If you haven’t read the Autumn 2017 issue of Bicycle Quarterly, well shame on you – you’ve no idea what you’re missing. Go out right now and find a copy, or get online and order one.

I enjoy BQ because the content focuses on so many of the aspects of bicycling that interest me. The current issue reports on the 2017 Concours de Machines, a revival of the annual event in France that introduced many cycling innovations we tend to take for granted today.

I’ll occasionally watch bicycle racing on television, or if I’m in the right place at the right time I’ll do so in person. But most cyclists – most especially, me – are not racers. We ride. Period. And for me that means my interests are in those things making the experience of the ride more enjoyable. Thus, the bikes I consider to be my primary riders reflect those attributes: wide, supple tires; a more upright riding position; responsive frame; low trail, etc. I enjoy the stories BQ shares about epic rides, and I don’t mind living just a little bit vicariously through the eyes of Jan Heine and his crew. BQ conducts fairly exhaustive real-world in-the-saddle reviews of bikes and equipment, and those articles allow me to geek out on the mechanical side of my cycling obsession. Arriving in my mail box quarterly, it allows me the opportunity to step outside my normally quite conservative approach to the hobby and dream a little, perhaps even obsess a little more than usual over things I already tend to overly obsess about.

Their fascinating report on the Concours de Machines included photographs of the various entries, and a story about the joint entry of BQ’s Jan Heine and legendary constructuer Peter Weigle. One thing I seldom obsess over is weight, but Peter’s story shared the weight of his award winning bike – a remarkable 20 pounds, not including the bag. For a bike outfitted with fenders and rack and such that simply astonishes me. I read that the entries were penalized if the overall weight – as ridden! – wasn’t at or below a particular weight, and it got me wondering how my bike measured up. Never having actually put my Boulder onto a scale until now, I was heartened to discover I would (barely) squeak by with an even 24 pounds. For the sake of comparison that is actually a few ounces lighter than my ’66 Paramount – which does not have the wide tires, racks, or fenders I use on my Boulder. Does this information mean anything substantial? Well, only that any real ride deficiency I might notice probably isn’t attributable to the bike.

I’m mulling over such thoughts as I ride down deserted country roads this morning. Ride time is “reflective time” for me. As I pedal, I solve – or at least puzzle over – the various issues of the past and coming weeks. If I’ve a writing assignment, my thoughts are often a sort of word stew, and if a particularly interesting arrangement of thoughts and words appeals to me I’ll pull out my iPhone and dictate them into the Notes section. Some of my favorite turns of phrase have initially occurred to me as I’ve ridden up a hill or over a long stretch of gravel. Time in the saddle often gives me the opportunity to focus my thoughts on upcoming lesson ideas; with no other intrusions in sight I can usually come up with a plan, test out the “what if’s” in my head, and return home with a well formulated learning experience planned for my students.

Regardless of how my bike compares to any others, if – as it does this morning – it disappears under me as I ride; if I can myself disappear into my world of thought experimentation, then I’m more than content. I’m happy. And as I draft a few new ideas into my iPhone this morning, I realize I’m smiling.


Feels Like Fall.

Man, does it ever feel like autumn this morning! Yes, I know it’s going to be close to 90 degrees the rest of this week, but today started out cloudy and overcast and in the 50’s. I wore shorts with a long sleeve t-shirt, and that my friends, feels like Fall.

Illuminated Ride

Predawn hours. It’s black as night.

Oh. Maybe that’s because it is still night.

Country lanes are devoid of illumination, save for the thin sliver of a crescent moon and the distant twinkle of yard lights. The headlight on my bicycle has an adequate charge and the lane before me reveals bumps and sticks and stones in a narrowly channeled beam.

There are no other headlights. None from cars – mercifully, none from trucks either, not even as I roll through town on my way into the rural hills of Clay County.

The absolute quiet of night is a fallacy. A complete fabrication. In fact, on this early and wondrous September morning, the air is filled with sound: billions of crickets and other insects are playing a tune, singing their song. A light breeze buffets my helmet.

To the east a faint, rosy glow emerges along the horizon; night wanes and the dawn approaches.

Bits and Pieces, Odds and Ends

As far as writing goes, this post is pretty disjointed. I’ve no big stories to share or news to report: Just little bits and pieces, odds and bods – or whatever euphemism you choose to employ for loosely connected and rambling thoughts.

Over the weekend I rode the Boulder in BikeMo 2017. As we have for the past several years, we rolled out of Rocheport, Missouri, down a steep hill, across a couple of rollers, and then out onto a long, very flat and straight road into Booneville. From there it was all up and down, looping back and ending with a long slog back up that very steep hill to the finish. I’m pretty happy with my ride performance over the first half of the ride – I mostly kept up with the fast kids on the flats, and I outpaced most everyone on the early climbs. As usual, I burned my fuel sooner rather than later, but found myself in good spirits as I made that final climb up to the winery and the bluffs overlooking the Missouri River. The best news of all was that the weather was incredible for August – heck, it was incredible for any day of the year.

The Compass tires on my Boulder got their final ride on BikeMo 2017. I’ve run them for about 10,000 kilometers longer than I have any right to. And even though they’re so thin you can practically see through them, I’m hanging on to them as emergency back ups.

So Baby is wearing new shoes this week. A new pair of Compass Stampede Pass tires replaces the old ones, and Baby seems to like them just fine.

Earlier this week I joined the Tuesday Evening Taco Ride out of Spokes Cafe in downtown Kansas City. As a general rule I tend to avoid group rides, but this is a fun group that isn’t populated with S.A.S.C.s [Serious As Shit Cyclists]. It’s a no-drop, mixed group/mixed ability group ride, and there are tacos at the end.

You know? Tacos? What’s not to like? Right?

We do a ride through downtown, through the River Market, across the Missouri and then do a fast loop on a road that circles the downtown airport before heading back the way we came. That “fast loop” is the one concession to speed, and about six or seven riders ride it in top gear. Although I was on my Boulder rather than a speed bike, I felt like I held my own and finished with the top of the group. The best bike thing I’ve heard in a while was the carbon fiber guy at the end of the loop who told me, “Man, I’m embarrassed to admit that I drafted behind such a big bike!” I’m not sure if he was really referring to my 60cm bike with the fat tires, or me – either way, it’s nice to know the carbon fiber crowd can find it in their hearts to appreciate a good steel framed bike.

I’ve been mixing it up this week, heading out on different bikes. My ’89 Paramount has seen some road time, as did the L’Avecaise this evening. I even got out the Freschi Supreme Super Cromo for a short and very sparkling ride.

More great weather is in the forecast for the coming days and I plan to take full advantage of every opportunity to hit the road.

Whimsical evil

Out on my 1989 Waterford-built Schwinn Paramount this early Sunday morning, I managed to stay just ahead of the incoming thunderstorm. After a hilly second half of yesterday’s BikeMo 2017 I woke this morning feeling a little stiff, but not at all sore. In fact, I felt chipper enough that a spirited ride seemed in order, so I pulled out of the drive way atop the Paramount.

Most of my riding is done on brevet-style bikes, sometimes for long distance comfort, but mostly for the “any distance” comfort. Fat tires, drop bars, stretched out position, granny gears for the hills – it’s all part of my daily bread and butter. My speedier bikes, quite frankly, don’t get nearly as much ride time.

When I refer to “speedier” bikes, by the way, it’s relative to me and my small collection. Notice that the Paramount sports a triple with a wider range cassette, and it really shouldn’t be confused with an actual competition racing bike. But it’s a fast bike for me. See? It’s all about context.

And I’m always happily surprised at how responsive and quick this bike seems to be when I’ve jumped off my regulars to give it a spin.

In a couple of days we celebrate the Paramount’s 29th birthday. For as long as I’ve owned it, this bike has always been fully dressed out in an evil looking black kit, offset only by the silvery graphics. For its birthday, I’ve replaced the black handlebar wrap with a much happier and decidedly more whimsical lime green. This one change is jarringly different to my eye, but I think I rather like it.

A couple of other mods have taken place as well. I swapped out the 3ttt racing bars for a Nitto B135 randonneur handlebar. A lengthier 3ttt stem allowed me to inch the saddle forward a little bit, which more accurately mimics the fit of my brevet bikes. As I get older, I find a stretched out and longer cockpit to be more and more comfortable. My bikes have been correspondingly refitted.

The other mod was pedals: Much as I used to like SpeedPlay, I’ve grown to appreciate a larger and more stable platform. Sometimes I’d experience hotspots on the flat of my foot if I rode with SpeedPlay pedals for more than an hour or two. I’ve had excellent experience with VP-001 Vice pedals, and with an extra set already on hand I reasoned that these might better encourage more ride time on this terrific bike.

Now, as the thunderstorm has caught up with me and I sit in my studio typing this missive and staring out the window as fat drops of rain smack against the glass, I ponder a shower as well as the various projects I’ve set aside until the winter months arrive. September will be here in just a couple of days and I grow antsy, knowing that daylight is already growing shorter. I glance over by the wall of books and see the Paramount leaning against the shelves. I smile at the whimsically evil bike.

Combined effort

The school year has begun and once again I’ll be engaged in a valiant effort to balance my time in the classroom, time with family, art making, and the more leisure activities in my life – cycling and working on bikes. Sometimes I’m even successful at doing so.

Today I managed to combine several of those things when my wife and I took our bikes to Pleasant Hill, Missouri for an unhurried ride along our State’s newest rail trail, the Rock Island Trail. A favorite bike that I like to bring when I travel anywhere is the Bernard Carre I acquired earlier this year, particularly because it fits me very well and easily accomodates 700 x 35 Compass tires. Before loading the bikes into the Subaru this morning, I added a Carradice Super C handle bar bag so I could carry a sketchbook and a couple of pens.

The trail is entirely flat and an easy ride; the crushed limestone – despite heavy rains last night – was in fine condition. While the morning sun was still low on the horizon, the path was cloaked in shadow from the canopy of trees that border the path. As morning waned though, the sun eventually moved directly overhead and we were soon wet with perspiration.

I stopped along the way to sketch and explore. The small towns always interest me, as do the places I discover while wandering: automotive relics, ramshackle houses, an enormous bull lying beside the path.

I like the graphic quality of this approach. Strong lights and darks remind me of how some of my favorite European underground cartoonists from the 70’s made their drawings. ¬†(Uni-Ball Deluxe, Kuretake No. 40 brush pen, Canson 180 sketchbook – approximately 5 x 7 inch page size.)

Bike Surgery

The diagnosis. Remember this? The L’Avecaise build that went together so easily, so smoothly…until I got to the front rack? I went with a Velo-Orange front rack because I’ve had excellent experiences with their product line and even with a previous version of this same front rack. But no amount of bending was going to level out that damn platform; the stays simply needed to be extended or the center bolt needed to be shorter.

The operation. One of the terrific members of the BikeForums community of classic and vintage enthusiasts reached out to me with an offer to surgically alter the stock rack by cutting the stays and adding material. After bending the center bolt to level the rack, I made several very precise measurements. The rack, along with this illustration (above), got shipped west to Seattle, and prepped for surgery.

The prognosis. This morning, a box awaited me on my front porch. I admit that I removed the rack with a little apprehension. Did I measure correctly? Did I forget to provide some critical detail? Would it fit? The straight and simple answer is that not only does it fit, it slipped right on and bolted down without a bit of muscle, bending, or drama. The platform has the very slight backward tilt that I wanted (rather than the bulldozer angle that the original rack had.) It’s elevated more than one might specify in a custom rack, but I was aware this would be the trade off for extending the stays. No worries there: I’ll build a custom sized spacer between rack and fender – I rather like having that additional one point to secure the fender anyway.

Time to fit a front bag.