Bernard Carré Confessions

My expectations were that this might turn out to be a fun and interesting curiosity. I mean after all, I was done – finished – with French frames. I’d sold off most of my French components, bars, stems, and pedals. A small voice in the back of my head whispered, “Hey dummy. You’ve got just enough French stuff left to build up a bike.”

Turned out, as a matter of fact, that the voice was wrong. I had unloaded more individual items than I remembered. Where, oh where is that perfect Simplex seat pin that would fit this frame perfectly? I really don’t remember selling or trading it, but I must have done. It’s nowhere to be found. (Surprisingly to those who know me well, my parts are moderately organized.)

So here I find myself – once again – with another fun and interesting curiosity. It’s a ‘cross bike. Heck, what I know about cyclocross is pretty much limited to the correct spelling. After my initial attempt to build up an all French roadie stalled, I started to poke around to find out more about how a cyclocross bike from the 70’s might have been built up. Did you know that there’s plenty of information available about contemporary ‘cross, but that there’s a dearth of anything resembling detail prior to the last twenty years?

I blame America, in part. We figure the world revolves around us. So despite the fact that ‘cross has flourished in parts of Europe for a very long time, it really didn’t existed at all until Americans “discovered” it a few years back. At least that might be the conclusion one could reach from researching the internet. I’ve tried to located images of cyclocross bikes that date to the 1970’s without much success. Sure, there are photos of events and riders, but most are those ubiquitous images you see of herculean guys covered in mud and carrying their bikes up a steep hill. Hard to tell what the heck components they’re using when everything is bathed in three inches of dripping goo.

After a brief fling with a kit of Zeus Criterium parts, I settled on something I definitely hadn’t anticipated putting to use: Suntour Superbe. After muddling around, I’ve managed to get it to shift my 13-26 five speed cluster very smoothly. The 52/42 road crank that was paired with these derailleurs in the early 80’s also functions very well. I began to compare popular contemporary ‘cross gearing to the recollections of a few people who were involved in the sport prior to 1990. 46/36 is often cited as a starting point for a crankset today; 39t singles are also popular. Comparatively speaking, that’s not a whole lot different than the 40t and 42t kits I’ve been told were used back in the day.

Obviously the rear cluster has changed a lot since the mid 70’s. This bike is spaced at 122, so a five or ultra-6 fits comfortably and easily. (I may see if a 7 or 8 will pop in without much fuss.) Today’s cross bikes have a much wider range of gearing, in 10 and 11 speeds. A lot of discussion focuses on using singles up front as opposed to compact double, and apparently it’s not a new conversation. I’m told that singles were popular in the past as well, their simplicity an attractive feature.

There’s also a fair bit of dialogue regarding single speed drive trains. I imagine it’s a lot easier to avoid huge clots of mud if you don’t have derailleurs hanging down and dragging through all that muck, so I kind of get the idea. I even considered that approach myself for the briefest of minutes. But we’ve got hills in these parts, so I’m not excited about the prospect of a bike that has such limitations…especially one that I’ve viewed from the start as a curiosity.

I was interested to read that bar end shifters were popular in the ‘cross crowd. I’ve got quite a few sets of these myself, my favorite of the bunch being the Suntour friction shifters. So the current version of this bike has a pair installed now.

So back to the confession. Despite having acquired this frame on a whim, and despite “knowing” all along that it would be an odd little curiosity that might get ridden occasionally, something odder still occurred to me this past week. Turns out I really like how this bike rides and how it fits me. I confess that I really enjoy taking it down the road. And now that I’ve (finally) got the MAFAC Competition brakes dialed in, I feel confident bombing down hills or turning onto one of our boulder and ravine strewn gravel paths that we use for country roads in Missouri.

I confess that I’m happily surprised to discover this isn’t anything at all like an odd curiosity after all.

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.)

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.

 

The good, the bad, and the ugly.

The good, the bad, and the ugly

The Good: The birds were singing and the thermometer hovered around 73 degrees this morning.

The Bad: Buuuut, the humidity was 93%.

The Ugly: Just outside Missouri City, my chain broke. I didn’t have an extra link in my bag. And it was an 11.7 mile hike back home. To add insult to injury, I had to change a flat about a mile or so earlier.

Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island. Heard of it? I have, and for years I’ve wanted to visit a place where there are no cars and where bicycles rule. I had a picture in my head of what the place was like – horses and buggies, lots of bicycles, a sort of throw back lifestyle. And while  the Tom Sawyer image of the town I had in mind was a lot more rustic looking than the reality, it turns out that the place really is magical.

To get there, one first must make one’s way north, almost to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. For us, that involved a 900+ mile journey. Once there, it was necessary to hop a ferry  to the island: a short, windy jaunt of perhaps twenty minutes or so.

The island isn’t large. The perimeter is a pancake flat 8.2 miles, departing from the pier in a charming town of lovely Victorian houses, stately mansions, restaurants and stores and B&Bs and parks; one traverses a paved road of hikers, horses and buggies, and bikes – lots and lots and lots of bikes. Leaving town and disappearing into a canopy of trees the route traces the coast with the lake always in view.

Mine was one of the only drop bar bikes on the island. In addition to my front bag, I sported an Acorn saddle bag with a long sleeve shirt tied down. Turned out I needed the long sleeves, with cold winds the first day and temps in the lower 50’s, the last thing I thought I’d need would be warm clothes in June! There are thousands of bikes for rent on the island, nearly all of which are “townies” and vintage Schwinn single speeds with upright bars.

I don’t like to leave my bikes outside overnight, so we brought our rides indoors. With little extra space in our room at the B&B, we stored the bikes in the shower.

Here are a few shots of the place…

By the way, there’s plenty of steep, slick climbs on the roads that crisscross the interior of the island.

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.