Heck yeah, I had a flat tire this morning!

This photograph was posted to The Early Morning Cyclist on April 14, 2014, which means I’ve been running the Compass Chinook Pass tires on my Boulder Brevet for about three years and three months. They have been comfortable and steadfast during that time, and in my mind are hands down the best 700 x 28 tires available.

This is the scene that greeted me this morning. A flat! And frankly, I was very excited to see this development. Earlier this week I rode in the Big BAM Ride. It was unbearably hot, and the ride was made more difficult by unrelentingly heavy headwinds and a constant barrage of hill after hill after hill. I had tossed two spare tubes plus a patch kit into my Swift bag, glanced doubtfully at tires worn slick by use. In three years and three month, I had never experienced a single flat, regardless of the chip seal roads and gravel paths I ride upon. At just a rough guess, these tires have close to 18K on them. That has to be far and away more miles than Compass ever planned to see on a single set of tires.

I had other commitments, so I only pedaled the first 180 miles of the Big Bam Ride. I have no regrets about not completing the remaining 130 or so – the conditions were bleak and, frankly, the ride itself wasn’t especially enjoyable. But my tires held up on those sun baked roads, and only gave up the ghost after getting back home. That’s more than I can say for myself!

So why was I excited about seeing a flat this morning? First off, understand that it was clear to me that I was living on borrowed time with this set of tires. And secondly, there’s a certain degree of relief to see this comfortable, invincible, supple tire has lived out a really full life. But finally, I’m excited to be able to quantify how much riding I’ve gotten from a tire that, frankly, is pretty expensive. Heck, that’s less than a penny per mile… cheap, cheap, cheap!

And, by the way, I’m going to inspect the tire for damage, probably put another tube on the rim, and see how many more miles I can squeeze out.

Bernard Carré Confessions

My expectations were that this might turn out to be a fun and interesting curiosity. I mean after all, I was done – finished – with French frames. I’d sold off most of my French components, bars, stems, and pedals. A small voice in the back of my head whispered, “Hey dummy. You’ve got just enough French stuff left to build up a bike.”

Turned out, as a matter of fact, that the voice was wrong. I had unloaded more individual items than I remembered. Where, oh where is that perfect Simplex seat pin that would fit this frame perfectly? I really don’t remember selling or trading it, but I must have done. It’s nowhere to be found. (Surprisingly to those who know me well, my parts are moderately organized.)

So here I find myself – once again – with another fun and interesting curiosity. It’s a ‘cross bike. Heck, what I know about cyclocross is pretty much limited to the correct spelling. After my initial attempt to build up an all French roadie stalled, I started to poke around to find out more about how a cyclocross bike from the 70’s might have been built up. Did you know that there’s plenty of information available about contemporary ‘cross, but that there’s a dearth of anything resembling detail prior to the last twenty years?

I blame America, in part. We figure the world revolves around us. So despite the fact that ‘cross has flourished in parts of Europe for a very long time, it really didn’t existed at all until Americans “discovered” it a few years back. At least that might be the conclusion one could reach from researching the internet. I’ve tried to located images of cyclocross bikes that date to the 1970’s without much success. Sure, there are photos of events and riders, but most are those ubiquitous images you see of herculean guys covered in mud and carrying their bikes up a steep hill. Hard to tell what the heck components they’re using when everything is bathed in three inches of dripping goo.

After a brief fling with a kit of Zeus Criterium parts, I settled on something I definitely hadn’t anticipated putting to use: Suntour Superbe. After muddling around, I’ve managed to get it to shift my 13-26 five speed cluster very smoothly. The 52/42 road crank that was paired with these derailleurs in the early 80’s also functions very well. I began to compare popular contemporary ‘cross gearing to the recollections of a few people who were involved in the sport prior to 1990. 46/36 is often cited as a starting point for a crankset today; 39t singles are also popular. Comparatively speaking, that’s not a whole lot different than the 40t and 42t kits I’ve been told were used back in the day.

Obviously the rear cluster has changed a lot since the mid 70’s. This bike is spaced at 122, so a five or ultra-6 fits comfortably and easily. (I may see if a 7 or 8 will pop in without much fuss.) Today’s cross bikes have a much wider range of gearing, in 10 and 11 speeds. A lot of discussion focuses on using singles up front as opposed to compact double, and apparently it’s not a new conversation. I’m told that singles were popular in the past as well, their simplicity an attractive feature.

There’s also a fair bit of dialogue regarding single speed drive trains. I imagine it’s a lot easier to avoid huge clots of mud if you don’t have derailleurs hanging down and dragging through all that muck, so I kind of get the idea. I even considered that approach myself for the briefest of minutes. But we’ve got hills in these parts, so I’m not excited about the prospect of a bike that has such limitations…especially one that I’ve viewed from the start as a curiosity.

I was interested to read that bar end shifters were popular in the ‘cross crowd. I’ve got quite a few sets of these myself, my favorite of the bunch being the Suntour friction shifters. So the current version of this bike has a pair installed now.

So back to the confession. Despite having acquired this frame on a whim, and despite “knowing” all along that it would be an odd little curiosity that might get ridden occasionally, something odder still occurred to me this past week. Turns out I really like how this bike rides and how it fits me. I confess that I really enjoy taking it down the road. And now that I’ve (finally) got the MAFAC Competition brakes dialed in, I feel confident bombing down hills or turning onto one of our boulder and ravine strewn gravel paths that we use for country roads in Missouri.

I confess that I’m happily surprised to discover this isn’t anything at all like an odd curiosity after all.

Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island. Heard of it? I have, and for years I’ve wanted to visit a place where there are no cars and where bicycles rule. I had a picture in my head of what the place was like – horses and buggies, lots of bicycles, a sort of throw back lifestyle. And while  the Tom Sawyer image of the town I had in mind was a lot more rustic looking than the reality, it turns out that the place really is magical.

To get there, one first must make one’s way north, almost to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. For us, that involved a 900+ mile journey. Once there, it was necessary to hop a ferry  to the island: a short, windy jaunt of perhaps twenty minutes or so.

The island isn’t large. The perimeter is a pancake flat 8.2 miles, departing from the pier in a charming town of lovely Victorian houses, stately mansions, restaurants and stores and B&Bs and parks; one traverses a paved road of hikers, horses and buggies, and bikes – lots and lots and lots of bikes. Leaving town and disappearing into a canopy of trees the route traces the coast with the lake always in view.

Mine was one of the only drop bar bikes on the island. In addition to my front bag, I sported an Acorn saddle bag with a long sleeve shirt tied down. Turned out I needed the long sleeves, with cold winds the first day and temps in the lower 50’s, the last thing I thought I’d need would be warm clothes in June! There are thousands of bikes for rent on the island, nearly all of which are “townies” and vintage Schwinn single speeds with upright bars.

I don’t like to leave my bikes outside overnight, so we brought our rides indoors. With little extra space in our room at the B&B, we stored the bikes in the shower.

Here are a few shots of the place…

By the way, there’s plenty of steep, slick climbs on the roads that crisscross the interior of the island.

Winter dreaming

Untitled

A bit chilly. Damn windy. But every now and then the sun comes out from behind the cloud cover and the day suddenly becomes a whole lot more reasonable.

I find myself spinning in a much lower gear than I’d prefer. Long weeks off the road, and longer evenings occasionally spinning indoors on a trainer don’t do much for maintaining my climbing legs. The best I can say is that I’m not breathing hard, so the lungs haven’t atrophied during my vacation from riding.

Let me reconsider that last statement. No. In fact the best I can say is that I’m out on the road, enjoying being outside. That’s the best, and it’s quite good enough – so don’t let me kid anyone with my whining. A few miles down the road I meet up with another rider. We exchange nods and pedal in silence. Just before he hangs a right down a side road, directly into the wind, he looks at me and says something about the headwinds being a bitch. In direct contrast to his words is the look of contentment upon his face, the same look that mirrors my own.

This is the first winter I’ve not had a restoration project (or two, or three) underway. This is partly because I haven’t been looking, but mostly because I’m quite content with my bike family of the moment. I really thought I’d be riding my fixed wheel more over the cold weather months, but that simply hasn’t been the case. I really should do something about that I suppose, but my imagination is stuck firmly in the warmth of future months.

Aside from my Boulder Brevet, my other “long distance” bike is a 1971 Raleigh International fitted out with a three speed drive. I’m going to shoehorn a couple of multi-day camping tours into the coming summer months. At least one trip will be a three speed camping tour. I’d like to ride the length of the KATY Trail again, riding the International set up for light touring: Bullet proof Gatorskins, medium size saddle bag, small front panniers, and adequate platform in front for tent and sleeping mat. I’ll probably ride my Boulder for a week of the Big BAM in June.

Meanwhile, there’s still plenty of winter left. Despite the emerging sun this afternoon, the forecast calls for really hefty winds tomorrow, snow flurries, and another precipitous drop in temps. I’ll remain lost in reverie, in winter dreaming until the shadows grow just a little bit longer.

Rain

I’m usually not a big baby about rain – really, I’m not.

Waking early this morning to the rumble of thunder, I tried to peer out into the darkness and get some idea just how wet the world had become overnight. No lightning, which was positive. I tried to roll over and go back to sleep, but I was enjoying listening to the patter of rain against the window immediately above my head. I lay like that for another half hour and then realizing I was wide awake and probably staying that way, I gave up, crawled out of bed and wandered out to the kitchen. Still too dark to get any sense of things, I opened the outside door.

Whoooom! The dense humidity and latent heat shocked my system and immediately fogged my glasses. Only a few droplets fell from above, but I couldn’t see anything else to give me any sense whether this was a brief respite or the end of things. Dawn would arrive in about forty minutes, so I headed back indoors, figuring I’d use that time productively. I’ve a commission I needed to begin, and forty minutes later I’d made a good start on the sketch. Glancing out the window the world was beginning to brighten, but it was still very gray. Time to ride.

A few drops here and there don’t faze me one little bit. As I pedaled down the street, the rain was light but steady. Interesting, the rain was almost comforting. No wind, just the steady fall of warm water. Within a mile I was thoroughly soaked, but feeling not at all like turning back. It’s Saturday, and the vendors arrive early to set up the local Farmer’s Market. I had shopping to do and headed for the square.

It was surprising to see so much hustle and bustle so early. Normally at this time of morning, the square is very quiet with perhaps a solitary runner or walker in view. Today, folks were up and about and wandering around from stall to stall, carrying armloads of melons and corn and bread and beans.

I wheeled my bike from stall to stall, studying the produce, pondering what I might cook for dinner tonight. Stowing my purchases carefully in the front bag, I felt a change in the air. Suddenly, the wind began to pick up. Farmers grabbed and held onto the poles of their tents. Rain began in ernest, coming down in sheets. The world was immediately wet – really, really damn wet. Taking shelter under a tree next to one of the Amish stalls, I decided to wait things out for a few minutes. Clearly, Mother Nature had more rain than I did patience. So with a wave to the Amish, I mounted up and headed out.

Rain blew directly at me, a wall of water for a few more minutes. My clothes were drenched. My cycling cap was a sponge. Water poured down my face and I could taste salt as it ran across my lips. Puddles were broad lakes and I dodged them when I could, thankful – not for the first time, and certainly not for the last! – for full coverage fenders. I turned on my front light, “just in case.”

Then just as suddenly as it had begun, the world of water went slack. Once again, it was just a steady, light rain. As I said before, I’m usually not a big baby when it comes to rain. And I certainly wasn’t going to start being a baby today.