian Empire amount to little more than massively extended rounds of ‘Spot The Tree’ and ‘Huddle For Warmth’, Ungern managed to pass his time doing what he did best: Drinking, disobeying orders and fighting with fellow officers. Good times. Obviously, this sort of thing didn’t really endear him to his peers so he spent most of his knocking about with native Mongols and Buryats. So far, so meh. But wait, what’s this? The Baron starts describing his religious outlook as ‘Military Buddhism’? Now this I gotta hear! Basically, the Baron’s worldview panned out something like this:

Monarchism – Yay!

Hoi Poloi – Boo!

God – Awesome! Not even bothered about which God it is!

War – Super Awesome!

Wimmin – The what now?

Pinko-Commies – Sub Prime

Jews – Dangerously sub-prime

Meshing together all these weird beliefs with a hint of Eastern Mysticism and lashings of fanatical devotion – Fuck yeah!

It’s this sort of crazy that really sorts your common garden psychopath from your top-flight pro-athlete maniac and the Baron really pushed the boat out on this front. Unfortunately, when you start to reach this level of insanity, people start to notice and what with all the boozing/flogging/duelling and all that, he soon found himself being shunted from one bottom-of-the-barrel posting to the next. Finally, he got the message, asked to be transferred to the reserves and spent a year or so buggering about in Mongolia (as you do).

The story could well have ended here with Ungern as an oddball who simply fades into obscurity but as luck would have it, indescribable carnage was just round the corner in the shape of World War 1. Most sane folk tend to try and avoid war. It has a nasty habit of killing and WWI was about to crank up the horror a fair few notches. Not Ungern. To him, this was Christmas, Birthday and a pogrom all folded up into one marvellously horrific ball and without a moments hesitation he blagged himself back into active service. Unsurprisingly, he turned out to be a natural, happily descending into the swelling tide of carnage and even going to the pains of continuing to fight on horseback, despite the epic number of machine guns pointed at him. Whilst no-one debated the fact that he was a stone cold solid super soldier, it does seem that his fellow officers were just a tinsee bit wary of him. Accordingly, he was promoted very slowly, despite numerous awards for bravery and you get the feeling that pretty much everyone in the Russian Army (apart from those who served under him….they apparently loved him and his Terminator-esque skill set and tolerance for his men getting absolutely blinding drunk…more on that later) would do absolutely everything in their goddamn power not to be stuck in a room with him. Not that he gave a shit, no sireee. He had way to much killing to do, although he did find the time to send back his coat, riddled with bullet holes and blood stains to his family (nothing says ‘I’m fine’ like blood-drenched apparel). Another measure of just how chuffing good he was at this war business was by taking a look at the regiment he served in. Now, the Russian Army have never really been known for their touchy-feely attitude towards human resources, but Ungern got an even shittier end of the stick by being assigned to a regiment that was notorious for getting an absolute hammering where ever it went. So bad was their luck that the casualty rate in that particular unit was 200%. That’s right, 200%. That means that not only pretty much everyone who signed up at the start of the war ended up coming to a sticky end, but also the guys who replaced them. Nice.

Unfortunately for Ungern, all good things have to come to an end and Russia’s involvement with the war came to an abrupt halt with the Revolution (even though I’m quite sure that he would have single handedly carried on fighting the German Army if given half a chance). Luckily, this new turn of events meant that Ungern had a whole new war to dick around with (the Russian Civil War) and could now turn his attention to slaughtering Commies, Jews and anyone who wasn’t entirely on board with his own trademark brand of absurdity. This is when the story starts getting really loopy. Seriously, all that craziness above? Just the tip of the lunatic iceberg. From here on in we’re talking conspicuous madness practiced with heroic dedication and an unerring eye for detail. Sadly for you guys, you’re just going to have to hang on until I’ve finished the rest of James Palmers “The Bloody White Baron” (from which I’ve cribbed most of these chosty factoids). If you’re into history with a wild streak of insanity, I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you’re not, then this conversation is over. OVER!

Also, Barontastic info can be found from these interweb pixel pushers:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Ungern_von_Sternberg http://militaryhistory.suite101.com/article.cfm/themadbaronofmongolia http://newdawnmagazine.com.au/Article/The_Bloody_Baron_von_Ungern-Sternberg.html

Or you can be a real man and JFGI. See y’all in a week or so with the rest of this sorry tale.


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