Day Touring on a 1946 Hobbs

The plan was a weekend of cyclo-touring along Northwest Arkansas’ Razorback trail. Until very recently, I’d been entirely unaware of this miles-long multipurpose trail that connects various cities, including Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers, Bentonville, and Bella Vista. Once discovered though, I was anxious to explore – and thrilled to discover an entrance to the trail only a few hundred feet from the apartment we use part-time in Rogers.

My initial rides left me with the impression that the trail was an octopus-like system, and without a map I found it difficult to navigate. Turns out that the signage along the trail provides excellent directions and navigational assistance; one should probably take time to read them. I know once I did it became appallingly clear how idiot-proof they’d made this trail system. Trust an idiot to put it to the test!

The other take away from my early explorations was that the trail seemed so flat that I could easily imagine how one could bike commute with abandon in these communities.  For my weekend of cyclo-touring, the plan was for slow, leisurely riding so that my wife could comfortably keep pace. Flat and slow seemed like a recipe for fixed gear touring, so I brought my 1946 Hobbs of Barbican Superbe along for the next visit.

Following the signage, we discovered a few miles down the trail where I’d been missing the turn to leave Rogers for Bentonville. (We also discovered that the entire trail isn’t flat!) My wife, who is spending more time in the area than I for her job, had already driven to the Bentonville square. I went with her on my previous visit, quickly decided I liked it there, and was anticipating an immediate return via bicycle.

The trail, which never seems to be far away from the main highways, is nevertheless quite sheltered and meanders through neighborhoods, parks, and a surprising number of wooded greenways. “Surprising,” because this area has exploded. My childhood memories of the place rely on words like “small” and “quaint.” While the “quaint” is still in evidence, what was once a few small towns every ten miles along US71 has become one single continuous and unnervingly (in a good way) cosmopolitan cityscape. The trail is a series of very well designed and thought out arteries that stitch together what was once discreetly different communities.

Yes, nearly every upper end restaurant, mercantile, fashion outlet, and bar can be found here – but travel a block or two and you find that at the core that “quaint,” hometown flavor is still evident in great abundance. The Bentonville Square, for instance, is a terrific destination for a cool mixture of throwback architecture, warm and friendly locals and gawking visitors, hip eateries and food trucks, and easy access to the Crystal Bridges art museum. In fact, the Razorback Trail has a spur that takes you right to the museum; we were able to ride through the forested museum grounds and park our rides right next to the main building.

As of this writing, there is an outdoor exhibition of Dale Chihuly’s glasswork. My bike seemed to appreciate taking in his work as much as I did!

This was by far the longest I’ve spent in the saddle on my ’46 Hobbs. Usually, I’ll get in a fast-paced 20 mile ride, so slow paced touring was a different sort of testing ground. How did this work out? Well, it’s important to share a few changes I’ve recently made.

First off, after pining for Lauterwasser bars I bought a pair of Soma reproduction bars a year and a half ago. I love the way they look but could never get myself comfortable for riding more than a few miles: Getting the stem/height/reach optimized never happened for me. I pulled them off and replaced them with drop bars and a different stem. If I’d had on hand another set of randonneur bars, I’d likely have used them but the new combination was immediately lightyears more comfortable. While I was at it, I replaced the Weinmann center pulls and levers with dual pivot side pull calipers and a much more modern set of levers. I think they look fine, stop even better, and feel good to my hands. I left the Campy pedals, but after five nearly continuous hours of touring I’ve decided to replace them with a pair of MKS Sylvan touring pedals. They look the part, and just work better for riding without toe cages.

Back to the point: How’d the Hobbs do? I was quite happy riding it on these paths. I did have to muscle my way up a couple of hills, but nothing I will complain about. I’ve come to enjoy pushing myself on fixed gear and look forward to riding a little faster on my own the next time I’m in Arkansas. But I will definitely be bringing this bike with me for my visits.

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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.