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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The Third Life of a Phoenix

“The Phoenix.” Hmm. I typed that title on a whim, but I like it. Maybe I need to have that in subtle, elegant calligraphy across the top tube? It’s a thought.

Why “Phoenix,” though? Well, I consider this the third life of my 1971 Raleigh International. She came to me a few years back in pretty sad condition, paint flaking off in strips, generally abused and neglected over time. The previous owner rode it as a touring bike for many years, through all sorts of conditions. He had eventually aged out of the bike and out of riding, and she sat in his workshop for a long time until  I adopted her. Her second life was as a long distance three-speed.

This morning was the inaugural shakedown “third life” ride following last week’s rebuild. During her second life she was a wonderful reimagining of a club racer – a venerable British lightweight drop bar frame with a three speed internally geared hub. I’ve loved that configuration, but in honest self reflection I find that nearly all of my riding is done on my Boulder Brevet. I asked myself why that was, and the answer – not surprisingly – was: Fit, gearing, build, and ride quality.

Hence, the third life is a return to the roots of this bike, with more than a few nods towards those things that make my life feel better on two wheels.

So, the inaugural shakedown ride is a short twelve mile route of hills and flats that I use to test new builds. My initial assessment? A/A+…and now I’m REALLY jazzed about  installing 700 x 38 Compass Barlow Pass tires that I can run at lower pressure.  (I’ve got 700 x 28 Gatorskins on the rims at the moment, and while they are definitely the most bullet proof tires I’ve ever ridden, they are far from being describable as “supple.” And they are a total bitch to get over the lip of the rim. God help me if I ever have a frickin’ flat out on the road…)

To say that I’m pleased with this rebuild would be a gross understatement. The bottom bracket is perfectly tuned and the Stronglight 48/40/28 triple yields a very nice range of low and middle range gears when paired up with the 13-30 Ultra 6 freewheel. A Mountech FD handles the jump between 40 and 28 without blinking an eye. And the Mark Pace-built rear wheel turns out to have been an outstanding decision. It’s riding very nicely indeed.

While I wait on tires to arrive I’ll head out to the studio to engineer a nicer looking light bracket. I also need to camouflage/protect the exposed wiring running from the dyno hub to the light unit. That’s (mostly) cosmetic, but I appreciate a well designed system.

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.

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.

The plan comes together

Following the anticipation of my recent conversion of a Katakura Silk to a 650b road bike I was anxious to get all the bolts tightened down and get the bike out for a test ride. The afternoon being a model of wonderful Autumn weather, we loaded up and headed to the paths around Smithville Lake. Smithville Lake has one long and continuous paved path around a portion of the lake’s perimeter that yields about 42 miles of moderately flat riding, there are branches of trail with loose gravel, and about a million miles of forested single track. Add to that the low trafficked and hilly roads, and you’ve got a pretty good choice of surfaces on which to conduct a shakedown ride.

As it turned out, our shakedown ride was a bit shorter than planned but I still managed to put in some mileage on both paved and gravel surfaces, with a couple of steep, but even climbs. (One thing I like to check out on a shakedown ride – but didn’t yesterday –  is how a bike handles on undulating climbs.)

I’m always very surprised and happy to ride upon high volume/low pressure tires that are supple and forgiving. I’ve ridden the Katakura Silk on 700c x 25 tires enough that I know what to expect when I get on the bike, so the difference is marked and profoundly startling. It’s truly a “magic carpet ride.” I guess I need to compare known times over a distance, much as I hate that sort of test, but I seldom feel as if I’m going fast on 650b tires. That characteristic is usually deceptive though, and normally I am surprised to discover there’s little or no difference in overall speed. Spin up may be slower and – oddly – pedal strokes on climbs seemed less responsive than I might have  otherwise imagined. But fit and comfort are impressive. I need to get out on the open road now to find out how “spirited” the ride feels when I kick things up a notch.

Moving off pavement and onto gravel was a different experience. The first few hundred yards of pathway had very deep and loose gravel, and the bike handling was squirmy. Steering was difficult as I sank into the gravel. Further along the path the surface changed to much gravel and the pack was harder; the bike handled admirably well on that section.  Riding off road briefly – not something I do a lot of – the bike handled the transition from gravel to bushwacking to pavement with little fanfare.

There’s plenty more ride testing to be done, and some fine tuning I want to make, but I’m happy this grand experiment has been largely successful. The Katakura Silk is now a more useful member of my bicycle family, a nice compliment to my primary rider, the Boulder Brevet, and to my early morning Raleigh International three-speed rider. It’s nice when a plan comes together.

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.)