Slow Ride, Fast Bike

A year or so back I picked up a Holdsworth Professional frame in my size for cheap. Although it looks pretty good from a distance, the painted surface shows plenty of nicks and scratches – it seemed clear to me from the start that this had been ridden well and often; for all practical purposes it exemplifies in my mind what Grant Petersen has referred to as beausage (pronounced byou-suj.) You won’t find it in any dictionary yet, but beausage references a useful something or other that has developed a certain beauty or aesthetic quality from frequent use. And frankly, it’s a pretty useful word – or it would be if so many hipsters hadn’t appropriated it for their own cool and hip purposes.

But as usual, I’m digressing. I had this idea that I’d build the frame up with whatever parts I had on hand at the time and keep it at work as a classy “office bike,” something to run short errands on and perhaps to use to grab a quick bite over lunch.

My plan was to keep the build simple, so I did: wider platform pedals instead of clips, ugly bar wrap, and even bar-mounted interrupters instead of road levers.

In fact, the Holdsworth did make it in to my office and get used for a while, but the simple truth is that the majority of my work-related trips have me traveling too far, in too short a time for a bike to be convenient. I feel like I’m a cycling advocate as much as I am an enthusiast, so it really pains me to admit it took me a while to come to the realization this bike was gathering a whole lot of dust.

Last autumn, I rode her around a fair number of times on short two or three mile slow jaunts through the neighborhood – the sort of quick “I think I’ll take a short spin around the block” kind of tours one does immediately after dinner and a beer. But in the time this bike has been with me I seriously doubt I’ve put a hundred miles on her.

To be honest, that’s a sort of crime in my mind – and one that I’ve perpetuated. Here I have this bike that has acquired a legitimate aura of beausage and I’m not taking advantage of that fact, nor have I added to the tactile and visual record of her use.

I don’t know if this thought was at the back of my mind the other evening (more likely I was simply bored), but I decided to pull the Holdsworth from the ceiling and tidy things up a bit.

To begin with, the bars have been bugging me quite a bit. The bar wrap – purposefully ugly so that others would pay less attention to the bike – just offended my sense of good taste. It came off immediately and at this moment lies on a work table in the garage, a reminder of how tasteless some designs can be. I needed to remove the wrap anyway, because I planned to remove the interrupters. These simple levers worked fine, and I really thought I liked the look and placement at first, but I’ve never been able to get used to them. They also encourage me to keep my palms on the tops of the bars and that bothers me: I like to use multiple points of contact, moving my hands around and switching positions frequently when I ride.

It occurred to me that I had an extra couple of rolls of black cloth wrap somewhere in my stash of bike parts. Digging through the boxes, I eventually located the rolls and along the way came across a bag of Dia-Compe hoods and levers I’d forgotten about. Nope, not the Campy bits that would’ve been paired with the bike originally – but then neither were the Shimano 600 drive train or Suntour 13-21 freewheel – or for that matter, the Mavic rims. (I do, however, like the way these components function.)

The brown Brooks Professional came off and a NOS black one went on in its place. And while I was messing around with levers, I figured what the hell, might as well replace the cable and housing too.

By the way, isn’t there something really beautiful about the way that cloth wrap hugs handlebars?

I left the platforms for the time being and, as darkness began to fall I pedaled off down the block to check the grip of the brake pads. Dang it! I thought, no wonder the bars are bothering me – how is it I never noticed until now that the angle was all wrong? So I stopped under a street light at the end of the block, pulled out my Park tool, and adjusted the bars. Hmm. Better. Much better.

Zipping around the block I immediately noticed the gearing was pretty tall. With a 53/42 chain ring combo and a 13-21 five speed freewheel, my lowest gear is a moderately stout 52 gear inches… not terrible, but definitely will make my legs burn on the hills we have around here. However, it’s the same lowest gear I’ve got on my Gazelle, and I haven’t had to walk up any inclines on it yet (knock on wood!)

Yesterday afternoon, I took her out for a ten-mile ride on paths around a nearby lake. The riding was slow and easy, the bike was fast, nimble, and raring to go.  This morning I decided to head out for a longer ride. I chose a route I don’t take very frequently simply because it starts out with climbing  before I’ve had much chance to warm up. Hitting thing pretty hard, I pushed both myself and the Holdsworth, and struggled up the first tough climb. Reaching the top and seeing the countryside and rollers opening up ahead of me was a real rush though and I kept the gears at a higher mid-point just to see what I could do.

There’s a feeling that only cloth wrap has. “Cork” has a certain amount of give to it – and some people even use gel inserts to go under the synthetic cork. The net result is a much larger bar diameter that has an awful lot of cush to it. Cloth wrap has no give whatsoever; the diameter is much narrower. It fits my palms better on the whole, and I like the feeling of the cloth, even if I’m not wearing riding gloves. With the saddle and bar heights adjusted properly, there’s not a lot of pressure on my palms during a ride and I can move up and down from the tops to the hooks and drops quite naturally and without effort. It comes with practice I guess, but I pretty much nailed correct positioning for me the first time out the chute.

Later, having cruised through town I found myself coasting into the driveway. My legs were wobbly and my cycling cap – including the bill – was completely drenched. A shower sounded heavenly. I checked the time. Had three hours really just passed me by?


2 thoughts on “Slow Ride, Fast Bike

  1. Tom Howard says:

    i stumbled upon your blog after viewing the three three-speed gallery. I really like what you did with your Raleigh International. I recently purchased a Raleigh Comjpetition GS on ebay for $50. It was missing the wheels, headset and handlebars, and the paint is rough, but most of the Campy stuff was included. I had pondered fitting it with a hub gear, Northroad bars and perhaps a dynamo hub, a salute to Sheldon Brown’s take on a “modern” three speed. Insead, I’m leaning toward a gravel racer with 650b wheels and drop bars. I have also been leaning toward purchasing a Boulder bike for a brevet machine somrtimr down the road.
    Thanks for all of your great content. I love the beautiful color saturation in your photos. How do you make them look so good?

    Tom Howard

    • Tom, be sure to Google “Peter Weigle” to see what he’s doing with 650B conversions of Raleigh Competitions…absolutely stunning work, quite frankly – and truly inspirational.

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