…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.

9 thoughts on “…and then it began to rain.

  1. Been re-reading and thinking. Did the knee pain start after the Katakura conversion? Is there a difference in setup or Q factor compared to the Toussaint? I have two Bertin C 37s set up identically. One, a triple gives me right knee pain at the front. The other, a double is pain free. The only measurable difference is the nearly 1 cm extra offset of the right crank on the triple. Something to consider, perhaps?

    • It’s a good thought, but the “pulling” I feel began before the conversion. So while it’s entirely possible that setup could be exacerbating the situation, I don’t think there’s causality. Q-factor is exactly the same as on the Toussaint, but angle of contact is slightly different with regard to the relationship between pedal and saddle. One of the things I try to do with each of my bikes is mimic the setup of the just about perfect fit of my Boulder. It’s possible – maybe even likely – that the strain comes from riding fixed wheel and using my legs to slow rotation of the cranks. In any event, the only time I feel the pull is when I pedal uphill or walk up stairs. On flats I feel fine spinning, even in high gears.

      • V. Zac Copeland says:

        as a track racer with thousands of fixed gear hours, I can tell you we almost Never backpedal, and when we do its coming off the track to the Apron to stop. It has no carryover effect significantly because the eccentric contraction (what your muscles are doing is the exact opposite in position of how you pedal. while eccentric cycling can have a key place in cycling, as the single best tool to teach a perfect stroke and best tool to get real Strength from. So much so I created a machine that does that and it works well.
        The other thing is often short cranks on tall riders causes far more problems that long cranks, and espec. long cranks on short riders. Has to do with incomplete motion and knee tracking. never get close to locking the leg on bottom. Taller you are…lower the seat. It has to do with muscle engagement and knee problems, and knee cap inflammation, and that tell tale bouncing at approximately 130 rpm.
        * Its far better to more your seat way back and pull back with your heel to the hub, doing a Nike swoosh imitation. This is the real pedal stroke above 70rpm. The idea of lifting at rpms this high is not effective, it also causes a piston style of stroke which is actually the worst type. Amazingly, Pederson is totally wrong on pedaling and even his sizing. His handlebar stuff is great but his idea that pushing down is all there is, not even. Its long and most people don’t like being taught, so Ill pass. But down and straight back with the heel, and the seat slammed back (especially with brooks) and slightly on the low side will solve your problem. Also always get the Q factor as narrow as possible. This helps with bicycle flex (shimmy) that happens on large sizes (mostly top tube) and with wear on body and bearings. IT bands will be a little tight at first but it the way to go. narrow and back and inline clawing and pulling is where real power is developed sitting .Then when you stand up…you have a fresh engine because standing is quad based and it is limited to quad pain. if you master the glute and hamstring sitting and then standing in the normal way (always think of lifting with the back leg (keeping toes up and heel down (attempting) and (Yanking the knee to the stem-nearly) with low rpm high force although. The trick is there are about 4 different pedal strokes and you switch thru them with force gear and loading and accelerating or steady. The short of it is above. Also don’t put your cleat too deep into the shoe (pedaling on heels not good).
        Fixed gear, no need to be macho, put a front on and use it. Also Always a lock ring. I paid big for that one…Once.

      • Thanks for that fresh and informative perspective, Zac! I ride fixed wheel when the weather gets dodgy, and generally after acquiring bad pedaling habits from the previous summer. It’s a great way to renew my stroke and (eventually) relax and spin with the bike. Plus, when the days are much shorter I find that rolling around a five mile loop three or four times gives my legs a decent work out in the naturally shortened time slot.

  2. Great Story and photos. I also “love these conditions”. My coffee excursion today involved sitting under a grey sky and finding all the subtle color variations in the prairie grasses around me. Joyful.

  3. V. Zac Copeland says:

    full tilt boogey.
    I love that, have not heard that since a kid. It just feels like it fits. and the word Rolling when used descriptively of going fast.

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