All Hail the Bicycle Gods!

The seasons, they are a changin’. A few days ago, the skies were filled with mile after mile after mile of bird migration – columns of them as far as I could see in both directions, generally coming out of the north in their southward bound trek. The ground is blanketed in dry leaves that crunch like potato chips as I wheel through them, hiding anything and everything that lies beneath. This would, by the way, include a rather more than gigantic fissure a few hundred yards from my driveway, a four foot long by four inch wide gash, deep enough to swallow even a moderately wide tire and wheel, the better to toss a rider from his or her perch. I discovered this chasm last night, returning from a late afternoon ride on what will likely be the last marvelous day of the year. I also discovered how terrifyingly fast one can be unceremoniously dismounted and thrown headfirst into the pavement.

Say what you might about the wars that exist between cyclists and drivers, I’ve had overwhelmingly polite encounters with the vast majority of motorists. The few trolls who have somehow managed to elude the highway patrol and maintain a valid driver license – obviously – stand out in my memory. But I’ll forever recall those drivers last night who immediately pulled over to check on a guy they saw take a flying leap over a pair of bicycle handlebars. One fellow helped me to my feet, concerned that I must be badly hurt, and was visibly relieved to discover I could walk and talk coherently. Another brushed off my back. Good people.

Today began with light, cold rain and gusts of wind that lowered the wind chills down into the 20’s, despite the mid-40’s temperatures. Gingerly, I felt my arm, my wrist, my fingers, my shoulder. Stiff. I’m pretty stiff, but nothing broken. Definitely a bruised deltoid. Definitely some abrasion on my right palm and hip. A couple of fingers feel stiff or jammed. I probably won’t attempt pull ups for a couple of days. But otherwise no damage to me – or, to my bike.

Naturally enough, that was the first thing I checked. Would my fork be bent? My wheel a taco? But no – just a slight abrasion to the braking surface of the rim. The wheel is still true for some reason. Considering the prone position I found myself in, which involved my legs somehow being higher than my head and just as inexplicably somehow lying over a low stone wall, I feel like I got lucky. My wife, who was out for a walk, and who saw my acrobatic dismount, cannot believe I’m so cavalier about the event. I know it could have been much worse – probably should have been much worse – but it’s all good. And that’s the way it is.

But my shoulder is stiff and the weather is crappy. And my studio needed cleaned and reorganized. So I spent a good portion of the day indoors, vacuuming errant dog hair and moving things around and recycling an unbelievably huge pile of things that had stacked up since the last time I cleaned up the studio.

My L’Avecaise hung in one corner. An annoying noise had been driving me just a little crazy and I decided that until I tracked down the source I would keep it off the road. No sense in tempting the bicycle gods by riding a clicking bike.

Like every other time I’ve had to track down a distracting sound, it appeared to be emanating from the bottom bracket. Of course, that’s never really the source. One time it was my saddle rails, another time the stem. Yet another time it was the lace of my shoe! I’ve invested a ton of time investigating each and every possibility and in what has proved to be an absolutely maddening experience, failed to identify the root cause.

But today was a perfect day for nailing that bastard of a sound to the proverbial wall. What was left to check though? Only the bottom bracket, it seemed, and clearly it wasn’t the bottom bracket because it’s never the bottom bracket.

In fact, it was the bottom bracket.

Specifically, the fixed cup was somehow not fixed at all. It was loose enough that I could turn it by hand. How this came to be I cannot say, but what I can say is that it’s not even remotely loose now.

Maybe the events of the past eighteen hours were purposely put into motion by the bicycle gods. I speculate they might’ve grown weary of watching me pedal past, grimacing at the cyclical tick-click tick-click tick-click! Perhaps they felt this afternoon would be an excellent time for me take time out of the saddle and heft a wrench or two. Who knows? Maybe the congestion of a studio filled with detritus and bikes and art supplies dishonored them.

But there’s no doubt in my mind that I must now perform a ritual sacrifice to the gods by killing a bottle of dark beer. Or maybe even two. After all, who am I to take chances with the bicycle gods?

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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.

Cold New Year’s Day Ride.

It’s New Year’s Day, and brunch with good friends ran long. I’d planned on joining one of the local clubs for a 2017 kick off ride, but that wasn’t to be. By the time we’d parted company, the ride had already begun. I was looking forward to a ride from the River Market, through downtown, and looping around The Plaza, followed by an hour of libations.

After brunch, I spent a few hours in the studio finishing up an illustration. The sun that had promised a better looking day was hidden behind gray banks of clouds. Although not as windy as the past few days, nevertheless the breeze felt cold. I knew my ride wouldn’t be a terribly long one before I gave up the ghost, but I needed to get outside and put in a few miles of road time.

Heading out, my first thought was “Brrrrr!” Almost immediately my stocking cap crept up on top of my head and my ears were exposed. I can’t seem to keep the darned thing low enough on my head when I ride. Coasting at speed down the first long hill, the cold air rushed in around my eye glasses and I immediately teared up. My nose was running like a faucet, and my fingers were only passably warm, despite the heavy gloves that covered my hands. But my saddle position was excellent and I felt comfortable spinning on the big ring. Before long, my legs were starting to warm up as the revs added up.

Near the edge of town there’s a small lake. There are literally no cars on the road today – perhaps people are at home, in bed, nursing a hangover or catching up on lost hours of sleep. I pause briefly to make a photograph, to document the ride. The temps are hovering just above freezing, although the breeze makes it feel a lot colder. I enjoy stopping here beside the water, if only for a moment. A short stop and then I’m off again, spinning quickly, feeling pretty darned good, moving along at a decent clip.

So 2017 has arrived. I’ve shared a meal with good friends. I made artwork in the studio. My Chiefs won the Division. And I got in a good ride. I figure it would be pretty tough to top that as a beginning to a new year.

 

Shinier.

Winter riding is hit or miss in Missouri. We’re pretty much central in every way possible – geographically, politically (well, maybe not so much as we’d like to believe), climatologically. The weather either cooperates or it doesn’t… and when Mamma Nature decides to get ornery, I find myself pacing around the house, walking in and out of the studio, desperate for something – anything – to keep me from going stir crazy. I hate being house bound.

Setting up shop at a table in my studio, I arranged an old toothbrush, clean rags and paper towels, and a container of Mothers Mag and Aluminum Polish near at hand. Situating myself comfortably in a chair, I pulled my 1966 Paramount over beside me and set myself the task of making the shiny bits and pieces just a bit shinier.

This is such a fun bike to ride, and the restoration underscored a particularly understated elegance. The white frame harmonizes well with touches of red, and it’s all nicely complimented by the classic silvery components. And doesn’t a clean, shiny bike simply go faster?

There are times when I truly enjoy keeping the ride simple: No bags or extra gear, just a lightweight frame and downtime shifters, something that responds quickly, and I’m off and down the road. This is a bike for those times.

As the morning waned, the afternoon promised warmer temperatures – albeit with a bone rattling wind. Flags whipped straight out from the poles – not lazily, but with incredibly violent energy. Layers were definitely called for!

I enjoyed a chance to christen my new wool Paramount jersey by using it as a top layer. Bob Freeman of the venerable Elliott Bay Cycles organized a group buy of these jerseys and I jumped at the opportunity. He wanted an appropriate jersey to wear when riding his early 60’s Paramount, and who am I to argue with that sentiment?

When the thermometer is hovering around the freezing mark, I find my normally long, luxurious rides tend to evolve into something that is faster paced and shorter. And so it was on this particular afternoon. Only two other cyclists to be seen, one of whom caught up with me on the return route. Breathing out gouts of steam and sniffling wetly, we chatted about different roads, steep climbs, and warmer days – exactly the sort of conversation in which cyclists tend to engage. I’d made a few small adjustments to the Paramount before heading out, and I was pleased to suddenly realize that no further adjustments seemed necessary. Often enough, I find myself hyper-aware of small changes and this simply wasn’t the case: the adjustments were “invisible,” which means everything felt in perfect alignment.

Back in the studio later that afternoon, I opened my email and read the first of what has developed into a rather remarkable correspondence these past couple of days. Unexpectedly, I’ve been gifted with some very interesting background information relating to my 1946 Hobbs of Barbican Superbe. I need to get my thoughts together about how best to organize this information, and will be sharing the story soon.

 

Time to Layer Up

32 degrees. Wasn’t it almost 80…umm… day before yesterday? My face is actually windburned, my cheeks a rosy, warm, cherry red; my nose and forehead are matching dumplings of scarlet. I had to dig around in my drawer of cycling duds to find the warm stuff buried underneath cotton t-shirts and shorts. Happily – and surprisingly – I came across two thermal under layer shirts I bought on clearance last May, and then forgot about. So, an undergarment, a top layer, then a lightweight jacket. My arms and core are in good stead; a similar approach for my legs, a wool cap and a pair of gloves, and I’m off and down the road.

Somehow, when it’s cold, every bump in the road seems to be magnified until my legs and ears warm up. Pedal, pedal, pedal. Head up a hill. Soon enough, I’m no longer aware of the cold except on my toes. They’re always cold, it seems to me.

No need to fill my water bottle with ice today – my water is cold enough as is. I’ve a small chunk of Genoa Dry Salami and some Brie in my bag, a snack for when I stop in a remote spot along the railroad tracks near the river. A few minutes to enjoy my tiny repast, take in the sun, and peel out of my top layer.

Then I’m off again.