Easter morning in the Ozarks

Swish swish swish.

The sound of my legs rubbing against riding shorts as I pedal is almost deafening, contrasting as it does with the solitude of early morning in Mark Twain National Forest. The only other sound one hears is the crumble of gravel under my tires, the cawing of crows, an underlying cacophonous twittering of song birds, the rustle of dried underbrush as critters unknown shuffle unseen and nearly unnoticed along the ground. It’s Easter morning and I’m riding through the Ozark hills near Table Rock Lake. The roads are mine and mine alone. No one else is about.

Stopping to sketch in these dusky hours is a treat. The sun is only beginning to crest, shadows stretch across the road and merge with woods on the opposite side. Those trees are not yet choked with the lush and verdant foliage with which they will be festooned in the weeks to come. Young, green leaves peek out from branches that are otherwise yet bare, and I can see between the armies of thick tree trunks for hundreds of yards.

I’m moving slowly, my gearing is low. I have no place to be, no hurry to get there. I’m happy to discover that I have everything on my bike dialed in: from the overall fit, to my choice of gears to the – yes, once again! – change in saddle back to a comfortable leather Brooks.

Coming round a bend, I hear the distant murmer of breakfast sounds quietly filtering down the mountain from a house somewhere far above. People are beginning to stir. It’s time for me to return.

SWAG – Compass Chinook Pass Tires

Yesterday, the Magnolia tree was in full blossom. Today, the ground is littered with pink flower petals, brusquely strewn across the yard, the drive way, the cars, and the street. Between cloud bursts, we headed down to the river, to the Fish Market for lunch. I haven’t been in here since the place closed down and changed hands a year or two ago. Back then, it was a true fish market, with meat counters, a freezer, and a cooler to grab a six-pack of Budweiser. No one ever seemed to be there. Today the lot is nearly always packed, with overflow out onto Old 210. No more fish counters in place, it’s more of a country diner now, with Cajun music playing, quaintly beat up booths, and turquoise and chrome chairs straight out of a 50′s juke joint. Spicy fries, catfish, shrimp, frog legs, Po Boys and the like make up the menu. Comfort food if you come from the Ozarks. All that’s missing are beignets, oysters, and crawdads.

The plan had been to head out for a good long ride this morning and give my new tires a workout, to see how much of the hype about the Compass Chinook Pass tires was personally evident to me. I’d managed two shorter rides so far since mounting the tires and it was time to put things to the test.

First off, they look great – so if that is part of your Litmus Test for what makes a great tire, then read no further. They definitely fulfill my personal aesthetic. But if looks are all you’re concerned about, wait for Panaracer Paselas to go on sale for $20 per tire and get a pair of those instead. The Chinook Pass tires set me back $150 for the set, and for that kind of money it better feel like this cheap bastard is riding upon a magic carpet. As my students, who manage to perpetually corrupt the English language on a daily basis would say, “SWAG!”

Whatever. I have a different “SWAG” in mind for my personal review of this tire. “SWAG” stands for Scientific Wild Assed Guess in some of the more academic circles I travel within. And since I no longer travel with GPS or use any type of power measurement system, even “Scientific” is pushing things. Let’s just say that most of what I have to share is simply “Wild Assed Guessing.”

Since today’s ride was not to be (the excellent Cajun-style fare notwithstanding), I can only unfairly paint an incomplete picture of my first ride impressions from yesterday and Friday. I played around with air pressure, trying to discover the sweet spot. Usually I keep riding for days or weeks until the air has leeched out and I suddenly realize that I’m floating on pavement. Then I gauge the pressure and use that as a starting point for future reference. On Friday, I’d let a little air out at a time, ride for a while, and then repeat. I weigh in around 190 and I’ve got the pressure at around 80 front/90 rear at the moment. However, I think the sweet spot is going to probably be a little softer than that for me.

Riding down the road, my first thought was that there sure didn’t seem to be a whole lot of difference in the ride quality from the Marathon Plus tires I’d been running for the past two years. Had I made a $150 mistake? After all, with around 15K on the Marathons, I’d never once had a flat. (They are apparently bullet proof.) Perhaps it was wishful thinking on my part, but as I leeched air and softened the tires, the ride quality seemed to soften out as well. Still, no magic carpet ride though.

Despite what others had experienced with the similar Grand Bois tires, I didn’t feel like I was going faster either. (But then again, I was stopping and starting to change tire pressure.) The country roads and highways that I prefer have a lot of chip seal, crumbling tarmac, cracks, loose gravel, and bumps – you know: typical Missouri Department of Transportation repair. What only became apparent about twenty or thirty miles down the road occurred to me when I thought about my previous rides over those same exact hills, along that same exact route: I had more gas left in the tank than I might otherwise have. I realize this is entirely subjective. I also realize I might have been fresher on that day, or more weary on those prior outings. And ninety minutes into a ride is hardly going to net quality information about how much more energy I might have realized.

And yet, somehow, I really feel as though I had been riding with greater efficiency. Now, rain falling all around the studio, I’m left wondering how much of that is what I wanted to experience, how much I expected to experience – and how much, if anything, was actually attributable to the tires. In the weeks to come, I’ll develop a much clearer appreciation for how/if these tires meet my personal expectations. Let’s be very clear: I don’t fancy myself a racer, I don’t live vicariously through the ghosts of TDF riders past, I don’t really give a hoot what my average speed is. But if these really leave me feeling like I could ride a few miles further, to enjoy my ride more, then call me intrigued.

Or, as my students would say, “SWAG.”

Every road…

I like to carry a sketchbook – just scraps of watercolor paper, really – with me when I ride. As I wander along, meandering across the rural Clay County, Missouri countryside, I’ll frequently pause along the road and simply absorb my surroundings. During these short breaks I may pull out those scraps of paper and use a Pilot Varsity to scribble out my impressions. I’ve no firm destination in mind to begin with, so my thoughts and sketches tend to meander nearly as much as I do on my bike. I like to treat every outing as a tiny little adventure.

Saturday mornings we sometimes reserve for small adventures of a different sort; yesterday we went to an auction. We love attending and know some of the auctioneers very well. Many of the same people show up and there’s a certain thrill of “the hunt” and even the competition of bidding against these familiar faces. Sometimes, after nosily digging through the detritus of some elderly couple’s lives we leave almost immediately: I’ve no desire to spend money on, and haul their junk home with me. Other times we stand around for hours, hoping to discover hidden treasures. Yesterday, I discovered that the 94 year old owner had been a serious competitive cyclist in his younger years. The family had no idea what he’d done with his racing bikes, but he had purchased a nice sports touring bike in his 60′s. A Sekai 2700, it had never been ridden outdoors – he pedaled it on Kreitler rollers in his house for a couple of years, then hung it on the wall for a few decades. Perhaps needless to say, it followed me home.

Once I began to clean the bike up, I discovered that what I thought was rust and bubbling paint was in actuality simply the build up of decades of dust and grime. It all wiped right off with gentle cleaning.

A nice 52/40 Sugino Mighty Touring crankset with MKS pedals.

Suntour VX rear dérailleur shifts so smoothly on this wide ranging (and almost unused!) gold freewheel. The ornate pie pan literally gleams.

A nice surprise: atop the Laprade seat pin was perched a nice Concor saddle!

I have always liked the Gran-Compe brake set, which are quite robust and very grabby. The tires, crusty and dry – but holding air just fine – are Sekai-branded 27 x 1 1/4 inch models. I’m always intrigued to come across these manufacturer-labeled tires.

I was very pleased to see the condition of the brake hoods in such splendor! The lavender-colored bar wrap is in mostly decent condition, and I found it a curious choice with the tan/gold colored bike and blue housing/lettering. Lifting a loose edge I discovered that the wrap had begun life as a brilliant blue, fading over the decades to this lilac hue.

The tubing is labeled as Tange Champion, no number indicating which level of Tange.

And stuck in the bottle cage was the original owner’s manual and receipt. Although the serial number indicates the bike is a 1980 model, it was purchased new in October 1983 for the then quite hefty sum of $390.30

St. Paddy’s Day Riding

My rest stop gave me a chance to warm up cold fingers, lean the bike up against a tree surrounded by verdant green moss, and quickly rough out this sketch in pencil. Gloves off, my fingers began to cramp almost immediately and I waited until I returned home to ink the lines.

I’m not certain why I chose to ride the Katakura Silk on this particular route. Probably, I’m just sort of enamored with the bike at the moment, it being the most recent of my projects to reach a state of completion. The gearing (52/46/36) certainly isn’t low enough for lots of comfortable gravel climbing, nor are the 700 x 25 tires anywhere close to wide enough to handle even the moderately light gravel I encountered approaching this old one room country school house.

Because there was still a bite in the air, I’d donned a pair of wool knee socks with my riding knickers – a smart move, as it turned out. The dumb move was wearing my Keene winter cycling shoes: They work great clipping into SPD pedals, but they’re too robust and round to comfortably fit into the pedal cages on this bike. The straps rubbed against the crank arms, and I pedaled each stroke on the rather uncomfortable section of my foot just below my toes.

I don’t aspire to be a “gravel grinder,” and the whole concept of riding mountain bikes, cycle-cross, or those really fat-tired bikes in general simply doesn’t appeal to me.

I like roads. I like connecting one town to the next, one group of houses to another, linking farming communities, and exploring the overlooked worlds in between. Sometimes that means leaving pavement behind though, and that’s when I really appreciate the stability and ride of my Boulder Brevet or the comfort of my Raleigh International IGH conversion.

It’s Spring Break and it’s also St Patrick’s Day, and I’ve chosen to be out here, far from the pubs and parades and carousing that seem to be inseparable from these truly Americanized drinking holidays. Out here, the cold is palpable, and even somewhat miserable to be honest. But it’s great feeling so alive, and it’s wonderful to be out here in the miserable bite of the winds, the mud, and the chill.

Spring is in the Air

Colder than hell – in fact it’s a record cold today, and yet the sun made it bearable. Too damn much snow on the ground, and still yet too damn cold to ride, but the end of the week promises upper 40′s and that gives me hope. So no, I didn’t ride out to this remote spot to sketch; I did, in fact drive the van and sat behind the wheel, freezing while I sketched, my fingers quickly cramping, so I scribbled as fast as possible.

I am so ready to be out of the house, off this damn couch – which is, in point of fact, physically making my ass hurt. Another point of fact: I am daydreaming, incessantly, of road freedom, getting away, exploring new places, perhaps putting my camera away for a good long while and simply scribbling. What a freeing thought!

A couple days ago I was contacted by a reader of The Early Morning Cyclist. A fellow vintage road bike enthusiast, he asked if I’d be interested in getting a group of riders of similar interest to ride together in the Vino Fondo Gran Fondo this coming May. It’s a route that meanders through some serious hills in Missouri’s wine country (yes, Missouri actually does have wine country!) And even though I’m not a big fan of organized rides, this one sounds like a lot of fun.

The same day I got a call from a friend – was I planning to ride in Pedaler’s Jamboree? Pedaler’s Jamboree is an annual bike ride/camp out/music festival on the KATY Trail. Hell yes, I said. My nephew wants to ride too, and, again, it sounds like a lot of fun. A few hours later, another reader wrote to inquire if I planned to ride in the two day Lake Pepin Three-Speed Tour. Also in May. Also a tour I’ve been wanting to make. And it’s on three-speeds!

I’ve a dilemma: Same time frame: I’ve also kinda sorta semi-committed to riding in the Tour de Bier. Beer, bikes…what’s not to love? Oh, and the Tour de Cure is coming up right after that. The snow hasn’t even begun to melt, and yet my ride calendar is filling up fast…did I happen to mention that in a couple of weeks, there’s also a 100K Permanent?

Spring is in the air.

 

Ahhhhh!

The Paramount page on Facebook often languishes for great lengths of time before a sudden spasm creates a day or two whirlwind of activity and then goes quietly dormant again. I truly don’t know why I bother with Facebook to be honest – it’s a terrible time waster, and I could certainly be doing something better with my time like sketching or tinkering or out riding. But the past couple of days have born witness to one of those flurries I mentioned a moment ago, exemplified by photos of some nice Paramount frames and complete bikes and interesting online conversation.

So I was already of a mind to ride one of the Paramount bikes hanging from the ceiling of my studio when this day blossomed. Just a drop dead gorgeous day, too good not to take advantage of, too good not to be out Just Ridin’ Around; one of those rare winter days between snow falls, when Momma Nature is merciless, teasing us with the promise of nicer days yet to come. It’s a Paramount kind of day.

Ahhh!

I haven’t taken the 1972 P13-9 out for a decent spin in quite a while. It’s slightly smaller than my preferred frame size, but is, nevertheless, still a comfortable bike for me to ride. Built up from what some might consider a tragic compendium of parts that I like, but which really have no better reason to be hung together, I appreciate how well everything seems to gel. In one sense, I suppose this is my way of taking a jab at the preciousness of seeking out all those precious period-correct NOS components, the vanity of creating a precious near perfect recreation of “off-the-showroom-floor” perfectionism. Ingenuousness. Hmm.

There’s so much to be said for the classical beauty of a thing when it simply functions well, and that, perhaps, is the best way to describe my hodgepodge Frankenbuild.

The road out of town is all too familiar, and yet I’ve traversed it so little over the past month that I notice a few changes – a new house under construction, a shuttered store, a recliner dumped beside the pavement outside the city limits. Skunks, for some reason, become suicidal this time of year, and there are numerous corpses littering the road, the result of a calamitous exchange with an automobile tire. I glide past, casting a wary eye and checking to make sure each is perfectly still and unmoving. I don’t want to startle one of these critters in the throes of death: try explaining that you’ve been sprayed by a dying skunk.

As happens so often, I ride further and longer than I’d intended, but that’s ok. That’s the point of a JRA outing in the first place, and what I love most about cycling. Turning back toward town with reluctance, I enjoy ten or twelve miles of tail wind, and for the first time this day I shift into the higher gears, reveling in the speed as I slice through the air. I’ve purposely geared this bike low, so it’s seldom that I find myself in a position to ride full tilt. And while it’s certainly fun on occasion, speed is not really all that important to me. I enjoy being able to climb. And I don’t like feeling guilty about slowing down, stopping, and making a photo or a sketch.

Coming into the city, my route takes me through the town square where there is a lot of hustle bustle, much more so than normal for a Saturday afternoon. I pause at a corner to look around and notice that there are many groups of people, wine glasses in hand, wandering from one business to the next. A man walks past and I ask him what’s going on; he tells me that the businesses on the square have sponsored a mass wine tasting.

Well, I enjoy wine. And rather than heading home immediately I decide to purchase a ticket and spend a couple of hours wandering around in the crowds, investigating with the various wines.

It’s a small town and so it comes as no surprise that I run into several people I know. Some I haven’t seen in quite a while, so this presents an opportunity to catch up with old friends and acquaintances. The mood is festive and convivial, and as I wheel my bike from one location to the next, I chat with smiling strangers too. One fellow wants to know how old my Schwinn bike is, and is startled when I tell him it was built in 1972. I’m sure he’d be even more taken aback if I’d been riding my 1966 P12.

An elderly woman came out of the community theatre to specifically seek me out, “the man with the yellow bicycle.” She introduced herself and then proceeded to engage me in conversation about my Paramount, pleased to discover that I was fully aware of where it fit into the Schwinn lineup and the lexicography of American bike building. Amused and very curious about her seemingly extensive knowledge of arcane bikeology, I learned that she and her late husband had operated a couple of high-end bicycle shops in the 60’s and 70’s. Her eyes lit up at the memories of those days, and she shared anecdotes of riding and of bikes they’d built. Wonderfully, she still has some of those bicycles, including a Pogliaghi tandem. I was startled to discover that she lives only a few homes down from my own house, and asked if she would mind allowing me to photograph some of those bikes. With a great big smile she agreed to permit me to shoot them and to record some of her stories. My smile was just as big, I think. What a treat to meet this charming person who – I’m certain – has little opportunity to talk with someone who knows and appreciates a subject that occupied an important part of her earlier life.

What a wonderful day this turned out to be! Riding for hours along country roads, basking in the sun, enjoying wine and camaraderie. Reluctantly, I stuffed the wine glass I’d purchased for the occasion into my jersey and coasted down, out of the square and toward the hill that would take me home. And I can assure you, dear reader, that after enjoying an afternoon of wines, climbing the 12% grade was a real bitch.

Change for the sake of change, I guess.

If you’re a regular reader of The Early Morning Cyclist, you’ve no doubt noticed a drop off in the number of recent posts. This is due in part to my alter ego, which includes the role of professor of art and art history, and all that entails. I can also blame Mother Nature for leaving me housebound for the past several weeks, snowbound and on the verge of going stir crazy. And for the first time in years I find myself without a winter bike project and without any fiddling around that I really feel needs to be done with any of my bikes. Frankly, I’ve nothing very interesting to write about!

After long consideration, I’ve decided to muck about a bit more with the Katakura Silk – not to change anything original to the bike, mind you, but I thought to perhaps introduce a bit of added functionality. It took very little to convince myself that adding fenders would be a step in the right direction. I’ve found myself curious to try a pair of SKS P35 Chromoplastic fenders, and at thirty-two bucks delivered, I could hardly go wrong. I’ll add those after they arrive next week.

More importantly, I’ve come to believe that unless I’ve some way to carry things with me a bike has far less usefulness to me than otherwise. I need a bag of some sort to stow camera, sketch kit, snacks, tools, layers that I peel out of, and so forth. Those tiny little bags that fit under a saddle might hold a tube, but that’s about it. I’ve been considering another Carradice to fit on the back of the Katakura, and that, undoubtedly, will ultimately be just the ticket. For grins though, I decided to install a seat post mounted rear bag support for a trunk bag I’ve had hanging about for a while.

With the snow finally beginning to leave, I went for a short ride. Immediately I remembered why I had removed this bag support in the first place: As soon as I went to heft my leg over the saddle I ran foot first right into the trunk bag, knocking everything awry. Damn!

I wasn’t thrilled with the bag sitting so high in the first place, and that initial experience has made me warier still. I’ve several rear racks made by Blackburn and I could easily install one at the same time as the fenders. That would allow me to add the trunk bag with a lower center of gravity, as well as a bit more aesthetically pleasing arrangement – form and function, how about that! Even still, I’m leaning more toward a Carradice Pendle, I think.

Out on the road, I dodged puddles and mud and unmelted snow and ice. With no fenders, this was getting old, and I wound up curtailing my ride sooner than I’d planned. Stopping for a quick sketch of the fish market, I considered for a moment continuing onward, looked down the road at what appeared to be a never ending mine field of pot holes left behind from the past weeks of winter crud, and sadly turned toward home.

Sure wish I had those fenders today!