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.

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Brief, beautiful side light in the studio…

…and then it was overcast again. I’ve been hard at it for the past nine hours, engrossed in writing. From time to time I noticed that despite the heat churning out of the small furnace I have out here, my feet seem to be bone chillingly cold. The day is a murky gray for nearly the entire time, and my eyes are suddenly growing weary just as I am almost ready to wrap up. Then suddenly I hear a bird singing and the day turns bright and looks quite cheerful through the glass – this, despite the December cold I know is on the other side. From my perch at the drawing table, I look up and notice the sun has bathed the tubes on my bikes with a beautifully diffused light. Time to knock off work for the day.

Knocking off work, but not  elbow grease. A quick sandwich of leftover turkey and a bit of muscle applying and rubbing out Mother’s, this nice long point GB Hiduminium stem is nearly ready to be used on my Hobbs. I’m going to pull the bolts on Christmas afternoon to tidy up any grunge under them, then polish the bolt head best I can while they are out.

This next week holds the promise of riding weather and there’s no school, of course, due to the holiday break. I plan to get a bit of riding in to make up for the past couple weeks of below zero temperatures and boring revolutions mounted to the indoor trainer. The GB Hiduminium stem should be a nice pairing on the Hobss. I look forward to installing that, along with the Williams 1200 crankset I picked up recently; I trust they will occupy a pleasant few hours of my time one morning this coming week.

It’s winter and time to do a little reorganizing as bikes gather in the studio. It seems that access to the south entrance is a little difficult to negotiate at the moment. The 2016 frame purge continues and these are the bikes I plan to keep. A couple more have been set aside – the last three, in fact – to be photographed and put up on the auction block. As the hooks go vacant, I try not to get too excited about the frame that will be coming my way in February. (More about that when the time comes.)

I find myself overly rich in components and wheels. Shall I auction some of those off as well? Or hang on to them on the off chance some worthy frame comes my way? It’s a tough call. Generally, soon after I pass along a particularly choice part that I “will never have a use for,” I find myself in great need of that very thing.

In my sedentary state I find myself pondering many things that aren’t top of mind during my more active riding months. For instance, it occurred to me to look over the rando-style bag I designed and constructed over a year and a half ago. I used a really lightweight cotton duck on this prototype bag: the result is absolutely minimal heft. However, I worried (needlessly, as it turned out) that it wouldn’t hold up in use.

The bag doesn’t rely on a decaleur at all. Instead, I have fashioned a solid and relatively “quick release” system that mounts the bag to the Jim Blackburn rack on the underside.

These are the sort of things occupying my thoughts at the moment. I’m in no real hurry to work on the Hobbs because until my new project arrives in February, I really have no other to busy my idle hands.

It’s the Light.

I am what is termed a “teaching artist,” an artist who teaches others to make and consider and appreciate art. A good part of my professional life prior to education was as a designer, creative director, photographer, and illustrator, so it’s pretty safe to say that I’m fairly fine tuned toward and aware of the visual world around me.

Light, in particular, catches my attention, as do patterns, and colors, and textures. Typography, and the rhythm of letterforms. But light! The contrast of light against shadow. Light upon a reflective surface, carving a highlight along an edge, disappearing or emerging from murky shadow.

My studio is a workspace rather than a display area; it’s not a gallery but a place of books and tables and shelves. A sofa filled with lounging black labs, and a cat or two. Floor-to-ceiling windows and diffused light entering from a side door. Various of my bikes lean against book shelves or hang from a rack, and these tend to rotate out with those hanging from ceiling hooks out in the workshop – their number varies dependent upon what bike I rode last, the one I just dismounted from, the one that saw road time yesterday.

They lean there, waiting for the next ride, directly in front of my drawing table, immediately before me as I sit, pen in hand. The late afternoon light enters at an oblique angle, bathing things in a soft glow. It doesn’t take much for me to become engulfed in the sight. I am obsessed with bikes of a certain ilk to begin with, and the light simply renders an already attractive subject even more so.  The lines, the design. It’s the light.