Rambling.

It’s Autumn, which means it’s time for a bit of rambling. Appropriate, I guess, because this post will pretty much be nothing but rambling.

The leaves are turning and the weather, albeit mighty slow in coming, is turning toward the colder months. One would hardly be aware of it though, the days being as nice as they are. A few have been more appropriately seasonal and I’ve gotten to wear long sleeves as I crunch through fallen leaves that are beginning to blanket the less traveled roads. But for the moment I’m mostly togged out in shorts and a t-shirt, nearly ideal riding wear for the girth-challenged road tire bikes I’ve come to prefer.

To say the least, my rides have been enjoyable. It’s frightening how quickly the passage of time takes place. It seems like just last week I was hitting the just melted off streets for a quick Spring outing. Summer, and the subsequent months of classes is now a blur; I realize nearly all of my riding has been solitary during that time.

Welcome, indeed, have been the recent overtures to get out and enjoy these days in good company. More than one friend has wheeled up to the house and it’s with glad heart I’ve accompanied them down the lane for a pleasant hour or two.

The herd of bikes and frames that line the ceiling of my studio has slowly dwindled. I’m reaching a point where it’s become extremely difficult to decide which stays and which goes. With mixed feelings, I passed along the Cycles Toussaint Velo-Routier most recently. And with a certainty, the next to go will be one of the racier frame sets that, with equal certainty, likely enough won’t put rubber to road more than once a year.

I’ve deliberated between building the sharp looking Katakura Silk back up, or finding a new home for it. With the Cycles Toussaint gone, I’ve decided the Silk will go back to 650b so that I have a bike to fit that niche.

That build has been moving at a purposely slow pace. I want to savor the mechanical nature of the build up. I enjoy working with my hands, making things. Spending most of my time teaching drawing and painting these past eight weeks, rather than doing any drawing myself means looking for a creative surrogate. The build satisfies some of that urge.

A few weeks ago I was asked to complete a survey and offered a substantial gift card for my carefully considered opinions. I promptly forgot about that until it arrived in the mail last week. Ever since my 1946 Hobbs of Barbican arrived in the studio I had envisioned it with Lauterwasser bars. Gift card in hand, I ordered a reproduction pair from Soma and installed them over the weekend.

I recall reading somewhere that these are very comfortable handlebars. Frankly, I was dubious. I briefly had a pair of mustache bars and found them to be simply awful. The resemblance to Lauterwasser bars left me in doubt. But hey! The gift card meant I could get a pair with no real cost to me. I figured I had little to lose.  And after a few rides Sunday and Monday, I can say with certainty that they are indeed surprisingly comfortable.

Meanwhile, the other wish list item for this bike has been an appropriate cottered crank set. One of the terrific members of BikeForums reached out to me this weekend with an offer of a Williams that would fit the bill quite nicely. Yes, this bike has turned into a money pit, but it’s such a joy to ride a seventy-year old time trial bike. The ride quality is excellent. And how do you put a price on that sort of experience?

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Raleigh Randonneur

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed (re)building this bike back up, and putting in some wonderful mileage. As the days grow shorter, time and opportunity to be outdoors with my sketchbook have been more and more limited. This sketch, in fact, was quickly drawn from a chair in my studio yesterday evening.

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.

Rolling through the vineyards of Alsace

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We find ourselves in Eguisheim, France for the time being. Eguisheim is part of the Alsace region, a land of verdant, rolling hills blanketed by vineyards that connect quaint villages with often Medieval era structures, old world charm, and friendly people. The best way to explore this place is by foot or on two wheels; our new friends at Alsa Cyclo Tours, Maxime Helderle and Ugo Georges Meyer, helped to get us onto bikes so that we could journey forth these past few days.