The Third Life of a Phoenix

“The Phoenix.” Hmm. I typed that title on a whim, but I like it. Maybe I need to have that in subtle, elegant calligraphy across the top tube? It’s a thought.

Why “Phoenix,” though? Well, I consider this the third life of my 1971 Raleigh International. She came to me a few years back in pretty sad condition, paint flaking off in strips, generally abused and neglected over time. The previous owner rode it as a touring bike for many years, through all sorts of conditions. He had eventually aged out of the bike and out of riding, and she sat in his workshop for a long time until  I adopted her. Her second life was as a long distance three-speed.

This morning was the inaugural shakedown “third life” ride following last week’s rebuild. During her second life she was a wonderful reimagining of a club racer – a venerable British lightweight drop bar frame with a three speed internally geared hub. I’ve loved that configuration, but in honest self reflection I find that nearly all of my riding is done on my Boulder Brevet. I asked myself why that was, and the answer – not surprisingly – was: Fit, gearing, build, and ride quality.

Hence, the third life is a return to the roots of this bike, with more than a few nods towards those things that make my life feel better on two wheels.

So, the inaugural shakedown ride is a short twelve mile route of hills and flats that I use to test new builds. My initial assessment? A/A+…and now I’m REALLY jazzed about  installing 700 x 38 Compass Barlow Pass tires that I can run at lower pressure.  (I’ve got 700 x 28 Gatorskins on the rims at the moment, and while they are definitely the most bullet proof tires I’ve ever ridden, they are far from being describable as “supple.” And they are a total bitch to get over the lip of the rim. God help me if I ever have a frickin’ flat out on the road…)

To say that I’m pleased with this rebuild would be a gross understatement. The bottom bracket is perfectly tuned and the Stronglight 48/40/28 triple yields a very nice range of low and middle range gears when paired up with the 13-30 Ultra 6 freewheel. A Mountech FD handles the jump between 40 and 28 without blinking an eye. And the Mark Pace-built rear wheel turns out to have been an outstanding decision. It’s riding very nicely indeed.

While I wait on tires to arrive I’ll head out to the studio to engineer a nicer looking light bracket. I also need to camouflage/protect the exposed wiring running from the dyno hub to the light unit. That’s (mostly) cosmetic, but I appreciate a well designed system.

It’s the light.

Yeah, it’s the light I think. Heading out in the morning, just before the sun breaks the horizon; the roads are dusky but the light changes rapidly. Mornings like this morning are a gift in a way. The world is shrouded in fog, moisture glistens on my arm hairs as I roll downhill, a bead of it is just visible on the nose of my helmet – then the droplet falls and spins away, lost as momentum propels me forward.

The fog is magical. It turns the everyday into something mysterious. I truly cannot decide whether I prefer the saturated color in which the world is momentarily painted, or the wonderfully smooth gradations of tonality that gets rendered in black and white on this day.

So why choose? I shoot both ways. And yeah, it really is the light.


The Standard “Kit”

I field a fair number of emails originating from readers of The Early Morning Cyclist. Every now and then I get questions about gear I’m using, or my “kit” – the stuff I wear when I ride. With three questions fired at me in as many days I’ll go out on a limb and call this a trend that needs to be addressed.

I don’t write about these things much because, frankly, I really don’t think about them much. (At least not nearly as much as our local groups of matching-kit Lycra roadies apparently do.) Oh, I certainly have my share of jerseys. Some commemorate events, others were picked up as mementos on vacation, and at least one was a gift from my wife and is emblazoned with an “Old Farts Cycling Team” graphic.

I just don’t wear them all that often.

I dress for comfort when I ride. Knickers and sweltered layers when it gets cold. And although my “kit” isn’t set in stone, during the summer it’s kind of standardized:

The Lid. I know I should probably be more diligent about wearing a helmet, but likely as not I’ll be found cycling in a grungy, sweat-stained cycling cap. I’ve got dozens of ’em, but my favorite is a gray cap made by Swift, the same fine craftspeople who made my Ozette bag. I rather think this hat was a “one and done” project, and that they were only available for a really short time. This is why I sort of freak out when I misplace my lid: there’s likely no way to replace it.

The eyes. I need glasses to read signs, or a map, or my phone. A couple years I ago I invested in a pair of prescription Ray-Bans and those have become a de facto part of my outdoor adventures. The other item that I feel a bit naked without is a Bike Peddler “Take A Look” Eyeglass Mirror. I really want to know what that smoke chugging truck creeping up behind me is up to, so I won’t leave home without my eyeglass mirror.

The hands. For short jaunts I won’t wear gloves at all. I really like the feel of my bare palms against shellac-coated bar wrap. But if I’m going to be out for more than an hour, the gloves will definitely be part of my kit.

The jersey. It’s a 100% cotton t-shirt, occasionally stained with smudges of paint, or chain grease, or both. I spent too many years as a graphic designer to be able to stomach the truly awful graphics that adorn most shirts, so I consider the embarrassing designs to be optional.

The legs. Instead of Lycra bicycle shorts, I’m rather partial to lightweight padded under shorts – as in “worn under normal shorts.” I like hiking, camp, or cargo shorts. Lots of pockets for important stuff like money, fountain pen, sketchbook, etc.

The feet. I’ve got a pair of mountain bike shoes for when I ride clipped in. A recessed clip is the only pure cycling shoe I care to wear because it allows me to walk around off the bike without looking like I’m in a Monty Python skit. I also like to use trail runners or my Keene sandals. That way I look semi-normal off the bike, and I can stroll in and out of a diner or grocery store or even a bike shop. I’m kind of picky about socks though, and will avoid cotton at all costs.

What’s nice about this “kit” is that I don’t have to pack a lot of specialty clothing when I travel. My ride clothes and my “everything else” clothes are pretty much one and the same. As a matter of fact, it’s also pretty much what I’m wearing as I type these words, and pretty much what I’ll be wearing when I begin cooking dinner tonight. It’s pretty much the only thing I wear from the time summer vacation begins until the time I report back to school.

The good, the bad, and the ugly.

The good, the bad, and the ugly

The Good: The birds were singing and the thermometer hovered around 73 degrees this morning.

The Bad: Buuuut, the humidity was 93%.

The Ugly: Just outside Missouri City, my chain broke. I didn’t have an extra link in my bag. And it was an 11.7 mile hike back home. To add insult to injury, I had to change a flat about a mile or so earlier.

Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island. Heard of it? I have, and for years I’ve wanted to visit a place where there are no cars and where bicycles rule. I had a picture in my head of what the place was like – horses and buggies, lots of bicycles, a sort of throw back lifestyle. And while  the Tom Sawyer image of the town I had in mind was a lot more rustic looking than the reality, it turns out that the place really is magical.

To get there, one first must make one’s way north, almost to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. For us, that involved a 900+ mile journey. Once there, it was necessary to hop a ferry  to the island: a short, windy jaunt of perhaps twenty minutes or so.

The island isn’t large. The perimeter is a pancake flat 8.2 miles, departing from the pier in a charming town of lovely Victorian houses, stately mansions, restaurants and stores and B&Bs and parks; one traverses a paved road of hikers, horses and buggies, and bikes – lots and lots and lots of bikes. Leaving town and disappearing into a canopy of trees the route traces the coast with the lake always in view.

Mine was one of the only drop bar bikes on the island. In addition to my front bag, I sported an Acorn saddle bag with a long sleeve shirt tied down. Turned out I needed the long sleeves, with cold winds the first day and temps in the lower 50’s, the last thing I thought I’d need would be warm clothes in June! There are thousands of bikes for rent on the island, nearly all of which are “townies” and vintage Schwinn single speeds with upright bars.

I don’t like to leave my bikes outside overnight, so we brought our rides indoors. With little extra space in our room at the B&B, we stored the bikes in the shower.

Here are a few shots of the place…

By the way, there’s plenty of steep, slick climbs on the roads that crisscross the interior of the island.

Shakedown Ride.

This is the finished build following my initial shakedown ride this morning. Panaracer Pasella tires sure “look the part” but I will probably go with something a little less stodgy feeling once I’ve rebuilt 700c wheels around the high flange Campy hubs still waiting in the queue.

I found that the saddle needed a slight adjustment, and the front brake required a tiny bit of fiddling with the tension. I must be getting pretty good at eyeballing my builds, because otherwise this build came together quite effortlessly.

A few years ago I wound up getting a screaming good swap meet bargain on a box of Brooks leather bar wrap. The funny thing is that the box specifies the color as “honey,” which this is decidedly not. I bought the bar wrap about the same time that the notion of white tubing began to bounce around in my head, so in one sense the misidentified tape seems to have been paired up with the Paramount from the start. I’ve wrapped it over a coat of cotton wrap to give the bar diameter just a little greater heft.

Taking the bike out for the first ride this morning I was a tiny bit nervous. Had I forgotten anything? Was everything tightened down? Going down the first hill I hoped I had adequately snugged down the handlebars. I glanced down to check the quick release levers on both wheels were as they should be. I wiggled my foot to see if the crank set wobbled. The saddle, as I mentioned before, needed adjustment so I stopped for a moment to lower it slightly and to play with the front brake cable. Mark Twain stood there watching – fat load of help he was.

I’ve a pretty standard route I follow on each inaugural ride that involves downhills, curves, flats, and climbs. Since it’s the first time out the gate, everything seems new and I’m generally hypersensitive to noises, clicks, wobbles, sways, and literally anything a bike might do. This first ride is really important for identifying problems and dialing in things. Aside from the sluggish nature of the Panaracer Pasela tires, I’m very happy to acknowledge that everything seems to be clicking for me.

Speaking of tires, I’m also very happy to note there were no flats because I completely forgot to mount a frame pump this morning!