The plan comes together

Following the anticipation of my recent conversion of a Katakura Silk to a 650b road bike I was anxious to get all the bolts tightened down and get the bike out for a test ride. The afternoon being a model of wonderful Autumn weather, we loaded up and headed to the paths around Smithville Lake. Smithville Lake has one long and continuous paved path around a portion of the lake’s perimeter that yields about 42 miles of moderately flat riding, there are branches of trail with loose gravel, and about a million miles of forested single track. Add to that the low trafficked and hilly roads, and you’ve got a pretty good choice of surfaces on which to conduct a shakedown ride.

As it turned out, our shakedown ride was a bit shorter than planned but I still managed to put in some mileage on both paved and gravel surfaces, with a couple of steep, but even climbs. (One thing I like to check out on a shakedown ride – but didn’t yesterday –  is how a bike handles on undulating climbs.)

I’m always very surprised and happy to ride upon high volume/low pressure tires that are supple and forgiving. I’ve ridden the Katakura Silk on 700c x 25 tires enough that I know what to expect when I get on the bike, so the difference is marked and profoundly startling. It’s truly a “magic carpet ride.” I guess I need to compare known times over a distance, much as I hate that sort of test, but I seldom feel as if I’m going fast on 650b tires. That characteristic is usually deceptive though, and normally I am surprised to discover there’s little or no difference in overall speed. Spin up may be slower and – oddly – pedal strokes on climbs seemed less responsive than I might have  otherwise imagined. But fit and comfort are impressive. I need to get out on the open road now to find out how “spirited” the ride feels when I kick things up a notch.

Moving off pavement and onto gravel was a different experience. The first few hundred yards of pathway had very deep and loose gravel, and the bike handling was squirmy. Steering was difficult as I sank into the gravel. Further along the path the surface changed to much gravel and the pack was harder; the bike handled admirably well on that section.  Riding off road briefly – not something I do a lot of – the bike handled the transition from gravel to bushwacking to pavement with little fanfare.

There’s plenty more ride testing to be done, and some fine tuning I want to make, but I’m happy this grand experiment has been largely successful. The Katakura Silk is now a more useful member of my bicycle family, a nice compliment to my primary rider, the Boulder Brevet, and to my early morning Raleigh International three-speed rider. It’s nice when a plan comes together.


Suddenly, the afternoons and evenings are much cooler. As the temperatures begin to drop and I find myself wrapping up a week so incredibly long that  I haven’t had even the slightest instant to pedal a single stroke, a shroud of anxiety falls over me. Each day is shorter than the next. My work area is illuminated as I scramble to shoehorn in a little time here and there on my 650b build. I should have ridden more this summer, I tell myself as Autumn further encroaches upon my dwindling daylight hours.

The Katakura Silk 650b build progresses. There’s a lot of finessing and fine tuning left to make, but I was very impressed with the quality of the short ride I made up and down our street yesterday evening. OK, so I suppose I did manage a couple of revolutions of the pedals after all – but no more than a couple hundred yards: Five minutes under cool night skies. Had I not been feeling such exhaustion at the time, it would have been more than perfect for a night ride.

My goal to mimic the ride quality of my Boulder – but in 650b – has moved one step closer to reality. The rough fit is surprisingly close to my Boulder Brevet and really cushy. I’m disappointed with the initial lack of “grabbiness” of the Tektro 559 calipers. I also am unhappy there’s barely enough reach in front…close enough that I’m concerned and will likely investigate center-pulls instead. (This, of course, I should have done in the first place.)


Wild Hair.

I had a wild hair the other day. (I wonder if anyone else uses this phrase to mean that one is pursuing a sudden, compulsive, and possibly irrational idea…or is it  something my Dad made up, along with a thousand and one other odd and personal colloquialisms?)

Anyway, wild hairs….I had one recently. The afternoon’s task was to organize the bikes and parts and other cycling related detritus hanging about the place. One of those things literally hanging about is the 80’s era Katakura Silk road bike, pictured above as a sort of Sportif model. This is the second one I’ve owned, the first having left my garage a couple decades back. Not long after acquiring this one I realized I had become a member of a small and rather exclusive club of enthusiastic chrome Silk owners. I discovered this when a couple of them reached out to me to share information about their bike. One of those enthusiasts bemoaned the fact that there was only room enough to fit a 700 x 25 tire, and despite my proclivity to never take such statements of fact as gospel I never attempted to fit anything wider than a 25. And thus, after a time I found myself riding the Silk less and less. I even went so far as to put it up for sale a few months ago.

So: The wild hair. As I stood staring at a row of bikes lining my ceiling, my gaze fell upon two that were side by side – the Silk and the elegant looking 650b Cycles Toussaint Velo-Routier. I have enjoyed the VR but unlike my Boulder, it never seems to “want” to go faster and I’ve been considering tearing it down, selling the frame, and using the kit to build up a 650b with a little more spirited ride. Out of curiosity, I pulled the wheel set from the two bikes and swapped in the 650b wheels on the Silk. I don’t really know what I was thinking would happen, but I certainly wasn’t imagining that they’d just pop right in place with plenty of spin room…but after removing the short reach Superbe brake calipers they did precisely that.

What the hell, I thought. This isn’t supposed to happen. And certainly it shouldn’t be that easy. I decided to see if there’d be adequate room for fenders, thinking that no doubt would be the end of things. But a rough placement made it very clear that I had ample room for the 650b x 38 tires and mud guards.

Which is how I found myself tearing down two otherwise perfectly functioning bikes, hanging one naked fork and frame, and transferring nearly the entire kit from one over to the other. Measuring spacing and lengths along the way I was surprised to find that a roughly fit build indicated I could achieve nearly the same fit and positioning as on my Boulder. The Boulder is set up for me for maximum comfort and fits me perfectly. Although there are certainly differences between the two, the major points of contact relative to the rider and to bike frame geometry are essentially the same. (See illustration below for comparison. The Boulder geometry is indicated by the red line overlaying the photo of the Silk.) Toe overlap at the front fender is minimal, and similar to the clearance on the Boulder.

As with all of my bikes, I’ve made some effort to research the background of the makers. There’s not a lot of information available about Katakura Silk which I find peculiar because they were a major player, sometimes likened to a Japanese version of Raleigh. What information I could find was a little sketchy, but a couple of catalogs had been posted online and seemed to indicate that some models were built with sportif or randonneuring characteristics in mind.

As I indulged my wild hair, I thought it would be interesting to conduct a new online search for Katakura Silk. I hadn’t done so in a couple of years and I figured – correctly, as it turned out – that new information might have been shared with the world. Two gold mines were discovered in fairly short order, the first being links to Katakura Silk catalogs I’d not had access to a few years ago.

Of particular interest to me is this catalog page from 1986 that features both sportif (Grand Sport) and Randonneuse models of Katakura Silk. The Randonneuse model is fitted with 650 x 38 tires! Although this version is designed for cantilever brakes and has posts to accommodate them – which my PX model does not – it didn’t take a huge leap of faith for me to speculate that if Katakura was designing one model to fit 650b, perhaps other models could also accommodate that size as well. After all, why retool the whole line?

Cycles Peugeot states that the French randonneur aesthetic was introduced to Japan in the 1960’s, and certainly there has been a very enthusiastic following in the years since that time. As readers of Bicycle Quarterly know, the Japanese have taken this model, tailored it into a distinctly Japanese-taste randonneur, and brought about notable improvements such as the Rinko system of packing a bike for travel.

The second gold mine was found at the Cycles Grand Bois website where I discovered a couple of Katakura Silk bike restorations featured in their online gallery. The bike below was transformed from this:

Into this:

If I interpret the details correctly, this bike was restored for a Mr. Sekishima from Hiroshima in 2009. It’s a very beautiful and tastefully elegant re-interpretation. Importantly, I feel I have permission to take my Katakura Silk and lean in this direction.

Which leaves me, for the moment, considering next moves. Roughly fitted out and positioned, here is where I am with my re-imagined Katakura Silk:

I cannot accurately fit the fenders and constructeur-style rear rack until I’ve installed brake calipers. Because the frame was drilled for 700c wheels, I must rely upon long-reach brakes. This leaves me with a couple of options. I could have gone with Dia-Compe 750 center-pulls. These have the look of a randonneur bike. I also prefer center-pulls over other brake caliper designs. They would have allowed me, I think, to use a small French front rack I have in my parts bin. And to be honest, I’m not really certain why I didn’t go this route…perhaps there will be a follow up to this article a few months down the line, detailing how I changed to center-pull brake levers…

For the time being though, I decided to use dual pivot long reach Tektro R559 side pull calipers. Others have used these very successfully for 650b conversions, and if I decide to change to center-pulls I should have no problem finding someone to take the Tektro brakes off my hands.

I’ve run out of red cable housing, which I will need in order to complete the build. The calipers should arrive at the same time as the housing. All in all, this has been a relatively simple conversion. If the ride quality is typical of high volume/low pressure 650b, and if the frame responds on those tires as it did with the narrower 700c tires – i.e., if I can achieve a cushy, spirited ride – then I’ll be very happy indeed. Aesthetically, I think I can build a bike respectful of the Japanese spirit of randonneuring. This greatly appeals to me. Functionally, I’m hoping for a bike that meets my needs for comfort, spirit, and the occasional crappy road. Let’s face it: If I could only have one bike ever, the Boulder is my bicycle. I’m good with that. But I love to experiment with my other rides, and I’m feeling like this could make the Katakura Silk a more ridable member of my bike stable, without any loss of the class it already has.



The chorus of a million frogs, crickets, insects engulf me as I coast down the hill at 4.30 am. Behind me lightning flashes on the western horizon, its telltale reflection in my mirror followed by the rumble of thunder. A cool, persistent breeze: But it’s difficult to say, really, from what direction it hails. Fallen leaves – a premonition of Autumn, that beacon of days to come as arrived earlier than I would have imagined; they swirl at the edge of the road, spinning and dancing a wild dervish. Rain drops fall, eerily ghostlike, briefly tracing glowing white trails across the beam of my lamp, coating my arms with moisture. The road is still mostly dry but the canopy above me betrays Mother Nature and a staccato beat of falling rain slowly grows more insistent. A jogger comes into sight, raises a hand of greeting, then disappears, engulfed by night. Summer ends.

How new wheels made me stronger and cleaner

It’s Sunday morning, foggy and humid. Droplets of water formed on the hairs of my arms about five minutes into my ride, and I feel like a weak second grader.

On second thought, a relatively healthy second grader would probably drop me going up the first hill. How strange, I think to myself. I felt so strong riding at BikeMo yesterday.


For the past two years I’ve been promising myself a new set of wheels for my Boulder Brevet. Those I’ve been riding since first building it up were some I had on hand – heavier, mismatched and lower end wheels. But the front had a Sanyo dyno-hub and the rear…well it fit. And so I rode that ugly, bullet proof wheel set for three years and about 20,000 miles with nary a problem.

Still, I promised myself and my Boulder better. Probably two years ago I got serious and began pondering what I might do if I possibly one day, maybe, upgraded. I even called Mark Pace at Pace Bicycle Haven and he gave me a lot of really good options to consider. This is great! I told him on the phone. I’m ready to pull the trigger! And so I did… consider the options …for another two years.

Never one to deliberate too long, I immediately acted two years later and met with Mark to discuss even further what options I had. A flurry of email exchanges began and he patiently provided me with new insights – the kind of insights that get you excited enough to get busy with other things and then promptly ignore those insights for another month. (At which time I asked him how long will these take to build? Cuz I’d like to use them on a metric century ride in a week or two. True story.)

Last week Mark called and told me to come out and get my wheels. So there I was, four hours after his normal closing time, my bike on his stand, and we’re pulling tires off the old bullet proof rims.

“Hey,” he says. “You know your rear derailleur hanger is bent? It’s also got a lot of gunk on it.”

I said “Yeah, I know, but it actually shifts just fine. I’ve been meaning to fix it for a couple of years now.”

He got out a gizmo that I think he probably fabricated himself for this very purpose and straightened it up so that the pulleys actually lined up under the cogs. I confess that Mark’s attention to this purely decorative detail did make things look and shift a lot better.

“Do you ever clean your chain?” he asked me next. I was outraged at this slight, because of course I do, once a year whether it needs it or not. He suggested that I could probably use the flat blade of a screwdriver to scrape what appeared to be a thick black sludge off the pulleys he’d just lined up. I conceded that it was a good thought.

Getting the rear tire mounted and checking the alignment, the next thing I see is a puzzled look on his face as he turns the pedals and looks down. “Hmm. The big chain ring looks like it might be out of true.” He reaches for the custom rear derailleur alignment tool, slots it up and exclaims “Well hey!” He exclaims thusly because it turns out the ring is not out of true…it’s way loose. In fact all of the chain ring bolts are loose. With the sort of patience one normally reserves for a very young child, Mark mentions that I might want to check those every now and then… y’know – to avoid the ring coming off mid-stroke and becoming embedded in my calf.

I’m a little taken aback at the chain ring. A few weeks earlier I kept hearing a clicking noise when I pedaled and couldn’t identify the source. I checked everything – including the chair ring – and eventually re-greased my seat pin. The sound went away and I was content. Apparently I should have dug deeper.

The wheels – Shimano hubs with Velocity A23 and A23OC rims – are noticeably lighter than those that came off the Boulder. Eventually we got them on, aligned, and numerous other overlooked elements of bike maintenance were taken care of, many of which were the result of poor maintenance and simply not keeping things clean. I can attest to this because it looks some industrial strength cleaner to remove the sludge that had been on my bike from my hands and arms.


The next day my bike was cleaned until it sparkled. All of the remaining loose bolts were snugged up and some overdue lube was liberally applied in a few important places.


Although I took the bike and new wheels out for a short test spin around town on Friday afternoon, the real shakedown was on Saturday morning at BikeMO. There aren’t a lot of “pay to ride” events that I participate in but the route on BikeMo starts at a picturesque winery located on the river bluffs in Rocheport, then proceeds to meander through charming small towns and farm communities in Missouri River farmland country. Rather than a bunch of racer wannabes, the riders are always an eclectic bunch comprised of racers, tourers, bike advocates, regular-average-everyday-actual-people, kids, etc. I promised myself not to attempt any sort of “event pacing,” but instead to just ride at whatever pace felt good.

Pancake flat stretches of river bottom acreage are punctuated by steep climbs out of farmland into the up and down rolling hills and inclines of bluffs that overlook the Missouri River.

The first SAG stop is at the historic railroad depot in Boonville, on the KATY Trail. The KATY parallels part of the ride route and for those who want to avoid some of the early climbs an alternate trail route option is available.

Despite the promise I made to myself I found I was riding very fast. Maybe it was the lighter wheels. Perhaps it was the crisper shifting of the derailleur. Maybe it was purely the hocus pocus of self delusion, but my pedaling was strong. I never felt tired. I stayed in the big ring and the small cogs, hanging with the faster riders most of the way. Could the new wheels really have made so big a difference?

I really had my doubts. Clearly, clean living had paid off and this new found strength was the result. Clearly I deserved a reward for my efforts.

In spite of the winery location I opted for a honey wheat local brew, the first taste of which I can assure you tasted like a tiny slice of heaven. The remaining health foods were excellent pairings, so I had another honey wheat. Or two.


So, this morning I went out for a ride. Heading out to the garage I felt good. Memories of yesterday’s herculean ride effort were still quite fresh in my mind.

But one pedal stroke down the road I knew something was wrong. My legs were rubbery. My brain cried out “Downshift!” I had a sudden fantasy that involved my head buried into my pillow. Instead of taking off like a rocket, the Boulder rumbled in a generally forward direction. Today was a new and different day.

But my bike sure looks clean.

The sky threatened…

…but the rain never came. It was cool – unseasonably so for late August in Missouri – and breezy, and a nearly perfect morning to cycle aimlessly. Even more so when the clouds burned off completely a few hours later…

Eventually, morning comes to an end. I break for lunch, after which we plan to go back out again. Listen – we don’t get too many days like this, so you gotta take ’em when you can get ’em.

Why morning?

For as long as I can remember I’ve been a morning person. I like wandering around before the day has begun, before anyone else is around, before my iPhone starts the continuous vibration that indicates one more person has emailed me with a question, a concern, a suggestion. Even the dog leaves me alone, minutely raising her head from the couch she’s not supposed to be sleeping on, a single eye briefly opens nearly to midpoint then closes again, followed by snores.

Cycling in the dark before dawn and in the low light just as the sun is coming up is nearly always a wonderful experience for me. This was particularly so yesterday morning, the air cool and still – a welcome break from the noxious humidity of the last four or five weeks, the atmosphere at times so thick it was nearly unbearable.

Despite a cool start, this morning marked the return of humidity. As usual, I was alone with my thoughts riding along dark roads in the dusk just before dawn. Cresting the horizon, the sun brought forth light and sound: First birds, followed by the roar of cicadas. Returning to the city I was surprised to see the number of runners and cyclists enjoying the early morning. Perhaps we all were in search of early morning solace as a sort of preventive salve for the coming wave of heat.