Four Years.

Four years. I realized today that it’s been four years since I finished building up my Boulder Brevet and took her on that first inaugural ride. In that time I’ve made numerous adjustments and a few changes, but the bike is largely the build I started with.

Out today, heading directly into thirty-plus mile per hour headwinds and trying like crazy not to overstress the knee I nursed back to semi-health over the winter, there’s no question in my mind that this is the perfect bike for me. Four years down the line and I have never once considered trading or selling this bike. With all the hundreds of bikes I’ve owned and ridden, all the thousands of miles I’ve put in on them, I can make that claim about no other bike. My list of excellent frames is, I think, pretty substantial: Bob Jackson, Colnago, Paramount, Holdsworth, PX-10, Raleigh International (OK, I stand corrected – that one isn’t going anywhere either), Bianchi, Puch, Shogun 2000, Freschi, Gazelle, Follis, Mercier, and so on.

I hate to act like a fan boy, but I’ve simply never owned another bike that fit me the way this one does. Nor have I ever owned another bike that simply felt like it wanted to keep going the way this one does, even when I was completely spent. Over time, I’ve gone through a couple of different saddles before settling upon a Brooks C17. I’ve changed out pedals until settling upon those I’ve been using for the past three years. Pumps have been swapped out in favor of smaller and lighter. The dyno-hub is now on the front of my International, as is the light; now I sport a rechargeable light that better meets my needs since my night riding is limited to very early mornings for the most part. The Velocity rims were a nice move last summer, and the Compass EL tires have proven to be superb.

In four years I’ve gone through five changes of handlebar wrap. On most of my other bikes the shellac-coated cotton bar wrap is a labor of love for me, but for some reason I used Salsa wrap on the Boulder from the very start and can’t bring myself to use anything else. I’ve got Brooks leather wrap in a box and as nice as I’m sure it would look on this bike, I don’t want to mess with the feel of things: why screw around with comfort?

VO rack, fenders, and a home made decaleur. A Swift bag – which I would recommend to absolutely anyone who asked. From time to time I think about changing my VO compact double, but once again: it seems to work and meet my needs so why jack around with it?

I own quite a few bikes, and they all get ridden, depending upon my mood. The International, especially, gets the nod a lot. But at the end of the day there is one bike I keep coming back to, and that is my Boulder. There’s something very comforting about that thought.

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And so I spin through the fog.

It’s Sunday morning and I get up early as I am wont to do. Looking out the window, it’s immediately apparent that a dense fog has settled over the landscape. It’s eerily quiet outside and as I roll down the driveway and out into the road, the silence is punctuated by a single bird, cutting through the mist with astonishing clarity, then fading to nothingness almost immediately as I pedal away.

The temperature is surprisingly moderate – it looks colder than it is -but the feeling of chill on my arms catches up to the appearance of the conditions as moisture beads up on every hair. My beard is dripping within minutes, and I pull out arm warmers when I realize I left my lightweight windbreaker at home.

Somewhere the sun is coming up. I know this because the mist has brightened, though the low visibility remains constant. Also: a chorus of birds have joined in to accompany the original lone soloist. The din is almost jarring as I pass a small lake and stand of trees, both of which suddenly emerge from the blanket of white through which I travel.

Before long my body has warmed and I begin to peel out of the layers. My arm warmers, which fit snuggly, are rolled down toward my wrists. I enjoy the sensation of escape and the breeze rushing over freshly revealed skin. The air is heavy and thick, a bit like trying to breathe underwater I suppose – the humidity is 100% at the moment, and with the chill I decide it’s better to ramble than race. And with that thought in mind I take route options that circumvent the steepest climbs: my purpose today is to pedal, to spin, and forgo mashing.

It took time for my knee to heal. It no longer rebels when I climb, but every once in a while I feel a slight twinge and for a moment I panic. But the twinge always goes away. So far, anyway.

And so I spin through the fog, enjoying the moment.

Winter dreaming

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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.

Merry Christmas!

As usual, I’m up before the sun crests the horizon. I love this time of day more than any other – the quiet, the solitude, the unexpectedly sharp click of nails as the dog slowly treads across the kitchen floor to greet me. Mist, thick and foggy, obscures much of the view from my back door on this slightly damp Christmas morning. The forecast calls for fog much of the day, but with temperatures projected to be in the upper 30’s and low 40’s I won’t miss the opportunity for a ride. The presents are all wrapped. Last minute house cleaning will be underway shortly, the kitchen will soon be filled with the scent of baking, and later replaced by the sound of chicken frying in black cast iron skillets. And later on there will be more activity when family arrives, grandsons will rip through gift wrap and fight over toys, glasses will be raised in holiday cheer, and friends – from near and very far away – will be toasted. From all of us to all of you, we wish you a very Merry Christmas, a happy holiday, a festive Chaunakah – whatever or however you wish to call the season, enjoy it.

And me, I’m going to go ride my bike thirty or forty miles before the throngs arrive.

Short Journeys of Discovery

Every ride – whether close to home or abroad – is a journey of discovery if one’s eyes are open to the places and sounds and smells.

This morning I realized I had forgotten to purchase a couple of Christmas items. There are only two days until the holiday and rather than battle the crowds, I left the coziness of home and bed very early this morning. To my surprise, I emerged from the house to find remarkably warm temperatures. A short shopping trip and a rushed breakfast later, and I was out on the road to take full advantage of what was shaping up to be wonderful riding weather.

Almost immediately, I encountered this curious house: freshly painted and trimmed, it appears to nearly exactly match the green and cream of the owner’s vintage car. Coincidence? I wonder.

Rolling down the first long hill and into the town square I heard, then saw, the construction work taking place on a couple buildings. Emerging from under the more modern facade was a hand-painted sign, no doubt seeing the light of day for the first time in decades.

JRA outings have been infrequent this autumn as I nursed a belligerent knee back to health. Yesterday, in decidedly less friendly weather, I decided to test things by sprinting up several gravel roads as I left town and emerged on crumbling country roads. I am happy to report the prognosis is good! Contrary to this morning, my nose ran like a faucet and my fingers quickly grew stiff from the cold, damp wind.

Even with the wind, cold days are so lonely that every sound seems to be magnified.

But this December morning, the air is actually filled with bird song. That, and the smell of something rank. It turns out this lovely stopping point was not far from a landfill!

Before wandering onward, a train rumbled past, the racket briefly drowning out the birds and rustle of branches and dry leaves and dead stalks of corn.

The overcast morning very quickly turned to blue skies and sun. It wasn’t long before I found myself removing layers and in short sleeves. Like all my best rides, this one involved frequent stops to just look around, to see what has changed since the last time I traveled these roads, and to discover – or rediscover – the delightful sights and sounds, and occasionally even the less than delightful scents that make a place distinctly unique.

Progress

Suddenly, the afternoons and evenings are much cooler. As the temperatures begin to drop and I find myself wrapping up a week so incredibly long that  I haven’t had even the slightest instant to pedal a single stroke, a shroud of anxiety falls over me. Each day is shorter than the next. My work area is illuminated as I scramble to shoehorn in a little time here and there on my 650b build. I should have ridden more this summer, I tell myself as Autumn further encroaches upon my dwindling daylight hours.

The Katakura Silk 650b build progresses. There’s a lot of finessing and fine tuning left to make, but I was very impressed with the quality of the short ride I made up and down our street yesterday evening. OK, so I suppose I did manage a couple of revolutions of the pedals after all – but no more than a couple hundred yards: Five minutes under cool night skies. Had I not been feeling such exhaustion at the time, it would have been more than perfect for a night ride.

My goal to mimic the ride quality of my Boulder – but in 650b – has moved one step closer to reality. The rough fit is surprisingly close to my Boulder Brevet and really cushy. I’m disappointed with the initial lack of “grabbiness” of the Tektro 559 calipers. I also am unhappy there’s barely enough reach in front…close enough that I’m concerned and will likely investigate center-pulls instead. (This, of course, I should have done in the first place.)

 

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.