The rest of the story.

“I was admiring your Hobbs frame and look forward to seeing any pictures of it fully restored for the road. In particular the reference to my club, Middlesex RC which will soon be celebrating 80 years of continued existance. Did you have any response to your approach regarding the former Middlesex RC owner of your Hobbs? If not please advise and I will check further for you. The bike of choice for many in the club was a Mal Rees, he being a founder member back in 1937. Kind regards, Shaun.”

And thus began a very interesting correspondence this past week. I’m going to share a story today, one that is all the more remarkable because it came about so unexpectedly. But to better follow the narrative, it’s important to understand the backstory first.

I initially wrote about acquiring my 1946 Hobbs of Barbican Superbe in November of 2014. It came to me as a frame, fork, partial headset, and BSA bottom bracket by way of a fellow in St. Louis. He, in turn, had purchased a warehouse full of old lightweight frames and complete bikes from someone else – in Tennessee, I seem to recall. His purchase included quite a few vintage British bikes of interest to me, and on my “short list” – a Flying Scott, Bates, Hobbs, etc. As happens so often, none of them were large enough to fit me…except for the Hobbs. We agreed to a price, and the bike was soon further west, in my studio near Kansas City, Missouri.

I was curious how a venerable British frame had made its way from its homeland, across the ocean, to the States, and eventually into my hands. A lot happens in seven decades, but to my knowledge Hobbs was small and were never an export item, like Raleigh was. Curious, I began to research.

The internet immediately yielded results. The serial number was one of the early, most important clues. First off, the number informed me that my frame was from 1946. Secondly – and very curiously – the serial number is the exact same one referenced on a Hobbs enthusiast website. I reached out to the webmaster who described the bike in loving detail as being complete and in excellent condition. The site had not been updated in several years, and my hopes of finding more information about the complete bike and where he’d seen it turned to dust when my repeated queries went unanswered. Sometime over the past two years, the site has been taken down.

But there was more to investigate. The original owner’s name and club affiliation was painted along the top tube: “A BURNET MIDDX R.C.” I correctly interpreted the latter to mean “Middlesex Road Club,” which led my internet research in a new direction. The club website, in turn, listed an “A Burnet” on the MRC Club Records page for the 24 hour men’s solo in 1947. I reached out to the club in hopes of discovering a bit more information. Few other internet references turned up, except for a chance discovery that “A Burnet” actually referred to Andy Burnet.

After that the well ran dry in my search: One uninspired email response, and then nothing else. Crickets.

Until a week ago.

Piece by piece, I’ve been building up the Hobbs. Not having anything else to go by other than examples on the Classic Lightweights website, I began to collect parts that I speculated might have been an appropriate build choice. What I didn’t have at the time was substituted for with later components. I planned for them to be place holders until a better option presented itself, and meanwhile I would have the bike rideable.

I’m not a hard and fast stickler for absolute authenticity. I figure that most cyclists would have upgraded components as better stuff came available, and so it’s not out of character to find a pair of ca. 1960’s bar and brake levers on a mid-40’s bike. My Hobbs has worn various parts these past two years, the most recent changes including a modern repop of Lauterwasser bars and a period-correct GB stem. I’m already rethinking the Lauterwasser bars in favor of GB bars when I find a pair that fits my vision. Meanwhile, I continue to ride the Hobbs in the current build.

British sport bikes of the forties, fifties, and early sixties look right to me. I love the simplicity. I love the colored bands and “flamboyant” tube colors. And I love the often complex lugs and classic “crest-like” graphics and head badges that often accompany otherwise rather austere frame work. I love these bikes as much as – but for different reasons than – the elegant designs of French constructeur bikes.


I’d pretty much given up on finding out anything further relating to “A BURNET” and the “MDDX R.C.” Yet here we were at year’s end, an unexpectedly new and enigmatic clue dangling from the Comments section of The Early Morning Cyclist blog. Just who was Shaun? And what information did he have to share?

Well, as it turns out, quite a lot. (To be continued.)

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Adieu 2016

After an hour or two of reorganizing, the studio is looking a bit less like a bike shop and more like…well, like the artist space it is supposed to be. With the holiday season drawing to a close I need to get more than my work space sorted out: Students return from break next week, I’ve got drawing and design lessons to organize, and there are a couple of design commissions that I really should begin working on.

Semester break passes very quickly. I’ve enjoyed the luxury of keeping my own schedule, with a few large chunks of that time having been dedicated to bicycle mechanics. Three more frames were placed on the auction block after Christmas, and because they were completely built up I needed to strip them down, then clean and store the components and wheels. It always amazes me how much less time it takes to tear down a frame than it does to build one up!

And so we come to the last day of 2016. Yesterday was another blustery, blow hard kind of day. But aside from gale force head winds, Dame Fortune blessed us with surprisingly nice riding conditions for late December. Not so much today though, and I’ll be back to layering up again for a therapeutic ride following the annual Anderson family holiday feast. Three generations of food will be in attendance – mercifully, the final gorging of the season. I look forward to the traditional Molloy fare that my mom contributes: sausage rolls, cheese straws, and of course the Yorkshire pudding. A hearty beef brisket prepared by our daughter, pastries and pie are in the final stages of prep in my wife’s pastry kitchen. Brothers and sisters, and very likely at least a glass or two hoisted in good cheer as we bid adieu to this bastard of a year.

And after the dishes have been wiped clean and the leftovers divided up, I’ll head out for a few miles to settle the digestion and stretch my legs.

I took full advantage of yesterday’s opportunity to do a little local exploration. Having felt like the stem height was off I had made a slight adjustment to my 1971 Raleigh International. While everything looks good in the stand, and feels good test riding it up and down the road in front of the house there’s simply no substitute for a shake down ride that takes in a variety of road conditions. What feels acceptable for five minutes may actually turn out to be quite unacceptable after leaning on the bars for ten miles. And as it turned out, I stopped on the town square, leaned the bike against a corner of the Jesse James Bank Museum, and tweaked the height up a tiny bit more.

Earlier this year I installed 700 x 38 Compass Barlow Pass tires with the option of extra light casing. I experimented with tire pressure for several weeks before identifying a front/rear combination that works well for me. The ride is cushy without feeling like things are dragging. The larger tire diameter with 700 x 38 doesn’t seem to spin up as quickly as 650b x 38, or even 650b x 42. But the configuration isn’t a dog either. I’ve got Compass supple extra light casing tires on this and my Boulder Brevet and have really come to appreciate these as my tires of choice.

I’ve previously hinted at a new frame. All I’ll say at the moment is that Jeff Lyon is working on a L’Avecaise 650b project for me, and that it will most certainly be sporting Compass Baby Shoe Pass tires when it hits the road this spring.

My Raleigh holds its own in many situations. The geometry and choice of tires work well for riding the gravel pack of the KATY Trail, it’s a good choice for leisurely road miles through the hills of Clay County, and I like it for running errands or just riding around town. It’s this latter purpose where I feel it excels. But sometimes I really feel the need for simplicity: moderately speedy and responsive riding. And that’s when I roll down the driveway on my 1966 Paramount.

After wiping down the Raleigh, I pointed the Paramount directly into the wind and pedaled down the road. I really enjoy riding this bike, and at least in this case the Paramount reputation seems well deserved. First off, one of the most important considerations is that the frame and points of contact fit. I’ve engaged in quite a bit of action research over the years and know very precisely what my optimum target measurements are. Making the base adjustments are easy for me, assuming that the starting point – the frame – will accommodate those adjustments.

Every bike needs to be fine tuned though, because geometry and compliance are variables. None of my bikes – this Paramount included – are nearly so compliant as my Boulder Brevet. It simply responds the way I anticipate. My Paramount does come close though, and it provides a racier, “sportier” ride.

The Paramount’s original tubular wheels have been boxed up for years. The high flange Campagnolo Record hubs are quite beautiful, light, and spin smooth as silk. I’ve been thinking about re-lacing them to clincher rims so I can pair them back up with the bike. I’m pretty certain they will polish up nicely.

I’d set out on yesterday’s Paramount ride with 35 or 40 miles in minds, but the stiff 35 mph head winds really beat me up. There were times I felt like I was standing still, particularly when I came to a point where no natural windbreak existed to ease my ride. I buckled a lot sooner than planned, and turning down a road that put the wind at my back I immediately felt like I’d been fired from a sling shot. The wind behind me, I quickly began to chew up the miles.

One thing about a racing bike – I really don’t have anywhere to store things, other than in my jersey. Stopping to catch my breath, I peeled out of one underlayer and stuffed that shirt into my jersey pocket. It’s a functional solution, but crammed in with a spare tube and tire levers, I always feel a little like I have Quasimodo’s hump on my back, and that it has somehow slipped down near my butt. I’d much rather have  the weight on my bike.

40 miles is no-brainer for me, but yesterday I settled for somewhere around 25. Tomorrow, day one of 2017, there is a New Year’s Day club ride out of the River Quay with a planned stop for a pint at the end of the run. I’m thinking there are a lot worse ways to begin the year.

Tour de Jazz KC

Only a few days ago I found myself riding through the gloom of an early, overcast morning. The air was cool and thick with humidity, the sky promising rain that – perhaps – wouldn’t actually come. The day itself emerged as hot and sultry and sticky.

But this was still morning and I ascended a long, but not especially steep hill, shifting down one gear so as not to vary my cadence appreciably. Ahead of me in the distance a yard light flickered and quietly emerged as a glow, faint yet distinctly separate from the dusk.

Pedaling past a house with a fenced in front yard, a tiny dog rushed forward, fierce with possibility. On the front porch sat a very large, sloth-like man, wearing naught but a pair of whitey-tighty briefs. I saw him pull deeply on a cigarette as I approached. The embers suddenly glowed brightly, then not. He slowly exhaled a stream of murky smoke and leaned to the floor of the porch to grasp what I imagined to be a coffee mug. In a voice muffled by misty air he hushed the dog.

And I continued up the hill, leaving house, dog, and raspy cough behind me in the almost night.


The weather took a change for the better over the weekend. As an interesting change of pace I joined a charity ride that departed during the late afternoon. With a steady breeze and almost cool temperatures, this event was very unlike most that I ride during the desert months of Missouri August.

My decision to register for the Tour de Jazz KC was a very last minute one. Much as I hate -absolutely hate – all of the rides that are christened with “Tour de …”, I was happy to support the jazz community. We have a great jazz tradition in Kansas City (think Charlie Parker, the Count, Benny Moten, etc.) and the ride promised live jazz music at all the rest stops along the way. Plus, the weather promised to be phenomenal for a Saturday afternoon in late August: no humidity, no heat, and a nice breeze. I’ll be darned if I’m staying home and watching the last of the Juice Olympics on such a day as this!

Most of the local rides take you back over the same tired routes around town, so I was pleased to discover this event was anything but the the samo samo. We headed into a part of town that one might charitably refer to as downtrodden. One might also be apprehensive about cycling through those neighborhoods, but my personal experience was that there were lots of people enjoying the day on their front porches. They all waved and smiled. I waved and smiled back. Some wanted to chat, so I chatted. OK, a group of ten year old boys did cheer us on and then pelt boulder sized gravel at us, and I did have one especially large rock bounce safely off my helmet. But after bellowing out my trademarked grumpy old man yell, they ran off, giggling the entire way.

Most charity rides are flat and marked well. This was neither. A cluster of cyclists that I found myself in discovered we’d gone off the route on numerous occasions – once we had to double back up a hill, fully five miles behind the pack we’d started with. And the hills! Man, I usually don’t shy away from them, but we hit one relatively short climb that appeared to be straight up. For the first time in probably five or six years I found myself walking (barely) the final hundred feet.

Our route took us to the gravesites of jazz greats Charlie Parker and Bennie Moten. It also took us right through the heart of traffic entering Kaufmann Stadium for a Royals game. I weaved through the throngs of cars with my heart catching in my throat. I noticed a few others in my mirror dismounting and walking that mile or so along landscape with nary a sidewalk in sight.

But the best part was the rest stops. Local jazz artists and session musicians were jamming at every SAG station. I love jazz, and these guys – many of them pretty long in the tooth – were just hammering it. I made a few quick reference sketches and took a couple of photos with my iPhone so that I could make the illustration pictured above this afternoon. Of course, I listened to jazz classics in the studio while I drew.

Why not?

About a month ago, I raised a rhetorical question on The Early Morning Cyclist when I asked “Why 650b?” I answered my own question with a couple of photographs of two pathways that pass for roads in this part of the world. As much as I bitch about the condition of our roads – and rightfully so, I might add – it’s a little bit disingenuous for me to imply those two photographs represent all, or even a majority of our thoroughfares. And while I’ll often encounter epic craters of moon-surface-like proportions, and more chip seal than original tarmac, the majority of our roads really are paved.

Really.

From time to time I’ll wander off these semi-paved surfaces. Without question, 650b excels on gravel and on crummy pavement my bike floats over conditions that would have me skinny tire slaloming to avoid tearing up a wheel. Lightweight, supple, wide 650b tires provide me with a good riding experience. Over time I have gradually been moving toward the widest tires that can safely be mounted on each of my bikes. (Caveat: Skinny racing tires are mounted on two race bikes. Chubby tires won’t fit, and besides that they would just looks silly.)

I knew from having done a test fitting a few years ago that I could get 700 x 38 tires onto my Raleigh International without a problem. Compass produces a supple tire in that size; I really like the narrower Compass version that is on my Boulder; I had a little extra in my PayPal account from having sold off a few components on eBay. So why not?

Adequate room in the back and between the stays to run the wider tires, even with fenders installed.

I use MAFAC 2000 center pulls on this bike, and they wrap around nicely. Disconnect the yoke, and there is lots of wiggle room to remove the wheel without deflating.


I’ve been riding this bike a lot lately. Whenever I have a new build, I get excited about it. In my mind, I tend to exaggerate all the characteristics as “the best ever.” I know this about myself, and I also know that it takes a fair amount of riding before I’m willing to allow myself to be fiercely judgmental of the choices I’ve made, to be honest with myself about the build. The question is: Am I choosing a bike repeatedly because it honestly feels great to ride, or am I captivated by the newness factor? And if I’m entirely honest with myself, right now I’m still in the honeymoon phase where everything seems great.

So I’m going to throw a few observations out here, knowing full well that I may wind up having a change of heart as time passes.

  1. I have three bikes built up in a similar fashion, i.e., racks and fenders, comfortable for distance randonneur or fast, light touring style bicycles. The list includes a Boulder Brevet, 650b Cycles Toussaint Velo-Routier, and now a 1971 Raleigh International. I like all of them, but I tend to carry the Toussaint with me when I travel mostly because I don’t like carrying my Boulder on a rack on the back of the car. The Boulder is my preferred bike on just about any ride other than over gravel.
  2. Until now, the Toussaint exhibits the greatest sensation of “float” when I run low pressure. The geometry is not at all aggressive and encourages a leisurely approach to riding. In this sense, it is a very “French” bike, despite a Canadian birth. The International is more laid back than it’s racier brothers, but not as laid back as the Toussaint.
  3. With low pressure, the Compass tires provide a very similar sensation of float to that of the 650b. Perhaps it’s my imagination, but this wheel/tire size combination doesn’t seem to spin up quite as quickly as the 650b. By comparison, the 650b doesn’t spin up as fast as the 700 x 30 tires on my Boulder. Tire size, different bikes, different components and chain ring specs, and varying conditions probably account for some of that. The difference is negligible, when comparing these three bikes but significant when comparing to one of my nimble “race bikes.”
  4. On my rims, the 700 x 38 Compass tires mic out at 700 x 36-ish.
  5. If I didn’t already own my Boulder Brevet, the International, built up as it currently is could easily be my “go to” bike.
  6. I like the ride quality of 700 x 38 Compass tires. I don’t feel any regret for the purchase.

Some days are like that…

The day was shaping up nicely – or so I thought. My top layer had already been peeled off and stowed, and a pleasant sheen of perspiration glistened on my brow. Yet by the time my destination had been reached the sky had clouded over and the winds had whipped into something of a fury. Today’s ride was looking to be shorter than anticipated.

In search of a wind break I left the open road in lieu of a few miles of undulating state park path, encased for the most part by trees on all sides. Leaving the trail I encountered gravel roads, narrow and steep and loose – but also blissfully free of windsheer. Climbing the first hill, I lowered my gears into the granny and yet still found myself standing. Am I really that far gone after a relatively mild winter of slothfulness?

To be honest, I really don’t get the whole “gravel thing” – but to each his own. I’ve friends who live for this stuff. There was a time not so long ago that I thought there’d be greater appeal for me. But alas! That appeal has thus far eluded me.

I far prefer exploring neglected and forgotten back roads, those crumbling chipsealed blacktop tracks that few people except locals have need to travel. And while my Boulder meets those needs quite well, on this day I found myself wandering along, content to be enjoying the benefit of wider 650b tires.

At the top of the very first hill, at the edge of the park, stands a brick structure. The building is a restored  one room rural school house. Growing up in rural Missouri, my teen years were often spent in exploration of back roads where my friends and I encountered many a crumbling derelict of a school house. Those abandoned buildings, built by the farming community with great care were now crumbling, no longer of much use as schools consolidated and students moved into larger buildings in the surrounding towns. It’s remarkable to encounter one in this condition.

On the same patch of ground, just adjacent to the school is this intriguing – and to my eye, anyway, rather mysterious looking multi-sided building. I’d like to know more about it, and I suppose it would be easy to find out its original purpose simply by asking at the park offices. I couldn’t help but think what a wonderful painting studio it would make though!

 

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.

Beautiful weather

Oh my gosh, what a beautiful afternoon – both last weekend and this – especially for the middle of February! Last Monday was President’s Day so no school that day either, which made it a perfect opportunity to head out for a couple of hours of bike sketching.

I really enjoy inking trees and limbs entirely freehand, without the safety net of penciled construction lines. Ambling along on the bike trails that roughly trace the forested Eastern shorelines of Smithville Lake, my greatest difficulty was simply choosing which trees to draw. It seemed like every bend I’d ride around would yield an abundance of subject matter! I finally stopped to sit and watch for eagles at the end of a particularly pleasant point on the lake. I’d spotted a single bald eagle less than five minutes after heading down the first path, but there were no more to be seen after that. I satisfied myself by using my break to sketch out this gnarly tree, then hopped on my bike and continued on my merry way.


Despite a week of unreasonably and unseasonably wonderful weather, it seemed as though the following days left me with limited time to enjoy the roads. Too much to do, too many meetings, too many interviews, just too much, way too much. Saturday couldn’t arrive soon enough. And with an afternoon in the mid-70’s, I was off!

I’d like to have called this a JRA outing, but the truth is that I had a goal and destination in mind. Although I stopped to briefly sketch the city-wide wine tasting taking place on the town square, I wanted to head out of town on one of my well traveled routes, take in some hills and get in some mileage that I’ve been missing these past wintery months.

It didn’t take long to realize the trainer hasn’t done enough to keep my legs in the same shape they were last September. Hills seemed longer, gears seemed higher, and my legs got rubbery far too soon. Blast it all! Not a moment too soon, I found myself enjoying the flat miles of the river bottom farmlands. For a while I managed to simply pedal and ponder, lose myself in the moment and place. And that, after all, is the true value of these rides.


Today, the temps are beginning to drop. The weatherman forecasts a return to something close to the norms, although his predictions still sound better than I remember February being. The winds picked up today, but I was itching to get back out again and wanting to do some shorter mileage on my fixed wheel bike. I enjoy the fact that fixed wheel keeps me churning the entire time I’m out. The problem, of course, was that my legs are out of condition, the winds were a bit harsh and gusty, and my legs are out of condition. Also, my legs are out of condition. The hills seemed even longer and steeper today than they did yesterday riding my geared bike. One fixed gear felt ponderous, so my outing turned out to be painfully short. Instead of riding into the wind I made a quick sketch of my fixed wheel 1946 Hobbs of Barbican.

The good news for me is that the days are perceptively longer, the weather grows more reasonably with each passing day, and soon enough I’ll be back out on the roads every afternoon and morning. The hills will get shorter. The miles, too.

And the outings will get longer, and that’s just fine by me.