A little chrome goodness.

I’ve been thinning things out. I’m not a big fan of eBay but it’s sure helped to move frames and parts out of the studio. This week I’m packing up the Cycles Toussaint frame for shipping. As the components get stripped, I’m transferring them back to onto the chromed goodness of a Katakura Silk frame set. I had this bike set up in a similar 650b configuration once before, and even though I’ve seriously pondered adding it to the purge, I’m finding it more difficult than I imagined it would be to part with.

Yup. Or something.

Cyclists are – or at least they should be – kindred spirits. At our core, we’ve made a conscious decision to ride on two wheels under our own power. No doubt, our reasons for doing so are legion: healthy lifestyle choice, going fast, racing, environmentally sound decision making, etc.

Pretty much any time two people (guys in particular) line up next to each other, they see an opportunity to compete. “My lawnmower has more horsepower than yours.” “I can shave faster and smoother than you.” “Hey, want to see who can fart the loudest?” And so it goes with bicycles as well.

It shouldn’t puzzle me how often even the smallest effort gets viewed through that competitive lens, but maybe I’m not especially bright. Because it does. One almost laughably – certainly, lamentably – odd behavior that I bet you’ve noticed before is when two cyclists approach each other from opposite directions. You know they see each other because almost immediately they rearrange themselves from the most comfortable riding position they’ve been in to the much more competitive-looking spot, riding in the drops. It’s silly, but I’m confident in my opinion that we do this to look more bad ass. Right? The clear message is: “You aren’t nearly as bad ass a rider as I am.”

I’m riding through the middle of nowhere this morning, exploring some of the gravel around here that until now I’ve neglected. It’s a beautiful day, the third in a row on a holiday weekend, no less. The roads are narrow and flat, with a few requisite bumps and holes, but nothing really challenging. It’s been miles and miles since I passed the last farmhouse, and not one single vehicle of any kind in probably an hour. I haven’t even seen a train, so it’s remote. Reclusive. Secluded. Isolated. In the freakin’ sticks.

In the distance I see a small figure moving towards me. The dot on the horizon gets larger and eventually resolves into the image of another cyclist. I laugh to myself because he does “the thing” as he draws closer, hunching down over his bars in the drops, and suddenly becomes seriously intent on the road. I notice that his cadence changes, having dropped into a higher gear despite the fact that he’s on a skinny tire road bike and we’re both on a gravel road. But this approaching cyclist seems to have a need to impress anyone in sight that he’s A Serious Cyclist. Out here in the middle of nowhere. “Hey. I’m a pretty Bad Ass Serious Racer Cyclist. Or something.”

Yup. Or something.

As we pass, I raise my finger in a small wave and simultaneously nod in his direction.

From my fellow cyclist: Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Not a glance. No acknowledgement at all.

And this really chafes me.

I really believe cyclist are kindred spirits, despite our different reasons for riding. A simple acknowledgment is de rigueur, or at least it is here in the Midwest when two solitary riders, drivers, hikers, or UFOs pass. Out in the middle of nowhere. In the sticks.

I know two farmers – old farts, really – who haven’t said a good word about the other in fifty years. But they always wave as they pass one another on a remote country road. This concept of being so intent on your riding that you can’t even nod at your fellow rider is really puzzling to me. It doesn’t happen often because the vast majority of cyclists are courteous, but when it does the little thesaurus in my head fires up, looking for words of description as I try to make sense of this tiny little event: detached, aloof, cool and reserved, uninvolved, withdrawn, frosty, unapproachable.

Oh. And puzzling.

The first one is on me.

So I’m pedaling up one especially long and kind of steep hill toward the end of BikeMo when I come upon a cyclist stopped at the roadside.

“You doin’ ok?” I ask.

“My legs have cramped. I can’t move this one off the top bar.”

“Anything I can do to help?”

“No man. Thanks. Just let me die.”

“No prob,” I say, continuing up the hill. “Rest in peace, dude.”

You just couldn’t ask for a nicer day for a long bike ride. BikeMo starts and ends atop the tall bluffs that line the Missouri River outside Rocheport, Missouri at a local winery. It’s not a huge crowd, but I figure we eventually wind up with around 125 riders or so.

The first SAG stop at Boonville always seems to come quickly. Although I’ll ride about ten miles further, my route this year will kind of be one that I invent in order to loop back around and meet my much slower moving wife. We’ll ride together at a leisurely pace, returning by way of the KATY Trail.

Some riders seem to breathe a collective sigh of relief as they roll into Rocheport through the old railroad tunnel. But I know there’s still another couple miles to go, almost entirely up, up, and up before those fantasies of chilled wine and cold beer can become reality. I like those climbs, as perverse as it might sound. But they tend to really whack some of the other riders.

That’s ok. The first beer is on me.

Tour de Jazz KC

Only a few days ago I found myself riding through the gloom of an early, overcast morning. The air was cool and thick with humidity, the sky promising rain that – perhaps – wouldn’t actually come. The day itself emerged as hot and sultry and sticky.

But this was still morning and I ascended a long, but not especially steep hill, shifting down one gear so as not to vary my cadence appreciably. Ahead of me in the distance a yard light flickered and quietly emerged as a glow, faint yet distinctly separate from the dusk.

Pedaling past a house with a fenced in front yard, a tiny dog rushed forward, fierce with possibility. On the front porch sat a very large, sloth-like man, wearing naught but a pair of whitey-tighty briefs. I saw him pull deeply on a cigarette as I approached. The embers suddenly glowed brightly, then not. He slowly exhaled a stream of murky smoke and leaned to the floor of the porch to grasp what I imagined to be a coffee mug. In a voice muffled by misty air he hushed the dog.

And I continued up the hill, leaving house, dog, and raspy cough behind me in the almost night.

The weather took a change for the better over the weekend. As an interesting change of pace I joined a charity ride that departed during the late afternoon. With a steady breeze and almost cool temperatures, this event was very unlike most that I ride during the desert months of Missouri August.

My decision to register for the Tour de Jazz KC was a very last minute one. Much as I hate -absolutely hate – all of the rides that are christened with “Tour de …”, I was happy to support the jazz community. We have a great jazz tradition in Kansas City (think Charlie Parker, the Count, Benny Moten, etc.) and the ride promised live jazz music at all the rest stops along the way. Plus, the weather promised to be phenomenal for a Saturday afternoon in late August: no humidity, no heat, and a nice breeze. I’ll be darned if I’m staying home and watching the last of the Juice Olympics on such a day as this!

Most of the local rides take you back over the same tired routes around town, so I was pleased to discover this event was anything but the the samo samo. We headed into a part of town that one might charitably refer to as downtrodden. One might also be apprehensive about cycling through those neighborhoods, but my personal experience was that there were lots of people enjoying the day on their front porches. They all waved and smiled. I waved and smiled back. Some wanted to chat, so I chatted. OK, a group of ten year old boys did cheer us on and then pelt boulder sized gravel at us, and I did have one especially large rock bounce safely off my helmet. But after bellowing out my trademarked grumpy old man yell, they ran off, giggling the entire way.

Most charity rides are flat and marked well. This was neither. A cluster of cyclists that I found myself in discovered we’d gone off the route on numerous occasions – once we had to double back up a hill, fully five miles behind the pack we’d started with. And the hills! Man, I usually don’t shy away from them, but we hit one relatively short climb that appeared to be straight up. For the first time in probably five or six years I found myself walking (barely) the final hundred feet.

Our route took us to the gravesites of jazz greats Charlie Parker and Bennie Moten. It also took us right through the heart of traffic entering Kaufmann Stadium for a Royals game. I weaved through the throngs of cars with my heart catching in my throat. I noticed a few others in my mirror dismounting and walking that mile or so along landscape with nary a sidewalk in sight.

But the best part was the rest stops. Local jazz artists and session musicians were jamming at every SAG station. I love jazz, and these guys – many of them pretty long in the tooth – were just hammering it. I made a few quick reference sketches and took a couple of photos with my iPhone so that I could make the illustration pictured above this afternoon. Of course, I listened to jazz classics in the studio while I drew.

Why not?

About a month ago, I raised a rhetorical question on The Early Morning Cyclist when I asked “Why 650b?” I answered my own question with a couple of photographs of two pathways that pass for roads in this part of the world. As much as I bitch about the condition of our roads – and rightfully so, I might add – it’s a little bit disingenuous for me to imply those two photographs represent all, or even a majority of our thoroughfares. And while I’ll often encounter epic craters of moon-surface-like proportions, and more chip seal than original tarmac, the majority of our roads really are paved.


From time to time I’ll wander off these semi-paved surfaces. Without question, 650b excels on gravel and on crummy pavement my bike floats over conditions that would have me skinny tire slaloming to avoid tearing up a wheel. Lightweight, supple, wide 650b tires provide me with a good riding experience. Over time I have gradually been moving toward the widest tires that can safely be mounted on each of my bikes. (Caveat: Skinny racing tires are mounted on two race bikes. Chubby tires won’t fit, and besides that they would just looks silly.)

I knew from having done a test fitting a few years ago that I could get 700 x 38 tires onto my Raleigh International without a problem. Compass produces a supple tire in that size; I really like the narrower Compass version that is on my Boulder; I had a little extra in my PayPal account from having sold off a few components on eBay. So why not?

Adequate room in the back and between the stays to run the wider tires, even with fenders installed.

I use MAFAC 2000 center pulls on this bike, and they wrap around nicely. Disconnect the yoke, and there is lots of wiggle room to remove the wheel without deflating.

I’ve been riding this bike a lot lately. Whenever I have a new build, I get excited about it. In my mind, I tend to exaggerate all the characteristics as “the best ever.” I know this about myself, and I also know that it takes a fair amount of riding before I’m willing to allow myself to be fiercely judgmental of the choices I’ve made, to be honest with myself about the build. The question is: Am I choosing a bike repeatedly because it honestly feels great to ride, or am I captivated by the newness factor? And if I’m entirely honest with myself, right now I’m still in the honeymoon phase where everything seems great.

So I’m going to throw a few observations out here, knowing full well that I may wind up having a change of heart as time passes.

  1. I have three bikes built up in a similar fashion, i.e., racks and fenders, comfortable for distance randonneur or fast, light touring style bicycles. The list includes a Boulder Brevet, 650b Cycles Toussaint Velo-Routier, and now a 1971 Raleigh International. I like all of them, but I tend to carry the Toussaint with me when I travel mostly because I don’t like carrying my Boulder on a rack on the back of the car. The Boulder is my preferred bike on just about any ride other than over gravel.
  2. Until now, the Toussaint exhibits the greatest sensation of “float” when I run low pressure. The geometry is not at all aggressive and encourages a leisurely approach to riding. In this sense, it is a very “French” bike, despite a Canadian birth. The International is more laid back than it’s racier brothers, but not as laid back as the Toussaint.
  3. With low pressure, the Compass tires provide a very similar sensation of float to that of the 650b. Perhaps it’s my imagination, but this wheel/tire size combination doesn’t seem to spin up quite as quickly as the 650b. By comparison, the 650b doesn’t spin up as fast as the 700 x 30 tires on my Boulder. Tire size, different bikes, different components and chain ring specs, and varying conditions probably account for some of that. The difference is negligible, when comparing these three bikes but significant when comparing to one of my nimble “race bikes.”
  4. On my rims, the 700 x 38 Compass tires mic out at 700 x 36-ish.
  5. If I didn’t already own my Boulder Brevet, the International, built up as it currently is could easily be my “go to” bike.
  6. I like the ride quality of 700 x 38 Compass tires. I don’t feel any regret for the purchase.

Ozarks Rambling

My main takeaway from last weekend was man, how fun the short, steep descents are in the Ozarks Mountains of extreme southwest Missouri.

The Tablerock Lake area is one of our favorite places to disappear into. Woods, water, hills, sparsely populated sections of the Ozarks – what’s not to like? I’ve transported several different bikes with me to ride these hilly roads. My 650b Cycles Toussaint has kind of been the “go to” bike for these trips because the gearing and tires fit the conditions in the area very nicely. It was the bike I’d planned to take with me last weekend, quite frankly. But having just finished adding fat tires to the Raleigh International rebuild a few days earlier I wound up reaching for it when I packed the car.

The ride quality of these Compass Barlow Pass 700 x 38 tires is the most startlingly dramatic I’ve experienced. It took a little experimenting to find the sweet spot for tire pressure, but even when they were inflated above what turned out to be the optimal they still felt darned good. Once lowered to the right front/back combination for my weight and pedaling style, the road got really fun to ride. They simply soak up the rough stuff.

Descending to lake level, I found myself at Baxter Boat Dock pedaling around the campground. I paused at water’s edge for a few minutes. Rain seemed to follow me this weekend, but this spot was dry as a bone.

Pedaling back up the hills I was soon engulfed in thick mist. The gravel was saturated with water, perspiration mingled with moisture infused air and dripped off my face and arms. My shirt was saturated. The humidity was about 300%, and thick enough to cut with a knife. S

Sounds gross, right? But I was enjoying the ride so much that it was easy to ignore the atmospheric conditions.

So, the bike. The tires. The build. Yeah, I’m confident things have really gone very well. The whole package has come together really nicely, what I would describe as a harmonious build. I’m happy.

Addendum: I was curious to see how accurately my 700 x 38 tires actually measured out. They’ve been on the rims for about two weeks now, so one would think they’d be stretched out by this point. Right now they measure a solid 36.