Porcine Lipstick

After stripping and priming the frame I began to clean up the components. Evaporust works wonders on the surface rust that defaces steel parts. A stiff nylon brush, Dawn, hot water, and elbow grease take care of the chain rings and cranks. A wad of aluminum foil and a dab of spit cleans up the worst of the aluminum grunge. I haven’t decided if I’ll use the rear derailleur since it seems mismatched with the rest of the kit.

The Stronglight 99 (new style) crank arms are just recent enough that I could use a standard puller for removal. This is a good thing, because I loaned out my Stronglight puller about two years ago and never got it back…

I decided to give the frame a quick primer coating to protect the frame from rust until I figured out what the heck I was going to do with the darned thing. I like lugs, and the window lugs on this frame add a touch of class. Unpainted, the brazing looks pretty amateurish but the paint sure does seem to hide those ugly joins!

After tracking this frame back in time, I’ve discovered it was brazed together by a local engineer who was also an amateur frame builder. And with this revelation, finally, the unusual combinations make sense to me! The head badge is not only the marque, it is also his name. From what I was able to gather, this was his personal bike (his third); he built ‘em to ride ‘em. That’s kind of a cool piece of history to me.

I debated between a very clean white, some sort of very practical middle gray that might disguise the inevitable scratches, or a simple and elegant black. Black wins. I was also debating about a thin red lug lining, and possibly filling the lug windows with red.

I had thoughts about making up a name and adding it to the down tube, maybe in a sort of Art Deco typographic treatment. But now that I’ve discovered some of the story behind the bike, I’m tempted to put his simple name plate back onto the head tube instead.


I used a Sharpie metallic gold marker for the lug lining. Even though I’m a professional artist, I’ve never had much success pin striping with a brush: like calligraphy, I simply don’t have the hand control for that type of thing. Sharpie makes this great opaque metallic gold marker that made lining so much easier for me. I had to pull the head set again after striping – I put the cart before the horse, re-installing it before I had added a final clear coat to protect the lining.

After giving this a lot of thought, I’ve pretty much decided to keep the wide range of gears, but run porteur-style bars for a more upright ride. I’ve not done much cycling with this type of setup, so it will be a very different type of experiment for me.

So, the frame turns out to be a homemade affair. Is this all simply putting lipstick on a pig? If it is, I’m good with it.

A Tale of Two Bikes

The headline is a little misleading, so let me explain: The two bikes are really one – this is part two of a remarkable before and after affair. We began this story with the gift of a crusty mystery frame. With the exception of the rear derailleur, I was able to determine with pretty fair certainty that the remaining components date from early- to mid-70’s.

A crusty frame, yes. And a toasty looking Brooks – also yes. But I plan to coax a bit more life from the leather with saddle soap.

The RGF bottom bracket is one of the few things I find before stripping the paint that yields any real clues. These were made in France and – maybe – were imported to England and the States by Ron Kitching.

And here’s where things began to get interesting. As I stripped the paint, the lugs began to reveal a few more details.

Perhaps this frame really is custom made after all. The crappy paint was poorly applied; under that rather pedestrian coating, and layers of crud, a much nicer frame begins to emerge. My original assessment was that the frame was, perhaps, a midrange production model, but the bare metal reveals a much more intriguing machine.

And lookee here! I certainly wasn’t expecting to discover Campagnolo dropouts under the old paint.

Taking a break from the frame stripping, I began to clean up the parts. The rear derailleur may function fine, but seems a bit lower end than the frame deserves. The Stronglight Model 99 (new style) triple crank set is a little different story though, and I plan to keep it in place.

For now, I’ll leave you with this teaser: the primer coated frame and fork.


So, really, do you need more than three gears?

Here in the Midwest, we have a lot of rollers. There are some viciously steep climbs too – but as a rule those are also pretty short climbs. When the tallest point in the entire State of Missouri is less than 1800 feet, and the tallest point in the metropolitan community is under 1200 feet, it’s tough to get any sympathy from those cyclists who ride up and down, say, the Rocky Mountains. Not many of us here are doing any serious climbing. Meanwhile, I hear plenty of people say that someday they’re going to tour…but, it’s kind of amazing how few long distance cyclo-tourists are seen on our chip-sealed roads.

And I do get it: if you’re a racer, all of those gears make a lot of sense. But seriously, if you’re one of the legions of non-racers – and I’m calling you out, weekend warriors, lycra-clad/logo-infested posers, aging and overweight Tour de France pretenders, and marketing-hype-impressionable wannabes – how often do you really need more than a couple of strategically chosen gears?

Much as it might seem like I’m doing so, in no way do I want to knock gears. On all of my bikes, I’ve got a well planned out spread of gears to meet my own personal cycling desires.

Well, all of my bikes except one.

I’ve written before about my 1971 Raleigh International three-speed conversion, so I won’t go back into how much I enjoy riding this bike. But like I said, I don’t want to knock gears – just don’t begrudge me my occasional internally geared forays.

A couple of weeks ago I participated in a charity ride. After looking at the route map and seeing that the elevation gains were something like 1800 feet over 62 miles, I made up my mind to ride my three-speed road bike.

Even if I do say so myself, the Raleigh is a striking “creative” restoration and I’m used to getting a lot of remarks from other riders: “Old school – right on!” “How old is your bike? 1971? I wasn’t even born yet!” “Cute bike!”

I’m sure you get the picture.

Sometimes I’ll get the bemused sidelong glance from a rider astride a carbon fibre wonder bike, but they’re usually to self-absorbed trying to look like Cancellera to give me more than a passing thought.

This event was pretty large and cyclists were being released onto the route in waves of one hundred. As I waited patiently for our group to advance to the start, I suddenly felt eyes upon me. I’m surrounded by riders; to my left is a portly fellow with what appeared to be neon colors and logos painted onto his naked body. He was fooling around with his shifters, but as I turned my head I could see that he was studying the International.

“Hey,” he said. “Where did you get that bike?”

“I restored it,” I said. “It’s a 1971 Raleigh.” Usually that gets a nod and seems to answer the question. No one actually wants to know where it came from, they want to know what the heck it is.

Looking at my rear hub, he was matter-of-fact: “Fixie, huh?”

“No, actually it’s a three-speed. I converted it to an internally-geared hub.”

He laughed. Scoffed, actually. Clearly, I was an anachronism.

“How does your bike shift gears?”

I showed him the shifter, and explained how the mechanism worked. I hoped he would appreciate the simple elegance. Instead he scoffed again.

“Whatever, man. This is my newest bike. It shifts electronically.”

I acted duly impressed. It’s the reaction that gadget junkies want and seem to need and thrive on. But in the back of my mind I wondered what was the point of enjoying something as mechanical as a bicycle ride, only to glom things up with electronic shifting.

He had a sudden thought.

“So, is that bike made out of steel?” This was asked with more than a note of incredulity. Oh great, I thought. Here it comes – the boasting of how light his bike is. And indeed, he did tell me, and indeed, it was terribly, terrifically, unbelievably light. Not to brag, but my three-speed is nowhere close to being a boat anchor. It’s the very definition of a lightweight road bike, and I challenge anyone to find another three-speed of comparable weight. And it’s one of the most comfortable riding machines ever. Nevertheless, this guy’s bike was less than half the weight of my machine.

Moments later, our group was ushered out onto the road, the round man in tights clumsily clipped into the pedals, leaned over the bars and with a serious look zoomed off.

“Enjoy the ride,” I called after him. He didn’t hear me.

As I pedaled along, easily keeping pace with the group, I chatted with the other riders. I fielded more than a few questions, as well as many compliments (usually from female riders who said “cute bike!”) Some riders were a bit taken aback that I was able to do so, but that direct drive gearing sure makes for smooth pedaling.

Now I may not be a racer, but I do ride a lot and I am a moderately strong climber. About twenty miles into the ride, who do I see but Mr Electronic Gear Shifter.

Looking like he was about to swallow a lung or two.

Walking up a hill.

I have to admit that I wanted to scoff, to be smug. Instead I chose to be the bigger man.

I did ring my bell as I rode past him, pedaling smoothly up the hill, smiling.

Cute bike, I thought.

Karma, by the way, is a strange and wonderful thing.

Making things by hand

I like to make things, to use my hands to manipulate materials, to travel slowly, to get lost in the making of things as much as to simply get – and be – lost. For example, on kind of a wild hair I decided to hand make a sketchbook in a continuous “star configuration,” and carry it with me on a trip through Scotland. The idea then gradually evolved into a sort of single, continuous sketch: much of our entire journey can be “read” as one single document, sort of like Chinese brush paintings. Like much else, I’m more intrigued by the process than the end “product.” Therein lies the fun.

A large part of the appeal of resurrecting a bicycle is the “hands on-ness” of the process. I’m intrigued by the history of a thing, by questions that may remain forever unanswered: Where did it originate? What brought about the oftentimes incredibly distressed “beausage”? Who loved this mechanical beast, and what sights did he or she see while astride it? I unashamedly admit to a certain degree of romanticism in this regard.

Two bikes were literally gifted to me recently, and The Early Morning Cyclist will share what is known along with a bit of speculation. This, and the next installments will also document a bit of my process, beginning with this crusty looking frame. Purportedly a custom silver brazed construction, I was not initially convinced there was anything “custom” about it beyond the potpourri of parts adorning the frame. Quite honestly, I planned to strip the better parts to store away for some future build and donate the frame. But despite the extant “crustiness,” curiosity – once again – began to get the better of me. For one thing the window lugs caught my eye. Along with chrome finish, I find lugwork to be an intriguing feature of bicycle construction.

An unusual feature – one I’d never seen before, at any rate – is this seat tube “collar.” This appears to have been hand turned, and effectively reduces the seat tube inside diameter to accept a 26.8 seat pin. I am speculating this was done purely to accomodate a seat pin that would function with the Brooks double rail saddle that was on the bike. The seat tube without the collar accepts a 27.2 seat post.

The narrative I’ve been able to uncover is that the bike was custom built by a local engineer, who was also a talented amateur frame builder. This was his personal bike that he used to tour all across the United States and Canada. Obviously, there may be a lot more to this story and I aim to find out what I can. Just as obviously, the frame arrived in pretty toasty looking condition. A lot needs to be done, and whether or not the frame is worth the effort is really not even the issue: I like to use my hands.

Looks are often deceiving. There is still hope for renewed life in this lady.

Bike Sketching

As I consider how to write today’s post, I am given pause to think that my original intentions for this journal have evolved considerably. In the beginning The Early Morning Cyclist was mostly about the “creative restoration” and riding of vintage road bikes. Over time I began to focus more on the different ride qualities inherent in the various road bikes I encountered. This has been an enjoyable pursuit, by the way, and I especially appreciate having had the opportunity to consider which bikes best met my own cycling needs and wants. I am a taller rider, for instance, and so that particular characteristic had to be considered. Too, bicycles that rode very well or had a great reputation for doing so for smaller riders might not necessarily be appropriate for my longer legs. And because I prefer a stretched out position on the bike, my opinions would be different than those who opt to ride in a more upright position.

The past few years, the emphasis of The Early Morning Cyclist has been more about the ride itself. JRA outings. Staying in the saddle and heading for destinations unknown. Exploring the world on two wheels – that sort of thing.

I’ve used this opportunity to combine two things that are dear to me: non-competitive cycling and drawing.

My interests are often fleeting – or at any rate, evolving – and what interests me at the moment is what I refer to as “bike sketching.” Bike sketching is just something I made up, and very far from anything even remotely formalized. Because, quite frankly, I’ve grown very weary of labels. Are you a road biker or a mountain biker? Neither? Really? (Oh. You must be one of those randonneurs I’ve heard talk of.) Are you a painter? Do you do portraits or landscapes? Are you a Modernist? Are you a member of the Urban Sketcher movement? What watercolor society do you belong to?

Holy crap! Enough already…let me just do my own thing the way I want to do it.


Bike sketching.

Bike sketching has only a couple of requirements: a comfortable, classic bike that fits me; a minimal sketching kit, and the means to carry it. I don’t have to dress up in Lycra to go bike sketching, and I don’t have to measure up to anyone else’s cycling standards or artist expectations. I just go out and do it when time, opportunity, and the inclination strike me to do so. At times, I feel a bit like a documentarian, stopping to scrawl a quick interpretation of the place or people I encounter along the way. At other times I’m interested in something as simple and aesthetically pleasing as the way shadows are falling across buildings or early evening light is cast across a hayfield. I’m not interested in capturing anything remotely or photographically accurate, but the honesty of the moment, of the marks I make on paper, and of the reactions paint makes upon that surface – yes, those things interest me very much.

I’m often asked what I do with those drawings – many people presume I must have some greater purpose, that I’m preparing for a big show, or continuing the research for a new book. The answer might surprise many people: Nothing. I do nothing with these drawings, other than scan them and add them to The Early Morning Cyclist when the fit hits me. Archive them on my Flickr account. Allow them to remain bound within my sketchbooks, safe on a shelf, perhaps to be rediscovered years from now. Who knows?

This summer, the most enjoyable bike sketching has come about from visiting the farmer’s market. There are so many interesting people wandering about, picking and choosing vegetables, selling bread, and so forth. They seem to come from so many walks of life, too. The two fellows I’ve included in today’s journal were both farmers selling their produce. I don’t know a lot more about them than that, and maybe I should have spoken with them, gotten their stories. But I was quite content to quickly scribble their likeness onto a page using just a stub of a pencil, light construction lines forming a mishmash of scrawled artistic shorthand that is probably only interpretable by me, and me alone. Sometimes I’ll forgo the pencil and work directly in ink using a fountain pen, but the examples I share today were inked at the drawing table, days later.

Like the act of riding itself, I’m not so much interested in “the product” as I am intrigued by the process: how a combination of pencil lines on paper can suggest a likeness, the loosely controlled lines of ink emerging out of the chaos of a construction drawing, and the dynamics of water and pigment, dancing across the page like a surfer who understands that one does not control the water so much as learn to ride the wave.

Just ambling and rambling

Ambling and rambling, just riding around. No real destination in mind, no actual course or route either. These last few days have brought us an unseasonably early chill in the mornings, and luxuriously cool afternoons. Autumn is upon us, arriving quicker than anyone thought possible. Life is otherwise a bit frantic, so my bike time and JRA outings combine well with this enjoyable weather.

I need these opportunities to chill, relax and let my mind wander. To amble around and pretend for a moment that I’ve no responsibilities whatsoever. The carefree nature of wandering is liberating as well. I know there are lessons to be planned, meeting notes to digest, groceries to be bought, laundry to ignore. So it’s nice to allow all those things to slip away for an hour or two.

I’m surprised to see so few other cyclists along the road. Granted, the wind was pretty fierce yesterday, and the sky so gray one might be forgiven for thinking the clouds were about to burst open and pour buckets. Still, the wind can be overlooked for a while, and the rain never did make good on the threat. Sunset is arriving earlier each day, and I have to remember to keep my headlight charged so that it will be available should my cycling excursion go longer than anticipated.

I usually hate the wind, but a blustery Autumn day – even a day that arrives when it’s still quite fully summertime – well a blustery Autumn day suits me just fine. I’m not planning to ride like a racer under any circumstances anyway, so I’ll plug away when the winds blow against me, and enjoy the boost of a tailwind when my journey loops in that direction. And then I’ll continue to amble along. To wander. To mosey. And ramble, and roam.

Don’t be nuts

It’s 50 degrees outside, the birds are singing, and absolutely no wind is forecast for the coming day. We shouldn’t top out above 70 even, so if you’re in the Midwest and you’re not living every stinking moment outdoors today, just wandering and taking it all in, then you’re absolutely crazy. 

Words can wait until later. There’s an art fair in Westport today. Gotta go check the air pressure in my tires, stuff a sketchbook into a jersey pocket, and then I’m out of here.