Boulder vs. Carre

Every bike in the studio gets compared to my Boulder Brevet simply because it fits me so perfectly. It’s interesting comparing the Boulder with the Carre.

To make a fair evaluation of the geometry and size, the camera is set up on a tripod to ensure that the shooting angle and position is exactly the same between both bikes. The floor is also marked for positioning of the bikes. Because they are resting in a bike stand, some correction for “squareness” is necessary. The photos were slightly rotated in post processing so that the wheels are parallel to the picture frame. Furthermore, the Carre has been nudged so that the bottom brackets are aligned to the Boulder by superimposing the two photographs.

Here is the “control” shot of the Boulder for comparison of tube positioning, geometry, and length.

The green lines indicate a rough tracing of the Boulder tubes, which I’ve drawn on an overlay.

The overlay drawing of the Boulder tubing has been superimposed over the Carre frame. Although the wheel base is a little longer on the Boulder, and more importantly a greater difference between the lower trail Boulder fork and that of the Carre,  I was still a bit surprised to see that there’s not as much difference in bottom bracket height or drop as I’d anticipated.

With 700 x 25 tires, the standover is nearly the same as the Boulder. I anticipate running 700 x 28 so there will be some difference in the final build. It’s also worth noting that the top tube is one centimeter shorter on the Carre: 58cm as compared to 59cm on the Boulder.

This is not to say that I expect the rides to be similar. The two bikes are clearly designed for different purposes, but I’m a researcher and find it useful to compare against known factors, quantities, and considerations. My initial thinking has not changed, despite some similarities to the Boulder geometry: The Carre frame is more of a road bike design, and the available space for wider tires convinces me that it’s probably a CX model. Despite the eBay listing, I don’t see anything that screams “randonneur” to me at all.

Next up: the build.


What is truth?

I confess to being more than a little bit of a geek when I come across an interesting vintage bike “in the wild.” Quite often I’ll whip out my iPhone and snap a photograph so that I can examine the details later on at my leisure. Less frequently, I have the freedom and liberty to make a sketch. While a sharply focused photograph can be a valuable documentation of an unusual discovery, I find I enjoy the sketch all the more. For one thing, it’s something I’ve created by hand – and the act of doing so very much appeals to me and my aesthetic sense. For another, sketching affords me the luxury of including or ignoring as much detail as I wish. Photos include everything that appears within the frame. In my previous life I made photographs professionally, and I can assure you that a lot of effort went into set creation and organization. But out on the street, one is pretty much stuck with whatever one sees: light poles, trash, cars, people – the sort of distractions one can effortlessly eliminate in a sketch.

I also don’t feel constricted by pure documentation when I make a sketch. The mixte frame above was interesting enough that in a few short minutes I very roughly sketched it out in pencil, then continued on my merry way walking about the city of Dijon. Along the way I encountered several other vintage bikes; those that caught my eye were, perhaps, noted. Later on when I decided to tighten up the rough sketch I realized I hadn’t bothered to make field notes: with no idea what color the original bike had been, I decided to go with the colors I recalled from a completely different bike, a vintage Thiely randonneur. As I tell my students, it’s not about making your art true – it’s about discovering a greater truth. I’m quite content with this approach.

The elderly man riding the city bike (top image) never happened. The bike was leaning on a kick stand out in the street, and the opportunity to sketch a stationary object was a nice change from the quick, gestural studies I’d been making of people moving along the crowded sidewalk. Later, I added the man from an observational study I’d made of a fellow wandering around a market. The painting is a sort of collage of sketches, and I think is more reflective of what I had hoped to see than what I actually observed.

I often use this space to share what I refer to as “bike sketches,” those quickly and often very spontaneously inked studies of the places I happen to find myself visiting by bicycle. Like this study of the Broadway Bridge spanning the Missouri River in downtown Kansas City, these are normally more gestural than anything else. Only infrequently does a bicycle actually appear in these scribbles: the bike tends to be the vehicle that makes possible that view I’m attempting to capture. And thus, I call them “bike sketches.” I think it’s notable the difference between the more graphic nature of a bike sketch and the subtle and more sedate watercolor sketches at the top of this page. For me as an artist, they are both equally valid means of expression, and equally valid means of communicating something I find important either via a bicycle, or in relation to bicycles in general. I’m not interested in riding my bike fast, and not especially interested in the latest, greatest technological innovations either. I prefer a slower paced, more thoughtful essence, I suppose. It’s significant that two seemingly different behaviors – cycling and drawing – are yet remarkably similar in the way they mirror that attraction.

And there, it seems to me, lies an interesting truth with much more to be further explored.

Cyclo-Touring the French Countryside

The Early Morning Cyclist has returned from abroad! As we’re wont to do, our journeys are frequently made afoot or upon two wheels. In my opinion, the best way to see and get to know a place is slowly. Without meaning to do so, our selected itinerary took us to regions of France that are off the beaten path for Americans. So while we happily hobnobbed with folks from around the globe who, like us, were thoroughly enjoying the Alsace and Bourgogne regions, American voices were quite few and far between.

This (above) is what I had hoped to see as we meandered about, but we were ten days into the journey before stumbling across a beausaged example of vintage randonneur style of bike. Sadly, it seems France has embraced hybrid bikes. To my distress I observed ample evidence of a nearly complete abandonment of traditional frames in favor of these uncomfortable (but cheap, I guess) bikes that sport mountain bike gears and awkward flat bars. Tragic to see a loss of character as well as aesthetic in mainstream bicycle designs.

The majority of our time was dedicated to small villages and beautiful countryside. Turning any random corner often yielded a nice surprise. For me, these were often a photo op and I found myself stopping and starting to take advantage of each opportunity.



I have great difficulty not romanticizing the place, so I’ll try to temper my enthusiasm. That caveat in place, imagine a verdant countryside of lush vineyards linking one small village after another every few kilometers.


Once in a village, one discovers roads that, like those in the country, are in an excellent state of repair even though they are often cobbled. Buildings are mostly hundreds of years old, many dating to medieval times.



The charm and picturesque nature is overwhelming. I feel as though I’m on a calendar photo shoot for Hallmark and cannot stop making images of whatever place I find myself in. Everywhere is wonderful!



One of my favorite places was our first “base camp,” a medieval village named Eguisheim (above).


We were fortunate enough to be in Eguisheim for the village’s annual flea market. The entire village is wall-to-wall with tables and there’s a day-long celebration with all proceeds benefitting the incredible historic church building at the village center. At one booth we came across our host from the vineyard we were staying at. He plied us with wine and sat on a bench next to a fountain sipping the local product and eating tarte flambé. Ah! This is definitely the life!


Rather than shipping bikes, we hired them after arriving. This was definitely more convenient, but the trade off was that our “hosses” were the hybrid design I so despise (above). And after tallying the costs of several days rental, it is clear that even paying the extortion rates the airlines charge for shipping, we’d still have been spending less bringing our own bikes.


Further down the road is an incredible restoration underway of the 13th century structure at Chateau du Haut Koeningsbourg.


One day, struggling to make a long and steep climb, we paused beneath the shade of a grove of cherry trees for a rest. Along with a few other cyclists of like minds, we plucked handfuls of the ripe fruit, staining our hands – and I my white shirt. Enjoying the shade and a cool breeze, we were startled to hear the roar of a powerful engine coming down the mountain in our direction. Suddenly a Ferrari burst around the corner and zoomed by. It was followed immediately by another, and then another racing beauty. For the next half hour we watched as one exotic sports car after another raced past our spot and downward toward the village.


In Alsace, this sort of bike could be found in abundance.


Dining upon wine and charcuterie, we enjoyed the ambiance of the vineyard, studied maps, and made sketches. I’ll share those after I get a chance to scan them in next week.


I am unapologetically taken by simple charm and elegance. As a teacher I am also horrified that we no longer teach children penmanship, so receiving a lovely handwritten receipt at dinner was something I appreciated more than I could express to our hostess.


Although I searched diligently for vintage cycling gear, there was little to be found. I especially hoped to locate a bell or two – but alas! It was not to be. I came across the housing for a pair of tail lights, some interesting photographs of Tour riders, and a few bicycle-related toys. But that was the extent of my discoveries.




Rolling through the vineyards of Alsace


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.