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.

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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.

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.

Boulder vs. Carre

Every bike in the studio gets compared to my Boulder Brevet simply because it fits me so perfectly. It’s interesting comparing the Boulder with the Carre.

To make a fair evaluation of the geometry and size, the camera is set up on a tripod to ensure that the shooting angle and position is exactly the same between both bikes. The floor is also marked for positioning of the bikes. Because they are resting in a bike stand, some correction for “squareness” is necessary. The photos were slightly rotated in post processing so that the wheels are parallel to the picture frame. Furthermore, the Carre has been nudged so that the bottom brackets are aligned to the Boulder by superimposing the two photographs.

Here is the “control” shot of the Boulder for comparison of tube positioning, geometry, and length.

The green lines indicate a rough tracing of the Boulder tubes, which I’ve drawn on an overlay.

The overlay drawing of the Boulder tubing has been superimposed over the Carre frame. Although the wheel base is a little longer on the Boulder, and more importantly a greater difference between the lower trail Boulder fork and that of the Carre,  I was still a bit surprised to see that there’s not as much difference in bottom bracket height or drop as I’d anticipated.

With 700 x 25 tires, the standover is nearly the same as the Boulder. I anticipate running 700 x 28 so there will be some difference in the final build. It’s also worth noting that the top tube is one centimeter shorter on the Carre: 58cm as compared to 59cm on the Boulder.

This is not to say that I expect the rides to be similar. The two bikes are clearly designed for different purposes, but I’m a researcher and find it useful to compare against known factors, quantities, and considerations. My initial thinking has not changed, despite some similarities to the Boulder geometry: The Carre frame is more of a road bike design, and the available space for wider tires convinces me that it’s probably a CX model. Despite the eBay listing, I don’t see anything that screams “randonneur” to me at all.

Next up: the build.

Exploring a New Rail Trail

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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.

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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.

To Hell With The Groundhog.

Waiting in the wings was Baby, my 1966 Schwinn Paramount, holding out for an afternoon ride in the country.

And what an afternoon it turned out to be! Not a puff of breeze, completely still except for the trill of birdsong and quiet voices of couples and families out for a walk on an incredibly pleasant day.

Heading north, the sun disappears behind a thick cloud cover. It’s cool enough that I’m barely breaking into a sweat, but pedaling at a nice steady pace my legs quickly warm. All around me the world seems to be bathed in ochre and sienna and umber. A closer look reveals fresh sprouts of green peeking through the underbrush and dead leaves that blanket the ground.

Trees, not yet laden in foliage allow a view of the lake and land and hills beyond.

It’s weird. I’m riding through rural Missouri, about as far from the ocean as one could be, smack dab in the middle of this land mass we call America. But high above the water, dipping and swooping, are gulls. At the end of one small body of water, in the shallows, a school of some kind of small fish is breaking the surface, the water boiling, making quiet popping sounds as they do.

To hell with the groundhog. Spring is on the way.

Biding my time

It’s 9:00 am, Sunday morning. I’ve been up since a little after four, grading art history essays; the bank of windows that line my wall next to me have gradually changed from a densely black night through the various colors and values of a rosy dawn. And now the day beyond the glass looks marvelous. The sky is blue with only a few wisps of cloud. Nary a branch moves; there is not a hint of wind. A quick check of the internet informs me that the outside temps are hovering – for the moment – just below freezing.

I’ve set aside my rubrics and finished reading art history essays, and I could easily layer up and hit the road, but I linger. There’s no question I will get in a few hours of saddle time today. The question is when.

Do you ever do this? Bide your time until the “optimal” conditions present themselves? Well, I certainly have done…and from time to time it bites me in the ass to do so. Not so many weeks back the January weather promised a late afternoon window of opportunity. The morning had been freezing drizzle and the evening looked equally forbidding. But that afternoon of promise was forecast to be a small slice of heaven.

So I waited, and bide my time. The morning drizzle never appeared. In fact, the temps weren’t at all as miserable as the published forecast. Still, I knew that the afternoon would be terrific, so my bike continued to lean against the wall. The morning passed by, and as mid-day turned to afternoon, and the sky began to turn gray, so too did my mood. Rechecking the online forecast, I was shocked to see that the world had turned upside down. Instead of an incredible afternoon, conditions were only going to get worse. The morning freezing drizzle arrived late and by the time I realized what I’d missed the road was glazing over with ice.

I see that this afternoon promises to be in the upper forties. I could bide my time and wait for things to improve, but I can already hear a bird chirping outside my window. Squirrels are racing up and down one of the huge cottonwoods. And I think I’ll take what I’ve got right now.