The Rules.

After teaching a three day workshop with a singular subject focus last weekend, my sketching this week was sporadic and decidedly UN-focused. A bit of randomness felt good after having stayed on target for the entirety of my workshop, as well as the Urban Sketchers International Day in the Life event that followed me.

I realized, too, that I hadn’t been bike sketching for a while, or added a sketch to The Early Morning Cyclist for even longer so it felt like it was time to do so. There’s nothing earth shattering about the location pictured above, and no dramatic story that I know of that accompanies it. It’s simply a structure along one of my regular routes, a picturesque place that I like to stop and look at for a moment before I continue on my way.

Stopping to sketch at this spot was a pleasant moment in time. Later, after posting it to my Instagram account, the image spurred a brief online conversation with a fellow artist who follows me there. In a nutshell, the discussion centered around my desire to eliminate everything that is unnecessary in a sketch, while still remaining unquestionably drawn by hand. It’s a very “Bauhaus-ian” approach, and purposely so. I teach design, following Bauhaus principles and (hopefully) passing along those tenets to my design students.

Not incidentally, these ideas are notably at the core of what I find especially appealing about cycling. Sometimes as I pedal, I like to ponder such things. Somewhere along the way I began to formulate some rules of thumb. And somewhere further along the way, those began to take shape as a list… an as yet incomplete list, I’ll grant you, but a list nevertheless that I’ll share here:

The Early Morning Cyclist Rules of the Road

Article One. Always wave whenever you encounter another cyclist. Regardless of what the other cyclist is looks like, regardless of what they are riding, regardless of what they are wearing, and regardless of whether or not they acknowledge you – as you pass one another, greet the other rider.
Article Two. Don’t be a dick. It’s true that there are a plenty of Bad Ass Serious Racer Type Cyclists (BASRTCs) out there on the road. But even if that happens to be you, don’t be a dick.
Article Three. Sport a bell on your handlebars or stem. Nothing makes a BASRTC less intimidating and less threatening to the world than the tinkle tinkle tinkle of a little bell as one’s bike approaches other riders or pedestrians from behind. When you tinkle that bell, you, my friend, are officially a friend of the world and everyone smiles with you.
Article Four. Wear clothing of threads that are made at least partially from something found in nature. Both you and the viewing public will thank me for this advice. Form-fitting Lycra isn’t for everybody… In fact I would argue it’s not for anybody who is not racing in the Tour de France or something of similarly serious ilk. Try cotton, smart wool, lightweight wool – something that at least partially grew on a vine or a bush or a tree originally. Maybe it’s just me, but I find that stuff a whole lot more comfortable. Want to wear a diaper? Fine. I usually do. But put it on underneath a pair of cargo shorts. Life isn’t a race…oh, and unless you’ve got an actual sponsor, ditch the logo covered jerseys. 
Article Five. Install the widest, most supple tires that will (a) fit on your bike, and (b) that you can afford. Go ahead. Do the research on wide tires if you feel like adding them is going to slow you down. Or better yet, just trust me. Get them.
Article Six. Your hands should be stained… With the juice from the mulberries you have plucked from a tree along the side of the road. Or blackberries. Or blueberries. Or strawberries that you bought from a roadside stand and stuffed into your mouth while straddling your bike. The point is, stop and smell the roses. And while you’re at it, eat a handful of berries.

See? Doesn’t that look like it’s worth stopping for?

Oh, what the heck – stopping at a farmer’s market for a blueberry pastry does the trick too.


The Big BAM Ride (Bike Across Missouri) kicks off tomorrow, and I’m nearly ready to go. The bike is lubed and tuned. I found an LBS that stocks actual tube patches using actual glue instead what I can only imagine to be remnants of bumper stickers punched out into stupid little green circles. Sun block, on-bike snacks, a small sketch kit, etc. are all spread out on my floor for a final check.

The ride starts on my side of the state, with the first day’s stopping point just a couple miles down the road from my house. And the route passes right through my home town on Day Four. Hot weather and stiff breezes are forecast, and I can only hope to discover that wind will be at my back. But it probably won’t be.

Live music each night at the campsite. Hot showers and cold beer. Stiff breeze, be damned.

What’s up?

So what’s new? Well, nothing actually. I’m still surrounded by old stuff in my studio – old bikes, old furniture, old baseball cards, etc. But it’s the old bikes that concern The Early Morning Cyclist. And my newest old bike is a Bernard Carré that as is par for the course, I continue to experiment with.

I am extremely pleased with the overall fit. It feels great to ride, and for those reasons alone it’s worth it to me to continue playing around. I pulled the 27 inch wheels off that I’d been riding on and replaced them with lighter, sportier 700c wheels. Something about the beefy 27 x 1 1/4 tires appealed to me, but the wheels never seemed to want to spin up as quickly as I wanted. I installed a pair of 700 x 28 Gatorskins; combined with the slightly smaller wheels the bike was noticeably faster off the starting blocks. Meanwhile, I wound up horse trading for a pair of 700 x 32 Compass tires – this bike just feels better on wider tires – and I’m happier still.

With the narrow bottom bracket axel, I’m still running a 52/42 racing crank, but that will soon be remedied. I finally located the longer Stronglight spindle I knew I had in my parts storage. I’ll pair that with a 48/34 crankset, which will replicate the same gear range as my Boulder Brevet (albeit with fewer cogs and larger jumps between them… that’s the trade off you get in comparing five speeds to nine.)

I noticed an odd jump on the chain yesterday as I was fine tuning the shifting. Only closer examination it turns out that one of the teeth is missing on the rear derailleur jockey wheel. No big deal – I’ve got others, so replacement is relative easy.


I’d planned to ride the Carré in yesterday’s Tour de Bier but I’m not content with the gearing yet, and my bad knee might have objected simply out of spite once I hit the first climb. So I’m waiting on the replacement crank to arrive before heading out on any long hilly rides. I’ve got some traveling to do this summer and it would be tough to carry my Boulder along with me. But the Carré should break down to fit into my bike bag, and is light enough that it can be my rider while I’m gone. Plus it’s pink and “old,” so there’s a better chance thieves will ignore it.

So yesterday’s ride was astride my Boulder Brevet. Even though I was intentionally trying to maintain a leisurely pace so that my wife could keep up, I found myself constantly out in front by a long measure. Fortunately, I brought my sketching pen and book along to make really quick scribbles in the West Bottoms and Stock Yards . This allowed adequate time for her to catch up, pass me, continue on, and then for me to leap frog forward. Repeat.

The area is a good one for urban cyclo-touring, and the road surface, although crumbling in places, was no match for my wider tires. Yet another good reason to sport fatter, supple tires!

An event like the Tour de Bier is a good one for cyclists who enjoy bikes and beer. The route meandered past many of the former brewery locations in Kansas City, and stopped for sampling of golden fare from the various microbreweries thriving in our urban core and northern corridor. The wind was a bit fierce, and grew stronger as the morning evolved into midday. Coming back across the Missouri River, going uphill into the stout and unyielding breeze, I heard a lot of bitching and moaning. I chalked that up to cyclists who’d sampled too much golden fare. Me, I’d sampled and enjoyed too, but by this point the end of the ride was nigh and within two or three miles there was a tall, cold brew waiting for me, along with a locally sourced meal. My stomach grumbled, then roared, and I ignored the wind.

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.

How new wheels made me stronger and cleaner

It’s Sunday morning, foggy and humid. Droplets of water formed on the hairs of my arms about five minutes into my ride, and I feel like a weak second grader.

On second thought, a relatively healthy second grader would probably drop me going up the first hill. How strange, I think to myself. I felt so strong riding at BikeMo yesterday.


 

For the past two years I’ve been promising myself a new set of wheels for my Boulder Brevet. Those I’ve been riding since first building it up were some I had on hand – heavier, mismatched and lower end wheels. But the front had a Sanyo dyno-hub and the rear…well it fit. And so I rode that ugly, bullet proof wheel set for three years and about 20,000 miles with nary a problem.

Still, I promised myself and my Boulder better. Probably two years ago I got serious and began pondering what I might do if I possibly one day, maybe, upgraded. I even called Mark Pace at Pace Bicycle Haven and he gave me a lot of really good options to consider. This is great! I told him on the phone. I’m ready to pull the trigger! And so I did… consider the options …for another two years.

Never one to deliberate too long, I immediately acted two years later and met with Mark to discuss even further what options I had. A flurry of email exchanges began and he patiently provided me with new insights – the kind of insights that get you excited enough to get busy with other things and then promptly ignore those insights for another month. (At which time I asked him how long will these take to build? Cuz I’d like to use them on a metric century ride in a week or two. True story.)

Last week Mark called and told me to come out and get my wheels. So there I was, four hours after his normal closing time, my bike on his stand, and we’re pulling tires off the old bullet proof rims.

“Hey,” he says. “You know your rear derailleur hanger is bent? It’s also got a lot of gunk on it.”

I said “Yeah, I know, but it actually shifts just fine. I’ve been meaning to fix it for a couple of years now.”

He got out a gizmo that I think he probably fabricated himself for this very purpose and straightened it up so that the pulleys actually lined up under the cogs. I confess that Mark’s attention to this purely decorative detail did make things look and shift a lot better.

“Do you ever clean your chain?” he asked me next. I was outraged at this slight, because of course I do, once a year whether it needs it or not. He suggested that I could probably use the flat blade of a screwdriver to scrape what appeared to be a thick black sludge off the pulleys he’d just lined up. I conceded that it was a good thought.

Getting the rear tire mounted and checking the alignment, the next thing I see is a puzzled look on his face as he turns the pedals and looks down. “Hmm. The big chain ring looks like it might be out of true.” He reaches for the custom rear derailleur alignment tool, slots it up and exclaims “Well hey!” He exclaims thusly because it turns out the ring is not out of true…it’s way loose. In fact all of the chain ring bolts are loose. With the sort of patience one normally reserves for a very young child, Mark mentions that I might want to check those every now and then… y’know – to avoid the ring coming off mid-stroke and becoming embedded in my calf.

I’m a little taken aback at the chain ring. A few weeks earlier I kept hearing a clicking noise when I pedaled and couldn’t identify the source. I checked everything – including the chair ring – and eventually re-greased my seat pin. The sound went away and I was content. Apparently I should have dug deeper.

The wheels – Shimano hubs with Velocity A23 and A23OC rims – are noticeably lighter than those that came off the Boulder. Eventually we got them on, aligned, and numerous other overlooked elements of bike maintenance were taken care of, many of which were the result of poor maintenance and simply not keeping things clean. I can attest to this because it looks some industrial strength cleaner to remove the sludge that had been on my bike from my hands and arms.


 

The next day my bike was cleaned until it sparkled. All of the remaining loose bolts were snugged up and some overdue lube was liberally applied in a few important places.


 

Although I took the bike and new wheels out for a short test spin around town on Friday afternoon, the real shakedown was on Saturday morning at BikeMO. There aren’t a lot of “pay to ride” events that I participate in but the route on BikeMo starts at a picturesque winery located on the river bluffs in Rocheport, then proceeds to meander through charming small towns and farm communities in Missouri River farmland country. Rather than a bunch of racer wannabes, the riders are always an eclectic bunch comprised of racers, tourers, bike advocates, regular-average-everyday-actual-people, kids, etc. I promised myself not to attempt any sort of “event pacing,” but instead to just ride at whatever pace felt good.

Pancake flat stretches of river bottom acreage are punctuated by steep climbs out of farmland into the up and down rolling hills and inclines of bluffs that overlook the Missouri River.

The first SAG stop is at the historic railroad depot in Boonville, on the KATY Trail. The KATY parallels part of the ride route and for those who want to avoid some of the early climbs an alternate trail route option is available.

Despite the promise I made to myself I found I was riding very fast. Maybe it was the lighter wheels. Perhaps it was the crisper shifting of the derailleur. Maybe it was purely the hocus pocus of self delusion, but my pedaling was strong. I never felt tired. I stayed in the big ring and the small cogs, hanging with the faster riders most of the way. Could the new wheels really have made so big a difference?

I really had my doubts. Clearly, clean living had paid off and this new found strength was the result. Clearly I deserved a reward for my efforts.

In spite of the winery location I opted for a honey wheat local brew, the first taste of which I can assure you tasted like a tiny slice of heaven. The remaining health foods were excellent pairings, so I had another honey wheat. Or two.


 

So, this morning I went out for a ride. Heading out to the garage I felt good. Memories of yesterday’s herculean ride effort were still quite fresh in my mind.

But one pedal stroke down the road I knew something was wrong. My legs were rubbery. My brain cried out “Downshift!” I had a sudden fantasy that involved my head buried into my pillow. Instead of taking off like a rocket, the Boulder rumbled in a generally forward direction. Today was a new and different day.

But my bike sure looks clean.