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.

Advertisements

Into the wild.

Yes, the L’Avecaise has been released into the wild. The build is complete for now, and my initial shakedown ride went well yesterday morning. I stopped frequently to check and recheck bolts and tires and clearance and all manner of things – as I swoop down that first long descent after a new build I’m suddenly thinking to myself, did I tighten down the stem? Oh crap…what about the front wheel? 

No decaleur installed for now – I’ll need something with more drop than the VO version I have on hand if I’m going to move my Swift Ozette bag back and forth between this and my Boulder…I should have measured first. The other option is Berthoud bag, the GB28 size looks to fit the space just about perfectly but at a $270 price point I have a great deal of difficulty not grimacing. I’d much rather have one bag traveling back and forth.

Counting this morning, I’ve escaped on the L’Avecaise twice and neither ride was long or especially spirited: About twelve or thirteen miles each time out, with a few climbs and a few descents, and one very deceptively steep false flat. Essentially, I haven’t attempted to push it much at all yet and won’t until I know I’ve got everything dialed in to my satisfaction.

So, out of the box just a few observations:

  • I like the “float” of supple 650b x 42 tires quite a bit. I’m using Hetres at the moment, which while a bit heavier than the Compass tires, still feel great. The cost point between the two is negligible, and Compass had the Hetres in stock so my. tire selection was narrowed by availability. I’ve made no secret how much I like Compass tires as evidenced by the fact that I have them on three other bikes.
  • Installing the VO Noir Zeplin fenders and nailing down a perfect fender line was a snap. Jeff Lyon’s frame and fork are perfectly designed to make set up so much less painfree than other installation experiences. What totally pissed me off though, was the damn VO front rack. It came nowhere close to fitting and required extensive bending to even make an adequate mating. During the process of dry fitting I managed to bodger up the front fender. With a bag in place, no one will ever see the scratches or no the difference. But I will. I’ll never use another of these racks.
  • I went with Tektro CR720 cantilevers for the brakes and I’m very happy with them, and let me explain why: When I built up my Boulder I used Avid Shorties. I heard so many good things about them that I was really taken aback at how difficult I found them to set up. In fact, I jiggered around with adjustment for over a year, and to this day they work only adequately. They stop, and that’s about the best superlative I can apply to them. By contrast, the Tektro cantilevers installed and were adjusted quickly. They are very grabby, and stop very well. I like how they modulate on descent. And quite frankly, when it comes time to replace the pads on my Boulder I’ll probably just yank the Avids and install a pair of Tektro CR720’s.
  • When it comes to saddles, I’m a Brooks fan boy. My favorite model continues to be the Cambium C17, but I also have Brooks Professionals on several of my bikes. Having a couple of NOS vintage Pros on hand, I installed one, presuming I’d eventually replace it with a black C17. And while that may still be the end game, I’m very pleased with the saddle position. The overall frame geometry and set up of the cockpit matches my own body geometry and ride positioning. I’ve made extensive measurements and comparisons over the years, so I’ve got a great baseline as a starting point for set up. I’m very pleased that I was able to use this data to easily position the main points of contact: saddle, relative to the bottom bracket and pedals; reach, relative to saddle, bars, bar height, and hand position.
  • For handlebars, I’ve been very pleased with my experience with the VO rando model. On two other bikes, I’ve gone with a pretty wide size. On a whim, I ordered a pair that are a size narrower. I don’t notice an appreciable difference, and if anything, the difference is positive rather than negative. This is the second set of bars on which I’ve used the rubber Brooks Cambium wrap. I appreciate the slight “give” the Cambium wrap has on my palms, yet there’s still a confident foundation. In contrast to the bars on my Boulder – also VO rando models, by the way – wrapping the bars on my L’Avecaise was a real bitch. I’m pretty good at wrapping bars using cotton, leather, or just plain old cork, so I found this experience both challenging and frustrating.
  • I’ve currently got my favorite style of clip in pedals installed, the dual SPD/platform Shimano M-324 model. However, I’m likely going to replace them with flat platform Vice pedals, which I have on both my International and my Bernard Carre. I like how grippy the platform is with just about any shoe, and that I can just hop on and take off without going through the motions of outfitting in cyclist clothing and togs.
  • I’m going with rechargeable lighting in front and battery operated tail light. After running out of charge on the road a couple of times now, I like the convenience of just being able to stop at Quick Trip for a pair of AAA batteries. Plus, I am finding the battery operated tail lights outlast the USB charged options. Go figure.

The Curse of Winter Slothfulness.

I went out to ride a route of hill after hill after hill after hill yesterday morning. The photograph is maliciously deceptive – they’re not especially long but they are devilishly steep in places. My legs are not yet hill-hardened after a winter of wanton slothfulness, and I found myself regularly dropping into the lowest of the low gear combinations.

I love the land. And I was in a “black-and-white kind of mood this morning.” In fact, I love being in that mood with a camera – or in my case these past several years, an iPhone. Every so often, the topography would level off and I’d stop for a photo op and a tank of oxygen.

Gazing out across a field, it all seems so benign. But I know this route well: It’s my HTFU route, the one I pedal through every spring. It’s the route that gives me a moment of respite before winding back toward the hills and the Missouri River bluffs again, the one that I regret taking. The one that I actually love.

It’s a lonely trek, but clearly someone has been here before me. There’s an empty bottle in the freshly turned soil – a window tossed remnant of a previous night’s revelry? All I know is that it mars my view, the one imperfection in an otherwise perfect scene.

Each stop for image making – and they are frequent and welcome – each stop gives me a chance to breathe in the loamy fragrance of tilled land, to be scolded by a chattering jay perched on a branch behind me. There’s not even a hint of highway noise. That paved monstrosity is many miles away and I enjoy that for the moment this particular country road and moment belongs just to me. A single pickup truck passed me earlier but otherwise mine is a solitary outing.

The rollers begin again, gently at first, but with little fanfare each subsequent wave increases in contrast, and before long I’m struggling in the granny gear. No stopping for photographs now: That would mean having to initiate a climb mid-hill and there’s no way I’m giving up the momentum of riding down the previous wave! I’m satisfied with those taken from the flatter crest of this route.

For now, it’s time to grit my teeth, enjoy the short climbs, and HTFU.

 

 

B. Carre: Starting the Build

Just a quick update on the Bernard Carre build. I’ve been torn over staying true to the roots and going with a very French drive train or using period Campagnolo because the cable and housing guides make me believe that’s how the bike might have been built up. After going through my parts bins I realized I’d forgotten about a Zeus kit I’ve been saving for.. well, for something. Seemed like a good time to put them to use.

I am using French rims, hubs, and skewers though.

Bernard Carré Has Arrived.

My Bernard Carré impulse purchase arrived last week while I was relaxing in Mexico for Spring Break. I sure wasn’t expecting a large parcel to travel by post from France and wind up in the Midwest over a week earlier than promised. Viva La Poste!

I dropped by our local post office over lunch today to liberate the bike box from their back room. I didn’t have a lot of time, but – of course! – I did take a moment to quickly unpack the frame to see what I had, and to make sure it was intact. (It is.) The wheels and crusty tires pictured above can be ignored – I grabbed a set of whichever 650b, 27 inch, and 700c wheel sets from ceiling hooks to determine which the bike was designed for. Trying 650b was a long shot – it was pretty clear just looking at it that the frame hadn’t been built around that size. 27 inch fits very well, and a little surprisingly so does 700c. “Surprisingly,” because cantilever brakes tend to be pretty unforgiving about sizing. The MAFAC cantis have a lot more adjustability than others I’ve used.

I’d like to go with 700c, quite frankly, to lower the bottom bracket. With a bottom bracket height of 275 mm, and a drop of 70mm, it’s more of a road bike design than touring. It gets appreciably higher with 27 x 1 1/4 tires, falling into something closer to the traditional bottom bracket height of  a cyclocross bike.

I have always liked the pink color of many Mercier frames and I kind of had my fingers crossed this would be a similar color. It’s not. Actually, it’s more of a plum color than pink. All in all, it’s still an unusual color that appeals to my tastes.

So where do I go from here? I acquired this frame impulsively and with no plan in mind. I could try to build it up as I imagine it might have originally been. Perhaps it might make an interesting upright bar bike. To be honest, I’m really not certain what direction I’d like to go. Time will tell.

B. Carre

Yes, I know I swore off French bikes forever. I know the objective is to thin the herd. I know I’m susceptible to the guiles of a  French beauty, especially one that’s “been around the block” more than a few times.

I also know I’m guilty of impulse purchases.

I know all of these things all too well. What I don’t know is much about this frame, and until this object of my horse trading arrives in the USA, it’s not likely I’ll know a whole lot more for a while.

Here are the facts, as I know them. This is a Bernard Carre frame. Every Carre frame I’ve seen – at least those I know for certain were built by Carre – are embossed with “B CARRE” on the seat stay caps. The frame is nominally my size at 58cm square.

I’ve no idea what tubing was used. Many French bikes of the 1970’s use a 26.4 seat pin; this one purportedly uses a 26.2.  The dropouts are spaced at 122. The frame is showing up with a TA bottom bracket. I’ll measure the spindle after it arrives to see if it matches any of my French cranks.

I’m a fan of Stronglight headsets, one of which accompanies this frame.

The dropouts are Campagnolo, as are the cable retainers along the top tube. The bottle holder appears to be a TA, or similar. The cantilever brakes are Mafac Criterium models. I’ve never used them before, but others assure me they are much easier to adjust and fine tune than earlier model cantis.

Cantilever brakes mean a couple things. For one, I’m locked in on the wheel size the frame was designed for. So if that size turns out to be a 27 inch wheel, there’s not a whole lot I can do about that. (Whereas, with center pulls or side pulls, one can often fit 700c or even 650b with a little luck.) The other thing is that cantilevers raise the question of whether or not this really is a randonneur. Cantilevers are a favored brake for cyclo-cross bikes, so the possibility is that this bike was designed for that purpose. I am leaning toward cycle-touring at the moment, but not a full bore touring model.

I’m left with a slight dilemma here: I’m in the queue for a Jeff Lyon frame. I’d planned to have that frame painted in a pale lavender or lilac color. Yet here I find myself with a frame in that color range already. Is that a problem, I wonder? (As I type these thoughts, it occurs to me that I have a pair of NOS toe straps that are the same color as this frame, just waiting for a new home. Hmmmm.)

Exploring a New Rail Trail

33126586015_4b98693063_b

Less than three months ago, the Rock Island Spur Trail officially opened. Yesterday being the most incredible February weather I can ever recall, my day was devoted to exploring a segment of this Rails-to-Trails initiative that connects the southern most section of the Kansas City area to the Katy Trail.

Still in its infancy, the Rock Island Spur Trail (like the Katy) offers snapshot views of scenes not always obvious or accessible by car. Combined with the Katy, the two trails will eventually nearly double the current mileage to form a 450 mile loop from one side of Missouri to the other. I love to explore and discover new places, especially small towns, “discardia,” and architectural elements. In this respect, the new trail does not disappoint.

33084755656_34afa43de7_b

On this day I’m riding my 1971 Raleigh International. The 700 x 38 Compass tires provide a comfortable ride on a trail surface of packed gravel and clay. From time to time, the path becomes washboard, and I welcome the wide, supple tires that are not fully inflated.

This also offers me a chance to test out the revised contact points on the International. The bars and stem have been replaced, and only just this morning I’ve pulled the Brooks Cambium C17 from a bike that doesn’t see many miles and installed it onto this bike. I enjoy the feel of the Cambium on my Boulder Brevet, and because I’ve tried to closely mimic the cockpit and contact point dimensions it made sense to me to use the same model saddle also.

Emerging from a bank of trees, the trail crosses a paved road a few miles along the route out of Pleasant Hill, Missouri. There is an unimproved trail head at this location that abuts a property I imagine to be a “personal” salvage yard. In other words, it doesn’t appear to be a commercial operation; a pungent, thick smoky fire was burning – tires perhaps? – and the land was very overgrown and littered with wrecked and inoperable cars and trucks and other “discardia.” Trees had taken root and sprouted from the midst of literally everything. This 60’s era sedan has an orange New York license plate attached to the front.

I find “discardia” interesting. Such things, whether they be architectural, vehicular, or simply everyday detritus, are signs of human touch – of human impact. There’s history to be found in these artifacts of our existence … but it’s fleeting, because they are quickly disintegrating. As they return to their constituent elements, whatever sights they’ve born witness to are also disappearing.

Small towns throughout the Midwest are often an intriguing mishmash of architectural styles, with a few extant examples of Federalist style and Antebellum homes to be found if one searches, along with a smattering of Victorian “Painted Ladies,” Art Nouveau, and – more often than not – cautiously woven together Art Deco elements. Of course, bungalows and later box style structures still are the predominant structures, but they bore me and I choose to ignore them unless there is something unique to pique my curiosity about them.

Locating the trail head in Pleasant Hill, Missouri was challenging. No permanent signs have been installed yet. The online map was only generally helpful and provided little context once I arrived in town. In fact, I wound up misinterpreting the map and driving miles out of town in search of a turn off, only to have to circle back again. Siri couldn’t find any reference to a “Rock Island Spur trailhead” and tried to direct me to another town about a hundred miles away on the Katy.

Once back in town I turned toward the older commercial district, planning to stop at the police station for directions. Instead, I came upon  a group of four young adults on bikes. Figuring them to be likely trail riders, I asked if they knew where the trail head was located. With a shake of his head and a grin, one guy laughingly acknowledged that things weren’t marked very well. He told me to park in the commercial district (no parking at the trail head???) and pedal down the road I was already on another quarter mile.

Easy enough. Following his directions, I noticed a couple of small temporary directional signs – literally 8 x 10 cards with small lettering stapled to wooden stakes – encouraging riders to “go this way.”

Which I did.

And which, ultimately, led me to a farm, down a farm path, and onto the trail proper. Whew!

Fortunately, I filled my water bottle before heading out. At least along the first twenty-five miles there are no towns, no places to refill water – and no restrooms. (Fortunately, there are plenty of trees though.) The trailheads I encountered are also still very primitive. Although there is parking (except at Pleasant Hill), there is little else. This differs from many trail heads along the Katy, and I’m sure this will change as the trail is further developed. And to be fair, such inconveniences didn’t seem to mar the enthusiasm of trail users yesterday – I encountered an abundance of cyclists and hikers. (Horses are also welcome on the trail, but leave your ATVs and dirt bikes at home.)

Perhaps I read the mile markers (and the website, and the GPS) wrong, but I should have encountered a town at one point – in fact, I’d planned to make that my turnaround point. But I arrived at the designated mile marker and found…more trees, and a field. Hmm. I decided to keep going another mile. And another. In fact four more. I crossed a couple of roads but I never found that little town, and the afternoon growing late, and me having yet to make any sketches, I turned back toward Pleasant Hill. Having scoped out a few interesting places on the short journey out, my plan was to stop to make photographs and sketches as I leisurely pedaled back toward the car.


Eventually, the Rock Island Trail will be 272 miles in length, from Lee’s Summit in the west to Labadie on the east side of the state. There are plans to extend the trail from Lee’s Summit further into Kansas City, creating even more urban access points. As of this writing, a nearly fifty mile segment is open from Pleasant Hill and connecting to the Katy Trail at Windsor.