The evening before Turkey Day is amazing. The moon rises over Table Rock Lake as family watches, comfortably perched on deck chairs, warm in our sweat shirts. I’ve brought no bike with me on this trip, confident in the forecast of drenching rain on the morrow. 

Enjoy Thanksgiving, world. 


“Great looking chromed Capella lugs!”

“Thanks – looks pretty good for a mid-60’s bike.”

“Sure does, but I think you’re mistaken about the date – I’m pretty sure those Capella lugs place the bike at a 1973 model.”

OK, so maybe that’s not a verbatim transcript of the conversation, but it’s close enough. Our local tweed ride took place this past weekend, an event I always look forward to just because it’s fun to geek out gawking at the appearance of many vintage bikes all in one place. I was catching up with a fellow geek buddy when the gleam of chrome and electric green tubing caught our eye. A Raleigh International? A Carlton? We wandered over and found a Carlton-built Huffy, a bike I would’ve sworn was a Raleigh International.

In point of fact, I did swear it was Raleigh-built, and matter-of-factly stated it was built in 1973, the year Raleigh used those lugs on several models. Turns out I – Mr. Know-it-all – was off base by the better part of a decade. At least I was on target with the country – the All American Huffy Bike was built in England by Carlton.

Nathan, the bike’s owner, and I exchanged contact information. I promised to send him some of the online resources I frequently reference, and he provided me with some excellent background that he’d researched. Here’s what Nathan shared with me:

Hi Mark!

It was a pleasure meeting you as well. I thoroughly enjoy conversations with anyone who appreciates vintage steel!

After doing some homework, here’s what I was able to come up with:

  • As you stated, Raleigh bought Carlton in 1960.
  • 1973 was the only year Raleigh used Capella lugs.

However, from 1958/9 through the mid ‘60s Carlton still used Capella lugs:

On the May 18th post of this blog, under the illustration of the Capella lugs, the author states:

“In 1959 Carlton reorganised their range. Out went all the various lugs and in came a new style of lug designed for Carlton – the Capella lugs. A new range of models utilising these lugs were announced and these models – the Catalina, Clubman, Continental and Constellation – were to continue through to 1965. The other models in the range used either Carlton or Italian long-line lugs, although Capella lugs could be fitted to the Flyer if ordered.”

This was the first of many references I found to Carlton bicycles having the same model names as the imported Huffy’s. 

Here is a ’64 Carlton Catalina with Capella lugs:

Just over half-way down this page there is a little more info on early ‘60s Carltons, and this was also the page that had the link (now dead) to the Huffy catalogs:

Per this site:

“The Carlton Cycles site, which didn’t exist when the project was undertaken, has a list of serial numbers and corresponding dates. The serial number is M5992, which similarly dates the bike at 1964. It also notes that the Capella lugs were used only through 1965. 

Previous to this, I knew the following:

  • The bike was built after the Raleigh acquisition of Carlton, 1960 or 61. Raleigh continued to make bikes under the Carlton name for some time, although I’m not sure exactly when they stopped. In the 70s, some had both the Carlton and Raleigh names; eventually, though, the Carlton name was phased out. 
  • A 1967 Carlton catalog does not show the Catalina.
  • Pages from a mid-60s Huffy catalog (Huffy rebranded and imported Carltons in the 60s) show a very similar Catalina with quick-release hubs and the same color, brakes, and drive train. My bike has nutted axles, so it must predate the bike in those pictures.
  • The Weinman Vainqueur 999 brakes, of the style on my bike, were made from the mid 60s to the early 70s.
  • The serial number is nonstandard for Raleigh, indicating that the Carlton manufacturing process had not been fully integrated with Raleigh’s at the time the frame was made.
  • The Reynolds 531 frame decal is a very early one, common in the 1950s.”
  • Lastly, some of the Huffy catalog images themselves (at the bottom of the page, per Mr. Hufford):

A few Carlton Constellations:

And some lugs on eBay with a little more info:

Not exactly a smoking gun, but at least enough to challenge the Huffy being a ’73 Raleigh. Let me know what you make of all of this!

I’ll tell you what I think – I think Nathan’s got himself a damn cool 1964 Carlton.


Thanks to Nathan Lathrop for sharing photos of his Huffy Constellation. Incidentally, it turns out Nathan is a fellow graphic designer – learn more about his design firm, Tandem Creative Studio here.

…and then it began to rain.

I’m nursing a bum knee at the moment. I’ve no idea what’s wrong or what I did, but things feel all wonky on my downstroke – especially on climbs. So I’ve been taking it easy, avoiding the temptation to overstress the joint and haul it, full tilt boogey.

The thing is, I’m antsy and want to open it up. Y’know, and haul it, full tilt boogey. 

Despite these inclinations to do the wrong thing, I’ve managed to avoid mucking things up further, let my knee and all of the attachments rest, and spin for short periods of time over pretty flat territory. The situation has me in a funk; I crave some real exercise.


So, no school yesterday, no one else at home – I’m free. Fat, cushy, supple tires; bum knee; crunchy leaves; overcast sky; cool weather with a brisk wind coming off the lake; leisurely pace; no particular destination in mind. Just about perfect.

This is the kind of day, the kind of path, the kind of riding I built this bike up for. My bike kit is a pair of well worn jeans with velcro ankle clips, a pair of hiking shoes, a gray sweat shirt. The path is very mildly rolling and the surface incredibly uneven. I’m in no hurry, stopping along the way to take photographs as the color, the texture, the muse strikes me.

Squirrels suicidally breach the path, scurrying through brown leaves, scooting past my front tire, chattering in alarm. I’m sure they have something nasty to say about my intrusion. A small group of deer look up, startled as I come round a bend. Slowly, but deliberately, the trio moves off deeper into the trees and then disappear, camouflaged by the underbrush. Birds seem to be as busy as the legions of squirrels, flitting from branch to branch. I wonder if they are preparing to leave for the season? Or just steadying themselves for the looming change?

The sky is overcast, the light is flat, but the day is not gloomy. In fact, far from it. I love these kind of conditions.

I remember the days when I would carry a backpack of photography gear with me, earnestly hoping to make The Great American Image, the iconic and defining photograph of our landscape. These days I carry an iPhone and it’s so much more liberating.

Stop. Compose. Tap the screen. Reposition. Recompose. Tap. Ride onward.

The ride is short. It’s decidedly flat. And I’m not in the least bit tired, at no point am I winded. But my knee warns me not to push things to far, too hard. Dammit. Time to stop and paint for a while.

I’ve carried my sketch kit with me for years, purposely planning my cycling journeys to allow ample opportunity to stop along the way and draw. I’ve even named these outings, referring to this as “bike sketching.” Is that preposterous? Pretentious? Feeling the need to name such a natural extension of my JRA outings? (Oh yeah, I just realized that I acted in similar fashion by giving a title to my leisurely cycling: “JRA.” Just Riding Around.)

Lately, I’ve been painting en plein air in oils again. I figure I’ve been away from oils for close to a decade, the solvents and toxic heavy metals (like cadmium and cobalt) having weighed heavily on my mind. Not long ago I began to experiment with oils that clean up without solvents and are free of toxins. It’s a lot like rediscovering an old friend, and I’ve been carrying my field kit in the back of the car with me.

My ride is a loop, timed to bring me back round to the car just as my knee begins to twinge. Yes, time to stop and paint for a while.

My hands are cold. I’m still getting my chops back with oils and bristle brushes. I have to think deliberately about placing colors, cleaning the brush after each stroke, mixing and matching – which is functionally quite a different process than with the watercolor media in which I’ve been immersed over the past decade. At some point it will all come back to me, to be a natural set of motions – you know: just like riding a bike, as the adage has it.

As I lost myself in painting, I thought to myself that I’m still pretty fast at laying in shapes and colors and values, even if my brush strokes for the moment feel a bit too deliberate. I allowed myself a moment to yearn for those fluid strokes, but also knew that I can be patient, wait, and they will return. Perhaps doing so will ease this parallel wait for my knee to heal.

Yes, my hands were cold and stiff. The wind began to pick up, and I had to chase down a suddenly mobile paint-drenched paper towel. A mist was in the air and tiny water droplets began to appear on top of the oil paint.

Moments later it began to rain, and all was well in the world.


I like to wander.

I always have.

When we travel I find that my favorite parts of the journey are when I just wander around the streets just to see where they go.

As a teen growing up in southwest Missouri, most of the other guys – and some of the girls to – enjoyed riding horses. For most of them that was a means to an end: rodeo-type events like barrel racing and calf roping and even bronc riding. As a 14-year-old city kid removed to the country I was automatically an odd duck as the new guy in a tiny rural community located about ten miles from the place Footloose was based upon. In an effort to fit in I tried some of rodeo events – not realizing how terrifically dangerous it was to do so I even tried riding a bull. (Fortunately that was about a one second experience for me and I scrambled away a whole lot more scared than hurt.)

But I rode horses and I rode them a lot.

Not to race around barrels or to rope calves, but to wander around for hours on end. I loved to explore lonely dirt roads and old houses and abandoned barns. Even today I cherish the opportunity to stroll through ancient towns and ponder equally ancient buildings. Perhaps I should’ve been an archaeologist or something, as intriguing as I find the remnants of humankind, the roads and buildings and structures we’ve created and then abandoned. Sometimes when I’m driving I will simply seek out the roads that no one else is traveling, often those original segments of highway now bypassed by multiple-lanes of  freeway, modern day disconnections severing the links between  towns they formerly connected. Whether by foot or on bike, wandering, sketchbook at the ready, is the way I choose to experience my world.


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.